J & I have some lofty money-saving goals this year. Much to our parents’ chagrin, our money-saving goals usually do not involve saving for retirement or college funds for offspring they want wish we had—rather for the next big adventures.
Pre-2011, when we had full-time, steady employment, saving money was easy. We set aside X amount of our regular paychecks and tucked it away in two accounts called “Travel Dreams” and “Special Savings” that we started together in 2005. One was meant to be for life emergencies and the other for travel. Those accounts still exist, and in fact, have grown instead of shrunk.
This surprises me. Working contract jobs 4-6 months out of the year makes stashing money away regularly very difficult. At the end of our working stints, we usually reassess our finances to budget what we need to live for our non-working time, and part with the rest into savings. Sometimes it is only $100, but other times it is 4 figures. Other than that, we have to be creative in our thriftiness.
I’ve said this before, but our nomadic lifestyle affords us to spend less money than we would living and working in civilization. We choose jobs that include room (housing, utilities, limited Internet), and sometimes even board. Then, while we are working, we spend very little money, which I attribute to the fact that we usually live in the middle of nowhere with access to virtually no forms of entertainment. I also truly believe that you spend less money when you have a smaller paycheck, but I know no one wants to take the kind of pay cut we’ve taken in the past 6 years!
The other fact is that we are extremely frugal with our money. Particularly J. If you squeeze him hard enough, quarters will come out his butt. (And then he will pick up those quarters because he ALWAYS looks for change on the ground and picks it up). I cannot overstate his conservative approach to finances enough … a $5 pizza is $2.75 too expensive. For example, we debated upon accepting this Fenton Ranch caretaking gig about getting DirectTV or DishNetwork, mainly so J could watch football. But instead we stuck to the old-fashioned antenna on the roof and have prayed football airs on Fox (the only reliable network channel we receive) or NBC (which comes in when you sit on the east side of the room). Another extreme: J needs to weigh himself regularly given his Crohn’s disease. What does he do instead of buying a scale? Weighs himself in the grocery store every time we go food shopping.
And yes, we pick and choose ways to “treat yo’ self,” but we also stay on target with the bigger goals in mind.
So while most of these tips, sacrifices and tradeoffs do no apply to the normal person, I still thought it’d be fun to share P & J’s most unique money-saving tips. We have many, but here are 5 that are working the best for us these days.
1) Food shop like you live 2 hours from the closest grocery store or Amazon Prime Pantry does not deliver to your area.
Living remotely will teach you a thing or 2 about using what you have wisely and which fruits and veggies last the longest (FYI, carrots last forever! Or at least 4 months.). When we were caretakers for that private island for 2 months, the island people told us beforehand it is sometimes tricky to get us on and off the island. We took this as a challenge!! Our goal was to buy enough groceries to last us the whole 2 months. And although I’ve relaxed considerably, my Type A planner personality feeds into this type of food shopping. I literally wrote out 15-20 meal suggestions that we could repeat and repurpose ingredients. Bake a whole chicken as a meal, use the leftovers to make chicken soup to freeze and chicken salad for lunch. You have yourself at least 5 meals. Now, the truth was, we could have easily gotten off the island for groceries. And often times, the incredibly generous islanders either brought us a special treat, or gifted us leftovers (we always take leftovers) when they were closing up their house for the winter. But the point is, we succeeded. The average American spends 8% of their income on groceries. When you stop running to the grocery store 4 times/week, there’s extra money in the piggy bank.
2) Respond to offers in your inbox.
This looks different for J and I. For me, I look for the credit card and customer service surveys that ask me to respond in exchange for a statement credit or coupon. For J, he enters every and all contests. My complaint with his method is that his inbox is way clogged. When he was on Denali for 23 days this summer, I “managed” his inbox. I must have spent 30 minutes a day unsubscribing to junk mail because it drove me crazy!! In his defense though, entering ALLTHECONTESTS translates to him winning a lot! Off the top of my head, in the past 6 months, he’s won 2 pairs of shoes, a complete yoga outfit for me, a jacket for himself and several bags of coffee.
3) When you shop online, take an extra 2 minutes to look for coupon codes.
Before I click “purchase,” I do a quick search for product/company-specific online coupon codes and usually always find something, even if it is only 10% off or free shipping. For example, the reason we only send out 30 Holiday Cards anymore is because I don’t buy them. I always looks for the “free 10 cards” and stockpile leading up to December. With those deals, you only pay shipping, which is usually $5.99 or so. If I only end up with 10 cards, so be it. This year I ended up with 30 cards and paid close to $20 for those. (Apologies if you did not receive a card this year, or last year, or the year before …)
4) Forgo having a car.
This year we invested in a camper van. We drive around the country a lot. We outgrew our Subaru Baja and found we needed a place to “live” during our off periods. The solution: our 1995 Roadtrek. Now when we make the 8-hour trek from Fenton Ranch to Denver, for example, we don’t have to book a hotel to break it up or try to time it to make in one day. Our 2016 summer 10,000-mile road trip across 18 states saved us oodles of money on lodging and even food. A camper van would be terribly inefficient if we were making a daily commute, and in truth, is a little inconvenient when we are in Denver visiting family and going from A to B (J’s mom gets the brunt of it as she always offers us to use her car instead and we graciously accept). But, overall, it was a smart move given our lifestyle. As for spending the winter up at Fenton, we toyed with buying a beater car to get us on and off the mountain for our monthly food shopping trip in Albuquerque (2 hours away). But luckily, we find a mutually beneficial agreement with our boss. She and her husband do not necessarily need their second car for the winter, so we are renting it from her!
5) Sell your stuff.
Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time someone said to us, “I should sell my collection of X that’s sitting collecting dust in my basement,” I could buy that $5 pizza without hesitation. J is a ninja of eBay, Craigslist and any other online selling forums. His obsession really started when we bought our house in Danville in 2004 that came with 6 refrigerators, 4 clawfoot tubs, 8 stoves and lots of furniture. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure and J sold every one of those! As we paired down our own possessions over the years and moved to a more nomadic life, it was clear that it was much better to get rid of things than to box them up and keep them in storage. Now, this is definitely still a work in progress and really is a full-time job sometimes—and the juice is not always worth the squeeze for some of the smaller sales—but when your storage unit (or units in our case) is bigger than your living quarters, it is a must.