How to Not Go Broke At Work: 8 Money-Saving Tips for Flight Attendants
With the start of the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. And quite a few of my 2022 goals are financial. I’ve been looking at my earnings, my savings, my debt, and the big one—my spending, to come up with a plan to accomplish said goals. A lot of mindless spending can happen on layovers and work trips. And since we come here to make money, not give it away, work is a good place to start if you’re wanting to cut back.
Here are some money-saving tips for flight attendants, so we don’t go broke at work.
Before we start, I’ll state the obvious that I’m not a financial expert. Just a flight attendant trying to get her own shit together and sharing the little, easy ways I save money on work trips.
Also note that I believe strongly in priority-based budgeting. Meaning that you should make room in your budget for the things that you love and that make you happy. Actually happy—not like Amazon shopping to fill the void when you’re bored or lonely.
For example: If travel makes you happy, don’t try to cut travel expenses completely out of your budget. It will be unrealistic to follow. And if you do succeed in cutting those costs, you might be unhappy with your quality of life. So, take all of these tips with a grain of salt and the caveat that YOU are the only one who knows what something is worth to you.
And without further ado, here we go:
8 Money Saving Tips for Flight Attendants
(So we don’t go broke at work)
1. Pack your lunch
Pack. Your. Lunch. Do you eat at restaurants 3x per day at home? If not, then why would you do it at work? It’s a quick way to go broke and to outgrow your uniform.
Listen, eating out is great. I enjoy it as much as the next guy. I went out to dinner with my crew in Puerto Rico last night, and it was both delicious and enjoyable. Half the reason I go to San Diego is for fish tacos. Deep dish in Chicago? I’m all in for that thick & cheesy cliché!
I am not saying don’t go out to eat. But make it a treat, rather than your every meal. I try to pack enough food to last me for my whole trip—so that I don’t have to buy food out. If I want to go out to eat on my layover, I do it without guilt. If I’m just having one of those hungry hippo days where I’ve already eaten all my food and I JUST NEED MORE, then yeah, I buy it and eat it. But that doesn’t happen all the time. So, it’s not a huge expense and it’s not something I need to depend on in order to get fed. We never know when our layover will be shortened, our 3-hour sit will disappear, we will be reassigned. I do not EVER allow myself to be in a position of not having food, because I’m a very hungry girl.
Lastly, airport food is the worst. It’s unhealthy, it’s expensive as hell, and it usually doesn’t taste great. If I’m traveling on my own time, sure I’ll buy food in the airport. (Because, again, I can’t risk getting too hungry on the plane.) But at work I almost never buy airport food. A long delay or a strong, specific craving are the occasions that would warrant me purchasing food from the airport. Otherwise, I’m spending less by eating the food I’ve prepared from grocery-shopping.
Our pay is low enough without spending half of our earnings on shitty airport food that is neither healthy nor delicious.
If you’re wondering what I bring for food on my layovers, check out these posts:
Feeding Time: Tips and Tricks from the hungriest FA Alive
What's in my lunch box for a multi-day pairing.
2. Skip Starbucks
I love coffee and I love me some Starbucks. I am NOT saying to never treat yourself to the deliciousness of a venti brown sugar oat milk shaken espresso. What I am saying is don’t do it every day. A $6 coffee might seem like nothing, but if you buy five a week, that ends up being $120 per month. If it is your priority to spend this kind of money on coffee, then by all means go for it! Balance it out somewhere else in the budget, cut something you care about less. But I think for *most* of us, those little “treats” we buy at Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts/Pete’s/The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf can creep up into a bigger budget item than we’d realized.
Almost all our layover hotels offer free coffee. And our crew lounges in base airports have free coffee as well. I bring my Yeti full of coffee from home in the morning that I made in my French press. And before I leave a hotel, I fill it up with coffee to bring on my flight. This means I only buy a coffee if I am intentionally treating myself. The caffeine needed to survive the day is not a treat for me, and does not come from Starbucks. Instead, I reserve those coffee runs for “Wow, what a nice day, I feel like getting a latte.” “A 3-hour delay in the airport? I’m treating myself to coffee!” etc. etc. etc.
If you’re too much of a coffee snob to drink the hotel or airport variety, then get yourself some Via instant packets. Surely, you’re not too good for hot water from the hotel?
Free coffee, free muffins. The frugal-est flight attendant.
3. Go out with the pilots and hope they buy your drinks
JUST KIDDING. If you can’t afford your own stuff, stay in. If you can’t afford to tip, stay in. Buy wine from the supermarket across the street and bring it to your room to avoid paying bar markups and tipping. Buy a six pack from the gas station and drink it at the pool with your crew. Reminisce about being a teenager and having hotel parties. (Did anyone else do this? Just me and my friends?)
Sometimes when we go out with our crew, the pilots will be very generous and offer to buy drinks. This should never be expected. Obviously. Sometimes another flight attendant will pick up your meal or coffee tab, and it is such a nice treat when that happens. Someday, when you are able, make sure you pay it forward. Good vibes can be recycled round and round if we keep it up.
4. Happy Hours.
This might seem like an obvious money-saving tip for flight attendants, but it all depends where you’re from.
The great state of Massachusetts, my home state, does not legally allow drinks to be sold for different prices throughout the day. (And if you’ve ever been to a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, you probably understand why we can’t be trusted with happy hours.)
I was thrilled to be able to take advantage of happy hours on my layovers in different cities, whether having drinks or half-priced apps. With any luck, by the end of happy hour you will have made a friend to buy you your next round. Cheers!
5. Work evenings.
Not everyone can control their schedule, but many of us can. When I was on reserve and when I was a new (still broke) line holder, I found that I spent less money working later flights. After a long day at work, I would end up in a hotel at night and go straight to bed. I would have the morning to myself the next day and work again in the afternoon.
This took ‘dinner and drinks with the crew’ off the table. And crews are far less likely to get together to socialize in the morning.
With only time in the morning, I couldn’t rack up a big bar tab or restaurant bill. Instead, I ate the breakfast I brought from home, worked out in the gym, and had mostly spending-free layovers. If you find you are always going out in the evenings and want to cut back on spending, this might be a good tip for you to try.
Don't mind me, I'll just be slam-clicking my way through the month.
6. Take advantage of the discounts.
As flight attendants, we get a lot of perks with this job. Discounts on rental cars, restaurants, activities, hotels (though that is not particularly useful on layovers.) We get a deal on helicopter rides in Las Vegas! A deal I still have yet to take advantage of, but it’s on my list. If there is something you want to do on a layover, check one of our many discount sites first to see if we get a deal. Ask when booking tours, activities, rentals “Do you offer airline employee discounts?” Sometimes even restaurants not affiliated with our crew hotel will offer us discounts if they know we’re in town a lot.
If you know you’re going to have a long layover somewhere, check out Groupon for activities or restaurant discounts. In Chicago you can almost always find deals on the architecture boat tours. You could do a whale watch in Seattle and visit J-Pod. (Like I did in Victoria, BC. Read about it HERE.) Do a brewery tour, if that’s your thing. Discounted kayak rentals for a day on Ladybird Lake in Austin. There is something to do everywhere, and why not do it for less? Of course, you can never be certain you’ll actually have that layover, as things can get dicey in the airline biz. (Especially when you make plans!) But Groupon allows you to get refunds or trade in your purchase for a credit, depending on the dates. That credit can be used for the next city adventure.
This is another obvious, but very useful, money-saving tip for flight attendants.
7. Get outside.
This may not sound like the best advice when it is 10 degrees in the dead of winter. But when you’re laying over in a warmer place, or during one of the kinder seasons, you can save money by spending time outside on your layover.
Instead of shopping, or bar-crawling, go for a long walk around the city. When I was in better running shape (read: less lazy) I loved going for runs on my layovers. Chicago, Austin, and DC are my favorite places to run. You can get a great overview of the city you’re in and get your steps in, too. Bring your debit card in case you pass a cute smoothie shop (or coffee shop, or pizza shop, or whatever) so you can treat yourself afterward. You can have a free or very cheap day that is full, fun, and adventurous. Bike rentals can be found in most major cities, and while they’re not free, they cost little and give you something fun to do for hours.
I’m also a fan of hiking on layovers. This sometimes requires a car rental or Uber/Lyft ride, but if you get a couple of your crew mates to go with you, it can be cheap and rewarding. If you’re in a beach town, this is the perfect free way to spend a layover. Bring all those snacks you packed in your lunchbox, a good book, and laze the day away in the sand and surf. Sometimes the best stuff in life really is free.
You don't need to spend a lot to have a dope layover. Nature's got you.
8. Become a Slam-Clicker.
Who wants to socialize anyway? This is one of the easiest ways for flight attendants to save money on layovers.
Stay in your room, heat up your (packed) dinner in the microwave and watch movies, read a book, or catch up on that endless to do list. Paint your nails. Do a face mask. The possibilities are endless when you’re all alone in a nice hotel room. ::Le sigh::
If you don’t know what a slam-clicker is, then check out this post: 5 Reasons This Flight Attendant Became a Slam-Clicker.
Maybe you’re a social butterfly like I used to be. In that case, look in your month for 1-2 layovers in your schedule that you could skip going out and plan to stay in for a little self-care R&R. You know I don’t advocate for skipping fun or self-deprivation. But there are times we go out on layovers out of FOMO and end up drinking, eating, and spending way more than we planned and not having that much fun. Skip a couple nights out and save it as a treat when you have a really fun crew or a really good layover.
Those are my 8 money-saving tips for flight attendants. It is not always easy to cut back on spending, but it can be done, and it can be done in a way that doesn’t mess up your quality of life. Noticing where you’re spending the most is the first step. And being thoughtful about what really matters to you and what you could do without is the next.
Try to keep in mind: We go to work to make money. Not spend it.
As much as I love fun and I love treats, I always want to be in the green when it comes to my finances at work. I hope these simple tips can help someone else. Flight attendants: What are YOUR best money-saving tips? Tell us how you keep from going broke at work. Leave it in the comments so we can share the “wealth”!
Have a happy weekend y’all. Here’s to safe travels and padded bank accounts.
One of the most embarrassing ways I used to waste money was buying bottled water, rather than schlepping my own. Glad I finally learned to pack my own water bottle! Kinder to the planet and my wallet!