22 Ways to Save for a Thru Hike

Who doesn’t like a list of ways to save money? In my research for my thru-hike I’ve found a bunch of lists that don’t really relate to me or my situation. I don’t have a ton of discretionary money, so here is how I’m saving.

#1: Get a Job! (or 2, or 3 or more!)

I’ve got my “9-5” and 3 (!) other jobs. I’m working almost every waking hour at this point. Sure I have some time off, but I’ve only got about 4 months until departure. Think creative. Work somewhere you will get discounts on things you use regularly, or where you can get discounts on things for your hike.

#2: Make Money with a Hobby


Recycled Bike Chain Earrings

In my free time I like to be creative. Last year, I started to make things with bicycle parts from my part-time job at a bike shop. Bicycle chains are a really great material to work with. Mainly I make jewelry with bike chains. I sell on Etsy (click to go to my shop) and through a local cycling Facebook group. Now, I don’t make a ton of money, and I haven’t quite figured out the Etsy thing, but a little here and there and it’s fun to do.

#3: Eat at Home


Ramen and Kale, my everyday lunch

Don’t go spending all the money you are saving by going out to eat. Cook at home! I eat Ramen ALL THE TIME now for lunch. My frequent lunches include: leftovers, ramen and pb&j’s. Dinners will include whatever is on sale at the grocery store. I buy in bulk when things are on sale and will freeze or dehydrate if necessary. We do treat ourselves from time to time going out, but we also consider what the average plate cost is.

#4: Shop Sales


REI Outlet and me are BFF’s

I spend so much time online window shopping, it’s not even funny. There are multiple sites I frequent to see if what I’m looking for is on sale. Some of the sites I frequent are:
The Clymb
Sierra Trading Post

Sign up for their email blast so you know when they are having sales.

#5: Take Advantage of the Holidays


Best birthday present ever!

Christmas is right around the corner. Why not take advantage of this and other holidays (like your birthday) and ask for gear (or cash) to help you prepare for your hike? This is how I got a dehydrator … as a gift from my dad for my birthday!

Related: “How to Afford a Thru-Hike ebook

#6: Seek Sponsorship

What’s the worst they could say? No? Just go for it. Make a great statement, ask for exactly what you want, tell them exactly what you can do for them and see what they have to say.

#7: Buy Used


Our Ebay purchase

Due to a strange turn of events, we found ourselves without a tent this summer. Total bummer. Both Gordon and I had our own tents and we were both very fond of our tents. But, we found ourselves shopping for a new one and had decided to get the same as what Gordon had before: MSR Hubba Hubba. Well, do you know that tent is $400 new? We don’t have that much extra floating around for a new tent. So, we started looking around and found one on ebay that was claimed to be never used. The pictures looked great, so we went for it. Picked that bad boy up for $155 (shipping included). It was exactly as described. It looked like it had never been used, still had some of the tags on it. Now, it wasn’t the newest version of the tent, but it is like NEW for a fraction of the cost.\

#8: Budget


Nifty budget visuals from Mint.com

Make a budget, and stick to it! I have an app that I really like that connects all of my accounts so I can see graphs on where my money is going every month. If I get close to my allotment for a category I’ll get an email saying something like “You are $18 away from hitting your grocery limit for the month” and hopefully I get the hint to stop buying all the fancy stuff at the grocery store for the remainder of the month.

#9: Pay You First

Pay yourself first, include this in your budget! My employer offers direct deposit and I can have them split my deposit automatically between my checking and savings. So, I have them take 10% and put it directly into my savings account so I never get the chance to think about spending it.

#10: Save the Change

My bank has an option to transfer $1 each time I use my debit card from my checking to my savings account. It’s one of those things you really don’t notice day to day, but adds up quickly! Also, any of my “free range” money from my budget I take out in cash. When I say “free range” I mean money I can do whatever I want to with. I usually don’t keep a lot of this money floating around, but when I do spend it I take all of the coins and put them into our coin jar. If I’m feeling frisky maybe a dollar bill or two will end up in there too!

#11: Limit Going Out

This can be a hard one. Tonight, Yonder Mountain String Band is playing in Charlotte and I really want to go. Lets look at this together.

Tickets – $30 each ($60 total)
Drinks– $5+ each ($30 or more – 3 drinks each)
Cab/Lyft/Uber ride home – $20
Total: $110 (or more)

That’s $110 that could be put towards food, town spending, gear, or anything else while on the trail. If we did this once a month between now and then we are looking at more than $400! That’s a lot of cash that would be better spent on the trail.

#12: Stop Using Credit Cards!


Just stop it! You are raking up debt you’ll have to pay, and how do you plan to pay those monthly bills when you are not working??? Now, I do have some credit card debt that I will not be able to pay off before we head out on the trail, but I’m not going to add to it! That would be crazy. I’ve heard off people that actually say the opposite, to use your credit cards more to save points and use those points to buy things. Maybe that will work for you. But not for me. I can’t pay off my credit cards in full each month to make the benefit of the points out-way the interest charges. One thing that I do plan to do, which I haven’t done yet, is research other cards and try to do a balance transfer with a lower interest rate, or call my credit card company and attempt to negotiate a lower rate.

#13: Remove Other Luxuries From Your Routine

Luxuries can mean something different to everyone. For me, this means no more stopping for coffee at the local coffee shop in the morning. I make my coffee at home every damn day. If I do treat myself to coffee, it’s coffee… Not something fancy, like my favorite Chai Latte with a double shot…. yum! This isn’t necessarily going to save you a lot of money, but it will allow you to trim little bits away. Maybe this could mean switching to generics from name brands, do what works for you.

#14: Reduce Monthly Bills

You can reduce some of your monthly bills by lowering your energy usage. The obvious here, shut the lights off when you are not in a room, take shorter showers, etc. We don’t have cable tv, we only pay for internet service and not some super fast speed either. This saves us a TON of money each month.

#15: Find Cheaper Housing


Luxurious? Yes! Necessary… No. Use something like Apartments.com to find different housing in your city

Depending on how much time you have until you leave for your hike, this may or may not be feasible. We are in a great situation right now. We rent a duplex in a great neighborhood and are currently on a month to month lease. The rental market in Charlotte has gotten out of control recently. If you were to rent a similar place in our neighborhood we would be looking at about $800 a month. We currently pay $675, so it’d be silly for us to move. If we were to look anywhere else in Charlotte we would be looking at $1000+ a month for a 1 bedroom. Now, if we were any where else in Charlotte, we could consider living in our neighborhood and save $200 a month…. see where I went there? Or you could always beg your parents to let you stay for a few months….

#16: Make Handmade Gifts


Handmade Jewelry for the ladies in my family for Christmas

Again, the holidays are right around the corner. Make handmade gifts. People LOVE handmade gifts. Don’t know what to make? Go right now to Pinterest and get lost in all of the great ideas out there.

#17: Write a List and Stick to it


This can apply in a few different settings. I have a list for things I want and things I NEED for the AT. Anytime I think of something I want for the hike I’ll have to decide if it is a WANT or a NEED then it goes in the appropriate list. This helps me in when I have a little bit of money to buy something for the hike I’ll buy something from the NEED list. If I’m able to buy everything from the NEED list, I can than allow myself to buy something from the WANT list. The WANT list can also be handy when I’m giving family my Christmas list… Writing a list can help when going to the store as well. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it. Simple as that!


#18: Avoid Instant Gratification

This kind of falls in with sticking to your list. Take some time to think about the purchase. Do you NEED it, or do you really just WANT it RIGHT NOW?

Imagine this:

It’s 6 pm and I’ve had a long day at work. I’m walking into Target to buy some things I NEED for the house. First, I walk past the Starbucks at the door, it’s been a long day and I need a little “boost” so I go buy a latte … $6. Next, I’m walking towards the home goods section and walk past a new glittery purple nail polish. I’m all pumped up from the latte I just drank so I feel like I need it and I’ve had a long day, so I deserve it, right? … $10. I continue on to get the things I walked in for and go to the check out. Here we go again, magazines, candy and drinks… $4, $1, and $2.

So, $23 out of my pocket and not to hiking the trail…

#19: Sell Your Stuff



Don’t sell everything you own, just sell what you don’t use anymore. I was able to sell 2 bikes, some household items, used whitewater gear and clothing. Find an online garage sale in your city. I found a group on Facebook in Charlotte that you just post up WHATEVER you have that you want to get rid of and a price. I found it easier than craigslist, but craigslist is another place you can sell your used stuff.

#20: Drink Water Not Soda


Nalgene water bottles www.nalgene.com

Instead of buying sodas, juices and teas, drink water. But for the love of all things simple, don’t buy bottled water. Get yourself a water bottle and fill it up at home, at a water fountain, at a sink… where ever!

#21: Set Goals

Have a time frame in mind and set incremental goals. I have a goal to save at least $1000 each month from now until the time I hit the trail. It won’t be easy, but it’s realistic!

#22: Start Saving Early

The earlier you start, the more you will be able to save. I started my “serious saving” about a month ago, and I’m on track. If I would have committed to this adventure sooner, I would have started to save sooner. The more money you have, the more luxuries you will be able to enjoy on the trail!

Hopefully all of the hard work I’ve been putting in and the daily sacrifices made will allow me to financially complete the trail. One less reason to leave the trail early!

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Comments 5

  • Jeremy Morris : Oct 28th

    Great post, Stephanie!

    Travel credit cards have great intro rewards if you’re careful with them, but you definitely addressed that! Ebay, sponsorship and sales will certainly help with my 2016 SOBO!

    • Stephanie Bush : Nov 19th

      Thank you! Online sale searching has become part of my daily routine! And searching for sponsorship has been a really interesting learning experience, but has been going better than expected. Can’t wait to start writing up reviews 🙂

  • Chiefhiker : Nov 7th

    Good luck with your hike. If I can discipline myself to save instead of spend and overcome a few other things I may very well be one of those following after you two. I hope to begin a NB hike around the first of April, 2016. Make sure you scare the Bears away before I get there. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! If I get the urge to spend money, I should say when- not if, I pay a payment ahead so I will not have it come due when I am out there on the trail.

    • Stephanie Bush : Nov 19th

      Thank you! It’s hard to get into the saving mentality, but once you get there it becomes second nature and you triple think the money you actually spend!


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