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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