*Disclaimer: I really have no sound financial advice - this is just my story.
I get this question all the time: “How do you do it, what’s your secret to being able to do all this travel and not work for extended periods of time?” First of all, it’s none of your damn business - but I usually answer something like, “I have fairly low overhead expenses and have some savings and…” And then the “uh-huh” as they look at me sideways and wait for something more like, I’m secretly a trust fund baby who inherited millions... or I have a sugar daddy hidden away somewhere.
Nope, none of the above. I’m just apparently pretty savvy at saving money - or as my friends would lovingly joke I’m their favorite cheapass. While that may be somewhat ‘true,’ as I generally don’t put a lot of value on acquiring a lot of material things and will literally run (for example my car and bike) things into the ground before replacing. I have chosen to put money towards one thing I value most, and that’s freedom. Freedom and flexibility to have choices, new experiences, to explore and focus on what I really want to do, and see the world.
My non-groundbreaking method is to spend less than what I earn and put away in savings or stocks, and along the way I’ve been fortunate to have had certain situations like not paying rent for awhile or a generous partner who bore the financial load. Situations like this allowed me over time to build up some reserves. But that can come with a price tag too, living with your mom as a 30-something isn’t exactly glamorous.
I also don’t have a lot of the common financial stresses like a mortgage, children, student loans, car payments, or credit card debt. In the past I’ve shouldered plenty of debt and only had $50 in my bank and those experiences were incredibly stressful - so I made it a goal to simply live within my means, pay off all my debt quickly as I could, and put some away.
We make choices everyday, about everything. I can remember being determined to save money at 15 yrs old with my first job scrubbing boats. I made a conscious choice to save most of it when I didn’t have any real expenses besides coffee or beer, and then kept going throughout my jobs throughout college earning just $5/hour. The drive to save had to do with my upbringing, so let’s go way back to where most of our issues and hangups are manifested.
I’d consider myself to have grown up materially under-privileged. Meaning, I often heard “we can’t afford that” or “we don’t have enough,” and was admittedly very self conscious that my mom, sister, and I lived differently than our friends and extended family.
We lived in a small town on a lake in upstate Illinois, in a simple neighborhood with tons of kids and nature all around us to explore. For no reason other than wanting to be like everyone else at school, I was embarrassed of our thrift store clothes, hand me down furniture, our unfinished house, rust ridden hand car, and would hide behind the washing machines at the laundromat to avoid anyone seeing me. I envied friends who had the huge tract-homes with perfect green grass, swimming pools, and stay at home moms who greeted us after school with fresh baked cookies. My mom worked a couple jobs at a time, was into yoga, health food, and always prioritized putting money towards buying organic. At the lunch table I eagerly traded my blue chips and carob bars for twinkies and ho’s ho’s and avoided hosting sleepovers at my house.
And then we moved to northern California before my freshman year, to one of the wealthiest areas in the country. No one seemed to care what house I lived in, the kind of food we ate, or the kind of car we drove. People were more interested in my mid-western accent.
During college while most kids lived on an allowance, I worked at a pizza place, coffee shop, and a clothing store. I liked having my own money, which made me feel independent and responsible. I became super conscious of having enough so I could pay everything on my own, because I didn’t have another choice.
But underneath the sense of responsibility is now what I can identify as a core motivation for being so conscious about money - and that’s fear. Fear of not having enough, fear I’d ultimately end up in a financial struggle that I felt at such an early age.
It’s not easy to admit these fears, and the last thing I want is to seem as if there’s blame placed on anyone else. Especially my mom, who worked so arduously to keep our family afloat all on her own.
Honestly, when people ask me “how do I do it?,” I want to turn around and ask my own questions. Like, “How do you raise a child or multiple kids and maintain a full time job, or buy a house on your own, start and run a successful business, run a marathon, or get a phD?” I don’t have experience with these things, and can only imagine the varying motivations and maybe even some fears that fuel certain life paths and pursuits.
So there are no secrets, just a series of conscious and subconscious choices and priorities put towards creating more freedom to make certain choices. My ultimate mission is to consciously come from a place of abundance and gratitude - rather than lack or a perceived scarcity. Regardless if I have $50 in the bank or $50,000, and while I’ve experienced both at times it’s still very much a work in progress. Like successful weight loss, you have to really want it and be determined to keep it off. Consistently take in less than you burn, and exercise regularly. Easier for some, super hard for others. But once you determine what’s worth sweating your ass off for, you’ll hopefully make it a priority. And in the process you may baffle others by always looking so fit and having a great time doing so.