Several years ago I was sitting with a bunch of friends at a restaurant. Dinner was winding down and we were all stuffed.
My friend next to me asked me how I made so much money. I always had the money for everything, she said, and she was always struggling.
The bill came and everyone went down the list adding up their stuff. Before tax and tip mine was around $7. Hers was $30, more than four times what mine was.
She had two margaritas, an entree which she didn't finish, and an appetizer. I had three burritos a la carte, chips that were free, and water. I used to get the burrito plate, but then I realized that for less money I could get three burritos instead of two and not have the extra rice and salad that I didn't want.
That's why I always have money. I don't spend it stupidly.
For those who don't want to read this whole thing, here's the short version:
Figure out what you really want to do, and then figure out the absolute cheapest way to do it. Be creative. Think outside the box.
That doesn't mean to compromise on what you want to do, by the way. I'm not saying that. I mean to figure out what you REALLY want and going after that. Not the packaged "this is the good life" you see on TV.
I like the idea of a zero cost lifestyle. You save money up front to set yourself up, and then you make enough residual income that your lifestyle is never threatened no matter what.
Here are my monthly costs for when I'm in Austin:
That's about all I can think of. Added up that's $1070 per month. I eat perfect food that I love, live in the exact spot that I want to live, and I spend my free time doing what I want to do. And I'm taking care of myself so that I'm healthy and I will be frozen when I die.
That's not to say that I don't do a lot more than that (like travel all the time), but these are my base costs to be happy and comfortable.
If I was making half a million a year I wouldn't change much. I'd still be in the RV and I'd still be eating in the same restaurant every day. I'd spend more money on crazy adventures, but I'm not exactly lacking those now.
I make money in a bunch of different ways. A few hundred for writing for Gadling, another couple hundred for ads on this site, a few hundred for Conversion Doubler, a little bit more for affiliate links, and maybe a thousand or so for my book. Let's say I make $1800 total.
That's not a lot of money. In fact, I think that's below the poverty line but I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure that everyone reading this has the capacity to make that much money, and almost all of you probably make more than that now.
But... that covers my base expenses comfortably. And it's built into my lifestyle. I'm going to write whether I get paid for it or not. My book is all automated at this point. So you could say that the net cost of my base lifestyle is nothing.
That means that I can spend nearly 100% of my time doing whatever I want. I can work on other businesses to make more than a paltry $1800. I can take a month off and sit by the creek if I want.
And look what happens when I travel. I don't pay the $150 for gas or the $20 for water. I make $700 more than I need for my base expenses. That means that I have $970 for airfare and renting an apartment (or staying with a friend for part or all of the time), and I already have $750 for food once I get there and $50 for museum tickets or whatever.
I don't actually keep track of my budget like this. I've saved up money so if I'm off a little bit in either direction it doesn't matter, and I'm disciplined enough to not blow money on stupid things.
Getting here wasn't free, either, and I realize that. I had to spend around $20k to get the RV I really wanted and get it wired up with solar. But still, there are much cheaper RVs to be had that would be totally serviceable. I had the money to spare and knew that the one I bought would retain it's value well.
And of course, an RV isn't the only way to work all this out. It's just the one that appealed to me so I figured out the right way to do it.
I had to come up with ways to make my life generate income. I chose (or drifted towards) writing and such, but there are a billion other ways to do it.
The real appeal of the zero cost lifestyle is that it is incredibly liberating. You get your time back. You don't have to worry about getting fired or rent rates going up. Sure my book sales could dry up or something like that, but in worst case emergency mode I just cook for myself and spend $600 less per month.
Even if you aren't ready or interested in going hog wild like me, there are a lot of intermediate steps you can take to move in this direction. Here are a few ideas:
I was on the phone a couple days ago with my friend Hayden. After hearing about my plan to continue up to San Francisco, he predicted that within a year I would be living "somewhere posh". I doubt it. I really just love living in this RV, and can't imagine circumstances that would make me move out (famous last words). There are certainly upgrades I'd like to do (more solar, more batteries, more water capacity), but for now I have no inclination to move out.
Why do I love it so much? What makes me so willing to give up things like adequate floor space for a trash can? Here are six of my favorite things about living in an RV.
Moving becomes easy. As I skateboarded over to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant (Rahel on Fairfax), I realized that I am basically a Los Angeles resident. Not for tax purposes, of course, but I feel the same as when I lived here a few years ago. Visiting somewhere, complete with sightseeing, hotels, and rental cars, feels different than living somewhere. I may only plan on being here for a few weeks, but I feel like a resident.
At the beginning of this summer(June 2013), I moved halfway across the country for an internship. Most people say college is the first time you really get a taste of living on your own, but I ended up going to a school about 20 minutes from home, so for me, moving for my internship has been my first time really experiencing being out on my own. It was much more of a lifestyle change than moving to college. I would now be earning money(I had never had a job before), and I was able to experience what it is like to have a steady four-figure paycheck coming in every two weeks.
I'm not really sure how my income compares to that of a typical intern, but I had resolved early on not to go splurging all of my newly-acquired money. I wanted to save most of my income, so that I could spend it once I went back to school(and once I would no longer have a steady income). Privy to my motive, my parents graciously offered to pay for my groceries($50 a week), as well as help cover my expenses as I first settled in(airfare, first month's rent, and enrollment fee for a gym, which came out to just under 1k).
Saving money was just one of several goals I set when I first got started. Most of my goals were tied to the lifestyle changes I went through. Aside from a consistent income, the next most prominent change was that I was now completely in control of my own food consumption(my college has dining halls). I would be grocery shopping and preparing all of my meals. I set a goal accordingly: I would eat healthier. I will probably do a post later on about the specifics of my diet, but for now, note my use of the word healthier. Not healthy, but healthier. I still drink beer, I still order a pizza on the occassional Friday night that I don't feel like cooking, but for the most part, I try to keep it healthy.
On the subject of the title, I believe that healthier living is not just about how you eat, but also about physical activity. I am on a varisty athletic team at school(Division III), and so I was given a summer training regimen to follow. Thus, most of the posts on this blog will be about healthier eating, working out, saving money, or a combination of these things.