S4:E2 – One Year of Early Retirement

We’re coming up on a year of no-job roadlife. Today, it’s an unsolicited advice smorgasbord – what kind of advice are people giving us? And what advice do your two favorite unshowered dirtbags feel qualified to give you? Money, life, relationships…it’s all on the buffet table.

Suggested reading: The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement, by Mr. Money Mustache.

This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Lisa McNamara and Paul Olson. It was produced by Lisa McNamara. Music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay.


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This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.

We’re still exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us for some entertainment from the road!

We’re coming up on a year of no-job roadlife. Today, it’s an unsolicited advice smorgasbord – what kind of advice are people giving us? And what advice do your two favorite unshowered dirtbags feel qualified to give you? Money, life, relationships…it’s all on the buffet table.

This is series four, episode two: One Year of Early Retirement

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Over the past decade or so, we’ve made some very deliberate choices – sacrificing some things, prioritizing others, omitting a lot. Those choices got us to where we are today – traveling and exploring without an end date, looking for a home base as a staging spot for future adventures, and prioritizing our time on our own terms.

We see these things as accomplishments – we set off to accomplish them after all. Others see them as reasons we need advice.

Multiple people have initiated conversations with us about meditation. It helps them stay sane, juggle job stress, calm their minds. They tell us about their meditation practices, about meditation podcasts, about the Netflix series. We tell them about sitting alone off a dirt road in Utah, outside of cell coverage, the only noise the wind through the sagebrush. That counts as meditation for us.

Others share recipes they imagine making when they finally have the time to dedicate to cooking elaborate things. We smile and agree. If pushed, we talk about limitations in trash storage, rationing water, cleaning up without a dishwasher. Exploring like we are, we have different priorities and kitchen equipment.

So many want to talk about YouTube or about hashtags or about Twitter marketing – anything to do with content creation. Because that’s what this is, right, a content creation business we hope to monetize? Meh. Not really. It’s something to do. It’s fun. It is intentionally not a hustle. Maybe it will make money someday, but it doesn’t have to.

Money is where we get the oddest advice. Like when I shared how we’d be mountain biking all over, able to ride almost whenever and wherever, a co-worker suggested I head over to Boulder, to the Yeti factory and see if I could get a good deal on a bike like his, you know, maybe a floor model?

Now I would love a Yeti bike. But they’re thousands of dollars. The most expensive are over $10,000. Getting 10% off because it’s a floor model doesn’t really change the math. Even a cheaper one on super sale is more than we spend on everything in a month. And that’s the prioritization we’ve made – the month’s time. We want the time to do what we want to do and not do what others want to pay us to do. We’ll ride our non-Yeti-bikes into the ground if it means we can ride whenever we want.

So money then, we’re due for an update.

In the last 12 months, we’ve spent just under $54,000, which is about $4,500 per month. This includes 3 months where we were still paying $2,400/month in rent in Fort Collins. Our most expensive month was last June, where we spent over $6,000 while moving out of our 3-bedroom house in Fort Collins. Our least expensive month was October, which we spent camping in Utah. We only spent $2,800 that month.

It would be tough but possible to string twelve $2,800-months together, and assuming you could, road life, like we live it, would cost around $34,000/year. It’s worth remembering that while plenty spend more, billions of people live on less.

There are a lot of housing-related costs in our $54,000 number. In addition to three months in Fort Collins, we spent $1,700 to live in Durango for two weeks and $2,400 to live in Panama City Beach for February. We also spent a little over $200/month on our main storage unit, and we’ve had a second, smaller unit for a few months for our bikes. Combined, that’s over $14,000, not counting hotels, on housing.

This is why we are thinking about a home-base dwelling. If we can find something for around $14,000/year or less in an area we want to be in, it could be really convenient and wonderful to be able to return to our own bed and use our shower and washing machine. So we’re looking. We have high hopes for Montrose, Colorado. Living in its downtown, you can walk to multiple breweries, restaurants, parks, and even a great grocery store. You can bike to great trails along the river. You can just about walk to the airport, where you can get a seasonally direct flight to Chicago or a flight on Southwest to Denver, I think year-round. We love Southwest, the airline and the region. And Montrose is positioned right next to all the great Utah areas we love and the mountains of Colorado’s western slope.

My mom will take this opportunity to again suggest that we should build a tiny house. And I will take the opportunity to reiterate that we don’t have any interest in doing that. If we’re getting a house, we want some space. We live plenty tiny in our camper.

We’re also in the realm of spending sustainability at $54,000/year. We think we could do a little better in some ways – we’d like to. A dwelling would likely make some numbers a little worse. But we’re close.

(bird song)

We also promised to tell you how much it should cost to build out your dream adventure vehicle, but this is going to be a little bit of a cop-out. Because the answer is simple. Make it cost as little as possible. Spend as little as possible, build as little as possible – aim for the minimum viable adventure vehicle, then start adventuring. You’ll figure out what you missed along the way.

That may feel scary, but even if you spent a year or two thinking of every possible scenario and building out or specing out a dream vehicle, you’re still going to miss something because it’s not possible to envision every scenario before you get started. You have to get started and adjust as you go, because you don’t know what you don’t know.

We talked about this in our first couple podcast episodes and almost a year later, we’re still firm believers in the minimum viable adventure vehicle concept. It’s so easy to overspend. There are so many accessories and cool pieces of gear and new innovations. But is it really going to ruin your trip if you decide not to install an awning, then realize you want one, then have to wait a few months for the supply chain to deliver an awning to you? Or are you going to be more annoyed that you spent $850 for an awning you never use?

We’ve seen the whole range of setups in the backcountry – from old Priuses to desert-proof pickups to expensive Sprinter vans to SUVs towing campers (where you honestly don’t understand how they got where they got) to fully geared up overlanders with rooftop tents (Please note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) to all kinds of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) to EarthRoamers to giant combat-ready Unimogs. These setups range from maybe $5k to well over $500k. We’ve never seen any of these people broken down. Driving skill, time, these seem to be more important than the specific vehicle.

(bird song)

We’ve also received our share of relationship advice and relationship questions. For the record, Lisa and I have been together for over 20 years. We started dating in college. We’re not yet sick of each other. We’ve even done this before – in a smaller vehicle under more financial stress. Life is amazing. The state of the union is strong.

I think it’s so strange that people – multiple people! – have asked us if we’re going to get sick of each other or if we’re sick of each other yet. Are there any Palm Springs the movie (starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti) fans out there? Towards the end, Cristin’s character asks Andy’s character, as they are contemplating leaving their time loop, “what if we get sick of each other?” Andy replies, “we’re already sick of each other, it’s the best!” And then they live happily ever after, we assume.

How are we casually asking each other this question? Or should it be a standard question before people get married, or move in together, or make a dedicated commitment to one another in any form? Anyone can get sick of anyone anywhere doing anything, and they deal with it if or when it happens, right?

In seriousness though, living in a tiny camper with another person or people, dealing with daily challenges that don’t always go your way, it can be really tough. It’s just important to know and understand that things aren’t always going to be perfect – that things are most often going to be challenging and very not perfect. That we’re often going to be in one another’s way. When we’re moving around in Bob the camper, we call out our locations and actions just like professional chefs in a kitchen: “Knife!” “Corner!” “Order up!” and still end up running into each other, spilling things, bumping our heads, and bruising our shins.

Many people are miserable when they’re actually on vacation and out of their normal daily routines. Creating routines on the road is important for sane roadlife. Understanding and asking for what you need and giving the other person what they need – this all helps make this life a little easier, no matter where you live it. And knowing that you’re both going to mess up and that it’s going to be OK is helpful. Also, just letting Lisa yell at the driver who cuts her off without telling her that the other driver was somehow justified is important.

After the first couple months, people started asking us when we were going to stop traveling, when we were going to settle down again. I hear some unspoken concern in this, like “when are you going to go back to being normal again?” This must be how people who love their jobs feel when others ask them when they’re going to retire. Their job is their life and they can’t imagine doing anything else. And this is our life. A home base, if we get one, doesn’t mean we’re done or that we’re ready to stop traveling. I feel like we’ve hardly even gotten started. For as long as we’re lucky enough to keep going, this is what we do now!

Which finally brings us to some advice I gave the other day. It’s this: every choice you encounter has an opportunity cost – even if you choose to do nothing. Doing nothing is not without a cost. When new job opportunities arise, it’s easy to fear the unknown, to stay with the devil you know, but those new opportunities likely have financial, lifestyle, and career benefits that you lose out on if you avoid change.

Every year you spend underpaid is a year without the immediate benefits of those earnings – and all the value those earnings could compound into over time. Increasing your income alleviates present-day financial stresses and allows for future financial stability into retirement.

Every year you spend overstretched is a year without the opportunity to spend some free time pursuing relationships, hobbies, and ideas of interest to you. If you have children or nieces and nephews, they grow up. You won’t have the opportunity to read them their favorite Curious George book five years from now or play Chutes and Ladders when they’re teenagers. You can’t rewind that time. If you miss it now, the opportunity will be gone.

If you are underpaid and/or overstretched, it’s difficult to address any other burdens until you address those. And if you’re able to address these burdens, everything else becomes easier. Warren Buffett gives the advice that you should list out all the priorities in your life then cross out everything but the top two. Ignore all other items until you address those two – you can’t do everything at once. It’s good advice.

To the friend that got a new job paying tens of thousands of dollars more per year – nice work! To the friend that found a job that allowed for a four-day schedule and a shorter commute – nice work too!

Pursing your ideal life does not mean burning bridges. People will respect you for trying. The opportunity cost of doing nothing almost always dwarf the benefits of giving something a shot. When you make a change, all the old opportunities that were available to you will likely stay available to you, but you open up all sorts of new ones that were out of reach before. If you pursue more control of your time, you unlock all the future gains that time has the potential to create. You can focus on relationships and family and personal growth. You don’t just unlock the time, you are unlocking all the present and future value that time turns into. If you pursue more earnings, you unlock all the ways those earnings can improve your life immediately and you expand the career choices you will have in the future. Progress compounds into the future. Doing nothing can be costly – because time is finite.

Time to wrap this up.

A lot of what we’re receiving is not really advice – it’s a projection of what others would do if they had our freedoms of time. They’d meditate more and cook more. They’d build a tiny house or ride a Yeti mountain bike. If they started a content business, they’d treat it like a real business and pursue profit. It’s interesting to realize that they’re projecting onto us.

Our advice is simple – time is finite. Don’t waste yours. Avoiding change has a cost. Waiting has a cost.

So what do you think, are we going to have second careers as motivational speakers?

We know this stuff is easy to say and hard to do. And the pursuit of more income to maximize your savings has a cost, like everything else. For us, it meant moving from state to state for jobs, multiple times. It meant leaving behind friends and wonderful coworkers that we’ll probably never see again and that we miss dearly. It meant living far away from family. Some people can’t or don’t want to make that kind of trade-off. None of this is easy. Once you decide what’s most important to you, you can figure out how to work towards that thing. For us, the most important thing was our time.

Back to the advice-getting real quick, because I feel like I’ve had a delayed realization about this. I think the concern and advice we’ve been getting are also related to the fact that many people we know are finally happy, settled, and situated – either in spite of or because of these horrible pandemic years. Unlike with our last roadlife stint, when we were in our early 30s, when our friends and peers were struggling with the same frustrations and challenges we were facing then, fresh off the Great Recession, many have now achieved what they were struggling for and can’t imagine anything else. They have the combination of the degrees, the job, the house, the kids they always wanted. It’s really wonderful to see! And so they naturally want to share how they found their happiness – just like we want to share how we found ours. It turns out that our happiness equations just have different inputs – and outputs.

If you want actual financial advice, I suggest reading “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement,” by Mr. Money Mustache. There’ll be a link in the show notes.

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Next time – we just spent another five weeks in Utah! We’ll compare our costs to last time – did we achieve that $2,800/month ideal spend again? And I’ll share my top ten most memorable moments from those five weeks. From tree nests to enjoying other humans to the time that Paul moved my foot and almost killed me – it’s been an unforgettable few weeks.

Thanks for listening.

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