The Number$


Since we decided to take this journey a year and a half ago, we've had the good fortune to talk with a massive amount of people.  We get a lot of questions, but, far and away, people want to know about money.  Some will disguise it a bit and ask us what we "do". Others are more forthright and just ask how we can afford to take what they perceive to be a perpetual vacation. Most are just honestly curious about how we'll make ends meet. Good questions, everyone. They're ones we worried ourselves with at the beginning.

The very short answer is that we first paid off our student loan debt, then saved for a year and a half, then found a way to travel (the van) that costs us less, all-in, than our previous lifestyle.  Additionally, we both found ways to work a version of our previous jobs, part-time, while on the road.  That's pretty much it. Boring, right? Still want more details? Then read on...

Reid staring down at Lake Michigan from above. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. 

First, saving.  We had no need to reinvent the wheel and won't rehash details that can be found in the thousands of blogs dedicated to the topic (one of Chip's favorites being Mr. Money Mustache).  Simply, we bought less crap, cooked most of our own food, and canceled most "services" aside from our cell phones, internet, and utilities. Of those things we kept, we found ways to minimize the cost. Babysitting? Had a neighbor sit on the couch while kids were asleep (and we returned the favor). Cell data? Dropped to 2 gigs shared. Trash pickup? Smaller can saved us 9 bucks a month. Food too expensive? Dumpster diving behind City Market provided about half of the food we needed.  We'd pay for most things with a credit card and then monthly look at the statement to find bloat. We'd buy only the things we "needed" and attempt on a regular basis to shorten the amount of things we put on that list. That's it, really.  And just kidding about the dumpster diving, though Chip tried once and bailed after failing to locate the dumpster and imagining himself in the police blotter the next day. Free food isn't worth risking dysentery or public disgrace. 

Moving on, the van. Being a true Swiss army knife of vehicles, Spud does most everything. He hauls us at highway speed, allows us to cook our own meals, sleeps all four of us in dry, warm comfort, is fairly capable off-road, and can haul full sheets of drywall along with everything in between. He came with a built-in, supportive VW community and attracts just the right amount of positive attention. The presence of car seats even deters the local fuzz from pulling us over for random drug searches (not so funny meow, is it).  At this point, he's a family member and suits us to a "T".  And he'd be a terrible choice for most people. Given Spud's age, he's also prone to breakdowns, is relatively loud on the highway, and is not terribly cheap to repair unless you're able to do your own wrenching (thanks honey).  Point being, it isn't about the van.  It is about finding a sustainable way to cook your own meals and inexpensively sleep at night, the two things that if not done will quickly lay waste to your budget.  Are you really tough? Go sleep in the back of your pickup (Hi Steve). Want to stay put more often? House-sit in coastal Oregon or volunteer as a camp host at a national park. Don't even have a car? Go on walkabout or cycle around the planet.

Camping in Wisconsin.

Last, work.  For us, this was the toughest.  We both had jobs at which we were respected, made good money, and had developed great relationships. We both absolutely dreaded the day we'd need to have "the conversation".  But we both went for it anyway. We set up a meeting, focused the conversation on the reasons we were taking this trip (family, mostly), and guess what:  It was met with understanding.  No employer likes to see a valued employee reduce their hours or quit.  But it is certainly dramatically easier if you can explain that you're doing it to pursue a dream, not to try and escape your current reality. In the end, I (Lindsay) was able to keep working for my current employer as a healthcare recruiter at dramatically reduced hours, Chip left on good terms and will be starting with MDLive soon. If nothing else we'd encourage you to at least have the conversation.  For both of us and many folks we've met along the way, we've been surprised at the length a good employer will go to retain people they value.

Okay, enough yapping. While we initially hesitated to put these numbers out there, we thought actual data would be instructive.  Like many who have gone down this road before us, we've found it actually costs us less than staying at home. Here are the rough numbers for a previous month in Durango, CO for our family of four. 

Durango, Colorado: oversimplified living breakdown:

Mortgage/tax/insurance: $1800/mo (15 yr. mortgage on a $350k house)
Gas/electric/water/sewer/internet: $250/mo
Fuel: $50/mo
Food: $600/mo
Health insurance (co-op): $550/mo
Childcare (two kids/two days per week): $700/mo
Cell Phones: $80/mo

Monthly Total: $4030

That works out to about $130 a day for an average "existence" in Durango, Colorado without any extras like "entertainment." To preempt any potential nit-picking about the numbers, Chip has offered to slash the tires of anyone who gives us any guff. Consider yourself warned :) 

Compare that to our "road life":

Mortgage/tax/insurance:  $0/mo.  House is rented, covers mortgage
Gas/electric/water/sewer/internet: $0/mo. Tenants again
Childcare: $0/mo
Food: $800 (Ate out more while visiting friends)
Fuel: $300 (about 2,700 miles of driving)
Lodging/Campsites:  $700 (A mix of mostly paid campsites, family/friends, one hotel)
Van maintenance/repairs: Wheel alignment and oil change $100/this month
Health insurance: (co-op) $550/mo
Cell phones: $80/mo

Monthly Total: $2530 (or roughly $84 per day)

This month included quite a few nights imposing on family and friends who have been popping out of the woodwork (thanks everyone!). To account for that, we added in what paid camping along with two additional nights in a hotel would have cost for those nights. Surprised by the total?  So were we when we finally crunched the numbers.  

Deserted beach at our campground makes for an awesome sunset - Fisherman's Island State Park, Michigan.

We recognize that we're blessed with good health, good jobs, and a supportive family. We don't pretend to know your life circumstances. Some of you have barriers and responsibilities that simply can't be left behind. Quite a few of you might hate the idea of camping so many nights in a row. But if money is what's holding you back from doing whatever it is that you really want to do, we hope this challenges you to take a closer look. Moreover, if there is something you are dying to do or passionate about wanting to pursue, we'd push you to consider making the time to do it. Maybe you've wanted to spend more time with your children, grandchildren, and family. Maybe you'd like to learn to kitesurf or be proficient on the ukelele. Perhaps you want to read more books, write a book, or renovate your bathroom (ours took us two years). Whatever you are passionate about pursuing, start making steps towards it, however small, now. 

*Disclaimer: Any links included in our posts are just for sake of sharing :-)