If you have been reading from the beginning, you know I had serious doubts about whether this lifestyle was financially viable for us. Pretty early on I saw lots of examples of people who live full-time on very limited incomes. In fact, I just met a guy last week who lives on $2500 a month and boondocks 90% of the time. I was pretty honest about what our requirements and goals were, and I just wasn’t sure it was viable. One year ago I received my last corporate check and I am pleased, and a little surprised, to report that we lived on what we made, and actually had $2500 to spare. Not bad.
And that year was full of travel. We saw amazing things in Canada and Alaska, and our last few weeks have been full of adventures in the Arizona area. The year was also full of work to keep things going and it was often strenuous work. We worked 40 days at the Beet Harvest with just a couple of days off. We worked 6 weeks straight selling Christmas trees with only Thanksgiving and Christmas days off, and 79 days straight gate guarding. Not only did we work numerous days we also worked long shifts. Twelve hour days at beets, 10-12 hours at Trees, and 24/7 during gate guarding. The jobs were often physically demanding, and almost always outside in the weather, but they also had an element of challenge to them, and mostly I was rarely bored. That’s no small thing. But as you have seen, those jobs were pretty much all encompassing (camp hosting aside) and allowed little time or energy for anything else. That would be OK if we made enough at the jobs to cover our costs for some free time before and after, but most of our free time was spent primarily getting to the next job. Not that there weren’t things to see along the way, but there is a big difference between taking your time getting to an area and driving relatively long hours every day because of the schedule.
This five weeks is the longest break we have had in a year, and despite efforts to keep costs down, money is flying out the window. When you work this much it’s tempting to go a little crazy on your off time, and that time starts to feel more like a traditional vacation, albeit a pretty long one. So basically the last year has not looked much like our original goal of work a little, play a little. Not that it has been bad by any means, but there has been much more work and much less play. It still holds up favorably to our life prior to going on the road though. There is less financial pressure, generally less work stress, and a certain level of relaxation and freedom that we did not experience before. (My view is that we worked for a year, and got a five week vacation. Most people don’t get five weeks of vacation in a year. – Lee)
All that being said, the question of whether this is sustainable long term for us is still open. We have absolutely proven to ourselves that we can earn enough to live on the road indefinitely, but there isn’t enough extra money to cover capital expenses. If we need a major repair, want to take a vacation, give money to our kids, or take extensive time off, that is coming out of our savings. And although we are proud of the fact we haven’t dipped into savings as of yet, this week in Vegas, our upcoming Mor-Ryde upgrade, and a trip we are planning for Lee’s birthday will all come from there. We have $40K in money set aside for both shortfalls in our annual budgets and capital expenditures and at this rate we can make that money last a very long time, but it is incredibly unlikely we can make it stretch for 17 years until I am eligible for social security.
So where does that leave us? We have two major options. One is that we can significantly change the way we live to reduce costs even further. Some people purchase property to have a “home base” of sorts to sit in once in a while to keep costs down. Others have found jobs that work for them and return to the same places year after year. Still others boondock the majority of the time and live as financially austere a life as they can manage. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those choices, and we have watched with great interest as friends have explored those choices. It also really makes sense for people who are close to retirement age and just need to bridge a couple of years until their retirement funds are available. For us, at 48 and 50, I tend to take a longer view. Since I can’t even imagine transitioning back into a sticks and bricks life at this point, we need to find a way to earn enough income long-term and because the number one thing I like about this lifestyle is the travel, we need to find a way to support that.
Luckily both of us bring pretty varied skill sets to the equation. We both spent many years becoming educated in our particular fields and those skills don’t just go away. Yes, there is a concern that allowing too much time to pass without using those skills with cause some atrophy, but hopefully to a certain extent it will be like riding a bike. The larger concern for both of us is how quickly technology and techniques change. It’s important to “keep a hand in” and stay up to date on what is happening in our fields, so those options always remain open for us. I guess my point here is if you are younger and plan on doing this, as tempting as it is to want to completely walk away from your former profession, I wouldn’t recommend it. You never know when you might need a chunk of cash and workamping jobs are not really a sure fire way to get there. Part of the problem is many of them are 1099 jobs, so a higher tax burden is called for. Others have variable seasons and most importantly the overtime (where the real money is) can vary from year to year.
A great example of that is what is happening at Amazon. Last year the supply of workampers was so high that overtime was significantly reduced from previous seasons. This year they have eliminated the Texas location altogether, so many folks who relied on that infusion of cash need to find alternative work. Gate guarding prices dropped from $300 a day a few years ago to $125 a day when oil prices went down and the beet harvest varies every single year based on weather and the amount of crop. (Gate guarding rates are definitely going back up as oil prices rise, however. I see postings for immediate positions every day that pay $200-250 per day. – Lee) None of these relatively high paying workamper jobs are a sure thing, which works fine if you are simply looking to supplement outside income, but not so great if that makes up a significant portion of your income each year. There are other choices of course, and we will continue exploring them, but I think it’s fair to say that no workamping job is going to come close to what we can make in our previous professions.
So the question is for everyone, what do you want? And it’s a great question to be able to have some choice in answering. Most of us in our old lives rarely got to decide what we wanted because our sticks and bricks lifestyle was driven by necessity more than choice. It’s wonderful having so many choices, it really is, and it makes the idea on reentering the professional work force much more palatable. Because we have proven to ourselves we can live this way, now it is a matter of what do we want. It’s still complicated of course. Logistics, timing, Lee’s priorities versus mine, all come into play, but we can take our time and modify how we are living in a way that makes sense for us. Nothing is an emergency, and that is a really, really good feeling. In a nutshell, this last year has honestly gone better than I ever imagined it would. I am calmer, more centered, and way more comfortable with our ability to support ourselves in this lifestyle. Working all these unusual jobs has proven what I am capable of in a completely different way than my career progression did. And it’s a good thing. I don’t regret one single minute of it, not even the Christmas trees, because I learned so much about myself. With that foundation I am ready to make my next set of choices and I really hope that journey continues to be of interest to everyone.
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Great article. Very well thought out.
Great blog! A realistic look at this lifestyle, keep it up.
One of your best posts to date, loaded with objective views and just the right amount of subjectiveness to keep it real. You and Lee are doing an excellent job testing all the possibilities and reporting back key facts to assist others in making the right choices. If/when we need to earn a little cash going forward I know we can rely on your wonderful insight! Thank You Tracy! Keep up the excellent commentary!
Thanks Steve. I really appreciate that. High praise indeed since you are living it!
Great information for those considering leaving the corporate rat race. One year without a corporate income, yes…, but also one year without the corporate BS. Congrats on pushing your comfort zone and making it happen. Freedom is what it is all about.
Agree! You have a very special way of taking the 360 foot view, and breaking it up into word pictures that make sense!
Kudos! Can’t wait to hear about Year 2!
Great job keeping it real. Also still love Lee’s interjections!! Can’t wait to hear about the next work camping experience.
Congrats on a successful first year!!! Can’t wait to see which way this journey leads… it is All About The Journey:o)) We wish you a fun and exciting year two!!!
If you haven’t looked at what low paying jobs do to one’s eventual social security benefits, I would look at that. And, I believe the year coming up is Year 3 isn’t it? Amazon is shaky at best. They closed the one in KS also and are looking at more and more automation. Another thought is, do they increase the pay for gate guards in TX during the summer? I spent basic training there years ago, I am not sure they could pay me enough to be there again in the summer!
We are not sure if prices are going up because fuel rates are rising or indeed if it’s because of weather. Either way we made enough to live on even at the lowest rate so anything else would be gravy. As far as social security, I hear what you are saying. They do take the 10 highest years though and index it so that should help. As a last thought my step-dad took his social security at 62 so he could retire early. Since he passed away from cancer 5 years later that was a good call. I think it’s important to think about the long term but I also know of far to many people who barely have time to enjoy their social security. Is a few hundred extra dollars a month worth giving up this time and improved quality of life. Not for me. If I do decide to go back to work it will be because I want to and not because I am chasing a dollar. Those days are done for me.
In reference to Lee’s comment of working a year with 5 weeks off as a “vacation” – sounds great. However, your work schedule was not the usual Monday-Friday and left very little time off. I could not have worked so many days straight and such long days too! I hope you find more time to relax and have fun in your next assignment. I enjoy reading your blog.
Fair point Mike.
Tracy and Lee:
Just wanted to commend you on this, and all of the posts on your blog. It takes a lot of personal strength to be transparent and share the level of detail that you do. I know that this information will be a very valuable addition to the full timing knowledge base, for years to come.
Your posts point a few things that I (as a fellow full time RVer for 3 years) think are keys to making this lifestyle work, and that I have learned from the two of you: 1) Having a really strong relationship with your Partner 2) Being flexible in your thinking and plans (opportunities and day-to-day life all change when you live a mobile lifestyle). 3) There are no “right” ways to “do” this lifestyle and being resilient when you have setbacks is key (things always look different the next day).
Thank you for all of your sharing,
Thanks Ed!! Really appreciate that, It is tough being this transparent, especially when things aren’t perfect, but comments like these keep me plugging away.
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