When I was a kid, the purse strings were tight. I recall often eating one of my mom's signature dishes: "Tuna and Crackers"; spread saltine crackers out on your plate, cover them with a creamy tuna concoction, and then eat it. If my mom taught me one thing, it was that you never breathe with your mouth open when it's freezing cold out. If she taught me one thing relevant to this discussion, it was how to be frugal.
Throughout this process, people have asked us how we're able to afford to pick up and drive around the world when we're so young. Trust fund? Ponzi scheme? Nope, just good old fashioned penny pinching. It's actually not so hard; the toughest part is making the "all or nothing" decision to actually do it.
We decided to do this trip right before leaving on vacation to Spain. We scribbled out our savings plan before we left, but perfected it on a long hike in the Alpujarras. By this time we realized that we were in the midst of a vacation on which we were wasting money that should have been going into the Nacho Fund. By the end of our hike we had outlined our plan. We identified the expensive aspects of our life, and created an attack plan to kill (or severely maim) each one. I bequeath to you our savings plan so that we may get this out of the way once and for all...
Nacho Fund Expedient Growth Scheme Step 1: Move into someone's pantry.
When we first got ourselves into this mess, we were renting a house in downtown Flagstaff. We had 1,800 square feet with a sizeable yard, and it was pretty expensive. We set out to find something smaller. What we found was something MUCH smaller. Meet "The Dollhouse".
The Dollhouse is roughly 420 square feet, and is half the price of our old place. It used to be a Mormon family's food pantry. Seriously.
The Dollhouse is 10 minutes from downtown on a shared property with two other young couples. It has a garden, chickens, horseshoe pit, outdoor dining area in an aspen grove, and a bonfire pit. Its small size forced us to spend a lot more time outside. You know, playing horseshoes, lighting fires, and doing flips off of the roof.
Nacho Fund Expedient Growth Scheme Step 2: Ride more bike.
It's pretty easy to spend a couple hundred dollars per month on gas if you're not careful. We decided to ride bikes to work instead of driving whenever possible. Like so many aspects of this plan, we liked to make a game out of it; "Okay, we're only allowed to fill up once this month. You in?"
I know, sometimes you just don't feel like riding bikes. "It's freezing and my kidneys ache!" Okay, crybaby. For those days we have our Vespa, Cicilia. She's a 1963 VBB 150, and gets somewhere around 75mpg. If you fart within 10 feet of this thing it'll take you to the store. So efficient. So sensible. So...feminine?
Nacho Fund Expedient Growth Scheme Step 3: Stop eating like Donald Trump. Or some other rich guy.
As a present to ourselves when we graduated and got good jobs, we allowed ourselves to spend freely on groceries. It's important to eat well. Turns out spending freely doesn't necessarily equate to eating well. It just equates to spending freely.
We had these little dinosaur-like beasts running all over the place, so we let them pull their weight by feeding us. We ate one of them early on, but decided that eating their eggs was a better investment.
We also inherited a nice organic garden with the property. Sheena took to the garden like Batman to rogue justice, seasonally eliminating our produce bill.
When the garden wasn't producing, we joined a co-op called Bountiful Baskets. For $15 every two weeks we took home two laundry baskets full of fresh fruits and vegetables. If we were vegetarians we'd be home free, if not a little chronically tired.
Last, but not least, Sheena started making bread. Now, instead of paying $4/loaf for the good stuff, we paid $0.25/loaf for the great stuff. Little things. They add up.
Nacho Fund Expedient Growth Scheme Step 4: Stop paying people to make dinner for us.
Like every American, we were spending a large proportion of our income on eating out. We started by cutting back to once per week. By the end we were down to once every two weeks. Now our restaurant bills are down around $100/month. Thanks to our friends at the Himalayan Grill for feeding us just about every week for the last two and a half years!
Nacho Fund Expedient Growth Scheme Step 5: Stop buying so much crap.
As consumers we get a lot of stuff pushed our way, and start to believe that we need it; cars, clothes, electronics, toilet paper. Well, one of those things is important. How else are you supposed to play video games with your friends?
We started by saying that we could each spend $300/month on anything that wasn't rent, food, or gas. It sounds easy, but I challenge you to try it. Not easy. After a while we got used to it, so we continually reduced it until we got it to $100, which is where it's been for almost two years. Strangely we don't even notice any more. It doesn't feel like we're sacrificing.
One way we minimized our spending was by entertaining ourselves in ways that didn't cost money. We used Netflix and consciously spent more time with friends at home rather than going out. We started a dinner club, where four couples would take turns hosting dinner, and started a beer tasting group with a bunch of friends.
We were ultimately able to reduce our spending by more than half. This allowed us to put all of my (Brad's) paychecks into savings while we lived off of Sheena's. In the end it only took us about two and a half years to reach our goal.
The other interesting outcome of this ordeal is that we found ourselves enjoying life much more at the end than we did when we started. Everything we did to save money made our life immediately better in some way. We ate better, spent more time in the sun and with good friends, and distanced ourselves from the consumerism cycle. Simplify.
By the way, as of press time the Dollhouse is available to rent. Any takers?