First Time Without a Steady Paycheck

This morning I received my last payment from my former employer, and for the first time in my adult life neither of us will have a steady paycheck coming in.  It is the moment I was absolutely terrified of two years ago, and it marks the start of what I consider the third phase of our full timing life, so I think it’s worth stopping for a moment and writing about it.

The first phase of full timing for us was when I had my corporate job on the road.  In retrospect I am extremely grateful for my job the first year because it gave me continuity during a period of extreme change.  We were also able to focus on adapting to the lifestyle without the additional complication of needing to make money immediately.  Not that money wasn’t a huge part of what we discussed that year.  I couldn’t be comfortable without knowing the life was sustainable and obviously money is a huge part of that.  Still the conversations, although intense, were largely academic as I kept plugging along in my regular job.  Plus it proved to me that the life was absolutely possible for us.  We worked through so many things, how we traveled, where we traveled, who we saw when we traveled.  The list is endless and throughout it all I had this solid foundation which I will always be grateful for.

But, it was limiting.  I had to be near an airport.  I had to have almost constant cell and data coverage.  All of our exploration had to be done on weekends or vacation days.  So when the opportunity came along to accept a buy-out, I held my breath and we entered phase two.  The second phase has been the last five months of travel with a steady paycheck coming in, and volunteering or short jobs to supplement.  And despite my concerns about being bored or constantly worried,  the last five months have been fantastic.  If you have been following along, you have seen the pictures of the places we have been and heard about what we have done and it really has been spectacular.  So the second phase proved to me that we could definitely live this lifestyle with a fixed income and supplement with volunteering or work on the road.

As fun as that was though, fixed income is not our reality, so the third phase will be about proving to ourselves that we can live life on the road and make money as we go.  We have done a ton of research and put together plans, and yes, there are corporate/consulting jobs available for me, but those would require a significant amount of travel or time in one place, and at this point we are not quite ready to settle back into that.  It’s good to know it is an option, and may very well be our phase four, but for right now we would like to continue to move around and make money as we go from place to place.

What does that look like?  Well, that’s a great question, and to help people who are trying to do something similar, I am going to lay the finances out for everyone.  Although this is my life, it is also an experiment of sorts to see if/how long we can live under these circumstances.  It is very important to view this information in the context that it is specific to Lee and Tracy.  If there is one thing I have learned along the way, it’s that truly every couple is different, especially when it comes to what they choose to spend their money on, and what they are willing to do to make money.  So why bother sharing the specifics then if we are all so different?  Mainly because I wish I could have read it from someone else before we started.  Although everyone’s experience is unique, hopefully there will be takeaways from the information that will help other people. Plus I have found my readers to be a pretty kind bunch.  I don’t get a lot of “Monday morning quarterbacking” from folks, for which I am really grateful.  So basically I think I can trust you all enough to share the specifics of this next phase and you will continue to be kind as we make our almost certain mistakes along the way.

So let me lay it out.  We have $33,746 in “operating income” to start the next phase.  I call it operating income, because we decided early on in the planning stages to not hold ourselves accountable to making what we spent every month but to work off a fund which would go up and down as income and expenses occurred.  In addition to this money we have $10K in an “emergency contingency” fund and we have agreed if/when we hit that amount we will stop and get some kind of regular steady income until the funds are replenished.  Based on our 1-1/2 years of budget tracking we have a rough idea of how long that will last us, but it is very rough because this next phase is going to look very different.  Our full timing lives to this point  have largely been about going where we wanted when we wanted and that is going to change.  Our travels will be centered around where we can live cheaply and/or make money and our day-to-day existence will probably look somewhat different because of that.

Our plan as of this moment is for Lee to do some video work at the RV-Dreams rally the first week of May, then we immediately head to Alaska for a 5 month work kamping stint in Glenallen. The work kamping will be 40 hours a week for both of us (It was our choice to work a full work week as opposed to the typically much shorter work week associated with work kamping gigs, to make the trip there and back affordable) and will hopefully also involve RV Tech work for Lee and a second job in the evenings for me. This will be the first time for us on the road that we have been in a place for five months and it will look very different from the frequent traveling we have done in the past.  After Alaska we have tentatively signed up for the Sugar Beet Harvest and we will be working 3-6 weeks (7 days a week, 12 hour days) depending on the weather.  I haven’t stood on my feet for 12 hours a day since I was in my early 20’s, but the money is great and our health is good and it is a surefire way to replenish our resources if Alaska is more costly than we think it will be.  Our plans for the winter are tentative, but the current front-runner is a stint in Las Vegas or Phoenix where Lee can do production work and I can hopefully find a short contract in my field. The post-Alaska plan is definitely a rough one, and will be replaced with other opportunities if they arise, but I wanted everyone to know we do have a plan and are certainly not just winging it and hoping for the best.  That is really not in my nature!

After that things get really vague, and I am learning to live with that.  Part of the advantage of this next lifestyle phase is freedom and flexibility and Lee is not in any big hurry to give those advantages away.  Fair enough.  I need to learn to live with more ambiguity to give this a fair chance. The question isn’t “Is it possible?”, by the way.  There are enough people full timing this way that I know it can be done.  The question is “Are we willing to live like that?”  At this point I have absolutely no idea, but am willing to give it a fair shot.  I am also surprisingly sanguine about trying it and moving on to Phase four if necessary.

When we first started the lifestyle, I was so far out of my comfort zone that my competitive nature kicked in as a defense mechanism.  I wanted to “win” full timing.  Not to be better than anyone else, but to make myself feel better.  Silly really, but understandable in retrospect.  I took all the things I learned from other people’s lives and cobbled together my perfect picture of full timing.  I then attacked achieving that with all of my energy and intensity.  Somewhere along the line I had a moment where I realized that the image I had created wasn’t realistic.  I’d love to say I took responsibility for creating the image in the first place with grace, but that would be a lie.  I was angry.  Really angry, that after all the research and all the hard work I still couldn’t create that perfect image.  As my very good friend Dave said so eloquently, “Once you truly accept that full timing is real life and not a continuous vacation, which is a bitter pill to swallow, you can move forward into something real.”

That was so very true and I think everyone comes to that moment at different times and in different ways.  Once I accepted it though, I could stop trying to win and instead try to live my life to the fullest.  What does that look like in phase three?  I don’t really know, but I promise I will be as honest about the journey as I can, and as always thanks so much for listening and caring.  We have a lot of people rooting for us and we are truly grateful for that!

(Personally I think it will all end in tears. – Lee)

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35 thoughts on “First Time Without a Steady Paycheck

  1. Tracy, so appreciate your honesty and willingness to share this experience with us! We will be following in your footsteps in 2 years and even though I am super excited and have planned and researched to the hilt, I know that I will not know everything and some of this adventure will just “happen” without any planning on my part. Thanks for sharing your successes and challenges!

  2. Thanks for a great, meaningful post. I know the spirit and energy are so real, the bride and I can’t wait till we look in the rear view mirror one last time.

    Carole & Paul

  3. Tracy there is one thing that Bill and I have learned over the years… not just about full-timing, but about most everything. We are planners also, but the most valuable thing we have learned is, “We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes!!” So we wish you every success in this next phase, but a few mistakes so you learn something along the way:o)) Have a great adventure in Alaska…we will be watching!!!

  4. We’re still a couple years out – and as the microplanner, main bread-winner this is something I work and re-work – and re-work! Can you elaborate on what you mean by ” $33,746 in operating income”? Is that what you will try to live on per year? (Replenishing it as needed?) And if so, where did that number come from? You previous budgets? Maybe my thought process has been backwards – I keep trying to work towards a yearly number and breaking that down per month – based on a larger chunk (but not huge) to last us the first 3 years until SS at least kicks in. In my scenario, it’d be living pretty thin, but anything we earn, or save (via work camping) is then a plus to either enjoy or save for future. Of course an emergency fund is critical – I actually am planning on several – LOL! One for mechanical/rig emergencies, one for medical emergencies and one for “bail out” in case we decide we can’t live this way or something happens that we have to get an apartment or something. Any and all input appreciated!

    • Sandy that is a great question. I approached this as you are for a long time. What’s our monthly “nut”. How can we possibly. Akbar amount without regular jobs? After a ton of frustration Lee finally got me to look at it his way. We have a pool of money. We put money in and take money out as we go. When w get to a certain amount we have to stop for awhile and replenish. Much, much simpler that way and less scary. The dollar amount we are starting with is what we have. We have been saving some every month and had some to start out with. Is it enough?? Well no…but it would never be enough, so w go with what we have. We are smart, healthy, hard working people. We will figure it out. Took me a long time to get here mentally, but it’s a great place to be. Hope that answers the question 😄

  5. Yikes, your security blanket has been snatched away from you! You guys will do fine, the key is not letting the fact that you don’t have a steady/reliable income coming in control your life. We had a hard time with that at first….only spending without replacing. But soon we found that we were going to make it and started to relax. What part of the country are you going to be doing the beet harvest in?

  6. You are amazing in your ability to communicate in such a way that you break big concepts into understandable chunks of info! Honored to call you my friend💕❤️💕

  7. Lee and Tracy, Thank you for this honest and open post about your experiences as you continue to explore full-timing. We are right there with you,having left Keene just one month after you guys! Our great lessons from the life on the road: whatever comes up we could handle; planning is great for a foundation but what we learned is that the longer we’re on the road, the more we relax into knowing that all will be well and we could figure it out; we completely agree that full-timing is not a long vacation – it’s our life and we have fallen in love with the life we have been given. As far as budgets and managing expenses on the road, we did apply for a volunteer job at one of the Florida state parks. If we get that, it will be free camping for three months in exchange for 20 hours of volunteering, another way to offset the road expenses while living out a core belief that being of service somewhere is what helps float our boats.. We have no idea if we will even like being in one place for three months, after the freedom of travel but we’re willing to try. So happy we met up with you, guys in Tucson! Travel well. Liz and Peter.

  8. Such an honest thoughtful post. I really enjoy reading your blog because it is so honest. We have been full timing for a year now. DH lost his job just before we left home unexpectedly. So we started in phase 3. Stayed in one location cheaply on Texas coast for the winter. Now workamping in one location for the summer. So basically only seen a small part of this country so far. We look forward to moving more, but this is still a wonderful life. I think you will adapt and enjoy it as well. It’s just another way to experience it. Good luck and enjoy Alaska!

  9. Your honesty is refreshing. This blend of emotional truth and financial reality is what sets your blog out front with few others as special.

  10. Great post – as usual! I’m with Ellen – I LOVE the way you can make things make sense and easy, especially the difficult stuff!

    So happy that you are entering your new phase with such a great outlook! You guys got this!

  11. I admire your spunk and adventurous spirit. I wasn’t as brave, waiting until I was pretty well set. Now the worrisome thing is the time remaining–not the money. I think I would rather have the time. Godspeed and enjoy every minute! (By the way, your writing is exceptional. Readers enjoy much more a narrative that reveals not only what you see but what you think and feel.)

  12. Finally, got to where our internet allowed me to read your post….I was really looking forward to seeing what you had to say and how you were feeling about this subject. You’ve been on my mind! Great job as always, and I too will be following along….big HUG and love my friend.

  13. Love the info. I like the different points of view from all the blogs I read. I always pick up some nugget. I’m also looking forward to your AK trip as well since we can’t get there for a few more years 😦

  14. Hi, Thanks for sharing your experience with us. We are trying to go full time (well I am working on it). My wife asked a question that stumped me. I have asked other full timers and no one wants to answer the question 🙂 So maybe you will share on your thoughts on it in a post. The first thing my wife came up with is: “We are 54 years old. We will sell our house, quit our jobs and full time in a fifth wheel. So the fifth wheel is our long term home, maybe even into old age. When the RV gets old and needs to be replaced and the truck to pull it (and they will both get old), how will we afford that? The longer we are on the road, the older we and our resumes get with no work experience to show, so getting a job in our same fields will be harder and harder and workamping etc. will not fund another RV and truck. We cannot expect our RV and truck to last 25+ years in all kinds of weather and having traveled long distances.”
    And so that stumped me since we do not have funds to put away for another RV and truck.

    • Hi Bob,
      That’s a great question and here are my thoughts on it. I think the RV will last at least 10 years. The truck might last that long or maybe less, but let’s be optimistic and say 10 years for the truck as well. A lot of things can happen in 10 years. Lee or I could die. We could run out of money and need to settle somewhere. We could have grandkids and want to settle somewhere. Yes we are giving up our best earning years to do this wonderful thing, but we are also capitalizing on our healthiest years to do this thing. I know lots and lots of people who took the traditional route and immediately upon retirement got ill. We personally have a friend who died at 47 , part of the reason to do this. The only way I could justify this in my mind was to only think two years out. And I am a person who always had a five year plan. It doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper. But then again the best things in life rarely do. Kids don’t make a lot of financial sense. Taking a job you really love that pays less money doesn’t make sense.

      So here’s my short answer…and it’s coming from a person who is a spreadsheet kind of girl. God helped me find my way into this lifestyle and when it’s time to stop he’ll help me find a way out. In the middle I am going to try to try to live every day like its my last.

      Hope that helps.

      Trace

  15. I’m late to this party but just wanted to let you know that I REALLY enjoyed this post, especially your reply to Bob. I’ve finally reached that point myself. Hopefully we will be out there with y’all soon. In the meantime, thank you for sharing your life, your experiences and your knowledge with the rest of us.

  16. This morning I just got a chance to catch up on your blog and your travels over the past few weeks! Mainly because we started our journey (FINALLY!) three weeks ago and have been busy getting adjusted to it all. Your blog, (along with the RV Dreams and a few others) has helped tremendously since we started planning last summer. We made it! Planning, RV shows, research, truck shopping, more RV searching, researching and so on… and now we are on the road!! An amazing feat as you well know. Always enjoy every word and thank you for sharing so honestly. Your “short answer” in this post expresses our thoughts exactly! ; )

  17. Pingback: Second Year – The Emotional Arc – Camper Chronicles

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