Financial Lessons for Hobos

by Jason on May 3, 2013

When Shelly and I decided to quit our teaching jobs and hit the road back in the spring of 2011, we were seeking freedom and adventure. We had a rough game plan, but were mostly winging it. That included our finances.

Almost two years has passed since we moved into our RV. We traveled around 50,000 miles through 40 or so states. We hit most of the major cities around the US and ran mountain trails in most major mountain ranges. We also visited pretty much every Flying J, Pilot, and Love’s in operation. There were too many adventures list; too many awesome people to count.

Along the way, we learned many lessons about ourselves, parenting, schooling, RV living, and finances.Some of those lessons have been practical; some have been existential. There were great times and shitty times.

One area that was especially educational has to do with finances.

When we left, we had enough savings to survive with no income for about four months. We had paid off a majority of our debt, but some still remained. Our income consisted mainly of income from The Barefoot Running Book, consulting, and conducting running clinics.

Things went very well in the beginning mostly because we didn’t travel long distances. Eventually our clinic schedule took us on longer and longer drives, which eliminated a lot of our surplus income.

I received an offer from a publisher to buy The Barefoot Running Book, and decided to take it. While the advance money provided a small boost, I didn’t really take steps to replace the revenue from the monthly book sales.

The logistics of travel, in the form of gas and short campground stays, slowly crept up. Our spending wasn’t quite careless, but we definitely weren’t frugal. We ran a few expensive races including TransRockies, ate at some nice restaurants, and otherwise enjoyed ourselves. Our savings, as would be expected, dwindled.

Around early fall of 2012, the clinics were becoming less and less frequent. The interested running stores had already held clinics, so we had to travel farther and farther. We realized our lifestyle wouldn’t be sustainable. We considered developing alternative income streams, but instead decided to take some time off and chill out somewhere warm.

The plan was to get temporary jobs while we rebuilt our savings, then head back out for more adventure. That plan hit a snag due to our poor researching. Our intended destination, the greater San Diego area, had both a high cost of living and high unemployment. Finding jobs took MUCH longer than expected. Our savings eventually ran out, which has caused an interesting bout with poverty. It’s been an expensive and painful lesson

We’ve finally gotten to the point where we’re developing more income from a variety of sources. We’re starting to dig out of the hole we dug. It looks like we’ll be in Southern California for the immediate future, but there are far worse places to be stuck.

So what lessons did we learn? What advice would I give to others considering a radical lifestyle change? Here are a few bits of advice:

  • Eliminate debt before you launch your grand adventure. The lower your operational costs, the better. Being debt-free gives you infinitely more freedom.
  • Live frugally. Since Shelly and I had been paying off debt since about 2009, we were well-versed in not buying useless shit. Still, we spent far more money than we had to. We can live on shockingly little if we get creative. A few weeks ago, this article made me chuckle. A yuppie family struggled to live with a food budget of $4 per day per person. We’ve lived for two months on about $.55 per day per person. It’s easy to save money if you do some homework. Sometimes you may have quite a bit of money… don’t blow it on crap.
  • Always have multiple income streams. When it was no longer financially possible to travel to clinics, that income stream dried up. I had sold the other major income stream. We had too many eggs in one basket. Before we hit our next adventure, we’ll have at least six unrelated income streams. If one or two crap out, it won’t be fatal.
  • Have ample savings. We did have a pretty decent cushion, but didn’t replace it when it dwindled. If you’re in a situation where you have to tap your savings, change your plans to make more money until the savings is replenished. Living an unorthodox life requires developing the ability to weather the lows.

All of these bits of advice could apply to anyone in any situation, but are especially important for anyone interested in living an unorthodox life.

Comments? Leave them in the comments section!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Coon May 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm

It sucks to be poor, but there is nothing like having no money to enable our budgeting skills. I’m only good at spending less when I have less. I’m impressed with those that can spend less than they earn on a consistent basis.

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Ken Bob Saxton May 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I’ve found that I can’t afford to do too many things. It’s tempting, when reading Facebook, to want to go to every race, travel to every corner, accept every invite… but it’s like George Takai said, “Do not confuse someone else’s highlight reel with your everyday life.”

Some years, I race a lot. Other years I travel a lot. Some years I travel to a lot of races. But I generally can’t afford to do both, so some years I have to cut back on something.

This year I’m not paying any race entries. If I’m not offered a complimentary entry, or an entry in exchange for a presentation/book signing/Play-Fun-Shop, then I’m not running that race, this year.

Nice thing about that, is I finally broke my Los Angeles Marathon streak, which I’ve had going since 2000. Since I made the difficult decision not to run LA this year, I have no feeling of obligation to continue my now broken streak next year. Instead, I set up my canopy and cheered, took pictures, even handed out a little bit of food and water at mile 23. It cost me less than a tenth of what it would have cost to run the marathon, and was twice as rewarding to get a chance to see nearly all the runners pass by, instead of just the ones running at or near my pace (usually near the back)… okay, I’m just starting to ramble now.. Have fun!

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