In early 2016, travel blogger Nina Ragusa set a lofty goal for herself: Sock away $AU20,000 (or more) in savings.
And she did it — boosting her savings account by over $AU20,000 in just 10 months.
Ragusa, who chronicles her adventures on her blog, Where in the World is Nina?, has been travelling the world for over five years, and she recently spent a year living in Australia with her boyfriend on a working holiday visa.
Despite Australia’s high cost of living, Ragusa was determined to use the time to save up for future travel — she could always visit the country again as a tourist — and spent 10 months looking for ways to cut back her spending and stretch her paycheck.
Throughout her savings challenge, Ragusa implemented two basic rules:
- Work as much as possible.
- Don’t spend any more than necessary.
From working 70 hour weeks to living on less than $AU5 per meal, here’s how she was able to save over $AU20,000 while living in one of the most expensive countries in the world.
Note: All dollar amounts are in AUD.
Over the course of a year, Ragusa and her boyfriend lived in two different Australian cities: First, Melbourne, where she worked as a waitress, and later Darwin, where she found work at a surf shop and served drinks at a bar. Ragusa routinely put in 50 to 70 hours per week to maximise her earnings.
Nightcliff, Northern Territory, Australia
She typically made between $26 and $48 per hour -- up to $65 per hour on holidays -- and ended up saving about half of her total income. Her boyfriend, Garrett, saved alongside her and put away $41,000 of his own, thanks to a higher-paying job.
She cites working as much as possible as the key to being able to save such a large sum. After all, you can only cut back your expenses so much.
Mindle Beach, Australia
'I worked so hard. Forty, 50, sometimes 70 hours a week,' she writes on her blog. 'I worked. And when I wasn't scheduled to work, I was working on my blog. There (were), of course, the few nights a week my boyfriend and I had a precious couple of hours to get lost in one of our shows together and enjoy a beer or glass of wine before passing (out) because we were so exhausted, but that's about it.'
She kept her budget as streamlined as possible. Both Ragusa and her boyfriend aimed to cap their per-person expenses at $1,030 a month, which translated to around $55 per week for food and drink and $180 per week on rent.
Berry Springs, Australia
With their end goal in mind, the couple opted for cheap eats, striving to spend between $2.60 and $5.15 per person per meal. They stuck to grocery stores and local markets, where Ragusa quickly uncovered how to score the best deals.
Botanical Gardens, Darwin, Australia
'I know Woolworth's and Cole's often put their bread on sale after 7 or 8 p.m., and I always look out for the sales signs,' she writes on her blog. 'Sometimes they put their (vegetables) that will go off in the next few day in 'grab bags' for like $4. Inside is a few days worth of (vegetables) for two people!'
The couple never ate out, save for a couple splurge meals -- but they did make sure to keep their fridge stocked with one small pleasure: beer. Typical meals consisted of scrambled eggs, veggie sandwiches, and coconut milk curry. Despite their budget, they never sacrificed health in the name of saving a few bucks.
Top-notch public transportation made it easy to get around Melbourne without overspending, but Ragusa realised they'd need their own transportation in Darwin, so she invested in a Jolie scooter for a little over $1,000.
Nightcliff Foreshore, Australia
'It was the best decision!' she says. 'Fuel was dirt cheap for me. I paid $6.87 to fill up and everything is really close in Darwin so I only needed a fill up every few weeks or so.'
They found time for a few wallet-friendly adventures, including exploring Melbourne's beautiful parks, visiting a lake that's tinted pink thanks to its natural algae, and tracking down museums that offer free admission. But for the most part, Ragusa was happy to stay home with her boyfriend and dream about all the places she could go with the money saved.
Though Ragusa's strict budget clearly laid out how to achieve her goal, the hardest part was actually sticking to the plan, which meant not travelling while she saved up for her next adventure. 'Going to work isn't that hard, not spending and actually saving is the hardest thing,' she writes. 'Want a new dress? The latest Xbox game? The newest iPhone? Yeah, so do I, but I don't buy those things because saving for things that actually matter means more to me.'
At the end the day, Ragusa was able to go above and beyond her savings plan because she knew the $20,000 would enable her to travel more later, a long-term goal that far outweighed any short-term pleasures, such as a meal out or a new outfit.
'One of my main missions living this way is to show others that working abroad is possible, making money on the road can happen, you don't need to be rich to start, it's possible to live with less to get more out of life later on,' she says.
Thanks to her year of extreme saving, Ragusa's travels are in full swing. She's already stopped by New York City, visited the canals of Copenhagen, and toured castles in Budapest. On tap for the rest of the year: Iceland, Vietnam, the Maldives… and more.
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