“I am happy, in life right now, but money is my biggest stress. I don’t need a lot, but just want enough for my family so it’s not a worry,” says Manuel, a recent Airbnb host of mine in Portugal.
His words echo those of so many others I meet around the world – many affected in countries near and far by the current economic climate. Many of us ‘feel’ it in the United States, but I tend to think a lot of us never come close to feeling it like others around the globe.
I am often asked how I was able to pay for my trip around the world. And my simple answer is ‘travel is cheaper than you think.’ I wrote about the details of how I did afford it here.
Now I am ‘back’ and living a somewhat more rooted life (read: I have an apartment in Chicago and pay monthly rent and utility bills – something I did NOT do when traveling full time, which is one of the reasons it’s cheaper than people realize – I wasn’t paying for a vacation, but just my daily living expenses). But now I am still traveling several times a year and am often gone for a month or so at a time. So, the new question is, how can I afford this now? How can I afford to travel AND still be paying rent and bills back home? I don’t have some master plan…except just basically this secret:
I spend less.
In general, I am living a somewhat simpler life. Although, I was never much of a big spender to begin with, I buy and consume even less now. I make less, but I also spend less. Plus in turn, I pay less taxes!
I don’t really need new clothes, or ‘things’ just for the sake of having them. I’ve been steadily selling or giving away a lot of my ‘stuff.’ For various reasons, I take a moment to think about everything I consume – is it reusable? It is recyclable? Can I sell it? Donate it? I eat a lot less meat. I think about packaging and bags. Just because I grew up putting every item of produce in an unnecessary plastic bag, does not mean I need to continue doing this. I’ve changed my habits for the better and hope to continue to do so. In turn it saves me money and helps the environment in which I live. Win-win for all.
In General if I don’t need it, I don’t buy it.
Pre-Paid Mobile Phone
Since returning to the US back in 2008, from not having a mobile phone at all, I have only used a pay as you go plan which costs me only about $12 per month. I ‘refill’ my phone with money/minutes every year for about $150. I love this. I prefer not to talk on the phone much and am not a fan of texting, so I just use it when I need it and save a ton of money in this way. Many people I know in the U.S., pay about $100/month or $800/year for their phone. I pay about 80% less than this. I also had my first smartphone donated to me, by a lovely reader of this site, on which I use to check email wherever there is free wifi – which is quite ubiquitous nowadays, eliminating the need for a ‘data plan.’
Power Down Electronics
I am much more aware of what is sucking power in my home. And I rarely leave things plugged in anymore using ‘phantom or vampire power.’ Just because they are turned off does not mean your gadgets are still not drawing power. Devices on stand-by are said to use 10% of the energy in your home! When I leave my apartment for most of the day or when I go to sleep each night, I switch off the power strip into which many of my ‘electronics’ are plugged: my television, cable box (which always seems to be running and warm even when ‘powered off’), stereo, phone, etc. After those items, the only things left plugged-in are a couple lamps, one bed-side clock, and my refrigerator. I don’t leave chargers plugged in once things are charged. I have a cordless phone with a few extensions. Since I have a small apartment (and don’t talk much on phone as previously mentioned), there is no need to plug in the others and waste electricity keeping them charged just so there is always a phone every 10 feet of where I’m standing. Of course, when I leave for a trip, everything gets unplugged.
Find out how I became financially independent while making less money!
Cable/Phone/Internet Seasonal Hold
Also when I go away for an extended time, I call my cable/phone/internet provider and put it all on a seasonal hold. They have a 1 month minimum and just charge a small fee to keep the account open. Many companies have this and I highly recommend looking into it instead of paying for services when you are not home even using them!
No Debt or Credit Card Balances
I think thanks in part to the way I was raised, I have always just learned to save. I made a decent wage working in television for 15 years and saved much of what I earned. I have never accrued any debt on a credit card because I simply have never ‘needed’ anything I couldn’t pay for outright. I use the Capital One Venture card because I get travel or cash rewards and its international fees are supposed to be better than most. I wrote about it here.
In my entire life, I have only owned one car. I bought it used and I sold it 5 years ago and have no need or desire for another one. I have a bicycle and now use it for nearly everything I need. I meet friends for lunch by bike, I grocery shop by bike. And that costs me nothing. If I can’t ride my bicycle, then I walk or take public transport. And on the few occasions every few months, when I really need a car, I use the car-sharing goodness of ZipCar.
I have started using this guest hosting service at home to offset my monthly rent (and meet other travelers) and am also using this abroad when I travel to cut down my lodging expenses. You can host travelers in your spare bedroom or even rent out your entire place. It works like couchsurfing, only you make a bit of cash.
Food and travel are two things that I really enjoy and on which I use my money. I cook and eat most meals at home. I do of course still like meeting friends out so to keep things in check in a city like Chicago, where dining out can be pricey, I tend to schedule more lunches rather than dinners at restaurants. And almost always, I take home half my sandwich or meal which gives me lunch or dinner for the next day. Besides cutting down my expenses, I’ve also tried to cut down my portions.
I am working mostly from home now, freelancing in television, travel writing, photography and video consulting. I am living month to month and still on some savings I had before I traveled. Can I do this the rest of my life? Not sure yet, but I am happy to live more simply, try and give it time…and see how it goes!
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Great advice and of course you can do it the rest of your life. And thanks for making others aware that they can, too. We should all try to reduce our carbon footprint. Now the trick is to get the gadget junkie in my house to follow suit! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Thanks Rhonda! I have my share of gadgets and can't live without my laptop, but the key, besides getting a good deal, is to NOT be swept away by endless marketing and feel you need to replace everything every 1-5 years!
Carolyn Collins Photography
So great to know I am not alone in realizing & living the richness of a frugal lifestyle. It is, indeed, possible to enjoy the true luxuries of life (enjoying exploration, following one's passion, enjoying loved ones & feeling truly alive) when we reasssess our priorities in day-to-day consumption & footprints. Laundry & hair do not have to be washed every day, conserving electricity and water. When it is time to replace a worn out jacket or pair of shoes, Goodwill & Salvation Army (or hand-me-downs) allow us to spend less while repurposing existing goods. Ditto with any consumables. Bravo high-five for the no car & wi-fi only… working my way toward these extra steps. Peace, smiles, and happy living! 🙂
Thanks Carolyn! So true. And good addition: I wash my hair now only every 2-3 days and do laundry less and in the US try to air dry my clothes more (where clothes dryers are quite common). I love my pre-paid cell…go for it!
Great advice for all of us, travelling or not! And if you truly love what you are doing now, you can do it the rest of your life. I believe in you 😉
I have to forward your post to my friends with whom I just had this conversation. Like you I plug out everything, event he coffee maker after I made the coffee, turn down the heat when I go to sleep or away. They spent a week with me and left their computers, kindle and cell phones plugged in at all times, even didn't shut off the computers. The light in their room burned all day and they 'demanded' a nightlight be plugged in because they didn't like to sleep in the dark. They always complain about their electricity bill, but when I tried to tell them that they could save a bundle by simply turn off all unnecessary lights and 'plug out' the gadgets, they just laughed at my "cheapness".
Hi Fida! Nice to meet you…thanks for commenting and forwarding post on. I love when people become more 'aware' of all their actions. I admit, I used to take much for granted, but it makes me happy now NOT to and to be aware. It makes me feel good to do what I can for the world. I wish the US had outlets like I've seen in UK and EU where there are off switches right on them.
I'm willing to bet you didn't go to Target, Kohls, Walmart, K Mart or anywhere else at midnight on Thanksgiving for the Black Friday Sales Event! I think your best advice is that of not carrying debt on a credit card. The interest is a cost where you're literally paying for "nothing". If you can't pay for it outright, skip it. Otherwise you're deferring depression.
Ugh. I did not, but i must admit I went on Friday afternoon to get my mom her Christmas/Chanukah gift! Although it is something I know will last her for years. But, yes, I didn't like being part of that day/marketing machine! So true about Credit Cards…and I've never liked paying interest of any kind! Darn mortgage! 😉
"Live Simply" is a very, very good tip. It's one of the most important things that got us on the road fulltime. As a coincidence, we also just put up a blog post "20 Ways to Save for Travel." It includes some of your suggestions along with a bunch of others.
Thanks Brian! Just read your '20 ways' post – all great!! So true about not needing to replace things. I drove the same used car for 15 years! And still made $2000 when I sold it. Now I have no car and love it: no fuel, no insurance, no parking costs, etc. I have to look into your Vanguard funds advice and see what my funds are costing me. I hate the hidden costs/fees/loads that I don't totally understand. Are you in Denver?
Thanks for stopping by the site. We've already left Denver. We're traveling faster than we're writing so the blog trails us a bit. We're in TX for the next month and are getting ready for a two month trip to Central America beginning in January.
I love this post. It's very much the way I feel and behave. I must admit that I'm not sure just how much I would adhere to my current lifestyle if I had more money, but the recycling and saving electricity I definitely would do for the sake of the environment, that's for sure. I miss eating out though, and other entertainment – theater and movies. I was awfully spoiled in my previous life, though, for sure. I don't want to be rich by any stretch of the imagination – having to worry about security, whether friends really want one for friendship or not, being cut off from real life – but I would like just enough to be able to have a few more pleasures and to travel more or less at will too.
The crunch, and the wisdom in your advice is that, largely, I can't live that way because I didn't know when to stop travelling, and I piled up debt on my cards at the end, which it will take me forever to pay off. I try to be realistic about it, but folk should be aware that travel, like so many of life's pleasures, can be an addiction! I just didn't know when to stop, and even then it would have been ok, because I found a decently-paid job when I got back, and I would have figured it out, if not for this bl**dy recession and losing my job. Just a warning. I've never read a blog which suggested to me that the writer had done the same. Most, like you, seem to be very sensible about this. I probably should do a post as a warning I suppose, never occured to me before.
This post is so full of good advice.
Hi Island momma! Good to 'see' you here again! 🙂 From your personal experiences I think you should write a post. I know there are many that are in your shoes and could use advise from that standpoint too. I've been fortunate and also did have savings from my previous job and frugal tendencies. 🙂
Hey,interesting post! Like people couch surf to save money they would otherwise spend on food and accomodation, people also host to save or you can say gain from hosting, like having a guest who would be more like a volunteer and help you in your garden or if you are doing any welfare or awareness project your guest can assist or help you in that.I'd suggest you checkout http://volunteerstays.com/, the site lets you find and choose volunteers that best meets your criteria. Everything is pretty much clearly laid out in the profiles so both the host and the volunteers are clear about the expectations beforehand.
Inspiring post Lisa, in many ways. I have just been thinking about joining Airbnb to offset my rent so that I can afford a place on my own. So it's great to hear of someone else I know on there. And I agree with others that you'll new doing this for a long time yet.
Hi Elissa! I've had good experiences on Airbnb so far! For some, it's really a way to afford to live somewhere they otherwise could not. Same for travelers! Hope to see you again someday! 🙂
Excellent advice Lisa, i loved it!! I am exactly in the same spot. And I have SO wanted to get rid of that AT&T data plan but I love my Iphone 🙂 I am still looking for a way to not pay for it while away. We will see.
Also have wondered about using Airbnb. What if you receive a request while you're already gone and on the road? Do you know if it still is possible?
Loved this blog, pretty much. 🙂
Thanks Lily! So glad you like the post. I am going to do a future post on unlocking your cell phone which I did to my iPhone a few months ago. Now I just use my pre-paid T-mobile Sim card.
As far as airbnb…the good thing is they have a calendar on the site on which you can put your 'availability'. If you are out of town or unavailable…then when people search for those dates, your place does not come up. 🙂
Nice post! I reposted it on my FB Fan page! The pre-paid moble plan is interesting; it definitely sucks a lot of money out, esp with internet.
I don't bike but generally, I walk a lot and use the public transport like the bus or metro. Abroad, this is the case as well. I seldom cab it unless I need.
I'll have to try out air bnb once I get another apartment. Sounds like a great deal.
Thanks for reposting! As far as my pre-paid phone…I only use internet on it when there's free wireless. i don't have a data plan. I agree…try to use public trans or my bike whenever I can. It's good and makes me feel good too!
Great tips Lisa! I also cook at home and rarely dine out in restaurants trying to save up some money to travel longer! 😉 I also go everywhere by bike. Lots of fun, it’s healthy and cheap.
I bike more now than I did before I traveled the world. It makes me feel so good and it’s so easy to get around! So glad Chicago is flat!
I liked this suggestion”Bike Everywhere” , people generally don’t do this these days, including me 🙂