April 2019 Budget & Expenses | Digital Nomads Pursuing Financial Independence, Retire Early (FI/RE)
As digital nomads who travel long-term and house sit full time our monthly budget and expenses are a bit different than most people. If you’re curious how much we spend and how we can travel full time and still pursue FI/RE (financial independence, retire early) then read on. In April we found ourselves spending a bit more on business expenses and clothing, but finding notable savings in lodging. Also, if your curious how our medical insurance is so low… we’re divulging the details this month!
This is a recurring monthly series where we share our budget/expenses as digital nomads pursuing financial independence, retire early (FI/RE) and traveling continuously and long-term! So, if you’re wondering how our year to date totals break down each month, or what the trends in our budget/expenses are, then check out the series.
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Monthly and Year-To-Date Expenses
We’re often asked how much we budget for our lifestyle of continuous and long-term travel as digital nomads. So we’re pulling the cover off our expenses and sharing what we spend month to month!
Be prepared; we truly Screw The Average when it comes to our budget/expenses. We have many tricks up our sleeves when it comes to saving money, whether it be for travel (sightseeing, airfare, transportation, etc.), day-to-day expenses (groceries, haircuts, toiletries, etc.), or everything else (gear, supplies, odds and ends, etc.).
There are a few reasons why our monthly expenditures are extremely low (relative to most) and dialed in.
A Monthly Budget (Or Not)
Budgets have their time and place and do many people a great service. Surprisingly enough though, we don’t keep a budget in the traditional sense because we’re extremely intentional with our decisions, including how we spend money.
Since our living expenses are dialed in, meaning they’re mostly known and similar month to month, and our expenditures are calculated and thought out, we find that we don’t need a budget.
While we don’t keep a budget, as you can see we do track our expenses. This allows us to see trends in our spending and ensure we’re on track. Consider it mindfulness of our finances!
Financial Independence, Retire Early (FI/RE)
In its simplest form, reaching Financial Independence, Retire Early (FI/RE) means: A) making much more money than you spend, and B) spending much less than you make.
Now whether your put your emphasis on A (make more money) or B (spend less money) is a debate within the FI/RE community and in our opinion a personal decision. And really, either method means living below your means, so ultimately, why not do both?
For us, we’re building FI/RE into our lifestyle. We believe the journey to reach FI/RE doesn’t need to be a 10-20 year grueling grind where it’s the sole focus of life until reached. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve worked our fair share of intense hours and we’ve delayed gratification plenty.
After years of creating a financial, professional, and personal foundation we decided we could incorporate the pursuit of Financial Independence, Retire Early with doing the things we love. We decided that even if it delayed FI/RE a bit, it was well worth it!
Having a dialed-in, lean, and minimalist lifestyle (and therefore budget) offers us increased freedom. We’ve designed our life in a way that allows us, within reason of course, to make our own decisions, do what we want, and have the upmost flexibility.
We find satisfaction in being able to sleep-in on any given day, take a hike, or play a video game when we choose to.
We’re minimalists when it comes to ‘stuff’, allowing us to get up and go at a moment’s notice.
We only take on the jobs, contracts, or clients we want to and say ‘no thank you’ to the ones that aren’t a good fit.
Thankfully big expenses or unexpected bills don’t put us in debt or throw us for a loop. Because we choose not to inflate our lifestyle to the size of our income we’re able to have an emergency fund.
Once in a lifetime opportunities rarely pass us by because we’re ready for them, whatever they entail.
This freedom isn’t just luck (although we are lucky we haven’t been hit by a meteor or become terminally ill), we fundamentally believe we’re in charge of our own destiny and therefore have worked long and hard for these freedoms. We’ve made thousands of rational, logical choices for decades to get to where we are today.
Long-Term Travel, FI/RE, and Freedom are Fueled by Our Monthly Budget/Expenses
We don’t consider ourselves cheap, although inevitably some will. We’re frugal, as we worry less about cost and more about value. And finally, we don’t feel we sacrifice; we sometimes delay satisfaction but at other times we live quite luxuriously.
Where we place our value and therefore our money may not be where you choose to place yours, and that’s okay. We do however hope that just as we’ve learned from other people, maybe others can take a few things away from our approach.
Follow us each month as we post our actual and full expenses. We’ll share tips on how we saved money and insight into where we spent money!
Don’t miss our Ultimate Gear and Packing Lists! Whether you’re traveling long-term or going on a short vacation, we'll show you how to travel with a single carry-on. We share our packing lists (his and hers!), packing tips, and our favorite gear. Plus, we discuss what we don’t carry and why!
Our Expenses: April 2019
If you’ve followed our expenses for the first few months of the year, you might be surprised at how much we spent in April. However, for those who aren’t familiar with our typical expenses, you might be surprised to see how little we spent in April.
Notable Expenses in April, 2019
Usually our grocery expenses take up the largest percentage of our budget each month. However, this month ‘Business Expenses’ took the trophy.
As digital nomads we rely on our computers heavily as they’re what allow us to make a living. In preparing to travel long-term we had the foresight to have identical computers that are just about a mirror of each other, both in hardware, software, and data. We also network our computers so that we can work off of the same files. Sergio’s computer is the primary and Shannon’s is the secondary. At times it may add a bit of complexity, however it adds the luxury that either one of us can work off of the other’s computer and we both have access to everything we need.
This set up has always been useful but last month it proved itself invaluable…
In the middle of working on a Screw The Average article Shannon’s computer simply turned off. After testing various things and opening the case, we came to the very sad yet accurate conclusion that the motherboard had failed.
Because of the way we set up our laptops, no information was lost or inaccessible. We were able to share a computer while we waited for a motherboard replacement. So, this month we spent a few hundred dollars on warranty care, but it was money well spent. We like to share, but sharing a computer when both of us make our living on one isn’t easy!
We’re happy to say that we’re no longer sharing a single computer and Shannon’s up and running!
We’re not fans of shopping for the pleasure of shopping. Frankly, we don’t find much pleasure in it. But there comes a time when it’s just time for new clothes.
This month we both replaced two of our tops and Shannon replaced her beloved jeans.
Of course, we’re not ones to pay full retail price. Sergio found two athletic shirts that fit amazingly well for $10 apiece at TJ Maxx (interesting fact: The UK version of the store is TK Maxx). Then, Shannon also found two shirts on sale for $10 each at Banana Republic. And what spurred the entire trip for shopping was the 50% off everything sale at Express, where Shannon picked up her favorite jeans.
Tip: When we add a new article of clothing to our wardrobe it always replaces something we already have. Since we travel with a single carry on travel backpack apiece (‘onebag’), we’re looking to keep everything light and compact. So, when something is added, something else must go!
Notable Savings in April, 2019
Medical Health Insurance
We were recently asked how we spend so little each month on health insurance. At a monthly premium of $4.15, how could you not wonder?
We’re both very healthy and usually only need a yearly check-up, and maybe one or two other doctor visits. Additionally, it’s a bit of a challenge to find health insurance (through the Marketplace) that covers us nationwide. Because of this, we know that most of the time we’ll be paying out of pocket for medical needs anyway.
So, we elect to carry an HDHP plan (high deductible health plan). This lowers our monthly premium costs, allowing us to save more money for any unexpected and out of network medical care.
Plus, when we’re traveling internationally, the fine print of our insurance plan states that it’ll cover emergencies globally, but nothing else. Our experience has been that health insurance is dramatically less expensive overseas as well (seeking medical care in the United Kingdom and in Greece).
Tip: If we desired more comprehensive medical coverage, like if our everyday medical needs were higher, we would look into insurance plans that would cover us while traveling full-time. Unfortunately, most travel medical insurance plans only cover a trip and have a limit for the length of coverage. Instead, we’d consider something along the lines of ‘expat insurance’, which would cover us for long periods of time without requiring us to return ‘home’. We’ve considered Allianz Travel Insurance, IMGlobal, and Cigna Global.
Furthermore, when selecting travel insurance, be sure to read the fine print. We’ve found that some plans exclude medical services due to ‘adventurous’ activities, like hiking or rock-climbing.
Lodging - Airbnb Coupons
We occasionally have days where we need a place to stay that isn’t at a house sit. Our final Chicago house sit ended on April 30th, however our next house sit in Atlanta didn’t start until May 2nd. This left us with a one day gap where we needed to find a place to sleep.
Technically, the Airbnb reservation was for May, but we paid for it it in advance in the month of April. Sign up with our Airbnb link and get a bonus credit for your first stay!
There’s a myriad of choices out there for cheap and alternative lodging. In this case we truly lucked out and found a private room with a private bathroom near the airport (only a $10.88 shared Lyft ride away) and near public transportation.
We’re not surprised if a host ‘oversell’s’ their space in the listing, however once we arrived we realized it had been undersold! It was clean, comfortable, and spacious and came with a walk-in closet, bottles of water, drawer space, and a microwave in the room. Not to mention the host was extremely nice and had self check-in option. This was especially important because our flight was scheduled to arrive at almost midnight.
The price per night was a steal at $30 and well below market value. But the cherry on top was that we had a $20 credit for referring a friend and ended up only spending $9.35!
Where We’ve Traveled to This Month
House sitting full-time is an amazing adventure, but we do need to be able to adapt to change to make it successful.
Dallas, TX Anyone? …Err Maybe Not
March was a month we spent house sitting in New York City and our goal was to continue on in NYC through April. We held out hope of finding a house sitting job match, however to no avail. Just over a week out from the end of the month and the end of our house sit, we started expanding our search and accepted a house sitting job in Dallas, TX that would last the entire month of April.
Due to our haste of finding a house sit last minute, we ignored a couple of red flags on the listing (a previous sitter review made us raise an eyebrow and the homeowners delays in communication and her hesitation in committing to her posted travel dates). Therefore, we accept some of the responsibility when the plans to house sit in Dallas fell apart.
Less than 24 hours after purchasing our plane tickets and confirming house sit and travel plans with the homeowner, she sent us a message letting us know she was postponing or maybe even canceling her travel plans. Luckily because it had been less that 24 hours we were able to cancel our tickets without incurring fees.
Chicago, IL Here We Come!
While we may have been a bit panicked (well, Shannon more so than Sergio), three house sitting jobs worked out nearly perfectly in Chicago. It was great because it’s a travel hub, therefore less expensive plane tickets, and we’re familiar with the area since we house sat in Chicago over the summer of 2018.
Our first sit was in the suburbs just outside of Chicago city limits. The homeowner was the exact opposite of the homeowner from Dallas. Mary was quick to communicate and very clear on her expectations. We enjoyed spending a couple of days with her before she left for vacation and enjoyed her cats, Bippy and Jasper just as much!
Bippy is very shy to begin with. Although, per Mary’s feedback he seemed to be much more comfortable with us than usual. He was an absolute sweetheart and incredibly calm and gentle. We think he looks like the cat version of the black dragon, Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon!
Jasper was just as adorable as Bippy, but one of the most active and curious cats we’ve met. He also didn’t seem to understand his body, because every time he jumped on a table, shelf, or desk, if something wasn’t glued down with museum glue (and many things were because of him!) he would inevitably knock them over. He warmed up to us almost instantaneously and loved to play!
Our second house sit in Chicago proper was with Jessica who had two older cats, Pam and Seth. We quickly made friends with Jessica, who had been a bit hesitant to hand over care of her little ones to strangers. We like to think she was honest when after spending time with us she said her fears had diminished and she was happy to have us!
One of her main concerns of leaving in large part was because of Seth, whom we affectionately nicknamed, ‘Grumpy Old Man’ . Sadly, he had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart and experienced ‘heart incidents’ (which manifested with him as a look of fear, howling , and uncontrolled urination). He also had a bit of anxiety that resulted in over-grooming.
We were hopeful that our calm presence and extra love and attention would prevent any incidents on our watch. However, thunder storms topped with the excitement of a special food treat induced a heart incident just a few days into the house sit. It was scary for us, but we kept in constant contact with Jessica (who in turn kept in contact with his veterinarian), kept him wrapped up in his Thundershirt, and gave him lots of soothing love and attention.
We quickly fell in love with this little warrior! Soon he was cuddling up with us and nudging us for cuddles. We have a place in our hearts for every animal we care for, but Seth with his heart condition has a special place!
Seth’s sister Pam, aka Paammyy!, wasn’t afraid to ask for attention from the moment she met us. She loved her butt scratches and often went into Skunk Butt Pose (imagine what a skunk looks when it’s about to spray, tail up and butt in the air). She always wanted to be close to us, even finding a favorite spot with us on our chair. Seriously, she’d squeeze herself right in the nook between us and the back of the chair!
Our third and last house sit in Chicago was shorter (five days) but in the perfect location along the Blue L-Train line that would take us to the airport. Ellen, the homeowner graciously welcomed us into her home, but our time with her was limited as just a little over an hour after arriving and doing a walk through of her home, she needed to head off to the airport to catch her flight.
She introduced us to Little, who cautiously allowed us to share the apartment with her. She was incredibly cute, loved her morning brushings, and had short bursts of energy that took us by surprise. We had just enough time with her that we wished we could have spent a few more days getting to know her!
The spring weather in Chicago, while unpredictable (clear skies and 70 degrees on day and 4-5 inches of snow another!) was much better than the hot and humid summer we spent in the city last year. Plus, with three house sits in April we made eight new friends (three human and five kitties)!
Our tool box is full of resources! From travel hacking to house sitting, digital nomad jobs to privacy and security, financially independent retire early (FI/RE) to entertainment, plus travel hacking (credit cards, miles, points, and rewards), and much much more…
Year to Date (YTD) Expenses for 2019
Notable Expenses This Year (2019)
Looking over the first four months of the year, a couple of trends become obvious.
Coming in second place of highest expenses year to date is our Business Expense category. We don’t often have items going in here, but when we do they’re typically large dollar amounts because our main expenses in this category are electronics.
The bulk of this category was on a warranty purchase for Shannon’s laptop. Lucky for us, Lenovo allows consumers to buy a warranty after the purchase of a laptop and even after hardware has failed. So, when Shannon’s motherboard took its last ‘breath’ it was a no-brainer to purchase the warranty instead of a new laptop (or paying for a replacement motherboard)! (Sergio here! You bet your bottom dollar that’s getting written off!)
That said, we’ve learned our lesson. Our next laptops will include full warranty coverage, including plastics (cosmetics) and accidental damage (like a spilled drink) from the get-go.
Our first three months of 2019 were a tour of three historical cities along the east coast: Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, PA, and New York, New York. Travel between the cities was extremely inexpensive ($5 USD per person between each city), but costs were a bit higher when using public transportation within each city.
We continued using public transportation in Chicago, but because of our locations while house sitting, we walked more than we rode the bus or took the L-Train. So, while public transportation was taking 15% of our budget earlier in the year, it’s now under 12% of our total year to date budget.
In the beginning of the year we took full advantage of a Lyft promotion (20% off our rides) and used it to supplement some of our public transportation usage. And trust us, at the end of a 10+ mile day walking, a Lyft ride home is a welcome alternative to a long metro and bus ride home!
Then with Lyft’s new introduction of personal ride benefits when using Lyft for business, we were able to extend the 20% off for a few more rides in April. Ride share generally isn’t our go to option, but sometimes it works out fantastically!
Notable Savings This Year (2019)
The grocery category of our expenses year to date can be a bit misleading. It’s the largest percentage of our budget/expenditures, however when we consider the expenses in the category closely, we actually tend to do pretty well on our food budget. We save money on food by generally not eating out (with the exception of special occasions) and limiting our meat consumption.
Traveling long-term for us means we aren’t paying rent or a mortgage. So, in turn most would expect us to be paying for countless hotels and Airbnbs. Doing so would be a huge expense that we just don’t want to bare. Instead we house sit full-time and fill in the gaps with travel hacking and mattress running. In turn, while lodging in any form is usually the #1 expense for most people, in the first four months of 2019 lodging is under 10% of our year to date budget!
We’re known to enjoy our time sightseeing and exploring!
This year we’ve been in cities where what we’ve wanted to do and see has been free. For example, much of the sights in Washington D.C. have free entry, like the Library of Congress that even has free tours! Then, in New York City we opted to forgo the things that can be rather expensive and instead explore the city by foot and walk through Central Park, cross the Brooklyn Bridge, and walk neighborhoods like Flushing, Hudson Yards, Tribeca, Queens, and more!
This was less of a choice to spend less money and more of a choice to sightsee the way we like best. In due time, we'll return and do more of the traditional must see sightseeing!
All of this on top of our love of walking all areas of a city, means we’ve so far spent very little on sightseeing and must see attractions this year.
Where We’ve Traveled to This Year
The map below shows where we’ve been so far this year.
Note: The house icons are locations we’ve had a house sit.
London, San Francisco, Paris, New York City, Athens and more?! Trusted Housesitters has allowed us to travel the world on a budget, but more importantly given us an opportunity to make new friends and have cute and cuddly companions along the way. Sign up and start your next great adventure!
Two and a half years later we still have moments where we can hardly believe we’re digital nomads that travel full time. It’s a dream come true, but really it’s a goal we’ve worked incredibly hard to make a reality.
Beyond being able to travel full time, we believe our monthly budget and expenses are proof that you can live your ideal life and still pursue FI/RE!