5 Keys to Enjoying All the Benefits of Money Without Actually Having Any

Mogollon Monster 100 Trail

This year, my boyfriend and I took the dog, the cat, and walked away from our home and our jobs. We moved into a tiny Rialta RV, relinquished our possessions, and gave up many of our luxuries. In exchange, we opted for a life of endless travel, complete freedom, and all the time in the world to do exactly whatever.

Neither of us had ever lived in an RV before, and we’ve both worked hard all our lives. We had “normal” office jobs with 9 to 5 hours, and lived for the weekends just like everyone else we knew. We believed that to enjoy some aspects of life, money was required. We didn’t have the financial luxury to do what we wanted 100% of the time… but oh, if we ever won that lottery… THEN we could really live!

What we’ve found after some time on the road is that everything we wanted was there all along, and it didn’t come with a price tag. Here are the principles we embraced to retire into a wealth we didn’t think was possible for us.

1. To be twice as rich, halve your expenses.

The 9 to 5 rat race is a bum deal. It requires you to work yourself thin to afford things that you never have the time to enjoy. You kill yourself to own a big home that you can never spend any time in. Your PTO piles up with vacation time which you never use because work is too demanding. You’re too busy climbing the ladder, earning money to afford those vacation. Which you never take. See the pattern here? You live for the weekends, except by the weekend you’re so exhausted that you have limited energy. So you mostly just rest. It’s an awkward cycle.

It doesn’t work this way for everyone, but for us it did. We decided to opt out by drastically cutting our expenses. Giving up the home was a big one. Mortgage was a money suck. So was maintenance, things to fill our home with, and cleaning.

I gave up my cell phone and replaced it with a free Skype number. By installing solar panels on the RV (in progress), our electricity expenses will be big fat zero. No money spent at RV parks either, since we need no hook-ups. If we don’t feel like driving, we can self-support at a remote trailhead with no amenities for weeks at a time.

We use free wifi, which we can find on pretty much any corner these days. And when we want to, we disconnect by parking on a mountain trail somewhere, embracing isolation. Our water use is minuscule, as we use creeks and waterfalls to rinse off or hand wash our clothes with biodegradable soap. We have no cable or television, but we like going to the movies!

We have one small pot and one small pan, which we use to make food in the RV. Living is simple and extremely cheap. With our family of two adults, one dog and one cat, we can live very comfortably like this on $1,000/month or less.

With our current savings, we could live for about three to four years without working at all. But I still do the work I love, which is writing. I’m currently writing books and articles. The life of a writer is more a labor of love than a way to get rich, but since our financial needs are so low, I can support us all through writing.

I have a laptop where I do all my writing, and then drop into town for a wifi connection to email things or make a post. I also have a Kindle with over 300 books on it, which I pull out before bed for some good quality reading. I get free Kindle books online on thousands of topics. Since everything interests me, I don’t think I’ll ever finish all the books I want to read. Without a 9 to 5 job, I can do more writing (potentially more income), more reading (higher quality research for writing), and more living (many more experiences with so much more to write about).

Want to be twice as rich? Halve our expenses. You’ll be surprised and how little you actually need to feel happy and fulfilled.

2. You don’t have to own something to enjoy it.

This principle blew my mind. There are so many things we can get for free, or for very minimal payment that others work tirelessly to own. Some of them I have already mentioned, like cable,  internet access, and e-books. But also other things:

Instead of owning a pool, we can park at the ocean for days of free water play.
Instead of a gym membership, we can spend weeks playing on endless miles of trails.

We can also enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, or scuba diving (to name a few) via rentals, for a fraction of the cost of what it would take to own the gear for these activities. Not to mention that the things we value most – fresh air, travel, and the freedom to enjoy life, don’t cost us cost a single penny.

3. Lack of money buys freedom.

If you’re filthy rich, you can enjoy limitless freedom. But when you’re dirt poor, you can actually enjoy pretty much the same freedom. If you happen to be somewhere in the middle, that’s when you’re tied down. In the middle, you need to work to pay your debts and expenses. You’re not rich enough to stop working, and not “poor” enough to give up those expenses and luxuries. You’re stuck indefinitely.

When you’re too poor to afford a lot of the “luxuries” that are so common in that middle space (like, furniture and lawn care for example), you have complete freedom to spend your time doing whatever you want. Just as if you were rich. You don’t have to work as much, or not at all. You have no one to report to. You can come and go as you wish. No home to maintain. No rooms to clean. You can pick which opportunities and activities you want to be involved in, and you can actually be picky about it. Your range of choices in life is significantly wider.

These days, many people consider a good travel trip a resort vacation, which of course implies money. But I’m convinced the reason we crave resort-type spots is because we’re exhausted from working so much that we need a quiet place to rest and unwind. However, when you’re working less, you’ll be amazed and how much energy you have. Suddenly a resort vacation sounds boring. You want to run. Hike. Move. Swim. Travel. All of which we can do indefinitely, and free of charge. And if you still want to rest, try lying on a beach like a sand bum for… as long as you want. And that’s the life we’re living now.

4. There’s free stuff everywhere.

Sadly, we live in a society where so much is wasted. We waste food, products, and energy. Fortunately for RV bums like us, this also means we have an endless supply of free goodies at our fingertips. We can get our hands on anything from food to travel products to personal hygiene products… and the list goes on.

In this consumerist society, we could easily survive on samples alone. And if that’s not possible, we are happy to offer manual labor or personal service in exchange for the goods we need. No currency exchanged.

Between the two of us, my boyfriend and I have a wealth of bartering services at our disposal. He has an engineering background and is awesome all those “boy” things like manual labor and figuring things out and not needing directions. I’m more creative and great at anything related to writing, PR, editing, publishing, promotion, online, etc. This, combined with my journalism background, gives me additional access to limitless products in exchange for reviews or help with promotion.

For example, we don’t always pay for running gear or races (unless we want to, and we still do when we want to support certain products or events). I get free pet gear for our dog and cat – things like food, leashes, running harness or packs, etc. The most common things I get for free are clothing, running shoes, and sunglasses. These are the three things I regularly have to turn down because I either don’t have enough space for them in the RV, I’m not interested in the product, or I don’t want to put in the time to write a review.

The product benefits extend to my boyfriend as well, and this aspect alone has saved us thousands of dollars. I often joke that my boyfriend and I are the best dressed hobos out there, testing all the latest “stuff”. I should also mention that not having a job means I have more time to put lots of miles on all this gear, promote what I like,  and produce many more reviews and videos, making the freebies much easier to get. Yet another aspect of freebies we enjoy is sponsorships. Over the years we have been sponsored by SportKilt, INKnBURN, and GORE-TEX.

Despite the fact that I’m not currently “working”, I am definitely indebted to all my previous jobs in journalism in both editorial and writing positions. All of these gave me the skills that I am now freely living on. I smile when I remember my first day of journalism school, when my professor scared the crap out of everyone by telling us that there was no good living to be made in journalism, and we would be poor for the rest of our lives. If you’re an aspiring hobo, study journalism. I took a chance and studied what I loved, and now I have all the financial freedom in the world. And yes, I’m still money-poor.

If you’re not a writer , these same freebie possibilities are still open to you. One common misconception is that you have to be an elite in order to get sponsorships or freebies. Untrue. All you need is to be noticed. To have some clout. To have a personality or an appearance or a following that makes you stand out from the crowd. Anything at all. You could wear a costume. You could cover yourself in tattoos. You could have a popular blog.

This only works if you do something that fits with your personality, and stay true to yourself. Staying genuine is key. It’s very obvious when someone is doing something outrageous just for attention. People don’t follow fake people.

In the world we live in now with endless blogs and the opportunity to self-publish, it’s easier than ever to “be a writer”. But keep in mind – you still have to be good in order for people to follow you. You have to offer something. Here is a great post by Jason Robillard to get you started on the road paved with freebies.

5. Movement buys happiness, not money.

We’ve all heard variations of the saying that money buys (or doesn’t buy) happiness. I don’t know too much about that, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that movement definitely equals true happiness. I have this epiphany every time I’m running on a deserted trail in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work. I am happy when I’m moving. And I don’t think it’s just me.

My boyfriend and I can indulge this thirst for movement on a daily basis and sometimes several times a day. The joy we feel in being able to physically move our bodies all day long is unparalleled.

I’ve watched our dog make a transformation as well. In her old life, she stayed at home and waited for us to get home from work. She got long runs on the weekend, and sometimes a shorter run or ball play during the week. We tried to take her out as much as possible, but her outdoor time didn’t compare to what it is now.

As soon as we put our dog in the RV environment, she transformed. She is more well behaved and, for the first time since I’ve known her, genuinely tired at the end of the day. She is no longer jealous of the cat (ha), and she used to be more skittish of other dogs. Now she wants to meet them. Her doggie self-esteem has improved too.

As soon as we wake up in the morning, Ginger and I step right out on the trail to run or hike. Then it’s breakfast. Then more playtime until it’s time to go to bed. Yesterday she was prancing through a creek with us, jumping and barking playfully while we all splashed around. Ginger lives a better life now than some humans do. And I believe that this is how all humans are meant to live.

The truth is, we belong outside. Our bodies, our skin, our organs, were built to be outdoors. We belong to the trails and the mud and the streams. Yet these are precisely the things that we have built walls to keep out. We sanitize ourselves agains the very things that scrub our souls clean, and then wonder why our bodies are breaking down along with our spirits.

Our minds were not created to be satisfied with the repetitive motions of menial jobs. We are not stimulated that way. We are not happy. But here on the trails is where we find ourselves.

All this is all free. I could run a new trail every day from now until my dying day, and never cover all the great space that this beautiful country has to offer. So much of it we will never seen. And yet during the week, we are all alone on this great land. We run and laugh and play and wonder where everyone else is. And then we remember – they’re all at work.

So What Can We Do?

I understand that not everyone wants to do what we’ve done. And some people actually enjoy their jobs. But there are small things that we can all do to live more richly and spend less money. Especially if you work at a company that is not your own, or in a menial job that is not your career and not your passion, try some of these tips:

1. Cut expenses.

No matter what your budget looks like, there’s probably something you can cut out that you don’t need. I can’t tell you what that is, but you may know. Trade that extra money in for free time and rest.

2. Take a vacation.

Screw work. You earned every single one of your vacation days, so don’t let them pile up into meaningless hours. Nobody will ever remember the extra hours you put in at work, but the memories you make on a vacation are truly priceless.

3. Take lunch.

Stand up. Get out of the office. Go for lunch. Literally – eat lunch. Go for a walk. Do not ever, ever, ever work through your lunch hour. Unless you own the entire company, you’re giving away your time for free. Your time is worth much more than what they are paying you.

Take the entire lunch hour, and don’t come back early. Take every break too, and make them count. Run around the block. Do burpees in the hallway. Run sprints to the lunch room. Do whatever it takes to make your body move and don’t waste a single opportunity to go outside.

4. Sleep soundly.

The worst thing you could ever do for your health and family and wellbeing is to lose sleep over work. Either by working later than you should, taking work home with you, or just losing sleep thinking about work problems. Learn not to give a crap about work when you’re not there. The world isn’t going to end.

Unless you are the president of the universe, they are not paying you enough to lose one single minute of sleep over your job. Your job does not own you. Take your full eight hours of sleep. Especially if you’re living for the weekends, you need to be well rested during the week so you can actually enjoy your days off.

5. Redefine wealth.

Remember that there are countless ways that you can be rich with no money. You can have a wealth of experience. A wealth of knowledge. A wealth of resources. A wealth of personal contacts. There is so much in this world that can be lived and experience and enjoyed with no money at all.

This is hard to believe for us because we are conditioned to believe that we have to BUY and OWN in order to truly live. This is a lie. Change your view of the world. It’s a big world out there, and we are truly rich when we can explore it.

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17 responses

  1. One issue you haven’t addressed is health care. You obviously have a healthy lifestyle, but how will you pay for your medical care if you get in a bad car accident, or get diagnosed with cancer?

    • Good point! I am a Canadian citizen and get free health care. My boyfriend is American, and we do cover his health care. Not a huge expense and worth it in my opinion since we’re physically active on challenging terrain. We’re more concerned about physical injuries like potential broken bones, etc. We are currently looking into getting some kind of pet coverage for the dog as well since she is exposed to much more wildlife now (rattlesnakes, coyotes, mountain lions, bears). We’re cautious with her, but also love her and want her to live forever :)

  2. Great, inspiring post! I just found your blog today and love it!

    I do agree with another commenter, that this is great advice if you are in good health. I’m not in awful health but I do have pre-existing conditions that unfortunately would require me to always have health insurance. I can go without when it comes to almost anything – but unfortunately, not health insurance :( It’s quite expensive to buy it out of pocket.

  3. Great in depth post, I have only had a chance to read the bolded points but I need to take time a read this through, may be a game changer!

  4. From your magnificent trajectory (I’m also Canadian based in Texas) I knew you would come around to this discovery that now makes you wealthier than Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Larry Elison and Richard Branson all put together. That REAL wealth is contentment with what you have. As Tony Robins says happiness comes not from resources, but your resourcefulness in exploiting what you have. The Messenger (AS) said: “Wealth does not come from having great riches; (true) wealth is contentment of the soul.”

  5. I use to want to sail around the world, so I read lots of books on the subject. One thing a lot of these circumnavigators had in common was the gift of frugality. They frequently said not to wait until you had the perfect sailboat, perfect gear, etc. Those are all just excuses on why not to start your voyage. You can get by more minimally than you think. Also, being handy to do self repairs is very helpful, rather than pay for someone to do repairs for you. Bravo to you guys! See you out at C100K.

  6. Vanessa – Inspiring and informative article. I started living and traveling in my 86′ subaru powered Vanagon a few months ago and haven’t looked back. Curious if you guys have looked into becoming residents of Texas or South Dakota. The taxes are a lot more mellow than California’s and no smog or other vehicle hassles. I’m swapping my CA for SD plates next month – just a tip! Stoked to hear about people taking the plunge and making it happen.

    Enjoy the road,
    Dan

      • Rad! I found out about that trick on a surf trip through baja last winter – we kept thinking – why the hell is every ex-pat here from South Dakota!?

        My close friends and I also vanlife and make ends meet through wifi. Way of the future. Glad to hear you guys do the same.

        Home is where you park it,
        Dan

  7. So many of your blogs make me reevaluate my life and my goals, and I love you for it! This is yet another blog that has gotten me thinking about where I am and where I want to be. Thank you for making me think about my goals in life, and what’s really important! :)

  8. What an inspiring article! My boyfriend and I recently quit our high stress jobs and moved to a beach town. We’re living a similar lifestyle, except renting a place while gearing up for an international version of your experience. So far it’s been amazing, though. I was going to ask you also about healthcare- that has been our biggest hurdle. I can’t wait to read more about your adventure!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m Canadian so I’m covered within Canada at least – we’ve just left Canada and will be going back to drive across the country this year, so we’ve been spending a lot of time there. Outside of that, I’m not currently covered.

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