3 Steps to saving money for volunteering overseas

So you’ve decided to volunteer overseas – you’ve done your research, you’ve found some projects that intrigue you, you’ve planned what needs to be done to get over there and get busy helping out. Just one tiny little problem – at the moment, you can barely afford a bus trip across town, let alone a plane trip to another country! 

1. Make up a budget plan

women malawiIt might be fairly obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough that budget planning is the first and most important step of your volunteering trip. It helps immensely to itemise all your expenses before your trip on a spreadsheet per day or per week, so you can see exactly where your money will be going and how much. The following are the main points you will want to consider when drawing up your plan (obviously not all volunteering programs - or individual volunteer needs! - are the same, so ‘tweak’ your own plan accordingly).

Air fares and transport

Most volunteer programs don’t cover air travel expenses, so make sure you’ve got this covered. You may or may not be charged for pick-up and drop-off between the airport and volunteer project - check with the organisation to be sure. You will most likely need money to get around between your accommodation and the project, not to mention any sightseeing or other entertainment you may want to take part in. Local public transport in many developing countries can be extremely cheap (and often extremely no-frills!), so you probably won’t need a huge budget for this expense. If you plan to travel fair distances on your days off or between one project and the next, this might be a bit costlier so make sure you can afford the extra.

Volunteering fees

Some programs require a once-off fee to sign up, which might be charged for a number of reasons, e.g. to cover elements like training or mentorship, administration, or for various tax charges the program may have to cover. As this is a once-off fee, it will be easy for you to budget for. Your volunteer organisation should be able to give you the figure. 

Visas, insurance and medical costs

You will need to research the visa costs applicable for your trip, as these can vary from country to country (your country of departure as well as your destination). Many countries issue a visa on arrival to volunteers, but make sure you’ve got the cash available beforehand if so, in case of airport bank or ATM problems in developing countries. It’s also important to get the right vaccinations if you’re going to a country with various diseases that have been mostly wiped out in the West – check with your medical provider. Make sure your travel and medical insurance is in place as well – you will more than likely be completely safe on your trip but it’s best to be prepared for anything.

Volunteer accommodation

Your project co-ordinators will be able to confirm if accommodation fees are included or not. If so, it will most likely be comfortable but fairly basic. Find out from the volunteer organisation if it’s something you will be happy with, and plan accordingly. Be aware of any additional utility expenses as well, such as Wifi. Private rooms will probably cost more than dorms, if you prefer being on your own.

Food, glorious food

If your tastes run more to foie gras than jam on your toast, now’s the time to plan ahead! Again, your volunteer co-ordinators should be able to assist you with an idea of how much food costs in your destination country. Budget your meals daily and allow a bit extra for unforeseen ‘hungry days’ – don’t underestimate how much energy you might be using at a busy project. Also don’t forget to find out if the local tap water is drinkable - and if not, how much bottled water will cost you. And if your program provides meals, you still might want to think about budgeting to eat out occasionally for a change of diet or scenery!

Personal items

It’s a good idea to put some money aside for your chocolate supplies, or ale, or shopping expeditions, or whatever you enjoy the most. There’s no need to avoid treating yourself just because you’re volunteering and are supposed to be ‘good’. A little treat here and there can help keep you sane and happy and focused. No-one wants to work with a volunteer that’s gloomily pining away for their favourite things!

Add it up!

Now...press Enter! The bottom total might look a bit daunting but now you’ve got an actual figure to start working towards. Once you start, you’ll find it’s not as unattainable as you may have thought. The trick is to keep your goal in mind and keep plugging away diligently until you get there. It will be worth it in the end. 

2. Make up a savings plan

You’re now in a position to work towards that final figure in your budget plan. You can’t be expected to know everything at once, so bear in mind your plan might change as you head towards your goal. Be flexible! Figure out how much you can realistically save per week or month and you’ll know how long you need to save for, and when you can expect to be winging your way to exotic countries and wonderful people. Add this to your spreadsheet and you’ll be motivated to keep going once you see the money building up and the prize getting closer.

Even if you work a full-time job and can’t squeeze in any extra overtime, there are ways and means to squirrel away a little extra money for the volunteering fund.

            All must go

Think of selling anything you don’t use, online or in a garage sale. Unwanted gifts, your childhood bike, that orange sofa that came with the flat - just about anything you’ve got lying about in reasonable condition can be used by someone else, who will happily pay for it at a good price.

            Talented? Capitalise!

You can draw, paint, take photos, make pots, string together necklaces or dreamcatchers? You can sell them on peer-to-peer market sites like Etsy. Do some research online – it doesn’t matter what you can make or do, there’s probably a buyer for it out there somewhere!

            Consulting/Freelancing

If you’ve got a few hours a week, a computer and marketable skills; large companies are actively looking for you!  They like to keep their overheads down by subcontracting functions like data capturing, copywriting, designing and the like. Search for freelancing sites based in your country and sign up today.           

3. Make up an expenses plan

‘Modify your spending.’ This is a euphemistic way to describe the hardest part of your journey, but you’re going to be glad you had to be a Scrooge for a while because the results will be worth it. These practical tips will help reduce the amount of money you spend and allow you to put more away for your volunteer trip.

Back away from the burger joint!

Make a decision to stop eating out, buying that fancy morning coffee or getting lunch at the drive-through; and get in the kitchen! Even if you’re not exactly Jamie Oliver behind a stove, do some research online and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to feed yourself good tasty food on the cheap. Many websites provide low-cost, nutritious, easy recipes that cater to those on budgets. The simplest things can really count in your favour, like cooking dry legumes (beans or lentils) instead of meat for your protein, doing weekly or monthly bulk shopping instead of daily shopping (you’ll get discounts for buying larger quantities), and planning all your weekly meals instead of shopping for that evening’s whim. This way of shopping will also minimise spending money on luxuries you don’t need.

Of course, you can plan to go out with friends for a coffee or cheap meal every now and then, don’t be a hermit! Just tell yourself you’re being a tiny bit more boring for now, to reap big rewards later.

Good condition, slightly used

You can easily buy decent used clothes, books, furniture and everything else online these days, if you do your research and make sure the seller is legitimate and comes with positive reviews. Local garage sales, thrift shops and flea markets can also be great sources of quality items at a fraction of the cost. The trick is to buy what you NEED, not what you want, and be prepared to hunt through a lot of questionable items for the good quality stuff.

Happy Hour

Probably no explanation necessary here, but if you plan your pub meet-ups carefully, you can take advantage of cheaper food and drinks, two-for-the-price-of-one deals, free snacks and the like. You might not get your favourite brands on special all the time, of course, but a cheap drink is still a drink!

Do stuff for free

Students have the advantage of lots of free or low-cost entertainment centred around their school or college – but even if you’ve been out of school for years, there should be things happening in your town or city that won’t cost much and will keep you from staring at your four walls while you save for your volunteering trip. Keep an eye on your local media for free concerts, meet-ups or exhibitions that will get you out and about without costing you too much. Also, consider giving up that expensive gym membership in favour of other fitness activities that don’t cost anything – you can always resume gymming when you get back from your trip.

So there you have a few pointers on to scale down your life as you add to your volunteering fund, and get out there and make a difference. Remember that you’re saving up to go to a country that might not have much in the way of luxury lifestyles or modern conveniences, and you’ll probably be living and working in basic surroundings. Think of this period as a practice run for your trip. Every little sacrifice you make today is a step closer to your trip – and now that you know what to do to get there, you might want to do it again and again. 

 

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