A little back story:
Around about 2005 we (the spouse and I and everyone we knew) were living the high life. Big house (and big house payment), a housekeeper, a gardener, every possible cable channel and the fastest internet possible, two cars in the drive way (and two big car payments). Four or five (expensive) vacations each yet. Shopping for entertainment and buying a bunch of stuff we didn't need but wanted because it looked so enticing in the stores. Eating out every day, multiple times a day. At the time I was still a preparedness buff and I thought that I was becoming more and more prepared each time I purchased an item that had the remotest "survival"-related value.
Somewhat after that time, and due to a whole bunch of factors (major clients who looked like they were on the verge of bankruptcy, friends who had always dreamed of travel and hobbies "after they retired" but instead they got sick and died at relatively young ages, financial stress--when you have a $10,000 a month lifestyle you look like everything is ducky but are nevertheless aware that your house of cards can crumble at any time so you are stressed...) we decided to make some major changes. It was like a light bulb went off in my head (too bad it didn't fully go off until the housing market tanked otherwise I could have made a mint on my house but I digress...). I started reading more and more about people who weren't living the typical American dream lifestyle. It looked kind of scary. They basically gave up the things you really weren't supposed to give up (house, job, status car, etc) in order to live a life of less money but more freedom. That sounded pretty good to me.
It took about four years to get out of the mess we had worked ourselves into. During that time we built up an emergency fund, paid off our debts and stopped using credit cards, cut down on eating out to about once a week instead of three times a day, listened to Dave Ramsey until I could quote him in my sleep, stopped shopping for entertainment, cut down on vacations unless work was paying for them, cut back cable to the basics, sold one car and paid off the other...basically if there was a way to save money, we latched onto it with both hands. Financial freedom is the first step to any other sort of freedom.
The final push came last year. We were in pretty good shape by then but still had a big house payment and house-related expenses that made sense when there was a bunch of kids living at home but didn't really make sense for only two people. So with a spouse who was leery of giving up the last vestiges of "normalcy" I made a push to try a one-year experiment. The deal would be to sell the house and nearly everything in it, put enough stuff in storage that we could set up a new home with the basics if we decided to do so, and then just travel. The spouse had already been out of work for a year or so by this time, and my major client went toes up at the end of the year which was the final push we needed to try something new. I could still easily work with a couple other clients via the internet from where ever we happened to be, we would get to travel before we got too old/sick to enjoy it, and with a retirement and the spouse's social security coming in, we would still have a steady source of income (albeit MUCH lower than when I was working 80 hours a week). So it was agreed, the house sold quickly and at a price that gave us a chunk of cash out of the sale (we had bought more than a decade ago so the house had some equity in it), we had garage sales every weekend and CraigsListed stuff like crazy until the house was nearly empty, we put the rest of the stuff in a cheap storage unit, stored the car with a friend, then hit the road with what could fit in our backpacks.
It's been a pretty good year. Here's what we have learned:
- Survival is a mindset, it isn't all of the gear you own. Even though I don't have all of my gear with me, I feel just as comfortable as I always have should a survival-related situation occur.
- You don't spend a lot of money when you are traveling since you don't have anywhere to store stuff. I have worn the same clothes for a year and am happy with that (if I would have still been in the corporate world, this would be impossible as it is de rigour to keep up with the styles, the Joneses, and whoever else sets the stupid 'this is what you must wear/have/do to be socially acceptable' rules).
- We are paying A LOT less taxes. This is the first year I am actually looking forward to doing our taxes.
- We have been graciously housed by friends and relatives around the country and around the world (oddly enough we just realized that almost everyone we have stayed with has also stayed with us for weeks or months in the past, not uncommon in the military community with transient housing situations).
- Our expenses went from around $10,000 a month to under $1000 (for two people!). This includes cell phone ($30 prepaid plan each instead of the newest iPhone and $100 a month service fee to match; I don't need to be that connected since I am no longer working), food, storage unit, car insurance (very cheap as it is liability only on an older car that gets driven maybe 5000 miles a year instead of the 25000-300000 we previously drove), health insurance (very cheap as well thanks to Uncle Sam). The rest is used for saving and spending on bigger trips (like our recent trip to Asia).
- There is a lot less peer pressure when you don't have any peers. With co-workers and neighbors, and even close relatives, there is a kind of peer pressure to have the latest and greatest things to keep up appearances. Since we don't stay in any one place very long this is a non issue.
- There is a lot more free time to do useful things. Standing by the water cooler, dealing with cranky clients, and meeting deadlines for inane stuff is not a useful way to spend your life. We think it is because we have been trained to do these things since we entered preschool, but you know what, this kind of crap isn't necessary. So helping out people, volunteering, blogging, and exploring new places has become the new way of life for us.
- Change now occurs on a daily basis and it actually welcome. There is always something new to do/learn/experience. In fact the most recent change is that we want to once again have a home--much smaller this time--that we can use as a home base while we travel and host friends in. We have decided to find a super cheap house in, of all places, Las Vegas. The reasons for this are numerous: the housing market is lousy here so that makes for really low prices and motivated sellers, the weather is good here most of the year (at this point you probably couldn't pay me enough to stay another winter in rainy Seattle), there are plenty of national and international flights out of Vegas at pretty good prices, the cost of living here is low, there aren't many jobs but with an income and a frugal lifestyle this won't be a necessity, there's plenty to do here (can't wait to check out he local gun clubs and I just noticed they have a gun show this weekend--my kind of place), and friends tend to gather here anyway (people hardly ever came to Seattle unless on business, yet quite a few times we have met up with people in Las Vegas because it is a central place to gather).
Here's some more people who have figured this out as well:
- How I Live on $7000 A Year (this guy's entire site is a good read)
- Reflections on Leaving My Career--One Year Later (again, their entire blog is a good read)
- How We Afford Long Term Family Travel (these guys have come full circle, from a family with a home to striking out for more than three years to bicycle--with little kids no less- from the North to the South Pole to once again settling down)