Year Three was an important year in our travels because it was the first year where we lived off revenue earned exclusively from work kamping jobs. In my mind, this was the true test of whether or not the lifestyle was sustainable for us long term. We are going to explore the answer to that question in multiple ways in the post, and dive deep into the specifics. Some of you fellow “data junkies” will love that, but I appreciate many other people don’t care that much. So for all of those folks, here is the short answer: Basically our costs went down this year and for our basic traveling budgeting we broke even. We spent $41,653 and our cash flow was $40,122 for a net difference of -$1,531. That’s pretty encouraging, and if I was a different kind of person I would leave it at that and move on, but as Paul Harvey used to say….”And now, the rest of the story.”
Our cash flow may have been fine, but our earned income was not nearly as good. We started the year getting paid for our 2016 Christmas Tree job but that income was actually earned in 2016. So if you remove the $5,802 we earned at Christmas trees our income was $34,321 which was $7,332 less than we actually spent. Not nearly as good of a story when you look at it that way, but it actually gets worse, because we spent more money than our basic budget this year. We had three major expenditures in 2017 that resulted in our taking $15,462 from savings. Those expenditures, by the way, were the Mor-Ryde suspension upgrade, celebrating our youngest daughter’s 21st birthday in Las Vegas, and helping another daughter with some medical expenses that resulted from a childhood accident. The first two of those expenses were accounted for prior to going on the road, but the third was not, and either way the hit to the savings account does sting. We started the year with $40,074 in savings and ended with $24,612 and obviously we would like to find a way going forward to put some of that back. (As a side note this savings account does not include our retirement savings. By mutual agreement, that money is in a “lock box” and will not be used to fund the lifestyle.)
So what conclusions am I drawing from this? Actually, the whole thing makes me pretty hopeful. Our costs continue to go down (this year we spent roughly $8K -$10K less than each of the two previous years) , we completed all of the main work kamping jobs and now know what works for us, and we are also committed to staying on the West Coast for two years, barring any family emergencies. We started the year with a job on day one, and we already have a job lined up for the summer. All that being said, we will need for me to take some kind of consulting work to put money back in the savings account, but since I wanted to do that anyway, I am fine with that. Lee is also OK with giving that model a try, so my plan is to hopefully find something in October that will carry us through the end of the year. And if you are still concerned, here’s the most important reason I feel hopeful. We are facing it head on. Right now we are more aware of and have more control over our finances than we have had in our entire lives. Individually and as a couple. And three years in we have the knowledge and choice to make good decisions. Certainly the unforeseeable can happen, but that is true in any lifestyle. We choose to see the glass as half full instead of half empty and are trying to figure out how to fill it up all the way.
One last thing. I promised to report out on revenue earned by the blog and wanted to include it here. Since both of these income streams run about 2 months behind they only cover until October of this year. The book royalties didn’t start until March 2017, but the Amazon Associates program is for a full 12 months. We earned $424.30 through the Amazon Associates program and $404.73 in book royalties for a total of $829. Since we used this money to cover the cost of our website and purchase a few other blog related extras (ie: our new tent) I didn’t include it in our annual revenue. I know it isn’t a ton of money, but I wanted to thank every person who took the time to contribute in some way. The fact that I sold 172 books means a lot to me and any time someone takes the time to buy anything through our link on Amazon that little extra is a nice bonus. I had few illusions that I would get rich from writing this blog, but making enough to at least cover the website and a few extras is very validating. So thank you for the support, both financial and emotional, it really does matter to us. OK, onto the details. Please feel free to stop here if this sort of thing gives you a headache! (I wish we could have Kai Ryssdal say “Let’s do the numbers….” – Lee)
Let’s break this down a little bit and show you income by month. I added the earned column to the right to take out the money we made at Christmas trees in January. I also included the source by month and added our basic expenses at the bottom so you can see the net difference. It’s worth noting that even though we had some trailing income in April and October we did take those months off, and although some of that time was spent traveling to our new gigs we were also able to explore a bit and see family and friends.
Here is the spreadsheet that shows our costs for the year, along with a spreadsheet showing 2017 Min, Max, and Averages and a three year comparison. I will be getting into the details by category, but wanted to start with the basic information. As I mentioned before, we were very excited that our Year 3 costs were roughly $10K lower than our two previous years. This is absolutely a huge deal and and will talk about that in more detail in each subcategory. Oh, and I included a pie chart for Lee. Long time readers will get the joke. Alright let’s dive in. (I’ll do the jokes, thank you very much. And you don’t give people pie charts, you give people pie. – Lee)
(Worst. Pie. Ever. – Lee)
Campground Fees – One of the major benefits of work kamping is not needing to pay for a campsite. Even when we do pay for sites, we are much better at looking for inexpensive places and we use our Passport America 50% off discount quite frequently. I adjusted the budget down in 2017 and will probably do so again in 2018. We are averaging $104 a month or $3.50 a day which is pretty darn good. Significant drop from Year 1 when we spent $5213 in campground fees.
Groceries – I am shocked to say we actually saw significant improvement in this category, with a YOY reduction of $1383. Even though we have spent a ton of time talking about food and made a concerted effort to eliminate waste, I would have guessed it had minimal impact. Even so, I doubt I will adjust the budget in this category until I see sustained improvement. Still it is a nice example of how you can see improvement if you focus on something. (This is Project Manager Speak™ for “I’m going to starve Lee to death.”. – Lee)
Dining Out – In direct contradiction to groceries we ran over by $928 in this category. If you take them together we are still a few hundred dollars to the good, but obviously we would like to be on budget in both categories. The good news is we did hit a three year low in this category, but definitely still an area to focus on. Part of the problem is I like going out to eat. It’s a great way to experience an area, and also something we enjoy doing socially. What I think we need to reduce are those instances where we go out to eat because we haven’t planned any other food solution. That is harder than it may sound, especially on travel days, but definitely doable if we focus on it. What we can’t do is dine out cheap. Well I can, but Lee’s perspective is if we are going to do it, then we should get what we want, which obviously makes it more expensive. My desire to go out more frequently but cheaply is in direct contradiction to this. This isn’t a new problem, by the way, just more extreme when you are on a fixed budget. The key is attempting to find some balance, and hopefully we will be able to do a better job of that in 2018.
Entertainment – Unlike dining out, we did great in this category together. We had lots of fun experiences this year, but largely chose activities that were reasonably priced or free. We ended up being $630 under budget, which also helped counterbalance the overage in dining out expenses. This was also by far the lowest annual cost we have had in three years even though this category includes books, music, and games. No small feat, especially considering how much we like to read.
Cell/Internet/TV – This category is our third highest in cost and includes both of our cell phones, our internet, and TV solution. Even though we ended up $193 over budget we actually would have been under if I hadn’t dropped my iPhone 4 and needed to replace it. The good news is a few months ago we were able to sign up for a really great unlimited plan through AT&T so no more overage charges. We are huge fans of the plan, and it has reduced our monthly budget amount from $440 to $230 in 2018. This should result in an annual savings of $2500 which is obviously significant. Pretty excited about what is happening in this category!
Memberships – Our memberships stayed pretty consistent although we did drop the Executive level Costco membership and stuck with the traditional one. We tried it for a year and just didn’t use it enough to warrant the additional costs. Along with Costco we are members of Xscapers, Passport America, Amazon Prime, and we buy an annual National Parks Pass. We feel all of those expenses are worth the cost.
Truck Fuel – This is another category we watch very closely and is number two in overall expenses. This year we spent $5733 and went over our annual budget by $933. Although the expense was less than last year, that was expected because we didn’t have a trip to Alaska, and was definitely more than we wanted to spend. It’s pretty easy to figure out why when you see our driving route for the year and we know we simply can’t afford to keep criss-crossing the country every year. That’s going to be tough because our family is mostly on the east coast, but we love traveling in the west, but we have committed to not going back east (barring family emergency) for 2018 at least. Our financials also includes leaving Cambellsville, going to Columbus, and then heading back to Texas. Here is a rough sketch of our travel schedule for calendar 2017. Looking at it this way it’s easy to see where the costs came from. (I find it very funny that we started in New Braunfels, TX, traveled 8,000 miles, and ended up exactly one year later only 400 miles from where we started. – Lee)
Truck Maintenance – This was another category I was very happy with as we hit a three year low spending only $721. Expect this category to rise next year though as we have used all of our pre-paid maintenance and will need to pay out of pocket going forward. We still have some time on the warranty in case anything major happens, but maintenance is on us. Lee and I will need to sit down and estimate when those maintenance activities will occur and then come up with a budget going forward. I’ll have all the budget amounts updated in our January budget report and will talk then about how we made certain decisions.
Insurance – Thankfully our RV insurance has stayed the same but our truck insurance has gone up, resulting in an extra $246 in 2017. I did call and talk to our agent to see if we could get a better price, but apparently rates for everyone who bases in Florida were raised this year. With the hurricanes that will probably be worse next year, but at this point I like the company and am not crazy about switching to someone else, even if I could get a better rate. We have used it twice and had no issues either time, which is no small thing. The really good news is our health insurance will be going down significantly in 2018. Despite a lot of stress and concern over whether our ACA plan would be available in 2018, not only did we get to keep the same plan, but we also receive a larger subsidy (on the same estimated revenue) which will result in a $230 per month savings! This savings, like the cell phone/internet savings, were largely unexpected and will really help us with our expenses in 2018. And yes, we have no idea how long this will last, but I will accept the reduction gratefully for this year and deal with what comes in 2019.
Storage – No more storage costs going forward as Lee cleaned out our storage area, got rid of a lot, and put the remaining items in his parents house. It was only $20 a month on the budget, but the additional peace of mind from knowing our items are with family is priceless. For the record, I don’t regret putting our items in storage at all, and given the same circumstances would do it all over again. But it was definitely time to deal with it, and we can go forward without those items trailing along behind us.
Clothing – Once again we did really well in a category showing a 30% YOY reduction. Mainly the savings came from buying fewer T-Shirts! (So in addition to starving, I will also be going around more naked quite a lot more than previously expected. I will apologize in advance for any disruption this causes. – Lee) We still purchased some work clothes, and I bought some new jeans, but in past years our greatest expense was in souvenir T-shirts. Don’t get me wrong, we still bought them, we just bought less of them!
Laundromat – We only spent $21 last year at the laundromat because Lee either did our laundry in the RV or our work kamping job provided free laundry. The only time we couldn’t do laundry for free was when the blankets needed done. They don’t fit in our Splendide unit. This may go up in 2018 because our gate guarding job may not provide enough water for us to use our own machine, so I probably won’t change the budget.
Cigarettes – This category got even better as we only spent $701 this year. More than any other category the difference between our new life and our old life shocks me as we were spending around $6700 a year on cigarettes when we used to live in a house. The difference? We roll our own now, and unlike the first two years where we had to buy tobacco locally at varying prices, we now are able to order it in bulk online. Being able to buy the tobacco and tubes online has saved us an additional $500 a year, and made it even more inexpensive. And yes, I know, the cheapest thing to do would be to quite all together, but since that hasn’t happened yet I can still be very happy about how this turned out. Lee gets 100% of the credit for savings in this area. (For the one or two of you who haven’t heard it, let me share with you what every doctor has said to me at every office visit I’ve had for most of my life. They all say the same thing: “You should stop smoking, you could afford to lose twenty pounds, and you should exercise more.” Which is pretty damned rude, if you ask me, and I always want to reply “I can stop smoking, lose the weight, and get in shape, but you’ll still be an ass.” I never do though. I’m too polite on the outside. – Lee)
Personal Care – Pretty happy with how this category turned out as well. We have seen a steady decline in the last three years and it evened out to only $382 this year. We get cheap haircuts at Super Cuts or Great Clips and we usually only get them once every two months or so. This also includes hair product and the occasional pedicure, but we have both done a nice job in keeping this expenditure low versus the first year where we spent $754.
Shipping and Postage – This category has been a struggle in the past, but Lee has made it a priority to get it under control and our costs this year were $389. That may seem high but it is a 50% reduction from the prior two years and a significant improvement. Some of the cost cutting measures he has implemented are holding back our mail as long as possible, using their scanning service as a cheaper alternative, and making sure on every single delivery he chooses the lowest postage option. Again this is all him, although I have been really good about only ordering things using Amazon Prime, but really Lee gets all the credit on this one. (Invariably, after I let mail pile up at the mail service until there’s enough to fill a Priority Mail envelope, and then waited a week or so to make sure there’s nothing else coming, and then I have them send it all to me, I will get a notification that we have received new mail the day after they send the pile. It happens every time. – Lee)
Gifts – This one is all me, and not in a good way. Well, it was good for the people I bought gifts for, but not so great on the budget. I spent $883 in this category, and it was lots of little things. This category has also been all over the place over the past three years and although I made some improvement last year, this year it went back up again. What can I say? I love giving gifts, and this category also includes charitable donations which do happen on occasion. The fact is though we are tightening our belt in almost every other category and I need to get serious about this one in 2018. The best approach is probably to still buy gifts, but buy less expensive ones. I wish I was more crafty so I could make stuff for people. Maybe that should be my New Year’s Resolution. Find something crafty that I can actually handle. I’ll let you know how it works out. (So in addition to having to see me naked, you can all expect to get things made from popsicle sticks and bits of twine. And we expect to see those things prominently displayed in your mantle when we come to visit. – Lee)
Home Improvement – This was another area Lee really focused on and the results are terrific. He spent $1,700 less in 2017 than in the prior two years and this was no small accomplishment. It’s not like he didn’t still do stuff for the house, but he found cheaper ways to do it. Plus, lots of that creative energy was put into his summer job and since the company paid for the materials that was all free for us. Seriously, I am super proud of how he did in this category, especially compared to how I did in my two weakest areas (dining out and gifts). (Tweren’t nothin, ma’am.)
Miscellaneous – We had $1,200 in this category, which is about what we spent in the prior two years. This includes things that don’t easily fit into any other category and this year the deductibles for the numerous times we tried to get the furnace fixed are in here. We also bought some camping gear and added it to this category, along with miscellaneous items throughout the 12 month period. I’ll try to keep a better eye on this category next year, so I can give a better accounting.
So, that’s the annual budget report. Thanks for hanging in there if you made it to this point, and once again I wanted to thank you for your support as we figure all this out. (For those of you did hang in there and read all of this, now you are stuck with the mental image of me naked, so that should teach you a lesson of some kind. – Lee) We have a plan for 2018, and we both think it’s a good one, but this is real life, so anything can happen. I will say that I am really proud of both of us for getting this far. We were spending well over $100K per year at the end of our life and mainly I had no idea where it was all going. (Chinese food and video games. – Lee) I do know that we didn’t have a lot to show for it, and those things we did have don’t come close to the experiences we are having now. This life isn’t perfect, but it’s a good one, and it’s working for us. Time to dig in and focus on putting some money back into savings. That’s what 2018 will be all about. That and Utah. We are very excited about exploring Utah between gate guarding and our summer job. Take care everyone, and remember, it’s all about your choices!
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