Select Page

This post deviates from our normal stories about life on the road. It’s also a bit of a meandering stream of consciousness. But I’m sure our dedicated readers will bare with me. With Ike back in the States to attend Grandpa Don’s memorial celebration, I’ve had a lot of time to myself to sit and ponder and, well, become inspired!

It’s funny how one link  shared from a friend (thanks, Heather!) can spark your imagination and ignite your passions. And that is what happened to me yesterday. One minute I was looking at this amazing, expandable truck home, and the next I was immersing myself deep in the knowledge of “tiny houses.” I mean, look at this kitchen porn!

We’ve been extremely frustrated with our home search over the past couple of weeks. We plan to return to Madison, our home pre-Sweetcakes, but due to the university and Ike’s former employer’s massive growth, the rental market is just bonkers. Insanely high rents for small, run-down apartments. So we started to look at purchasing a home and found some we liked and well within our means, but we just aren’t certain that purchasing a home makes sense for us even though we are financially prepared. And given that it’s one of the biggest purchases we will ever make, we had better be damn certain! 
Then yesterday I was reacquainted with the tiny homes movement, and I’m so inspired by everything it represents! Hopefully one day in the not too distant future, we can have our own tiny place to call home. Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice functionality. You can do so much in a small space if you are creative and smart about using it. Coming off a year of living in our car and tent, a 500 square foot home would feel uber spacious! (For the record, that’s one fourth of the size of the typical American home.) Americans, of course, are infamous for their unnecessarily large, sprawling homes. It’s a central tenet of the American Dream, right? I still don’t understand why we feel the need to represent our importance with our big homes, fancy cars, and all our “stuff.” 
Thankfully Ike and I are perfectly comfortable taking a critical look at what society tells us is “success” and instead we focus on what is important to us and our values. And, friends, I think a tiny home might be a part of that. A tiny home enables us to substantially shrink our environmental footprint, and with less space we have no room to accumulate unnecessary “stuff.” Not only does this further reduce our environmental footprint and at the same time save us money, it allows us to focus on the truly important things in life. Win, win, win! As we are told in the Gospel of Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth,
where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal.
But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven,
where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal.
For wherever your treasure is,
there will your heart be too.

And while we are on the subject of “stuff,” I also stumbled upon a new must-read blog: Frugalwoods. These are a couple of 31-year-olds who plan to retire at the ripe old age of 33. Yes, you read that right. How?????????? you might be wondering. Yes, they intend to have children; and no, they aren’t trust fund babies. Instead, they practice extreme saving and live far beneath their means. These self-proclaimed “frugal weirdos” (I prefer “frugal badasses”) lived on a mere $13,000 + mortgage payments in 2014. They save 65-85% of their take home pay. Not only do they have a lot of great tips and ideas for saving money, they are able to eloquently explain what I am not able to. Seriously, check them out if you think you couldn’t possibly save up for your own big adventure, whatever form that may take. 
You can afford anything, but not everything.
Ike and I practiced a less extreme version of this lifestyle while saving for our big trip. We’ve been asked countless times by friends and strangers, “So, how are you paying for this?” One person asked if we took out a loan to cover our trip expenses. Dear God, no! But with equal parts luck/privilege/blessing and hard work, we were able to not only save up enough money for our trip (we are currently at the $50k mark), but also enough for a sizable home down payment and a large nest egg for wherever our future might take us. Oh, and we paid off our student loans (shout out to both of our families for helping pay for our education! We love you.). We accomplished all of this in merely 3 years by simply living well below our means. How many other 28-year-olds do you know that just happen to have $50k+ available, enabling them to drop everything and set out on an adventure? However many it is, it’s not enough. 
And so, in an effort to inspire some of you to make lifestyle changes to enable you to follow your dreams, here is a list of a few of the ways we lived below our means and were able to save such a large percentage of our income. (I never calculated our personal savings rate, but you can be sure I will once we start working again, thanks to the FWs.) Trust me when I say we are not trying to brag or boast. We are trying to show you that it is possible for you to start saving, too!
  1. Small(ish) apartment
    Our entire time in Madison we lived in the one bedroom apartment that I had as a graduate student. While we were paying $720/month in rent, we had plenty of friends and coworkers shelling out $1000+/month in rent for their luxury/large/prime location housing. And many of them were doing this on a single income, sans roommates. That is a perfectly fine way to spend your money, but for us this was a no brainer. We were able to stash away so much extra money simply by paying less for rent, and for us that was well worth the slightly smaller, slightly frumpier, slightly less prime location. Everything is a trade-off, remember. Bonus: we also avoided the hassle (and expense) of moving!
  2. Stop buying “stuff”
    This was a big one for me, especially. While growing up, going shopping with my mom was one of our favorite ways to spend a “girls day” together. I have many fond memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything and of course my closet was full of spiffy clothing. And, honestly, I still enjoy going shopping with my mom to this day! But as I grew up and was out on my own (and with gentle prodding from friends and Ike), I realized that I had a lot of clothes. More than I could possibly wear. I gradually weeded out items to donate and reduced my trips to the mall. Once Ike and I decided to take a big trip, I cut way back on my purchases of clothing and items that cluttered up our home and our lives. The entire last year before we left on our trip, we only purchased items that we needed for our trip.

    Unexpected bonus: a “no purchase” rule is extremely liberating. It really is crazy how much background brain power is used up by constantly trying to make decisions about what to buy.

    This was around the time that news of a Bangladesh clothing sweatshop collapse, killing 100+ workers and injuring more than a thousand more. This incident really hit home for me. I was partially responsible for the deaths and injuries! Me, with my demand for cheap, plentiful clothing. Although by this time I had practically ceased purchasing clothing, I vowed to try my best to never purchase new clothing items that had been made by workers in sub-par safety conditions. When we return, I know I will have to purchase a few clothing items and I really hope I am able to stick with my goal of purchasing only used or fairly made clothing. The last time I researched fair trade clothing, there really weren’t many options, so it looks like I will have to rely primarily on used items. Which, hey, that’s better for our savings plan anyway!

    Are you intimidated by your overflowing closet? I’ll share some great advice I received from a friend when I was just starting my closet purge: Once you’ve identified all the items that you want to get rid of (because you no longer wear them, they don’t fit, they aren’t your style, etc.), put them in a big plastic bag and set them somewhere out of the way in your home. They are still there if you need them. Wait a couple of weeks and if you miss an item that you decided to part with, just go grab it from the bag. But after a couple of weeks (put a reminder on your calendar!), everything still in the bag’s gotta go. If you’re like me, you won’t miss a single item that you chose to donate. This is a good way to combat the fear that stems from our attachment to material items. Baby steps, people.

  3. No cable TV
    This was another no brainer for us, and likely for many others in our generation. With youtube, Hulu, networks streaming their shows online, and services like Netflix and Redbox, you certainly don’t need a cable TV subscription. And at $50-$100 per month, your bank account doesn’t need it either!
  4. Home-cooked meals
    Luckily for us we enjoy cooking (and in my case, I really, really enjoy it), so this one is easy for us. But, it probably won’t be for some of you! We both grew up in homes where the majority of our meals were home cooked. We enjoy spending time together in the kitchen. And, quite frankly, we are damn good cooks! Many times our homemade food is more delicious than anything you could find at a mid-priced restaurant, not to mention much, much cheaper. If you can read and follow directions, you can cook. Trust me. Want some recipe recommendations? Send us an email. We have continued to cook the majority of our meals, and they continue to be delicious, even though we are living out of a car. So what’s your excuse?
  5. One car family
    To city dwellers or non-Americans, this probably doesn’t seem like we were cutting back. And I agree! Owning a car is a luxury; an expensive luxury! But in most of America, families have 2, 3, or even more cars. Everyone who is old enough to drive should have their own car, right? Nah, not really. We technically could have gotten by without a car at all, but life would have been much harder. Instead, we kept one vehicle (well, and then added Sweetcakes to the family when the time came, but she’s more appropriately placed in the “vacation home” category, right?). I’m not going to lie, sometimes even with a car, life wasn’t easy. Ike traveled a lot for work, and on days when he was not traveling we carpooled to work. This meant we had to plan ahead (who drops off who?), be flexible (ugh, you have another 7am meeting?), and sometimes beg our friends and coworkers to let us hitch a ride with them. We also frequently rode our bikes when the weather was decent and made use of Madison’s public bus system. When we return to Madison we are hoping to be located in a more walkable part of the city, which will cut down on our transportation costs even further.
  6. Use less energy
    Having worked in the energy efficiency industry, reducing our energy usage is obviously one of my passions. But we did it to save money, too! Although, if you ask me, electricity and gas are so cheap in the US that all of our energy-saving efforts probably didn’t add up to significant dollar savings. Still, the environmental benefits made it worth it to us. We rarely used our AC, kept our apartment on the cold side in winter (we had electric heat, ouch$!), plugged all (and I mean all) of our electronics into power strips and switched them off at night to combat vampire load, and line dried all our laundry. We had a nice, new dryer in our apartment unit, but I think we literally only used it 5 times during the 5 years we lived there. Extra bonus: your clothes last longer when they aren’t subjected the the extreme conditions within your dryer! 

These were some of the bigger lifestyle changes we made, but really saving for our trip and our future adventures became part of our lifestyle. That being said, we could have saved a lot more if we had tried. We still traveled extensively, both in the US and abroad, went out to eat with friends, consumed many a craft beer at the local microbreweries, and took advantage of concerts, plays, dance classes, etc. that make city living so wonderful. To be honest, we still lived it up!
And now, what about life after our big trip? 
When we set off on this trip, Ike and I both thought this would be the “one big adventure” of our lives. But it didn’t take long for us to realize we want this type of life to be our new normal, rather than the exception. Wherever our dreams take us over the next few decades, I would hate to see myself still sitting at my desk working 40+ hours per week doing something I am good at and moderately enjoy, but that is not my burning passion. I want the freedom to pursue my passions (travel, cooking, gardening, exploring the outdoors, volunteering). 
We always assumed we would continue to live below our means when we returned from this trip, but discovering the Frugalwoods, and via them the financial genius of Mr. Money Mustache, I have a new sense of clarity. Exactly how little can we get by on? Retiring by age 40? That sounds pretty good to me.
============ EXTRA CREDIT ============
Since I’m a data nerd I created a simple spreadsheet to track our expenses when we return home. And now we’re making it available to you at the low, low cost of free! Because that’s how much we love you. Check it out.