Friends and family occasionally ask us how we can afford to travel so much. I usually give them the simple explanation that, in most regards, we're cheap! We scrimp on many things in order to have money for adventures.
There's more to it than that, though. When I look at our day-to-day expenditures and the way we manage our household, the fact is that we have a childlike sense of fiscal responsibility.
Simple Thinking Equals Big Savings
We see something we want and we hurl ourselves at that goal, unrelentingly, until we get it. Like an eager teenager. We don't carry a balance on any credit cards, and we don't take out unnecessary loans because – also like a child – the thought of having some parental figure hovering over us isn't exactly desirable.
I'd say the smartest financial decision we've ever made was moving in with Nate's parents for a little over a year after college. That gave me the time I needed to make strategic career decisions as opposed to stressing over rent. We were able to pay down debt, save up and start life out in the “real world” on the right foot. I know people roll their eyes at these millennials who perpetually wind up back in their parents' homes, but it was life-changing for us.
When we eventually moved out, we brought on an old friend as a roommate. That helped him immensely for a couple of years, while it gave us the chance to continue living in the community-oriented environment we were used to. My sister recently graduated college and found herself in a shaky job atmosphere and she, too, found a welcoming place in our home where she could save money and learn what it takes to make it in this world as an adult.
Be easily entertained
That initial adjustment period with Nate's family really set the tone for all of our activities. We honestly never really broke away from that childlike wonder and love of being around family. Aside from minimizing living expenses, it makes everything else cheaper. For entertainment, we go geocaching or head to church as a group. Meals are usually served family-style in-home, alternating locations from one family member's house to another in order to ease financial and budgetary burdens. I take my children to libraries, parks, beaches and friends' houses – all things that I still love as an adult. When we do decide to pay for an activity, we find that going in a group saves money on everything from tickets to vacation rentals to bulk food. Things really are cheaper by the dozen!
When I think back to the in-between years in college, there was a time when I strayed away from that childlike wonder and tried to “do the grown-up things.” I ate at fancy restaurants and went to Broadway shows and found it all mildly entertaining, but generally not worth the sticker shock. So now we pick and choose, taking what I'd call a “high-low” approach with months of disciplined spending dotted by occasional thought-out splurges.
Build a fort
When we did finally buy a house, we got a complete fixer-upper that we could easily afford, and then we spent the next few years making impactful renovations with long-lasting fixtures and hardware. Even our car purchases have been in this same “high-low” vein, with us spending a whole bunch of money on an F-350. We justified that cost because we knew that as a diesel it had great potential to last twenty or more years and to hold its value extremely well (that's one reason we didn't buy the truck used – there were no deals to be had!). Beyond that, though, we knew it would serve as more than transportation. It would cut travel costs by acting as our on-the-road shelter, rolling kitchen, entertainment center and camper-hauler. We supplemented that with a cheap used van and a tiny commuter sedan, all of which we've taken impeccable care of because we recognize our vehicles as integral to our business.
Be a little bit afraid
I'm constantly weighing convenience against expense, much like a child contemplating whether or not it's worth it to try and sneak that extra cookie in spite of a mother's watchful eye. Sure, the occasional splurge can pay dividends in much-needed time and relaxation and sheer mental bandwidth. For the most part, though, we play it safe and lean. We try not to increase our living expenses even if our income jumps or we receive an unexpected windfall. Perhaps it's because we were in college when the recession hit, but we feel like it's been healthy for our bank accounts and our lives in general to have an acute awareness that things can always take a turn for the worst.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Budgeting can be fun when you think like a kid!” quote=”Budgeting can be fun when you think like a kid!”]
I guess if you had to nail down the type of savers we are, we're like those kids who hoard the Halloween candy until Easter.
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