May 2019 Budget & Expenses | Digital Nomads Pursuing Financial Independence, Retire Early (FI/RE)
Curious how much a house sitting, digital nomad, long-term traveling, ‘onebag’, financial independence, retire early (FI/RE) couple spend in a month? Well you’re not alone, so we’ve documented our expenses and laid it all out on the table. Read on for our budget/expenses and to see what big changes are coming down the pipeline…
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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Tip to Make the Most of This Article
If you’re new to Screw The Average we recommend reading through the entire article, as it gives context to the how and the why of how we budget and spend our money. If you’re already a follower of our Monthly Budget & Expense series then consider skipping to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of it all.
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: May 2019
May was a big spending month for us! It was a month of a few splurges, some replacements, and subscription service renewals (like AwardWallet).
May was also a month that brought big changes to our life…
As digital nomads, we’ve both worked as remote consultants for years. This has enabled us to travel the world (26 countries and ~80 cities) over the last couple of years. All we’ve needed is a laptop and an internet connection and most of our work can be done wherever we are.
We weren’t looking to change anything, we love the lives we’ve created for ourselves!
Shannon would be using her corporate training skills to work with a worldwide team to train Fortune 500 companies on products and services from an internationally recognized company. The role would be based out of Manhattan, NY, but was 75% travel and considered a remote position. The offer was impressive, the company perks were great, and the experience and growth potential would be fantastic.
Every which way we looked at it, the pros well outweighed the cons. It simply was a position we couldn’t turn down.
So what does this mean for us?
Well, we’re going to keep doing what we love. We’re going to continue house sitting, but in New York City almost exclusively. We’re continuing to travel, albeit the company will tell Shannon where to. We’re still digital nomads, as we both work remotely and are living a nomadic lifestyle. We’re still living out of ‘onebag’ and we’re making a big jump forward in our pursuit of financial independence, retire early (FI/RE).
And Now to Our May 2019 Expenses
If you’re wondering how to travel internationally, or simply vacation nearby and not spend a fortune on airfare or hotels, then we’d like to welcome you to the world of ‘travel hacking’. See what credit cards we carry, and how we take full advantage of the points and miles we’ve earned.
Notable Expenses in May 2019
So how does our Health Care budget category go from a notable savings in April, to a notable expense in May? A jump from $4.15 to $190.88 is significant.
Let us explain.
In April we discussed why we only pay $4.15 for medical insurance and this month was no different. However, paying for a high deductible health plan (HDHP) means many things must be paid out of pocket and/or taken care of independently. So, this month you’re seeing expenses on dental care as well.
We purchased two Groupons for x-rays, exam, and cleaning ($37.35 each). We strategically purchased them in advance for a dentist that’s highly rated and near an upcoming house sitting job we have in Long Island City, Brooklyn, NY.
However, that’s not all that’s in our health care category. We look at our health holistically, both mental and physical. Most of what we partake in, in this category is free. Like walking often and long distances, stretching (albeit Sergio much more diligently than Shannon), meditation, etc. Although some of it comes at a cost.
As Shannon embarks on a new job that will come with a lot of stress, we’ve set aside a budget for her mental and physical health. This includes massages, workout classes (she loves kickboxing!), meditation courses/apps, books, spa time, etc. Essentially these are all things that will help her be affected less by the stress of work and recuperate when she is affected by it.
A New Pair of Shoes
Anyone who’s followed us or read our story from the beginning knows that shoes are a sore subject for Shannon. You can refresh yourself on some of the saga here.
The short of it though is that Shannon has abnormal feet, they’re incredibly high arched and wide. The high arches are manageable and when we went from standard shoes with elevated heals to ‘zero drop’ shoes (meaning the front of the foot is at the same level the back is at) she was able to stop using her insoles.
On the other hand, having such wide feet has become the biggest hurdle. She shops in the men’s shoe department, but still has trouble finding shoes that fit her bear paws. Over the years she’s also experienced the most dramatic wear of her shoes to be on the fabric. Meaning, her wide feet rub and push against the sides of her sneakers so much that she tears holes through the side fabric before depleting the tread.
So, when Shannon was sitting at a work event and looked down to see her shoes had once again lost the match against her wide feet, she wasn’t only mortified but she had to scramble to find a new pair.
After some searching we found the perfect pair of shoes, Altra Lone Peak (they were even women’s!) and they were on sale!
Unfortunately, a byproduct of long term travel meant that we were in transition and would soon be in a different location for our next house sitting job. If we shipped them to our current location we’d likely miss them and if we shipped them to the upcoming location they’d get there too soon (we generally try not to burden homeowners with our mail if we can avoid it).
The decision to wait three days to order them was the wrong one because they skyrocketed in price when the sale ended.
Ultimately, Shannon found the same brand and style, just in a color that wasn’t her first choice. The cost was better and best of all, they fit great. Time will tell who will win the battle, the shoes or her bear paws (Sergio here! I’m going on the record right now, her shoes don’t stand a chance!).
Food with New Friends
There’s a very clear distinction between ‘frugal’ and ‘cheap’.
Cheap is simply spending as little money as possible, no matter the return in value.
Frugal is using resources economically and getting the best value with money.
For example, the Eating Out category of our budget for the first four months of the year peaked at just over $5 (for a hot dog on Coney Island at the first Nathan’s Famous Restaurant). This isn’t because we simply don’t want to spend the money, it’s primarily because we don’t usually find sufficient value in eating out.
On the other hand, when it’s less about eating out and more about the experience, it’s something we enjoy doing. Hence the $5.17 hot dog from Nathan’s Famous.
All of that to say that in May we had the pleasure of meeting Vikki and Paul in Atlanta (homeowners that we house sat for and now call friends). Thanks to them, we blew our food budget out of the water (just kidding guys)!
In reality though, it’s not really a food budget item because it wasn’t about the food, it was about our friendship, stories, and the fun time we had.
Notable Savings in May, 2019
$20 Shopping Spree
Last month we refreshed some of our wardrobe with a purchase of Shannon’s favorite jeans from Express. Not only did we get them on sale for 40% off, but making the purchase along with doing a few quick member reward activities on her Express account gave us a total of $20 to spend at Express, with no cost or minimum spend on our end.
Lodging - House Sitting
We were incredibly fortunate to have been offered back to back house sits in Atlanta. We aren’t always this lucky and often have to pay for one or a few nights at a hotel or Airbnb. But with a house sit in Cabbagetown, Atlanta and one in Midtown, Atlanta we got the opportunity to see different parts of the city and spend nothing additional on lodging costs.
Where We’ve Traveled to This Month
We’ve technically both been to Atlanta, although just within the Atlanta airport (ATL). So we were both excited to step out and see the city!
The first of the month started a new house sit for us in Cabbagetown, Atlanta. We’ve never felt unwelcome arriving at a new house sitting job, but sometimes our arrival is extra special, almost as if we’ve been friends for years. That was definitely the case with Vikki, Paul, and Zara Raj (their kitty)!
Both Vikki and Paul gave us a tour of their home when we arrived (post the ride in Paul’s Tesla that Sergio particularly enjoyed!), and you know it’s going well when conversation flows and a tour turns into great conversation and stories.
Zara is a beautiful long haired cat that enjoyed her time lounging in front of the window and watching the birds at the bird feeder. She warmed up to us slowly but it wasn’t long before Sergio had her eating treats out of his hand (we were told this was jaw dropping behavior for her!).
Our second Atlanta house sit in Midtown had a day of overlap with our first house sit. We’re incredibly fortunate in these cases that we’re a couple and can split up. This time it was Shannon who started the house sit with Matt and Rachel before they left for their Tokyo, Japan adventure.
They showed us around their home and we loved all of the unique and fun art. In fact, both Atlanta house sits had great art and memorabilia in their home; each home with it’s own story and history.
In Midtown we cared for Laszlo the cat. He reminded us a bit of Seth from Chicago in his demeanor and ‘silent warrior-ness’. Laszlo is the first cat we’ve cared for with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) (not contagious or transferable to humans) and so we payed extra attention to his health as he’s more susceptible to infections (like respiratory or eye infections).
Sadly, Laszlo also had the worst allergies in a cat we’ve ever seen. Matt and Rachel had him on allergy medication, but he was still having such a rough time. It broke our hearts when he’d have a burst of a dozen sneezes or more at a time.
All of May was spent in Atlanta. At the end of the month, Sergio packed his bag and headed to New York for our next house sit in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York.
We’ll share more on our time in Rockaway Beach next month, as it’s a six week house sitting job. But upon arrival Sergio was graciously welcomed into their home, met their cat Stinky (yes that’s his legit name!) and even had the chance to take a stroll on the beach with them (it’s just two blocks away!).
While Sergio headed off to the beach, Shannon started a string of travel for her new job. The end of the May included a few days in Pennsylvania, where she was unfortunately daring enough to try beef tare tare for the first time. This lead to food poisoning that she endured on a flight from Pennsylvania to London, UK, via Detroit (Shannon here! Trust me, I’ve since learned to be incredibly conservative with my food choices while traveling. Sadly, I even passed on sushi!).
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
At a total of $2,409.70 for the first five months of 2019, we’re currently averaging $481.94 in monthly expenses. That’s incredible and definitely a record low for us.
The most amazing thing of it all though, is that we don’t feel like we’re sacrificing. We’re living the life we want to live and feel incredibly fortunate to have what we have.
When we meet new people we’re often faced with remarks like “Oh my gosh, how do you do what you do?!”, “I wish I could do that!”, or “It must be so expensive to travel full-time.”
Your choices and priorities may be different from ours, and that’s perfectly okay. Our point is, no matter your goals or desires, Screw The Average (be an outlier)!
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!
Five months into the year and we’re looking like we’re going to set a record low of yearly expenses… However with the new job and staying in the Big Apple, our monthly budget/expenses are bound to go up. But the question is by how much?
Of course we have a few thoughts on this and have projected things out, but you’ll have to stay tuned!
For reference, here’s the cost of living between our previous ‘hometown’ and New York City.