When people ask us this question I think they are trying to understand two fundamental things:
1. How are you supporting yourself financially to do the things you love (ie. travel) and
2. What exactly do you do?
Explaining to people where we currently live seems simpler to answer (in case you are wondering: it’s with family in Oregon when we are not house-sitting or traveling). Still complicated, but simpler.
Living this unconventional,”digital nomad” lifestyle is difficult to explain. It’s based on core values and principles of wanting to live a life that is simple, intentional, relationship-based, and flexible (regarding time). Whenever we are faced with any decisions about what we want to do with our lives, we use these principles to guide us.
Whereas someone with a more conventional life could say, “I live in __” and “I do ___ for a living” and that might not change for awhile, our lives are lived in a much faster, more fluid pace (which has it’s benefits and challenges). I just spoke to a good friend recently (whom we served with in the Peace Corps) and she told me, “Jedd, I couldn’t do what you guys are doing. I need to be in one place for awhile.” I get it.
Currently our unconventional lifestyle is a better fit for us in regards to where we are and what we want in life. Somedays we do think about having a more “settled” life. But for now, the benefits of travel, discovery, and experience outweigh security and predictability. However, we also realize that earning an income is a necessary part of life. Thanks to technology, the sharing economy, the support of family and friends, we are able to do a couple of things that help support us financially. How do we do it?
It can be broken down into two simple concepts: Expenses and Income.
Ideally you want fewer expenses and more income, and not the other way around (a concept I learned late in life, thanks to Michelle and maturity).
We were hanging out with some friends recently (a couple) where one of them said, “I saved a lot of money from this 50% off sale.” Their significant other looked at them and said, “That’s not saving. That’s spending.”
I laughed at this conversation because I would have been the one thinking that I had saved a lot of money. Michelle has the other perspective where money spent is not money saved.
The truth is that life does have a cost, whether we like it or not. There will always be expenses. But one of the best practices I have learned is how to lower and cut out unnecessary expenses. This is important because the more expenses you have, the more income you need to make. When expenses start piling up, it creates a lot of stress and pressure. More importantly, it takes away flexibility and freedom. You may not be able to leave a job that you don’t like. You might not be able to travel as often as you’d like. And what I found was that I was spending more time at work than I was with Michelle.
Here are some of the ways (and I’m sure there are more things we can do) that have lowered or cut out our expenses:
|Sold Our Car||Use public transportation, borrow, rent||No gas, insurance payments, repairs, etc.||Not having one when you really need it?|
|Housesitting||Living from a suitcase, simplicity||No lease, housing payments, utility bills. Ability to travel and live in different places (rent free)||Constantly on the road, nothing to call your own, always looking for the next opportunity.|
|Travel Hacking||Using miles instead of cash to travel.||Affordable travel.||Takes work to keep track of. Must be responsible with credit cards.|
|Help Exchange||Finding mutually beneficial arrangements.||Work for room and board. Additional benefits of networking, spending time with friends, knowledge and experience in different trades or skills, exploring new places for cheap.||Experience depends on your host and if it’s a good fit for both parties.|
|Family Phone Plans||Cheaper than individual plans.||Must remember to write a check to the person in charge of the bill.|
|Living Simply||Life without excess stuff.||No furniture to purchase or upkeep, less to manage when moving from place to place, easy to find things because there’s less to look through, etc.|
|Affordable Shopping||Shopping at thrift stores||Huge savings on things like clothes.||Takes more effort and time to find the things you want or need.|
|Dining Out Less||Cook on our own.||Huge savings on food. Much more fun and rewarding.||Takes effort, planning, and time to cook.|
Remember, it would be nice to eliminate all expenses, but we also know that it’s difficult. It’s also important to note that lowering or cutting out expenses does not mean cutting out value or quality. Eliminating unnecessary costs and expenses should be liberating and not a hinderance. It’s also important for everyone to find the right balance for their own lives. Owning a home or a car isn’t a bad thing. Please let us know if you have additional suggestions on how we can lower or cut more of our expenses.
Before we left the Peace Corps, Michelle and I did some forecasting regarding our first year back. What did we want to do in that first year? Did we want to travel? Where? How long? Then came the big question, how much would it cost? Additionally, when we weren’t traveling, how much would things cost regarding our monthly expenses? Food? Student loan payments? Phone and internet? We came up with some rough estimates and determined what we would need to make in that year between the two of us to live the lives we wanted. If we didn’t earn enough income, we’d have to tap into savings. Anything extra (the dream) would go into savings and retirement. This is how we determine whether or not the life we want to live is sustainable or not. We are trying it out until the system fails. If we feel that we are not earning enough income to meet our expenses with our unconventional living, then we’ll start to consider more conventional means.
It’s important to note that because we are already trying to live simply with minimal expenses, our income goal is a lot lower than most people. It’s what we think is doable and comfortable for us. This is not the same for everyone. As of right now, here is how we earn income:
Michelle and I started a business as soon as we got back from the Peace Corps. We serve small businesses by providing a wide range of online services that include but are not limited to: social media management, contracting online services, website development, brand and identity development, customer service/client management services, and website management. The key aspect of all of these services is that we can do them from anywhere in the world that has acceptable internet. Currently we have 6 clients from the west coast to the east coast. As a startup, we are still focusing our services and which clients we can serve best, but it’s been going well so far. This is our business website: J&M Consulting
Every now and then people ask us to help them with some sort of project- farming, yard work, housesitting, computer trouble-shooting, etc.. Most of the time we do these things without any expectation of payment but sometimes people do give us something in exchange.
Just like the expenses section, we of course would be more than happy for any suggestions regarding ways we can increase our income (without compromising our values and principles).
Hope this gives you a better sense of what it is that we are doing for the time being and how we try to live the life that we want. As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or suggestions below.