Since we get this question a lot, we thought we would share a quick post about it. We wondered the same thing when we started dreaming of this adventure. I thought, “Who does something like this anyways?! An entire year without an income!? What about student loans? And the cars?!? What about returning home?! Will we be living in my little brother’s basement? Shit!” Question marks and anxious exclamation marks filled my head.
I mistakenly thought that those wrapped in the security of a trust fund or inheritance and Australians (You run into Australians everywhere on the road!) were the only ones who could afford to do something like this.
So, how did it go down?
It all started when one frugal person ate lunch in a parking lot with another frugal person. That would be the beginning of ‘us’. Awe…I know. I think we can all agree that if eating in a parking lot says anything, it says LOVE CONNECTION.
Anyways, we were both fairly frugal before we met each other. This meant that we both owned clothes that we wore in high school. We didn’t have TVs in our places because we didn’t want to pay for cable or, for that matter, a TV. I had recently purchased a full silverware set so I had more than two forks in the kitchen. Nic found his apartment furniture in the alleys of Long Beach, California, where we lived. I’m not making this up. He found his couch on the street. It was puke green and velvet. Kind of adorable and kind of gross.
This all means that we entered our relationship without a lot of personal debt. There were some student loans but the monthly payments were reasonable because I already paid off those with the highest interest rates.
We were lucky in this regard. Since we didn’t have a lot of debt to worry about, we focused on saving.
1.) We lived on one income. There were two big things that helped us live on one income. First, we both had good jobs so that was certainly helpful. Second, our housing costs were low because we had three people in a two bedroom apartment. We split rent and utilities with my brother who lived in the apartment’s second bedroom. I don’t know if everyone would like living with their sibling but my brother is hilarious so it worked out. You should see his dance moves. Good jobs and low housing costs set us up to be able to live on one income but we had to do more, which brings me to item #2.
2.) We started tracking all of our monthly expenses to figure out where we could cut costs. Mint.com made this easy and, I will admit, sometimes FUN! However, there was that one time when Nic texted me to ask if the smoothie I just bought for $4.98 was any good. We were in two different towns. He just saw the credit card transaction go through on the Mint app on his phone. You can’t hide anything from each other on Mint 🙂
To cut costs, we did the following:
- Moved to cheaper cell phone plans.
- Changed car insurance plans to get a better rate
- Used the library instead of buying books and magazines
- Limited how often we went out to eat. Adjusting how much we ate in restaurants wasn’t any fun because we loved eating out and who likes cooking after working and commuting? That’s right, NOBODY. First world problems.
- Nic cut his own hair and I went to the salon only about once a year for a basic haircut and my very generous sister cut my locks at times.
- We try to fix, repair and maintain things ourselves. Like changing the oil in our cars or replacing brakes.
- Our hobbies were inexpensive. We biked around town, went for hikes, found free comedy shows and took advantage of happy hours. As a yoga teacher, I was able to practice for free and Nic would often spearfish on the weekends which is free, and in some cases it helped save some money on food when he brought back fresh fish and lobster.
- In MOST cases, we brought leftovers from home to eat for lunch at work. I was surprised by how much we were sinking into lunch at work and it is not even good food. And, I usually eat it in a rush so WHY would I want to spend my money on it? Think: $5/ day * 5 days = $25 for 4 weeks = $100 a MONTH. That’s $1200 a year. For two people, that’s $2400 a year. That’s two plane tickets to Europe!
3.) We didn’t have a big wedding. We didn’t have a small wedding. We didn’t really have a wedding at all. I know a courthouse ceremony isn’t for everyone but it was definitely for us. Our so-called wedding cost about $700, rings included (I only have one ring because one ring is just as good as two in my book).
According to the interwebs, the average cost of a wedding in America is $30,000. Even if Nic and I had a wedding, I don’t think we would have spent $30,000 so let’s just assume we would have spent $10,000. We just saved $9,300 by not having a formal wedding. That was fast! Also, if we had a wedding, it would have been DIY and my style is pretty terrible so the decorations would have ended up looking like the equivalent of a big, brown scribble. So, we not only saved money but we saved our family and friends from experiencing a big, brown scribble wedding! It’s a win-win, people!
4.) We didn’t buy a house. Let’s say we would have purchased a house for $100,000, which would be impossible in California but possible in Michigan. If we wanted the best rates, we would have put down 20% or $20,000. Our down payment went to traveling. Perhaps we will regret putting off buying a home for a year or two, but maybe not. You just never know what’s going to happen.
5.) We shifted our mindset. All dollars saved were converted into travel terms. For example, saving $100 at the hair salon is the equivalent of spending one more day traveling. Saving $500 on rent is a one-way ticket to Europe. If I saw a new $30 shirt, I thought, “Would I rather spend my money on this shirt or on travel?” Travel won. Essentially, we asked ourselves, “Does our spending match our values?” We did everything we could to make it match.
6.) Saving makes us happy. It keeps life simple because you are not introducing a bunch of new things into your life. One influential essay I read suggested to think of all the energy it takes to manage your stuff and ask yourself if it is worth it.
Think about it – First, it takes energy to make money to buy the thing. Then, it takes energy to find the thing you want to buy. Then, you buy it. Then, you transport, use, clean and store it. And, eventually, you will probably get rid of it. Is the thing you are buying worth all that energy?
These are pretty obvious strategies. We didn’t really do anything unique. But it helped us accumulate the funds we needed to execute our around the world travel budget.