It’s 4 months until my next Japan trip – yay! If you’ve been thinking about visiting yourself, I’m starting a new series of blog posts that will help you with every step. They’ll include my personal experiences and research, plus links to more blog posts, guides and videos by other people so you can dig in deeper
First up, budgeting! While it’s perfectly possible to visit Japan cheaply, most people will need money for international flights, a week or two of accommodation and a daily travel and food allowance, plus some cash for shopping, sightseeing and treats. It’s never too early to start saving so here’s some tips I use myself.
Set a saving goal
Even if you have no idea when you’ll visit or for how long, do some research and get a rough idea of how much you’d need for flights, hotels and any other big expenses (eg, Japan Rail Pass), or a guided tour if you prefer. I’ll be covering all these in future posts. Daily spending is very difficult to predict but you can make an estimated personal budget by checking menus and entry prices online and looking up things you might want to buy. Add another big chunk on top of all this for safety and round it up to a nice number. For my solo 3 week trip in 2016, my goal was £4000, though I had no intention of ever spending that much (I spent less than half). I don’t really have a goal this time as I never stopped saving – why break a good habit, especially when you have an irregular income like me?
Open a separate savings account
Keeping your savings separate means you can watch it grow and it’s harder to spend it. Transfer as much money as you can afford each week or month. If I get money for birthday/Christmas gifts etc. or payment for a big freelance job, I put that straight in my savings. Tell yourself that if you really need the money for something, you can transfer it back to your current account, but hopefully you won’t want to see the number drop.
You might also want to consider a credit card that gives cashback or air miles. I pay for almost everything with my credit card and then pay it off in full every month. Air miles can be risky though – Virgin Atlantic stopped their Japan flights after I had started saving with their card! I’m still using it and now have enough for a free flight to the USA but that doesn’t help me with Japan trips.
Cut your spending
Saving your extra cash is great but think about what you’re already spending. You might find it helpful to track your spending for a month or two (use Google Sheets or an app) so you can see exactly where all the money goes. Here’s a few things I’ve done to save money:
- Only subscribe to 1 streaming service at a time. You can get a free month of Netflix every year (on the same account) if you take breaks between subscribing. I wait until there’s a few things I want to watch and then switch to another service when I’m done.
- Cancel (or pause) subscriptions I’m not getting enough value from. Whether it’s a magazine, box or food service, make sure you’re supporting things you actually use.
- I think of movies, concerts, shows, exhibitions etc. as an occasional special treat – and I always look for cheap times and tickets.
- Cook at home as much as possible. I only really eat at restaurants with family or friends and get takeout food very rarely.
- Wait to buy. Unless it’s a limited item, prices will always go down after a while. Some things I have to have now (like the latest book from a favourite author), but for everything else, I add it to my Amazon wish lists and then check those regularly ordered by lowest price. For books, DVDs etc. anything under £5 is fair game, if I still want it. I also use Library Extension to see if books are available from my local library.
+ not very helpful, but I also delayed my 2016 trip for a year so I could move out of Glasgow. Moving house isn’t cheap but my cost of living is so much lower now as there’s nothing much to spend money on here. If you do have the opportunity to lower big costs like rent, it’s definitely worth considering.
Prioritise your purchases
Similarly, remember your trip every time you get your wallet out or hit that proceed to checkout button. I always ask myself, do I want this more than going to Japan? Sometimes you do! Of course you need food and clothes and entertainment, but do you need everything you want to buy? Are you only buying things because you’re bored or there’s a limited time offer or all your friends are getting one? It’s hard sometimes but think of all the fun stuff you can do in Japan with that money! If you find certain people or situations encourage you to spend money, try to change things so there’s less temptation. Avoid the street with your favourite bakery, bring your own lunch so you can’t go out with colleagues, etc.
Tell your friends and family
If you’re planning your trip with a partner, friend or family member, you can keep each other on track. If you’re planning a solo trip, tell everyone as they can help you out in lots of ways. You can request that people give you holiday fund money – or things you need for your trip – instead of gifts, help you stay focused when you’re thinking of splurging on something unnecessary and think of cheap fun entertainment. Even just telling the internet or tracking purchases in a journal will hold you accountable.
Don’t give up!
At some point, you will probably go on a spending spree or have an emergency that puts a hole in your savings, but don’t be too hard on yourself. I once hit my goal and then had to replace both my laptop and iPhone. I just let it go and carried on saving.
- The Cakes With Faces YouTube channel has lots of great videos. How Expensive is Tokyo and How Expensive is Harajuku can help you plan a budget.
- This is what I sacrifice so I can spend money on travel at Mo in the World is a great overview of how to travel a lot if you make it a priority in your life.
- Japan Guide for entry fees
- Hyperdia for travel costs
- Tokyo Cheapo for free things to do and money-saving tips
- My Japan Trips master page has tons of links and resources
- My Planning For Japan series tracked preparations for my 2016 trip