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Jane HarrisHave you ever thought that paring your budget meant giving up on travelling to places you haven’t been to before? Gritted your teeth and grimaced as you sat down to pare fun from your cost of living? Worried that if employers, colleagues, or potential clients see you scrimping at conferences, they will question your professionalism? Have you ever spent more than you should simply to look ‘successful’ to your peers? I have, but I’ve changed my perspective.

A few year back I decided to attend a conference in Winnipeg. However, as I tallied up the potential cost of flights, taxis, and hotel rooms, my resolve wobbled. As I mulled my options, I decided the conference was crucial to my career. Still, I wasn’t willing to blow my budget on the trip. I came up with a plan to pare down costs.

Instead of buying a plane ticket and booking an expensive hotel room in the conference hotel, I signed up for a billet in a colleague’s home, took a 23 hour bus trip to Winnipeg, and bought a handful of transit tickets when I got into town.

Paring down my budget turned the trip into an adventure I won’t soon forget. And I had more fun than I would have had I booked a room in the conference hotel, landed at the airport, and taken a cab directly to the venue.

Not only did I visit dozens of Canadian communities I have never been to, my seat mates and the people I met in small town cafes ranged from tattooed kids heading west for work, to travelling carnival workers, to a retired biologist in her 70s who shared her wisdom and experiences with me.

Not only were my lodgings more luxurious than the Radisson, I enjoyed the city’s architecture on my morning commute downtown. Above all, I got to know the wonderful colleague who opened her home to me. That alone was worth trip.

My tight budget forced me to be creative, and it yielded a memorable experience I would not have had if I had splurged on a plane ticket and a fancy hotel room.

Are you ready to get started on your own adventure? Start by:

  1. Picking a financial goal that seems out of reach. Is it a vacation? Going back to school? Or maybe it’s signing up for canoe lessons?
  2. Writing down the obstacles that make your dream seem unaffordable – include monthly bills, family responsibilities, time constraints, and loans.
  3. Write down 100 ways you could make you goal more affordable. Do you have items you can sell? A way to increase your income? Maybe downsizing your apartment will give you enough cash to pay for tuition on your return trip to school. Want to spend a few months in France writing a novel? Consider hiring yourself out as a professional house-sitter through a house-sitting service like mindmyhouse.com as one of my writing colleagues did early in 2015. Write down your ideas off the top of your head, as quickly as you can.
  4. Evaluating and deciding which ideas on your list you are willing to try.
  5. Implementing your strategy. Plan to reach your goal by breaking ideas into sub-goals. Create a timeline for each sub-goal. Write down your plan. Place it in a prominent place – refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or a bulletin board – in your home or office.

Is your goal still out of reach? Brainstorm a new list. Call it 100 Alternatives to My Goal. Pick your favourite alternative. Create your strategy to reach it. Once you’ve written down your alternative plan, place it somewhere in your office or home where you will see it often.

Now, let the adventure begin.

Jane Harris is author of Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret and Finding Home in the Promised Land.

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living within your means budgeting

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