For the sake of honesty and putting it all out there, I am going to show everything from the good, the bad and the ugly as well as finances and more in this blog. Let’s start with a very common, misunderstood and frustrating comment I often get:
“The way you guys travel, you obviously make a lot of money” (Often said in a bitter, condescending way).
Here is the truth: Yes, the combined income of my husband and I is actually pretty good, I won’t hide that fact in case someone tries to come back with something from that later. But here is another fact: We live off of less than $40,000 a year. Why? Well, we have several financial reasons for this (putting money away for the future, early retirements, etc.) but a big part of that is that for every penny saved is a penny to put towards our next trip.
And then I hear the other end of the spectrum and often get made fun of the way we (don’t) spend money. So what is it people? Are we rich or cheap? Pick one side already.
Not even considering how we pinch pennies WHILE traveling, here are just a few ways that we are unlike the norm in how we decide to stretch every penny and save a few bucks in our daily lives to get us to our next grand destination:
When moving to Germany, we had the option of getting a nice sized place to live in. Instead, we chose to find a small apartment with no garage or parking and barely enough room to fit all of our junk into. By doing this instead of getting a townhome or house, we have saved thousands upon thousands of Euros. (Guess how many trips we have squeezed just from that alone!?). Sure, having a big home is great, but if you REALLY want to travel, could you get rid of your pool and gym access apartment or condo instead?
2) Long Underwear is Key
Long underwear is heck of a lot cheaper than turning on the heat. When most people have cranked up the temps, we are just putting on an extra layer of sweatshirts. It can be dipping well into the 20s or 30s (that’s degrees FAHRENHEIT my European friends!) and snowing outside before we even consider a teeny bit of heat. When it is time to begrudgingly turn on the furnace, don’t think we start shedding layers. Nope, we keep it just warm enough that your feet may still go numb without several layers of socks and some slippers. (Hint: Bring extra clothing when visiting in the winter!)
3) As are Fans
Likewise, in the summer, a fan in the window and a cold washcloth can beat the heat instead of the A/C. Here in Germany, we don’t even have an air conditioner (mostly because of the climate here) but in Nebraska, we did the same thing. It would take several consecutive days of 100+ degree weather plus humity to get us to flip the switch. Even when we do turn it on, it is just enough to not suffocate from the humidity.
4) Price Shop
We constantly price shop, even on places like amazon! We will wait to buy things (even small purchases) until it is cheaper. Yes, it is time-consuming, but it can pay off.
5) Buy in Bulk
We buy in bulk on many products. Sure, I have no idea what I’m going to do with 30 cans of coconut milk, but damn-it, I’m going to find out!
You thought I was going to say we skip doing laundry, didn’t you? Well, lucky for you, we still do wash our clothes. However, we make our own laundry detergent and often hang dry our clothes instead of using the electricity for the dryer.
7) Soap and Shampoo
We hoard hotel soaps and shampoos for personal use like they are going out of style. With crazy long hair, I need real products, but it’s been years since Andy has bough shampoo and soap.
If something needs to be fixed, we try to do it ourselves before paying a professional (Google and Youtube truly can be a wonderful thing if you are willing to put in some time and effort and try something new). This is also true for when you are actually planning that trip that you’ve been saving for. Try to do it all yourself (planning, booking, free tours etc) and you’ll save tons.
I have an unspoken clothes shopping rule: If one article of clothing is more than $10, it is too much. Believe me, this has made for some interesting shopping trips with my girlfriends and I may not be the most in-style person on the block, but when I am having dinner in an exotic location, I don’t mind that my shirt isn’t the newest trend.
My hairstylist hates me for this, but I get a cut MAYBE two times a year? I also cut Andy’s hair myself. Once again, we may not win an award for “Best Hair” and Andy sometimes looks like a child accidentally took scissors to his head, but considering mine is in a pony most days anyway and he knows that hair grows, who cares? Estimating, this saves at least $200/year!!!
We don’t have “tv.” Ok, yes. We have a physical TV, but we don’t pay for cable or even a provider at all. We watch anything we need through the internet saving us a MINIMUM of $300 a year.
I have pre-paid phones. This trend is actually starting to catch back on. But no, I don’t have the smartphone pre-paid or wifi phone. I have this bad boy; circa 2000
It cost me about 25 Euros to get the phone/sim card itself and RARELY, if ever use it and just put money on it as we go. I can put 15 Euro on my phone and have it last 4-5 months while others pay 80 Euro (UUUh, that is a Ryan Air flight to AFRICA right there!) a MONTH!!
13) Alternative Lodging
When traveling, we are willing to stay at hostels and other “cheap” places. While I do HIGHLY care about cleanliness, I am also willing to have a room the size of a closet, a hard bed and no breakfast and will only occasionally share a room with geckos if it means I can travel more or longer. Tripadvisor, Booking.com and AirB&B have become my best friends for finding great prices while not having to sacrifice cleanliness. (Yes, it can take hours upon hours of searching and cross-referencing hotels, but once again….a cheap stay in a clean room is worth it).
We only have one car. (This is a tough one for most to wrap their heads around) and I have to admit that this is probably the most inconvenient and difficult one to make work. I can live without a haircut, but I do have to get out of my house occasionally. We will take the bus to work (often making the trip double the time compared to us driving) if the other has the car. Or, one of us often has to go to work hours early or stay hours late just to accommodate the other’s schedule. In the summer, the hour plus grueling bike ride through the Bavarian hills to the Army Post provides for a great workout if the car is already in use. Also, when picking our car gas mileage trumps design and car model. We also try and keep the amount of driving we do to a minimum to save as much on gas money as possible. When other people are paying hundreds of dollars a month for a shiny, cool looking car, I have no problem being “that hippie” in my Prius,
(I can’t tell you the amount of people that complain about travel being too expensive, yet have high-end luxury vehicles. Pick your priorities, but don’t bitch and moan that you can’t travel when you CHOSE to buy that new BMW)
15) Ditch the Digital Gadgets
We don’t buy/have the newest tech gear. Our desktop computer is about ten years old, neither of us own an Ipod (our $10 MP3 Players work just fine), we bought a refurbished (read: cheaper) tablet, we don’t have and don’t have the newest gaming systems. Any electronics/gadgets we do have, we make last and are fine buying things that aren’t “Brand-names”
And for your reading pleasure, here are two Bonus Tips:
16) We make most of our food at home and therefore, don’t eat out very often. This includes always packing leftovers for lunch instead of eating out, prepping food and taking it along for roadtrips and vacations as well as making our own coffee instead of hitting up Starbucks (although, I do miss my Scooters for all you Omaha peeps!)
17) Not everyone has this luxury, but if you can, save money on interest by not taking out loans (cars, school, etc) and not having credit card debt. If we can’t pay for it in cash, we won’t charge it. That’s not to say we don’t take full advantage of credit cards and Travel Hacking, but we won’t charge what we don’t have.
For every hundred dollars we save, I look at that as another potential trip. So, when others think it is “weird” that we don’t have cable or that most of our furniture is second hand or that I am not willing to pay $15 for a shirt, I ignore their “cheap” comments, go to a happy place in my mind, like that kick-ass trip to the beaches of Thailand and just simply think, “Where in the world would I like to go next?”