The Space Cadet's Guide to Tokyo · Travel Guides

A Space Cadet’s Guide to Tokyo Part 2: Budgeting and Saving

Hello Space Cadets! Welcome back!  If you are new to this guide, please take some time to read the Introduction and Part 1,  and participate in those activities. I will be happy to answer any questions you have, please leave them in the comments below.

At this point we should already have a rough idea of when we’ll be going, so today we will be talking about how to set a budget, and create a savings plan. Right now we have two primary objectives to be budgeting for: Purchasing a plane ticket, and saving money for accommodations, activities and shopping.


For most people, the plane ticket to and from Japan is going to be their largest expense, and you’ll want to have that ticket in hand before you begin planning accommodations or activities. This part of the guide is going to assume that you will be purchasing your ticket outright, instead of purchasing it through a travel package or school exchange program, since going it on your own is more difficult. Obviously, if you’re using another method you’ll still need to budget, but you can modify the steps in this guide to work for your specific situation. Also remember – you may have to create a “theoretical budget” in order to get a complete picture of your finances, and then modify the length of your trip or your travel dates to make your savings plan work – what is important is that by the end of this excersize you know exactly how much you need to save up each month in order to make this trip a reality.

stardust-moon-by-me Setting Up a Budget stardust-moon-by-me
One of the main reasons that people find a large trip like this difficult to plan is that often times people don’t know how to budget, and the cost seems overwhelming. Unfortunately most of us can’t rely on a single sales post to generate the kind of income you’d need to fund such a large trip – and if we don’t start planning, we won’t be able to take advantages of airfare sales or discounted accommodations as they occur.  If you already have a personal budget, you can go ahead and skip this step – but for those of you who haven’t done this before – we’re going to sit down and take a look at our personal finances together! dust-by-me

To create a budget you need to make a list of your income and expenses, as they occur on a monthly basis. Take a moment to jot down any and everything you can think of that falls into the following categories!

● Regular Income –  any source of money you have coming in on a regular basis – from work, school, family, odd jobs, etc.
● Irregular Income – money you have coming in from one time events like sales, tax refunds, gifts, etc.

● Recurring Expenses –  bills like rent, water, electric, insurance, phone bill, internet & cable, student loans, etc.
● Irregular Expenses – One time payments or fluctuation payments –  debt from credit cards, or purchasing books for classes, etc.
● Savings Payments- monthly payments from your checking to savings, retirement, or any other form of long-term savings.
● Other Expenses: Other regular purchases you make – gas, food, clothing, entertainment etc.

From here, you can subtract your expenses from your income to find your monthly balance – that is, the left over cash you have at the end of the month. If you know that certain months are going to be expense heavy or income heavy, or if you’re expecting a large number of irregular expenses/income in one month, you’ll probably want to set up a specific budget for those dates as well. Having this information easily available lets us know how much to save each month, and also where we’ll need to cut back on spending, so that we can achieve our travel goals.

Here is a quick example budget. Please remember that not everyone will have the same numbers in each category, which means that your savings plan may be different from that of a travel partner.

Standard Budget (11 Months)
Income: 1700.00
● Regular Income –  1,700.00
● Irregular Income – 0.00

Expenses: 1,417.00
● Recurring Expenses –  1000.00
● Irregular Expenses – 67.00
● Savings payments – 50.00
● Other Expenses – 300.00

Balance: 283.00

April Budget (1 Month)
Income: 2,200
● Regular Income –  1,700.00
● Irregular Income – 500.00

Expenses: 1,509.00
● Recurring Expenses –  1000.00
● Irregular Expenses – 159.00
● Savings Payments – 50.00
● Other Expenses: 300.00

Balance: 691.00

Now, assuming this were your budget for one year, if you took every last bit of your balance and saved it up, you’d have 3,804.00 USD to put towards your trip. At roughly the 3 month mark, you’d be ready to purchase airfare. Assuming that you are going with a budget friendly plane ticket cost of about $900.00, and your accommodations range between $200.00 – $400.00, that would leave you with roughly $2,500 – $2,700 for spending on food, entertainment and souvenirs. Sounds pretty good to me!

I know that some of you are nodding enthusiastically, but lets slow down for a minute and think about our spending habits.  Ask yourself, honestly, how realistic is it to assume that for an entire year you’re going to put away every single extra penny?  What about all the cute new releases, special events, and horrible surprise expenses that pop up throughout the year?! In cases like these, you’ll have to sit back and prioritize – is this new expense something that is necessary, or is it just another passing fancy? 

If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to stick to such a strict budget, you might want to have a monthly minimum that you put towards your trip regardless of any other frivolous spending. Setting aside 100$ a month won’t get you to Japan in 1 year, but it can get you a step closer to buying that plane ticket.

stardust-moon-by-me  Budgeting your Plane Ticket stardust-moon-by-me
As I mentioned earlier, purchasing a plane ticket is one of the first things you have to do before you can really start planning your trip. After all, how can you know what attractions will be available before you have your concrete travel dates picked & paid for? Unfortunately, plane tickets can easily account for 1/3 of your budget, so the best way to get them squared away is to find a way to fund them early (sales posts, extra shifts, cutting spending, etc), and ideally within the first 3-4 months of your savings plan. Once your ticket is squared away, you’ll be able to relax a bit while saving for the rest of your trip.

stardust-moon-by-me Budgeting the Rest of Your Trip stardust-moon-by-me
The other thing to keep in mind is that not every trip needs such a grand allowance to have a good time. Do you really need $2,500 to have a good time for a 5 day trip, or could you do just as well with $1,000? Once your plane ticket has been paid for, you can set up a budget for other activities, and figure out how to scale your savings plan to match it. There are two ways to do this – budget for specific activities, or give yourself a daily allowance.

For our first example, if I know I absolutely must visit Tokyo Disney Sea, eat at Pom Pom Purin Cafe, see the Ghibli Museum, and have some cash set aside for Lolita Shopping, I’ll want to list these things out and create a budget for them (slightly overestimating is good, if you can.) Assuming our trip is 5 days long:

Disney Sea – $75.00 (ticket), $30.00 (food), $50.00 (gifts) – $155.00 Total
Pom Pom Purin – $25.00 (food) – $25.00 Total
Ghibli Museum –  $20.00 (ticket), $30.00 (gifts) – $50.00 Total
Lolita Spending – $ 300.oo (clothing) – $300.00 Total
Train Fare – $10.00 / day x 5 days = $50.00
Food – $20.00/day – 5 Days = $100.00
Other Spending – $70.00/day x 5 days = $350.00
Accommodations – $60.00/day x 5 days = $300.00
Trip Total: $1330.00

Now, how much do we need to save a month, in order to achieve this goal? 1330.00/9 months = $147.00 a month (remember, we used our budgeting from month 1-3 to pay for a plane ticket, so on a 12 month plan that gives us 9 months to make up the rest.) Take a look at your personal budget, and how much your monthly balance is. Is this a reasonable goal? Do we need to cut our spending now so that we can do more while we’re on vacation, or should we shorten our to-do list so that we can keep our current lifestyle? Most of us are going to have to compromise and prioritize so don’t feel bad if you have to skip out on a meetup or two to make your planning work out.

The other way to set up a savings plan is to look at your monthly balance and decide how much of that you want to save, and divide that total up by the number of days you’ll be in Tokyo. Using our earlier example, and assuming we will be visiting for 5 days, please consider the following:

Monthly Balance: $283.00 (x 9 months)
April Irregular Income: $500.00 ( x 1 month)

Now, say that I want to use $180.00 from each month, and $300.00 from my expected April Irregular Income – how much does that give us overall for the trip? $180.00 (Monthly Savings)  x 9 (Months left after plane ticket) = $1620.00 + 300.00 (April Irregular Income) = $1920.00 Total for the trip.

What I need to do now is similar to our first savings plan example, and write out the trip expenses that I absolutely know I’ll need to take care of – accommodations & advance purchase event tickets are likely going to be the big ones here. We’ll call them our Set Expenses. Using some of the items from our previous example:

Disney Sea – $75.00 (ticket)
Ghibli Museum –  $20.00 (ticket)- $25.00 Total
Accommodations – $60.00/day x 5 days = $300.00
Set Expenses Total: $395.00

You’ll notice that food, train fare and gifts aren’t included here, because what we’re going to do is just give ourself a daily allowance like so:

$1920.00 (trip budget)
– $395.00 (set expenses)
= $1525.00
/ 5 days
= $305.00 per day.

After deducting our set expenses from our total budget, that will leave us with $305.00 a day for spending on whatever we want – food, gifts, tickets, you name it. For those of you who are more lax about planning specific itinerary when you travel, this might be an easier system to use.

I know that this might seem extremely overwhelming and difficult to accomplish. As I mentioned before, you may have to set up a theoretical budget first, just so that you can plug in the numbers and get a good idea of your finances. Once you’ve done that, you can sit down and realistically plan out how to get that plane ticket money set aside quickly. If it is going to take 4-6 months, or even a year to do, keep in mind that what is ideal (3-4 months) might not be practical for you – and you need to adjust these guidelines to fit your life. Once you have the money set aside for the plane ticket, planning the rest should be much easier. After all, at that point, you should have some experience behind you!

As always, feel free to ask questions or leave suggestions in the comments below!

Good luck and happy saving!
Rosie Darling


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