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Understand Your Finances

Savings Diaries: We're cutting costs—to save for a big trip abroad

Past practice inspires change to create new spending habits

This is part of Savings Diaries, an original series in which people share how they try to reach key savings goals during 2018. It is part of a broader Chase initiative to encourage more Americans to save money.

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A few months ago, my husband and I almost put our house on the market. We live in Kansas City, on the Missouri side—an important distinction for a never-ending rivalry in a city that straddles two states. Kansas City is relatively inexpensive, which is a plus when you have three kids—two girls, and a boy—like we do. We've been living in a smaller house, and we've built quite a bit of equity. This means that upgrading to a larger home is a real possibility for our family.

But just because we can upgrade to a larger home doesn't mean we should. We reached this decision for two reasons. First, there's our debt. It's not crippling, but we're working on paying it off. I have student loans. We also have credit card debt from a few lean years of back-to-back babies, and my husband's brief unemployment when he lost his job in digital marketing. We've been chipping away at it ever since he went back to work, and I left my job in health care to start working as a full-time freelance writer.

The second—and most influential—reason is the question of what type of lifestyle we truly want. We caught the itch, watching friends move into large, beautiful homes with big backyards—which is pretty typical in the Midwest. A few honest conversations between my husband and I made something super clear: there's nothing wrong with a home upgrade. It simply isn't what we want for our family.

The truth is, there's something we want more than a larger home. We want to make travel a regular part of our lifestyle. When we both take a good, hard look at what we prioritize, experiencing new things with our children is at the top of the list.

A look at our 2018 budget

With this realization, we knew we wanted to set some concrete goals for 2018. It's easy to say you want to travel more, but without a plan it won't happen. Travel is costly, especially when you factor in airfare for a family of five, and the time my husband and I would have to take off of work.

Head shot of Mary Sauer

Taking a good look at our finances, we knew that we were going to have to be realistic about our savings goals. We have to be honest about what we can cut, and what's non-negotiable.

The expenses that cost us the most are also the things we can't cut from our budget. At the top of our list is our housing expenses— including utilities, which are right around 20 percent of our income, after we pay taxes. Recently, we started putting an extra $1,000 toward debt each month—and that's not something we're willing to change. Our groceries cost about $800 each month. We expect to spend $100 on clothes every month. Gas is also expensive.

After reviewing our budget, we found ways to easily trim spending. Our bank statements showed too many coffee runs, take-out dinners and impulse purchases of new gadgets.

Mary Sauer with husband

Setting savings goals for 2018

We determined that we could save $500 each month toward our first big family trip out of the country. We want to take our kids to Europe in 2019. This will leave us with $6,000 at the end of the year to cover the biggest expense—airline tickets.

A second, more long-term savings goal we need to address is my retirement savings. As a freelancer, it's been easy to put off making formal retirement savings commitments and that's on our agenda for the third quarter of the New Year. Between now and then, we plan to make significant progress on our debt payoff, which will allow us to redirect 10 percent of my income toward retirement. I'm in my late 20s, and it makes sense to start saving for retirement.

Preparing for success

My husband and I are both big picture people, but we struggle to make the small changes that will get us to our long-term goals.

quotes text graphic from Mary Sauer

To be honest, my past failures to curb my own spending have become a source of insecurity for me, and I expect this to be the biggest challenge to our savings plan. Sure, I can plan to save a set amount of dollars, and I can say I'm going stick within a budget for groceries, clothes, or coffee shop runs. But that doesn't mean I'm going to make it happen. So we're going to have to find a budgeting system that helps us keep our spending on track. For now, we've chosen to start the year with a cash system, hopeful that will make us more aware of the money we're spending—and saving—everyday.

I'm also hopeful about sharing our journey online. I expect to find the accountability motivating. I also hope that readers will be encouraged, seeing how it's possible to reach your savings goals despite challenges or struggling to change your spending habits.

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