My mom never thought she’d be able to visit Italy, so I used 3 strategies to save $5,000 for her dream trip

  • My mom has worked all her life to support her kids, and she never thought she could travel to Italy.
  • For her 60th birthday, I decided to save enough money to take my mom on her dream trip.
  • To make my goal a reality, I had to create a budget and rethink my savings strategy.

It all started because of a conversation I had with my mom while watching the movie “The Two Popes.” We sat at either end of the living room couch. As I scrolled through my phone, I asked my mom where she’d like to travel if she could go anywhere in the world.

She was paying attention to the film but responded right away. Rome, she said — specifically Vatican City — would be her dream destination, but added it was unlikely she’d ever get to visit.

All her life, my mom has worked labor-intensive and low-income jobs. A farm laborer. A factory worker. A fast food restaurant employee. A cleaning lady. As a single parent, she overcame every challenge that came her way to ensure that her three kids could have more opportunities than in her home country, Mexico.

I understood why my mom thought the way she did. Saving for a trip to Europe can be expensive, and my mom has never made enough in her salary to have room for such a big discretionary expense. However, I refused to believe she could let her dream go so easily.

I was still in college when we had this conversation, but the inklings of an idea started to form — a thank you for all the sacrifices gone noticed and unnoticed. For her 60th birthday, I knew I wanted to take my mom on her dream trip and cover all her expenses. Saving for the trip wasn’t easy. But looking back, these strategies were crucial to making her dream trip a reality.

1. I figured out all my expenses for the trip and made a budget

I immediately wanted to create the most swoon-worthy itinerary for my mom. I spent hours researching information on travel sites, and pricing everything out until I created a budget for a week’s worth of activities.

In my budget, I took into consideration the following expenses:

  • Flight
  • Hotel
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Souvenirs
  • Expenses in preparation for the trip
  • Excess expenses (I added an extra 15% to my estimated trip cost because I’m bad at math and wanted to have wiggle room)

Creating a budget was a crucial element in planning for the trip because it grounded my idea in reality. I now knew how much I needed to save so she could really experience Rome.

Budgeting for the trip also made me realize that my idea demanded a lot of commitment. I would have to make monthly contributions over an extended timeline to make it happen.

2. I set aside 10% of my paycheck each month for the trip

When I started planning my mom’s trip, I wasn’t making a lot of money. I had a full college course load and worked at my daily college newspaper, so I only worked part-time as a tutor.

However, I needed to start somewhere. So, I set aside around 10% of each paycheck — the minimum needed to reach my goal by the summer of 2022.

At first, it wasn’t easy. When my budget didn’t have much room beyond essential expenses, I took the time to take up hobbies at little to no cost. I realized that while going out to dinners or movies or concerts was definitely fun, I also didn’t need a lot to be happy — a simple walk at the park or beach would do.

After I graduated from college and took on my first full-time job, I, very fortunately, started to earn more money, which allowed me to regain flexibility in my budget for discretionary expenses.

3. I switched my savings strategy 

To be honest, I didn’t start with the best savings strategy. I had a very simplistic understanding of how to save; I thought of saving as an action instead of a process. I thought of a savings account as something you either contributed to regularly or didn’t, and that was all there was to it.

As a result, I started by depositing 10% of each paycheck into my savings account at my local credit union, which paid only 0.05% APY. (Spoiler: not the best idea.)

It took me a while before I realized that there were multiple savings account options out there. Money market accounts, CDs, and high-yield savings accounts were just a few examples.  It took me even longer to realize that saving money could be done strategically. If I asked myself questions like, “What am I looking for in a savings account?” or “How am I going to save?” or even, “When will I need access to my money?” I could’ve come up with a better place to store my money at the very beginning.

Moral of the story: I ended up transferring my money into several different types of savings accounts during the pandemic. First, I transferred money into a CD because I purposely didn’t want to have access to spend it (my credit union also offered a high interest rate right before interest rates dropped). Then, once my term ended, I withdrew money from the CD and deposited it into a high-yield savings account.

With each month, I was able to earn a couple extra dollars in my account due to the higher interest rate. This became a motivating factor for me. I was slowly inching toward my goal.

A final note about the trip

It took about three years to save over $5,000 for a trip to Rome, but I’m glad to say I accomplished my goal. My mom was able to see her dream destination, the Vatican, for her 60th birthday.

While I didn’t always have the best savings strategies, I learned from my mistakes and made her dream a real experience. That is something I’ll always be proud of.