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

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 whatever we wanted.

Neither of us had ever lived in an RV before, and we’ve both worked hard all our lives. We had “normal”, 9-to-5 office jobs, 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 never thought possible.

Dream Girl, England
Dreaming in England © @Doug88888

#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 anyway. 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 vacations 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 a terrible 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 reduced to a 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.

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 your expenses. You’ll be surprised at 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 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 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 a cent anyway.

Wind, Water, and Fire; Its All You Need
© Zach Dischner

#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” so common in that middle space (say, 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 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 actually be picky about it. Your range of choices in life is substantially 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.

Dream Pool, Oregon
© Ian Sane

#4: There’s Free Stuff Everywhere

Sadly, we live in a society where so much is wasted: food, products, energy … the list goes on. 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.

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 at all those “boy” things like manual labor and figuring things out without 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.

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.

In the world we live in now with endless blogs and opportunities 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. Check out this great post by Jason Robillard to get you started on the road paved with freebies.

Mountain Biking in Burrard Inlet Indian Reserve 3, British Columbia, CA
Mountain Biking, British Columbia © andy_c

#5: Movement, Not Money, Buys Happiness

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 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.

I can tell you without a doubt that movement definitely equals true happiness.

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 as 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 against 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.

And the best part is that all of this is 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 see. 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.

26 Responses

  1. Sarah

    I love this article! I quit my job last year to work for myself/write and have been learning to live with less…more time, less money. My lifestyle has changed drastically for the good. Your post is encouraging to keep moving forward and never look back at that 9-5 :)

    Cheers,
    Sarah

    Reply
  2. TommyD

    I did similar for a year last year, and totally agree…seems we live in a society obsessed with more food, more things, more useless STUFF! Yet you need almost none of it.

    Enjoyable article, thank you! Keep up the running and look forward to reading more of the writing.

    Reply
  3. Alan L

    Very interesting! And right on the mark for being able to retire early and enjoy life! Although my wife and I are a little older…we were able to retire early by cutting our expenses I by more than half ( your first point). Some of the things we did were to refinance the mortgage to a 30 year (rather than the original 15)…which cut our monthly payment by 1/3rd, cut cable and only keeping wifi for streaming with roku and Apple TV, that cut the expenses 75 %… Sold the luxury car and with that paid off the loan and used the extra to purchase a base model fiat, thus cutting the car payment by 60%. Sold the motorcycle and jet skis to buy a trailer paid in full to travel with spouse and dog….cut the extra business phone line, went to one cellphone (pay as you go)…I could go on and on. Anyway, it is easy to retire early and enjoy life as long as you are willing to not keep up with the Jones’s and look at living with just what you need! We look forward to your subscription!

    Reply
  4. Glamourous Traveller

    What a wonderful article! I still cling on to my 9-5 job, but have a good balance between working and really enjoy in my passion for travelling. You’ve inspired me to take a nice big hike through the woods this weekend! (If only Singapore wasn’t so badly covered in hazardous haze right now =(( )

    Reply
  5. Pravish Sood

    Interesting article. I used to be inspired by this idea, but not anymore. Primarily because I realized that my happiness is completely disassociated with the idea of money. Having a lot or none of it doesn’t influence my lifestyle anymore. This is the relationship I have established with money. However, I would not charge any less / more for the services I provide inorder to protect the integrity of the business.

    Best,

    Pravish

    Reply
  6. JT

    You may want to rethink your comments on poverty stated in number 3. Your view about how people can get back to basics by abandoning their attachment to material things has merit. I understand the value of that perspective. But please leave your commentary on poverty to those who are poor not by choice but by circumstance. As someone who works to provide social services to the poor, I have encountered few if any who view their condition as “freedom.” Instead they are too focused on providing for their families to have the luxury of viewing life as you describe it.

    Reply
  7. GVdP

    Where to start bursting this bubble? Well.. I’ll keep it brief and simple: the only reqsons why you can live like this is because you’re young, healthy, childless, lucky, and all the “free” things you enjoy are due to others working for them. Break a bone or develop high blood pressure (not from stress, genetics)? Get pregnant? Your dog gets a severe infection from water borne bacteria found in all streams? You start losing your sight (aging sucks)? Can’t find another sponsor for your meals? Tooth decay? Etc etc. Lastly, you are a freeloader that survives because society has enough slack to support a small dinite number of people who don’t produce nothing. You’re not living, you’re surviving in spite of the universe being generally set against you. Btw, to be outdoors without the need a bum or a mooch? Try farming.

    Reply
  8. Christyn

    I love this article and think some very valid points made. But, what about saving for emergencies and the future when this lifestyle isn’t practical (i.e. illness, old age, etc.)? Living for the moment is important, but not planning for your future seems a bit scary to me. Hopefully you do have a plan and just havent shared it in this post.

    Luckily, my husband gets close to two months off each year (and, no, he isn’t a teacher). In the US this is quite unusual, but we are very fortunate in that regard. So, I don’t feel like we are in the rat race like most. And believe me, we use every single week he’s given off every year.

    Anyway, your article has given me lots to think about…very interesting.

    Reply
  9. Zara @ Backpack ME

    “MOVEMENT, NOT MONEY, BUYS HAPPINESS” – that’s exactly why I quit my job to travel full-time and eventually work online. Being location independent is one of the best things that ever happened to me and I wish more people could work (even if still for the same companies they currently do) but on the move. Some newer IT companies allow this, but the rest of the world still has to open their eyes to the fact that happy employes, with a better quality of life, are more creative and productive.

    Reply
  10. TJ

    Great piece overall, Vanessa—really enjoyed reading it. My wife and I started this nomadic living early ’08 after coming to the realization in NYC that “there’s gotta be more!” than the hamster wheel that was generally considered “good living.” Best change and choice we had ever made.

    A few other points, if I may: GT’s point about poverty and people struggling w/ a lack of such choices, I find quite valid.
    GVdP just comes across, generally speaking, as angry. Which is too bad and erroneously runs off the rails w/ misconceptions and invalid assumptions. There are so many holes in his/her tirade, it’s difficult to know where to start picking it apart, and it’s probably best to avoid a mud-fight anyhow.

    Also, the idea that one can’t pursue this lifestyle b/c of factors like age, family/children or physical challenges is not entirely accurate. We met more than our fair share of folks casting aside these “constraints” in their travels—single women in their 70s out and about; families w/ teenagers being homeschooled and others w/ toddlers learning to walk on the sands of the Pacific; wheelchair-using individuals of all ages who traded the cities’ concrete access ramps for the cedar-plank-made ramp-trails snaking through the forests.

    Do certain factors make this lifestyle’s feasibility a bit more challenging? For sure. Impossible? Hardly.

    Thanks for a great read!

    Reply
  11. Chris goldsboro

    I agree with you, enough said. Unfortunately, I’m in the “middle” and my whole life is consumed with paying student loans.

    Reply
  12. Cindy Sawyers

    What I am taking away with me from this article is a happy medium. I would not be interested in their lifestyle as they are living it. I do however, grasp the idea of living with less.
    I have started by reducing my debts, ridding myself of excess and making the money I do make stretch further then I used to. I have barely scratched the surface, but it already feels better.
    Every story has things you can take from it and make your own. Thanks. and good luck. ps taking advantage of the excess is kind of like recycling, don’t you think?

    Reply
  13. Kru

    Completely agree with most of what you said, but your work which allows you to get freebies definitely helps maintain your lifestyle. That kind of work is scarce so for most people having your lifestyle isn’t going to come as easy or feel as natural.

    Reply
  14. Linda Stevens

    Great article – love the lifestyle. But a couple of questions – how to afford the motorhome and gas? Those 2 expenses are substantial & I doubt you’re able to get those for free…

    Reply
  15. Chris Raybould

    A very inspiring article, and beautifully written. Like most of the above readers, I think many people can take a lot away from this article. It certainly provides food for thought. The freebies certainly help. However, anyone could aspire to gain the skills that you have that enable you to acquire these things.

    It’s certainly a lifestyle I would embrace. Who knows – if my wife could take losing a few of her luxuries, maybe we’ll end up in an RV too one day!

    Reply
  16. nicole

    Great article! I enjoyed reading it. It’s pretty accurate that more money equal more problems. And it’s possible to enjoy life without a ton of money. =)

    Reply
  17. Marie

    Beautiful post Vanessa! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote. I’m currently transitioning from a part-time corporate life to a full time travel writing/blogging life. Can’t wait to be able to support myself that way!

    Reply
  18. emmy

    I agree with the interesting points in the article…however the hobo lifestyle is fine when you are young and entrepreneurial. When you have babies/children, life on the road is not a vacation, and children need stability. Also not everyone could financially support themselves living that way. It sounds great in theory, but it isn’t for everyone.

    Reply
  19. Nader

    I dont get #4 How do you 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.” Where is all this stuff for free? I want to know!!

    Reply
  20. Serg

    Reasonable sufficiency of consumer products, goods and services is a sign of a responsible attitude to natural resources. The more people realize this, the better for us all and for the natural environment.
    The article is very useful and interesting.

    Reply
  21. TAF

    First you would probably really enjoy this blog – I do. They also live off grid using the internet as a profit making tool, and the blog has links to a whole bunch of like minded people as well.

    http://daughterofthesun77.blogspot.co.nz/2013_08_01_archive.html

    Secondly, I love your message and what you shared, however, I must point out that without the economy of other people going to work every day to stores and public places that provide free wifi, your lifestyle would not be possible, or at least none of the benefits you receive via the internet from writing. But it is great that you have learned how to live off the fringes of a wealthy society, many artists survive in this way.

    Reply
  22. debtfreeoneday

    Thanks for such an inspiring article. A lot of people seem to be programmed to accept the 9-5 way of working and they strive to achieve in their careers sometimes getting very stressed and tired along the way. Some people love it though, but it’s not for me. I’d love to be doing what you’re doing but with a child to support and raise, being at home near schools is a priority. Maybe in the future though!

    Reply
  23. Jo

    Great life if you are young, healthy, and have no children. I hope readers realize that this is fantasy and not reality.

    No mention of health care. Does the author and her boyfriend (or the dog and cat) never get sick? Just try bartering for health care services! LOL!

    This is not a new concept. Anyone ever read Thoreau? Walden Pond??? You can do the same by realizing that you do not need all those things you think you need. If you
    de-clutter your life by removing unnecessary monthly bills and other material garbage that you don’t need, then you can work a part-time job, still pay your basic monthly bills, and have a bit of money to do things every weekend or even during the week.

    Remember no one REALLY needs a cell phone, cable, satellite, 24/7 internet, etc. DVD rentals and books and even internet are all still free from your local library. Your kids don’t need cell phones, and they definitely don’t need smartphones!!!!!!!! You’ve just been programmed to think they do.

    Reply

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