How to Calculate Your Cost of Living & Budget as a Digital Nomad

Digital nomad expenses & budget

“How can you afford to travel?” For experienced digital nomads, this is a question they often hear from family and friends. For those looking to become digital nomads, this is one of their top concerns.

It’s all about making sure that your income exceeds your expenses, which although might be a bit tougher to keep under control while traveling, it’s possible and then sometimes even easier if you’re used to live by renting an apartment in an expensive city and then looking to spend some time traveling in far less expensive places.

Here’s how to calculate your digital nomad cost of living: 

Identify your monthly Expenses

Maintaining a budget and sticking to it is fundamental for full-time travelers, since without proper planning, you may find yourself stuck and unable to continue your travels until you’ve saved up enough money again.

It’s critical then to start by identifying what are your monthly expenses to establish a budget for it, including:

  • Housing
  • Travel and Transportation
  • Health care & insurance
  • Groceries & toiletries
  • Internet connection
  • Restaurants
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Emergency fund

In addition to these, you may have additional expenses depending on your travel style. Perhaps you travel with a pet, and need to budget for expenses such as pet food and vet bills. It’s fundamental to be clear if your earnings will be enough to cover all of the expected expenses.

When creating your budget, start with these basic expenses and prioritize if at some point you can’t cover them all, making sure you leave enough for the fundamentals, and have always an emergency fund that will allow you to go back home if needed.

Find Cost of Living Information

In order to correctly establish a budget when traveling abroad, it’s important to understand how the prices will change from a destination to another. Here are a few sites that can help you out to gather information. It’s recommended that you check as many as possible to obtain a more accurate, balanced and validated information:

1. The Earth Awaits

Use the cost of living calculator on TheEarthAwaits.com to discover cities around the world that will suit your budget. Enter in your family size, lifestyle, and desired budget and you’ll get a list of locations that won’t break the bank. If you haven’t decided where you’d like to visit next, this calculator can help you find a city that is within your budget.

2. A Little Adrift

Explore the resources on ALittleAdrift.com to learn more about moving overseas, and important questions to ask yourself when you are choosing between a few destinations. There is also a list of cost of living guides for locations including Europe, Costa Rica, Thailand, Bali, and more.

3. Numbeo

Numbeo.com is a database with information on the cost of living for cities around the world. You can add your own numbers to help contribute to their accuracy. There is information on restaurants, utilities, child care, transportation, groceries, rent, and more.

4. Nomad List

Search the cities on NomadList.com to find out the cost of living in your next destination. NomadList shows average housing costs for a hotel or renting a one bedroom studio in the city center, as well as the typical cost of a coffee and a beer.

5. Expatistan

On Expatistan.com you can compare the cost of living in two cities and find out which is a more affordable place to live. When you really can’t choose between two options for your next destination, see which currently has a lower cost of living.

Save on Monthly Expenses

It’s obvious that your preferred lifestyle will alter your budget, so if you are a foodie, you may choose to spend more on good local food and restaurants while cutting back on housing or traveling expenses. What it’s important is to identify what matters the most for you to make sure you enjoy your nomad journey while you keep your financials under control. Here are a few tips to do it so:

Housing

Many digital nomads prefer the low-cost option of staying in a hostel. In some areas, an Airbnb that you have all to yourself is just as affordable, and may be a much more appealing option in terms of privacy, safety, and cleanliness. There might be also colivings alternatives that can provide you attractive packages including not only accommodation but also activities within the local community. If you plan on being in the area for a while, ask if you can get a weekly or monthly discount for your extended stay.

Compare accommodation in the city center with housing choices just outside the city. In areas with great public transportation, this could save you a lot of money as long as you don’t mind spending some time on a bus or subway to get into the city. Check out this post with many other accommodation alternatives for digital nomads.

Transportation

In the past we’ve shared tips to find cheap flights, from booking early, use miles programs and use flights comparison sites such as SkyScanner, Google Flights, and CheapOAir.

Opt for walking or using public transportation rather than renting a car or hiring a cab or Uber. If you’ll be using public transportation such as the buses or subway system often, look into a weekly or monthly pass as this is often a lower cost than paying daily or per ride.

Health Care & Insurance

There are many health insurance plans suited for digital nomads; spend some time looking into them and choosing the best one for you.

Don’t forget to also set aside some money in case you get sick and you can’t work during that time. Even if you’re perfectly healthy right now, you should dedicate a portion of your budget to saving for any medical expenses or emergencies.

Restaurants

Cook at home as much as possible. Instead of working from a cafe, look for other areas with public wifi or choose accommodation that has an internet connection.

Clothing

Head to thrift stores for some new-to-you clothing. As much as possible, maintain a “one in, one out” rule for your clothes. If you want to buy a new shirt, donate an old one.

Sometimes you will need to buy special gear for local weather conditions. Save up for those surprise expenses so it doesn’t blow your budget when you suddenly need rain gear or wool layers.

Entertainment

Always look for free local events. Some attractions have certain days of the week or the month where they offer a lower cost entry fee. Before paying for an attraction, check local deals that may give you a discount, such as Groupon, LivingSocial, or a city pass bundle.

Emergency Fund

Dedicate a small amount each month to an emergency fund. When something comes up and you don’t have enough in your monthly budget to cover the expense, dip into your emergency fund. This could be a medical emergency, needing to replace stolen gear, or a dip in your income.

Keep your budget under control

Once that you have all the information regarding your expected expenses, is time to do some math: Are you able to cover it with your income? Before heading off to your next destination, sit down and verify. If it’s higher than what you expected you might want to try traveling to another destination that might be cheaper, or wait until you save a bit more or win that extra client that will allow you to have a bigger income.

Once you start your digital nomad journey, remember that having a good control of your budget is as important, so use an expense management tool like expensify, that will help you to keep control of what you spend, along a good mobile banking tool.

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