Yen & You: Tips to save for your plane ticket home this summer

By Austin Morgan

Midterms are here, which means summer break is just around the corner. For a lot of people this is the perfect time to sneak in a trip back home to recharge their batteries. Unfortunately, August is a popular travel time, so airline prices are pretty high. Currently, a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Chicago is running for $1,600 – yikes!

The last thing you want to do is put a $1,600 purchase on a credit card on which you’re already paying the minimum. The interest payments from the card will kill you over time and make the price of the trip even more expensive. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers.

If you put $1,600 on a credit card with 17 percent APR and pay the minimum of $50 every month, it’ll take 43 months to pay off. That $1,600 ticket ends up costing $2,146 – with $546 worth of interest going straight to your credit card company.

But trips home are important. Seeing family, friends, and your favorite restaurant are good for your mental health and will make the following year in Japan go a lot smoother. And let’s be honest: you’re probably going to take this trip whether you have the money or not so let’s try to ease the pain on your credit card.

So how exactly do you tackle a gigantic airline ticket if you don’t have the funds in your bank book?

You’ve got to plan ahead and cut costs.

I’m sorry I can’t provide you a get rich quick scheme or tell you to go to some website that has $200 plane tickets in August, but I can show you how I would do it if I had $0 in my account and had to go home this summer.

Where to Cut Costs This Summer

We have May, June, and July paychecks coming our way before August – or around $8,400 (sorry to all the non-Americans but I’m most comfortable writing in $). For the sake of ease, we will say a plane ticket is $1,600, but all of the extra expenses surrounding the trip will bring the price to $2,000. That means we need to save $666 per month if we’re starting at $0 today.

That’s a big chunk of change, but it’s doable if you sacrifice a bit over the summer. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Cut your “going out” fund (possible savings: $100-200)

Every month the largest expense that I can control is going out to restaurants and having drinks. I enjoy it, get to see my friends, and love my local Japanese restaurants. But if I really wanted to afford my trip to America without putting it on my credit card and paying it off over five years, I would cut the amount I spend going out as much as I could.

You still need to eat and socialize, so host pot lucks with your friends and buy drinks at the local grocery store. Your friends are probably feeling the money pinch too, so they’ll probably love your frugal idea.

  • Go without new books, music, and movies in the summer (possible savings $50-150)

It was so cold in the winter I would come home and just put a blanket over my head. All I wanted to do was watch TV and stay inside. But now it’s warm and Japan is awesome again. Get out of your house and close the iTunes store. Make it a no-new-media summer. Sacrifice a little now, save by avoiding credit card debt, and then help yourself to all the new episodes of Modern Family you want after summer.

  • Sell your stuff (estimated savings: $50-500)

Living in Japan is this weird bridge life where you don’t want to buy and collect excess items like TVs, computers, or pianos because you’re not going to stay long-term, but you also don’t want to put the things you love on hold for one to five years.

You probably have some stuff sitting around your apartment that you aren’t using to its full potential. Sell it to other JETs or English teachers in the area. The new JET year is in a couple of months, so people who are staying are looking for deals on items. Hiroshima JETs have a section for Buy/Sell/Trade on the Wide Island View forum, and there are similar sections on other prefectures’ JET websites as well, including Fukui-ken, where I live. If your prefecture has a website like that, post your items there for a reasonable price and see if you have any takers. If not, create a Facebook note or ask around and see if anyone’s interested.

Your piano, camera, or guitar can pull in a couple hundred bucks, which will do a couple things: 1.) help pay for your plane ticket with savings instead of a credit card, and 2.) unclutter your apartment from bulky items that are difficult to get rid of. Double score.

  • Cut down on gas (estimated savings: $40-160)

Some drive more than others, but if you have a car, it’s time to start walking and riding your bike more often. Spring is here and although it can get very rainy, the money spent on gas will be put to much better use on your summer plane ticket home. Car pool with friends, avoid joy rides and take the train or bus when you can. In the winter you can justify hopping in the car to run to the grocery store, but if it’s a 10-minute walk, put your gym shoes on and carry a back pack.

  • Avoid the konbini (estimated savings: $25-200)

I’ve written about the outrageous prices of konbinis before on the Wide Island View. The numbers show that if you change your daily convenience store stop to a grocery store stop you’ll save a lot of money due to the inflated convenience store prices.

You need to keep eating, but just tweak where you get your food from and you’ll see some extra cash in your pocket at the end of the month.

Also, start carrying a water bottle. This is the simplest frugal trick out there and I feel lame and old even mentioning it, but it works. It’s going to get hot and if you don’t have anything to drink you’ll easily justify a konbini drink. Maybe you walk to school everyday and it’s hot. If you get a drink a day for ¥200, that’s ¥18,000 over three months. Throw that money at your plane ticket and go mizu only this summer.

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If you went all out and saved the max, you could save $1,210 using these tips this summer. I realize no one’s going to use all of them, but try to fit two or three into your routine. Most of the time I wouldn’t be so cutthroat about trying to squeeze out extra savings, but seeing the true price of an item when it’s put on a credit card with other debt already accumulated scares the bejesus out of me.

Realize that you’re probably going to make trips home regardless of the amount in your account. But do yourself a huge favor and find some extra cash in your spending this summer. Even if you can save $300, it’s better than putting the full $2,000 on your bill and paying it off over five years.

Photo by Haseo. Published under Flickr Creative Commons License.

6 comments

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  • Austin here (author of this post).

    Anyone have any sites they swear by for finding airline tickets? I’ve been told cheapoair is good, but was wondering if anyone else had had any good luck with a particular site.

    Please share, thanks!

    Austin

  • Doug

    The best way to save a little on that trip home is to time your trips properly: don’t travel when everyone else does. They give you vacation days (有給), so use them and travel in February or September or something when tickets are cheap. Doing this alone will change your assumed constant of $1600 down to the $700-900 range.

    If you want to use Obon or Golden Week then fine – extend it with your vacation days to get out of the expensive periods where everyone’s flying. Moving your departure/arrival dates even by just 2-3 days can make HUGE differences in ticket prices. The most I’ve ever spent on a ticket home was something like $1000-1100, and that was in December with a fuel fee of like $200 or so a few years back.

    Just sayin’.

    Doug, Former JET CIR

  • These are good tips on saving money not just when you’re planning to travel but even as part of a monthly budget. You’ll cut down your credit card debt and you might even find some savings at the end of the year.. I personally don’t use credit cards for credit — I don’t know if I’d like to live with a mountain of debt to think about.

    If you really need to see friends though, as the previous poster says, it’s best to travel off-season. But if that’s not possible, make sure you buy tickets wisely. For example, wednesdays and thursdays are usually cheaper. Also, buying a ticket much closer to your date of departure can be cheaper as the airline will just want their seats filled by then.

  • Steve Marshall

    “The interest payments from the card will kill you over time and make the price of the trip even more expensive”

    Man, can I ever attest to this! Not heeding this kind of advice has led to some very dire financial consequences for me. Great recommendation to avoid using credit cards for this. Do everything else in your power before you resort to a credit card, unless of course you know for sure you can pay it off in a very short period of time.