Budgeting Pinching Pennies: How I Budgeted for $300 + a Plane Ticket in Just 4 Weeks

September 2, 2020
By Rachelle Frederic

Managing finances is definitely challenging at times, but the payoff is always worth the hard work. The first time I had to budget was in January of this year (when the world seemed to be in order, but little did I know that it was the calm before the storm). I found myself in a pickle because some way, somehow I had to come up with $300+ for a plane ticket to Los Angeles for my half credit class. I had one month to figure out how I would do it, and I didn’t know where to start. Budgeting was no easy feat, but I learned some important lessons along the way that I want to share. 

Now, I know that my first budgeting experience was centered around travel and traveling is not that relevant now because of the pandemic (stay home and be safe!) don’t worry, this strategy can be mapped onto other budgeting needs too! 

So how does a relatively broke college student make a budget without really knowing how to make one? Well, the first thing I did was take a deep breath because I had to start with a clear and calm mind. I knew I could do this, it would just take some work and a few adjustments. I wasn't sure how to get started, so I made a list of what I thought were the most logical steps to follow: 

  1. I wrote out my current income and expenses to find out what resources I had and where I needed to make adjustments. 

  1. I set a deadline for when I needed to buy the ticket so that I could share my flight information with my professor on time and get a good price.  

I also knew that plane tickets are subject to price discrimination: the price of a ticket one day could be entirely different the next, or in just a few days. I realized that maybe even one month from now, the price for my plane ticket could be completely different (and in a bad way, i.e., be more expensive). So I prepared with extra income just in case. 

  1. I searched cost-saving websites like Expedia where I knew that I could get the cheapest and most affordable ticket possible.  

While the prices on Expedia were more affordable than your average plane tickets on direct websites like Jetblue.com, they were non-refundable. So that means that if I couldn’t go on the trip anymore, (which ironically ended up happening!) it was hundreds of dollars down the drain. 

With a list of my expenses and an idea of the price of the plane ticket (and no existing savings account to turn to), I came up with these strategies: 

Work extra hours at my work study job. Even though I knew it would be challenging for my schedule, I took on more hours because I had one source of consistent weekly income.

Cut back on some of my streaming subscriptions, like Netflix and HBO. Because this trip was a huge priority for me, I decided to cancel a few subscriptions and streaming services for a month so that these funds could be put towards my ticket.   

Pay bills early. To be more specific, I made sure that I would be able to pay my credit card for the month, and then paid it early so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. 

When it was time to purchase my ticket a month later, I saw the option to buy insurance for the ticket. Even though this was my first time buying a plane ticket on my own, I thought it might be good to have insurance. And it was only $20! For such an expensive trip, I thought, “Why not?” My budget gave me room to spend an extra $20.   

And funnily enough, as quickly as I budgeted and bought my plane ticket, a month later the world descended into chaos with the pandemic and Penn cancelled the trip. But luckily, getting the insurance paid off: I submitted a claim and a few months later I got a refund check in the mail. I didn’t get the $20 that I paid for the insurance, but re-gaining $300+ and losing $20 was definitely worth it. And with this refund I opened a savings account! 

If you’re nervous about budgeting for the first time, I understand! I’ve been there. My first budgeting experience was filled with a lot of uncertainty, but I developed some good habits along the way. These habits have especially helped me as the pandemic has progressed and economic circumstances continue to be unstable. I recognize that this pandemic resulted in the unfortunate loss of many jobs and I realize how important it is to have savings to turn to in times of emergency. If you find yourself struggling to manage finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, try out my method. If I could work it out, you definitely can too.