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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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks You can preview the kindle version on Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes. It is also available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.