by Natalie Walters, Arizona State University
I don’t think I’m alone in rolling my eyes at stories about millennials quitting their jobs to travel the world — and I’m a millennial myself. Often, there’s an important fact buried deep inside these articles: either they have a trust fund or they landed a $100,000+ salary out of college. As a young journalist from a middle-class family, I qualified for neither of those things.
But after working a stressful job throughout the summer of 2016 without a break, I knew I wanted to travel more the following summer, which meant I needed to save more.
Saving was easy for me growing up because I didn’t have many expenses. But ever since I had started earning a paycheck that had to be divided between rent, utilities, a retirement account, an NYC subway ticket, food, and entertainment, my savings plan had been pushed to the side. I decided I needed to be forced into monetary discipline through an automatic savings app.
I chose the Digit app. I told it to take out $200 per month from my paycheck for a travel fund and then told myself to forget about it until I needed the money.
You would think I would miss that $200 greatly each month, especially in an expensive city like New York. I wish I could tell you that my budget was so well organized that I knew exactly where the $200 came out of each month, but to be truthful, I didn’t even notice it was gone.
I’m sure it came out of some morning coffees I got for free at the office instead of stopping at my favorite corner shop. Or maybe it came from learning to never buy clothes at full price when there are so many ways to buy them half off or more, such as at outlets or thrift shops.
The important lesson for me was that just as a gas expands to fill whatever container it’s in, my spending habits increased and decreased to use up whatever my paycheck was that month. This meant that in order to save, I had to automatically cut my monthly paycheck and then my spending naturally fell.
Before I knew it, the summer of 2017 was coming up and my little sister asked if I wanted to go to Thailand with her to celebrate her graduation from college and acceptance into a physician’s assistant program. At first, I thought there was no way I could swing it. But when I checked Digit, I realized that I had saved $2,400 over 12 months just for travel; I could definitely swing it. We booked our flight to Thailand that night and to this day, it’s still my favorite trip I’ve ever taken.
I repeated this savings process several times in 2018, increasing or decreasing how much Digit would save each month depending on what I needed. This allowed me to take additional trips to Switzerland, Iceland, and different cities in the U.S. that year. Right now, I’m saving up to go to Hawaii in the summer of 2020 with my roommates to celebrate us making it through our first year of grad school at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication.
Now when I come across an article about a 20-something who is prioritizing traveling for a period of their lives, I no longer roll my eyes. I simply keep scrolling through my Facebook News Feed and think to myself, ‘Hey! I’ve done that now, too.’ And knowing that I did it in a financially responsible way makes it all the more satisfying.
Natalie Walters is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.