Did We Win the Lottery? The Finances of Full-Time Travel
One of our most frequently asked questions as full-time travelers, particularly as we both quit our corporate jobs before we were 50, is "Did you win the lottery?" The truth is a lot more mundane. We saved regularly over a long period of time while working at our corporate jobs. Most importantly, we drastically reduced our expenses in order to change our lives. How did we do it?
If we hadn't made the choice to dramatically reduce our cost of living we would be in a different place today. The lack of a mortgage, property tax and car payments has allowed us to embark on this journey more than anything. Yes, we do have savings due to the choices we made earlier in our lives but by far the difference between our lifestyle now and before is less about what we earn and more about how little we choose to spend.
I'm always reticent to talk about finances in the blog. Firstly, because everybody lives differently and they value different things and people can be judgmental about money. Also, since we are British it isn't the 'done thing' to talk about money. Something to do with our Downton Abbey style uptight natures makes it seem vulgar.
However, I am happy to share a few things we have learned along the way since we have just finished a complete calendar year on the road. I'll explain in general terms how our financial situation has changed compared to our full-time working, sticks and bricks life. I'll share which of our expenses have gone down, up or stayed the same.
In the past our accommodation expenses included: a mortgage payment, condo fees and property taxes. This has been by far our biggest saving since becoming full-timetravelers. All of these costs were replaced solely by camping fees since we bought our trailer outright when we hit the road. For us these fees can range from, at the high end, about $55 a night for California Coastal State Parks with hook ups, to boondocking for free. We averaged $21 a night last year or about $640 a month. Not even close to what we paid to live in downtown San Diego. These costs include storage fees for the trailer and parking fees for the truck when we traveled elsewhere (e.g. when we were in Mexico and on vacation to the UK). We could reduce this average a lot by boondocking more. We free-camped for just over 70 nights in 2015 but location is always priority number one for us. We would rather pay camping fees to be nearer a location we really want to explore.
Utilities & Subscriptions
We have no utility bills at all on the road. No electricity, water or garbage collection. We do have to buy propane for cooking & heating but that is a much smaller expense than our old bills. These days we don't have a cable bill but do subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Music and Amazon Prime. Combined these total around $36 a month, much cheaper than cable or satellite.
When we had corporate jobs we had two wardrobes, a work one and a casual one. Now we live in flip flops, jeans and t-shirts, we buy far fewer clothes than we did before.
About The Same
Internet access is a major expense and we have a variety of cell phone plans with different data allowances. The cost of this is a variable entity but at the moment we can meet all our needs with about $150 a month. This is less than we paid for our cell phone and broadband plans in our old life, but not that much.
For the last 18 months before hitting the road we lived and worked in downtown, but before that we had a 50 mile round trip daily commute. We now drive a diesel truck and find we get about 15 MPG when towing the trailer and more like 17 MPG with the truck alone. That is a lot less economical than our old gas cars but we don't have that daily commute. Now that we only run one vehicleI would say our fuel costs are about the same.
We are spending more on groceries than before. Partly because we buy in small batches due to space constraints but also because we don't eat out as much as before when we lived in a city. All in all, I would say the increase in grocery spending is made up for by the decrease in dining out.
Now we are no longer employed we have to buy our own insurance and it is our largest individual monthly expense. Since we have a large deductible we operate on a mostly cash pay basis and save money by buying meds and having dental treatments outside the US.
Overall the HUGE reduction in our living expenses (accommodation and utilities) means that we live on a drastically smaller budget than we did in the past. I would estimate we have reduced our cost of living by almost two thirds compared to our sticks and bricks life. Who needs to win the lottery with those kinds of savings!