How to create a viable monthly budget for digital nomads

18 August 2021 China

How can you afford to travel regularly?

I have often been asked this question. To answer that, I work and earn money at the same time while traveling. That is the nature of being a digital nomad, and living a digital nomad lifestyle is a never-ending workation.

Ticking off your travel bucket list might be costly. Fortunately, many digital nomad occupations may help you maintain a positive income flow—as long as you budget carefully. That doesn't mean you have to live on a shoestring budget. You can certainly go on exciting activities, splurge on a night or two on luxury Airbnbs, eat a Wagyu steak, and more.

As a digital nomad, budgeting can be pretty complicated and managing your cash while traveling is an arduous task.

Read on to learn three common budgeting strategies for digital nomads, so you can travel the way you like while staying financially healthy.

1. Zero-Sum Budget

This approach of budgeting, often known as zero-based budgeting, puts every bit of your money to good use. "In zero-based budgeting, your income minus your expenses should equal zero," according to a NerdWallet article.

That isn't to say you should spend all of your money on a luxurious spa resort vacation (though you could still visit a spa resort if the budget allows). What this means is that you assign a job to every dollar.

For example, you could set aside a percentage of your income, say 20%, for savings and investing. The remaining funds could be used for your Airbnb stays, transportation, meals, sightseeing, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Note: The zero-sum budget works best when you plant a month ahead. By the 1st of the month, you should have all the funds you need for your monthly budget. This makes it easy to keep to this strategy.


Let's say you earn $3,500 from being a remote social media manager. Every dollar of that $3,500 should be allocated to your monthly budget.

If you're planning a month-long trip around South Korea, your budget might look like this:

  • Accommodations: $600 (average of $20 per night)
  • Groceries and dining: $400
  • Sightseeing, souvenirs, and entertainment: $450
  • Transportation (buses, trains, and flights): $450
  • Travel insurance (include medical coverage): $50
  • Emergency savings: $250 (this could come in handy)
  • Phone plans, travel supplies, and miscellaneous expenses: $100
  • Debt, such as student loans: $500
  • Savings and investments: $700

Total expenses equal $3,500—exactly your monthly income.

Of course, yours will be different, but you get the idea. You have no money left at the end of the month. You will, however, have paid off debt and put money down for the future while vacationing overseas!

2. 50/30/20 Budget

The 50/30/20 budget divides your earnings into three categories:

  • 50% is set aside for needs.
  • 30% is set aside for wants.
  • 20% is set aside for savings and debt repayment.

According to an Investopedia article, the approach works because the 50/30/20 budget is "an intuitive and simple plan to help people attain their financial goals."

The 50/30/20 strategy may appear a little different for digital nomad finances.


Let's use the same income of $3,500, and let's pretend you're on a trip to Southeast Asia this time. Here's a breakdown of your $3,500 monthly budget:

  • 50% for Needs: You take $1,750, or 50% of your income, and put it toward necessities. This could involve the following:
    • Accommodations
    • Meals (groceries not including dining out)
    • Transportation
    • Insurance for travel
    • Emergency savings
    • Necessary travel supplies, new clothing, a SIM card, a data plan, and a first-aid kit
    • Minimum repayments on any debt you have, including credit card debts
  • 30 percent for Wants: Set aside $1,050 from your income to spend on your desires. This could involve the following:
    • Souvenirs
    • Luxury items
    • Dining out
    • Visiting bars and nightclubs
    • Sightseeing
  • 20% for Debt and Savings: Take $700 from your savings towards debt and savings.
    • Deposits for savings
    • Dept repayments like student loans (more than minimum repayment)

Understand that you have spending ceilings on your requirements and wants when working with a 50/30/20 budget. If you have money left over at the end of the month, save it, invest it, and pay off debt with it first. We mustn't ignore what we owe so we can achieve the freedom from debt we always wanted. Don't forget to use a little to have extra pleasure!

3. Envelope Budget

The envelope budget system began when we paid our payments in cash, as The Balance observes. Essentially, you create expense categories, such as food and transportation, and set spending limitations for each. After that, you'd put physical money in each category's envelope. When the money ran out, the spending would come to a halt.

You can do and track all of this digitally now that we've entered the digital age. When you can still use cash while traveling, you don't want all of your money for a month stashed in envelopes in your Airbnb. That's a hazardous move!

The envelope system is ideal for detail-oriented people. Because you'll be able to see where you're overspending and where you may cut costs. Evaluate how you did at the end of each month as you set your envelope budget.


Let's assume your after-tax income is $3,500 again. Set your income in separate envelopes:

  • $500 for lodging
  • $300 for groceries and dinner
  • $600 includes sightseeing, souvenirs, and entertainment
  • $400 for travel (buses, trains, and flights)
  • $50 for travel insurance that includes medical care
  • $200 in emergency funds (send this money to a dedicated savings account)
  • $150 for phone plans, travel materials, and other minor costs
  • $500 debt for Student debts
  • $700 in savings and investments

If you find yourself going over budget in a particular category, such as entertainment, consider how you may cut back. Alternatively, restructure the budget so that the envelopes contain more realistic spending amounts.

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