Reader Case Study: We Have A Van, Now We Need A Plan!

Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Florence’s questions on how to plan for financial independence, travel, and children (in other words, life)! Case studies are financial dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.

P.S. Another way to get support on your financial journey is to participate in my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge! You can sign-up at any time to join the over 12,200 fellow frugal sojourners who’ve taken the Challenge and saved thousands of dollars.

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that I’ll let Florence, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!

Florence’s Story

Florence and Anna!

Hi, Frugalwoods nation! My name is Florence, I’m 25, and I live with my partner Anna, who is 26, just outside of Los Angeles in Sierra Madre, CA. We are mercifully debt-free and ready to start planning the rest of our lives together.

Anna and I met when we both attended NYU in 2009 and, even though I transferred to UT Austin (hook ‘em horns!) after one year at NYU, Anna and I kept in touch and have been together since 2015. I studied Hindi and Urdu in college and had the opportunity to live in India for a year during college. I also lived in Santiago, Chile for a year after graduating, where I taught English. Anna studied photography at NYU and worked in Thailand after graduating, so you could say we both have the travel bug.

Why We Have No Debt

Anna was fortunate to have very generous grandparents who paid for her college education in its entirety. Yay grandma and grandpa, we are forever grateful! I graduated with $36,000 in debt because of my decision to switch schools. I moved from NYU to UT Austin in favor of getting a scholarship and in-state tuition thanks to the program I enrolled in (the Hindi Urdu Language Flagship). That made my education much more affordable, allowing me to graduate with minimal debt, almost all of which was from that first year at NYU- ouch!

After graduating, even when I was working several part-time jobs, I paid down my debt aggressively. Once I landed my current job, I got even more aggressive with my loan payments. I also got some help from my generous dad and used all cash gifts I received during that timeframe–along with my annual company bonus–to pay it down. I made my last student loan payment in July 2016!

Our Housing Situation

We’re in a very lucky situation at the moment regarding where we live, which is rent-free in my parents’ guest house. But wait! Before you cry “lazy millennials,” you should know what we did to earn our keep: Anna and I renovated the guest house by ourselves–in order to make it liveable–and are now dwelling here rent-free for 12 months in exchange for our labor.

Anna & Florence mid-renovation…

Indeed, most of our weekends in 2016 were dedicated to working on the house and bringing it from “glorified storage shed with questionable plumbing” to “fully functional home.” We had help at times when it was necessary, but the bulk of the work was done with our own blood (yes, there is some of my blood behind the tiles in the bathroom), sweat, and tears. The goal was to create a habitable rental unit for my parents to rent out once Anna and I move out and we succeeded! Our rent-free existence ends December 31, 2017 and my parents will charge us $600/month after that point.

This project had the secondary benefit of helping Anna and me learn very valuable skills, such as how to use a nail gun, a circular saw, a hole saw, a drill, a tubing cutter… you get the picture. We also learned how to communicate and plan a project, how to tile a floor, how to tile a wall, how to install various hardware and fixtures, how NOT to refinish a floor (don’t worry, it’s fine now), and just how aggravating it can be to work with the city permit office.

Our Work

I work in tech as an SEO Specialist and Anna is a Photo Coordinator for a popular magazine. This basically means that she runs around all day trying to organize things and I sit on my booty all day looking at charts.

Anna & Florence built this ceiling themselves!

Now that the house renovation project is (mostly) finished, we finally have the space to breathe and think about our future. Neither of us is working our dream job and although Anna loves the logistics aspect of her job, the stress and long hours really get to her. She’d like a job where she can show up, do her work, go home at a reasonable hour, and not worry about it anymore.

Anna has also expressed interest in working as an interior designer/contractor. She really enjoyed the house renovation project (much more than I did), and given her background in logistics–plus her impeccable taste–I think she’d be great at it. The problem is that we have no idea where to start and she’s terrified of being unemployed.

I have a pretty typical 9-to-5 cubicle job, and while I like the people I work with and my company has great benefits, I’m bored. I hate going to the same place at the same time every day, when I feel like I could get the job done in half the time and have so much more time for all of my other projects if I were able to work remotely. I knit and design my own patterns, but I wish I had more time to work on this hobby/side business. I also love writing and keep a blog of my own, and again, I wish I had more time to devote to this. We don’t have any pets although we recently adopted some plants and I’m hoping I don’t kill them…

Our Hobbies

When we aren’t working (which we wish was more often…), we’re usually cooking something scrumptious at home, inviting friends over for wine/cheese/homemade bread, or hiking in the beautiful Santa Monica or San Gabriel Mountains. Anna likes biking when she gets the chance as well as swimming in the ocean. I love horseback riding (expensive…), writing, and knitting. We both love hiking, camping, and being outdoors.

Our Van Plan

Another factor in our lives is our Van Plan. A few months ago, we bought a converted cargo van (paid for in full with cash) complete with a bed, stove, sink, etc. as a step towards our dream of traveling around the country in a van (specifically this van) for a year. We’ve set the start date for this journey as spring 2018, which hopefully gives us time to get some serious saving done (and for both of us to reach the two-year mark at our current jobs) before we depart.

The potential problem is that we’d like to reach financial independence and the van trip might impact that goal because we’ll have to quit our jobs in order to take the trip. I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to find remote work, but Anna is not so sure due to the nature of her job. Ideally, we’d like to earn enough on the road to cover our day-to-day expenses and not touch our savings unless we have an emergency.

We don’t want this trip to completely derail our financial independence plans–perhaps slow them down a bit due to our reduced earning power on the road–but not ruin them. Another idea I’m toying with is pushing back the trip’s start date another year to save more aggressively until then, which would give us a more solid financial foundation.

Where Florence and Anna Want To Be In 10 Years

Finances: In 10 years we’ll be in our mid-30s. By then, we’d like to be financially stable to the point where we don’t worry about money all the time, and an event like a job loss–or one of us working irregular contract work–wouldn’t be a disaster. Ideally, we’d be financially independent or very close to it. I don’t necessarily want to retire early, but I’d like us not to be tethered to our jobs, and perhaps able to work part time.

We plan to get married sometime in the next few years, and after that, we’ll likely combine our finances. Anna has already expressed a desire for me to manage our money, which I’m happy to do.

One of their favorite places to explore: the mountains of California

Lifestyle: We’d like to be living on our very own homestead in the Pacific Northwest. We want to have some critters (goats are the current favorite), a good chunk of land, some veggies growing in the ground, and a couple of human critters as well.

We’ve talked extensively about our plans for children because: 1) we both feel very strongly that we want children, and 2) as a same-sex couple this situation takes a bit of extra planning and discussion. We’ve decided that we want at least one biological child (I will carry) if possible, and we are open to adoption as well. Ideally, we want two children. We know that when it comes to starting a family you have to be flexible and roll with whatever the universe has in store for you, but those are our general desires and plans.

Regarding our lifestyle and future children, we feel we should take our location into careful consideration when settling down. We want to choose a location that is affordable, beautiful (subjective, I know, but we like trees and mountains), and accepting. We want our children to grow up in a community that accepts and embraces our unique family.

Career: Neither of us is 100% sure where we want to be with our careers in 10 years. I envision my dream job as Writer, Translator, and Knitwear Designer. I am very creative and constantly have several projects going on at once, and I want to build a career for myself that facilitates this creativity. I love designing my own knitted garments and patterns and am (slowly) turning this into a revenue-generating side hustle. Anna would like to work in real estate or logistics in some capacity, but she’s not exactly sure what. She knows she doesn’t want to be a stay-at-home parent.

Florence and Anna’s Finances

Yearly Take Home (Net) Income

Net Income Amount Notes
Florence $40,206.40 After taxes, health insurance & 401k deductions
Anna $31,200.00 After taxes, health insurance & 401k deductions
Annual Total: $71,406.40  
Monthly Total: $5,950.53

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $400.00 Bloop. We like cheese…
Restaurants/Eating Out $400.00 Yeah we need to cool it… really trying to cut back here!
Travel $200.00 We have a weekend trip problem
Random Stuff $200.00 Gifts, impuse purchases, etc
Hobbies $200.00 Florence has expensive hobbies, eek
Anna Car Insurance $91.67 A 2009 Toyota Yaris Anna owns outright
Van Insurance $90.00 A 1975 Ford E-250, a beauty that’s fully converted with a rebuilt engine
Anna Cell Phone $90.00 Verizon, womp womp. She’s searching for a different carrier. Any suggestions?
Gas for cars $80.00 Anna’s car is very efficient and Florence only drives a teeny bit (her work pays for public transit)
Utilities $75.00
Clothing $75.00 I’ve instituted a 100% clothing buying ban (including shoes) so this will be closer to $0, but this was the average in the past
Household $50.00 Cleaning products, detergents, shampoo, lady products, etc
Personal Care $50.00 Haircuts, waxes etc
Internet $45.00
Charity $35.00 Not negotiable.
Florence Cell Phone $25.00 Still part of the ol’ family plan. Riding this out as long as I can…
Medical $20.00 Anna’s prescriptions, occasional copays for both, and Florence’s dental
Entertainment $15.00 HBO Now
Amazon Prime $8.91 Paid once a year, but this is the monthly cost
Total $2,150.58

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Anna Savings $19,000.00 Recently inherited, going to invest some soon
Florence 401(k) $11,802.01 6% match, contributes 11%
Florence Savings $9,950.37
Florence Vanguard $3,576.10 VTSMX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares)
Florence Computershare stocks $2,518.84 Gift from dad for 25th birthday
Anna 401(k) $2,194.43 4% match, contributes 6%
Total $49,041.75

Florence’s Questions For You:

  1. Anna doesn’t see how she can save more money given her relatively low income. She tends to bleed little bits of money here and there and stress about big purchases, while I’m more of a tightwad on the small things but once I’ve finally decided to make a big purchase, I don’t stress about actually doing it. How can I help her see that little bits of money spent here and there add up, and that she absolutely has the ability to save more?
  2. How can we take our year of van travel into account in our savings strategy in order to not get completely off track in achieving financial independence?
  3. Should we push back the van trip another year so that we can save up more money?
  4. Have any of you had expensive medical procedures or treatments done while pursuing financial independence? We know that starting a family will come with some extra expenses for us since we are both women; but, anyone who had difficulty conceiving might be able to speak to these costs. How can we plan for this so that it doesn’t derail our FI plans?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

I am so impressed with how well Florence and Anna are doing! No debt, healthy savings, teaching themselves how to renovate a house–I am in awe! Very, very, very well done. I also love that Florence paid off her student loan debt so quickly. I commend them for being so thoughtful about their future because it takes great maturity and forethought to map out the type of life you want, but it’s well worth the effort. Kudos!

I think Florence and Anna are in the research and development phase of their lives and wow, what a good position they’re in for this experience. Without the burden of debt or the responsibility of dependents or pets, they can take this opportunity to examine where they want to live and what jobs they want to pursue. They should also view this as a time to save huge, huge amounts of money, which brings us to…

Florence’s first question: How to save more money?

This is my favorite type of question!! Although Florence and Anna are doing well and living a somewhat frugal existence, they have excellent opportunities available to them to save at a much higher rate. Since it sounds like Florence gets this but Anna needs some assistance, I highly recommend they take the Uber Frugal Month Challenge together. I think discussing the questions and prompts that come up over the course of the month will open up a world of savings for them both and help them refine their vision of what they want out of life.

It’s also true that their current savings rate would be fine if they both planned to work standard career-track positions until they’re 65+. However, it doesn’t sound like that’s what they want to do. If they’re serious about reaching financial independence in the next ten years, they need to slash their spending.

In combing through their monthly expenses, here are the areas I identify as opportunities to save more:

  • Restaurants/Eating Out: you know what I’m going to say… this needs to be eliminated in its entirety. That’s a whopping $400/month (aka $4,800 per year!!!!!) saved. For tips and motivation, here’s how Mr. FW and I broke our eating out habit.
  • Travel: $200 every month on travel is rather steep. I’m all for experiences and I too love to travel, but, this is a question of priorities. If they want to go on their van trip, and reach financial independence, and have kids, and buy a homestead, then I’d start saving this amount every month.
  • Random Stuff: here’s another sum of $200/month (or $2,400 per year) that can and should be saved. I recommend combing through this line item to identify exactly what’s included in here. Some of it might not be able to be eliminated, but I’m willing to bet it can be drastically reduced.
  • Hobbies: again, this is a question of priorities, which is why I so highly recommend going through the exercises in the Uber Frugal Month. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending on one’s hobbies, but much like travel, short-term pleasures may need to be sacrificed for the longterm gains of financial independence, homesteading, kiddos, and the Van Plan. This would be yet another $200/month saved.
  • Car and Van Insurance: I recommend shopping these around just to see if there’s a cheaper provider available. Can’t hurt to investigate!
  • Anna’s Cell Phone: Definitely time to find a low-cost provider! I use Boom Mobile, which is $19.99 per month; other popular low-cost carries are Ting and Republic Wireless. Assuming Anna can find a similarly inexpensive plan, that’ll be $70/month saved.
  • Clothing: I’m thrilled to hear they’re instituting a clothing ban! Hooray! That’ll be another $75/month saved. Here’s how I went three years without buying any clothing or shoes (and yes, I worked a professional office job and went all the way through a pregnancy in that time frame).
  • Personal Care: Florence and Anna, if you managed to renovate a house by yourselves, you can definitely DIY your haircuts and waxes. Trust me on this one. That’s an easy peasy $50/month saved. Here’s how Mr. FW cuts my hair at home.
  • Entertainment: $15/month isn’t a huge sum, but, depending on how hardcore they want to be–and how quickly they want to reach their goals–this is an easy one to chop out. Here’s how we watch TV for free.

If Florence and Anna made all of these cuts to their budget, they’d be on track to save a massive $1,210 per month, which would be a whopping $14,520 per year!!! Even if they only incorporate some of these changes, they’ll still have the opportunity to substantially boost their savings. Since they’re living rent-free right now, they’re in a fabulous position to take advantage of this time in their lives to save at an astronomically high rate.

The other great thing about spending less money is that you save more money AND you need less money to live on, which would make the van trip/pursuit of other career opportunities all the more feasible. The less you need to live on, the less you need to earn, and the lower your stress levels are around money.

And now, here’s my favorite response to the question: why should we bother saving so much money? Florence, show this to Anna to help illustrate how small amounts of money saved now equal major dividends in the future:

If Florence and Anna were to save that $1,210 per month and put that amount into low-fee index funds every single month? In 30 years, they’d have $1,380,781.45 (based on a 7% return, which is considered an average annual return over the longterm from the stock market). Yes, you read that correctly, if they were to invest $1,210 every month–instead of spending it–in 30 years they’d have $1.38M dollars. Note that you do have to remain invested through recessions and downturns in order to reap these dividends and also decrease the risk in your portfolio as you near traditional retirement age–here’s more information on investingThis is why I say that every single expense merits consideration–it really and truly all adds up. If you’d like to perform your own calculations, here’s the compound interest calculator I use.

Florence’s second and third questions: van travel?

I love the Van Plan! It sounds adventurous and stupendous! And so good to do before they own a homestead/have kiddos. While not impossible to do a trip like this in the future, it’s awesome that they wouldn’t need to pay rent on a place they’re not living in/find a housesitter/juggle kid school schedules/find someone to watch their goats while taking this trip. From a lifestyle standpoint, if this is something Florence and Anna want to do with their lives, they should do it sooner rather than later. There’s no way I would’ve been comfortable in a van while pregnant or nursing a tiny infant. Just saying.

From a financial perspective, I think the van trip is a perfect chance for Florence and Anna to explore other career options. Since neither of them is working their dream job–and they don’t have any debt or dependents yet–I don’t see a lot of downside to testing out new paths.

I think there are two different ways to approach this trip:

  1. It’s an extended vacation that’s hopefully revenue neutral and Florence and Anna return to conventional office jobs afterwards.
  2. It’s a test drive of their future homesteading lifestyle in terms of remote work. In this scenario, Florence and Anna try to earn (and save) money as they would on their future homestead with the thought that after the trip, they can transition into homestead life. This second option is predicated upon building up their remote work capabilities.

Florence said she wants to expand her side hustling work and I think she absolutely should! They have a year before their scheduled departure and so I’d get that going today. Make those side hustles revenue-generating (and able to be done remotely) now and they’ll be in a much better financial position for the van trip. I wouldn’t wait until after departing on the trip to do this–get your revenue streams in place ahead of time. Plus, SEO work, writing, and translation all seem to lend themselves to building your own location-independent business.

As for Anna’s career, I don’t know much about her field, but I imagine there’s something she could do remotely with internet access. It might take some creativity and perhaps a pivot into a slightly different field, but in general, photography lends itself well to the internet–especially if you’re traveling around with new scenic spots to photograph everyday. Again, they have a year to get these plans in place, so I’d get cracking now.

If Florence and Anna are able to simultaneously lower their expenses (see above recommendations) and secure location-independent work, then I see no reason to delay the van trip, especially since their longterm goals entail two things that would make traveling the country for a year very difficult: a homestead and children. I also highly recommend they sketch out what they think their monthly expenses will be while on the road so that they have a better sense of how much they’d need to earn while traveling in order to cover their costs.

Personally, I’d be most comfortable if I had a year’s worth of living expenses saved up before embarking on the trip. Vans are notorious for needing repairs and maintenance and so Florence and Anna should be prepared for unexpected costs. Additionally, I think it’s prudent to be financially prepared for a potential extended period of unemployment after the van trip–it might take awhile to get re-employed. Of course if they’ve built up their remote work, this point will be moot.

Florence’s fourth question: kiddos via medical intervention.

I love that Florence and Anna are so mindful about this element of their lives. Planning ahead for kids–financially, emotionally, and logistically–makes the experience so much smoother. Congrats to them for considering this in advance!!

First off, I recommend that Florence and Anna both do a deep dive on their respective health insurance policies to see if fertility treatments are covered by their insurance. Some insurances do provide coverage, so this might be a lot less expensive than anticipated! Certainly worth investigating.

It’s also important to note that some states have laws requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatments, while other states do not. Based on that, I recommend Florence and Anna explore what fertility benefits are required in the states they’re considering for homesteading.

Other than insurance coverage, my advice here is the same as it is for every other aspect of live: always save more than you think you need so that you can easily afford the miraculous opportunities and challenges that life will inevitably put in your path. If Florence and Anna boost their savings rate now, they’ll have no problem affording kiddos in the future.

Homestead Goal

I also want to touch on their homesteading goal, which obviously, I love! A key component of this plan for Florence and Anna should be how they intend to earn money while homesteading. Many/most affordable homestead properties aren’t exactly close to population centers and commuting to a traditional job might be tough. Generating revenue from land itself is notoriously difficult, unless you’re able to carve out a niche (I call it hipster-ized) market such as ‘artisanal free range honey goat cheese with guaranteed happy bees’ or something along those lines. Fortunately, there are a bevy of internet-based careers that can make you location independent. I’d start creating a plan for these potential careers now, which dovetails perfectly with exploring remote work for the van trip.

I also recommend that Florence and Anna begin in-depth research on where they’d like to homestead. Purchasing a homestead property is a great deal more involved than just buying a house and there are quite a few more variables to consider. Visiting properties for sale while on their van trip would be a great thing. For more on rural living–and how to vet properties–check out my series on the topic. And in terms of accepting, progressive communities with beautiful mountains and trees, I do have to put in a plug for Vermont here… 😉

One thing I want to mention is the importance of planning ahead in relation to securing a mortgage on their future homestead. Florence and Anna will need to have either W2 incomes (aka traditional jobs) or 2-3 years worth of self-employed income that demonstrates they run a profitable business(es). Without either of these, they won’t be able to get a mortgage. But, if they’re able to start making good self-employed income now, and they keep ramping it up, then when the van trip finishes they might be in a position to secure a mortgage based on their self-employed income.

Investing

ENORMOUS congrats to Florence and Anna for contributing to their 401ks and for building up a pretty darn robust amount in savings. And HUGE props to Florence for opening up a Vanguard low-fee index fund account. Woohoo!!

Florence has the perfect allocation of assets:

  1. She’s contributing to her employer-sponsored 401K in order to take advantage of tax-free retirement savings as well as the match from her employer. More on why 401ks are awesome is here.
  2. She has an emergency fund of nearly $10K, which would cover around 4-6 months worth of living expenses. Perfection!
  3. She invested the rest of her money in low-fee index funds. More on investing–and how to do it yourself–is here.

This is 100% what I advise. The only thing for Florence to do now is start saving even more money–all of which she can toss into those index funds. This approach is how you grow wealth, reach financial independence, and eliminate your reliance on a paycheck. A note for Florence: as soon as she hits the $10K minimum investment amount threshold, she should move her money from VTSMX over to Vanguard’s VTSAX as the fees are lower. VTSMX’s expense ration is 0.15%, while VTSAX is a mere 0.04%.

If it were me, I would liquidate Florence’s Computershares and funnel the money into her Vanguard account. The best diversification available in investing are low-fee index funds because through them, you own a little bit of every stock.  I’m also willing to bet that Computershare’s fees are higher than Vanguard’s. Plus, the sooner Florence hits $10K in her Vanguard account, the lower her fees will be–transferring Computershares over will bump her VTSMX account up to $6,094.94.

Florence noted that Anna plans to invest some of her $19K inheritance and the sooner she does so, the better. That’s a pretty large chunk of cash to be sitting in a savings account where it’s not doing anything for you. If invested, Anna will start to reap the sweet, sweet dividends of compounding interest. I recommend Anna follow Florence’s model and set aside three to six months worth of living expenses in an emergency fund and then invest the rest in low-fee index funds. I own Fidelity’s Total Stock Market Index Fund (FSTVX) and, as Florence discovered, Vanguard offers a similarly excellent product.

Since Florence and Anna plan to combine finances in the near future, I might just stick with Vanguard so that it’s easier to combine those accounts down the road. And, if they want to get a jump on combining finances now, they can bundle it all together into the lower fee VTSAX.

Conclusion

Florence and Anna are doing fabulously well and are mapping out what sounds like a wonderful future together. In summary, here’s my advice:

  1. Start saving at a dramatically higher rate.
  2. Take the Uber Frugal Month Challenge together in order to save more and also refine their longterm aspirations.
  3. Begin ramping up side hustle/remote work that generates revenue now in preparation for the van trip and homesteading.
  4. Start researching homestead properties and locations now to get a sense of purchase prices, school districts, well and septic system requirements, mortgage availability, etc.
  5. Map out plans for when to get married, when to have kids, when to purchase the homestead, etc., then act on those plans and enjoy a financially secure life!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Florence? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

Updated June 20, 2017 with Florence’s decision:

Anna and I had a really successful “financial date” a week after our case study went up. We discussed a lot of the points readers brought up and our own questions and concerns too. Of course, the van trip and our future homestead and family goals are pretty far in the future, but I do have some updates about decisions we made that day to help us reach those goals, based on advice from you and your readers.
When it comes to our savings rate, our weekend trips and our restaurant habit are our two main weaknesses, and a lot of readers gave us great advice on those two fronts. We decided to start by limiting our entire eating out budget to $250 for the next month, and bring that number down incrementally. Simultaneously, we will be upping our meal planning and cooking from scratch game, and bringing our lunches to work every day.
We will only be taking camping/van camping or free (to my parents’ beach house) weekend trips, with the exception of travel to meet our new nephew in July and to attend Anna’s sister’s wedding in November (both on the East Coast).
We also decided to set up automatic deposits from Anna’s checking account to her savings so that she will be able save at least the equivalent of what we used to pay in rent every month without thinking about it. I will continue dumping ~60-70% of each paycheck either into my savings or Vanguard. Anna also tentatively decided to put $10k of her inheritance into Vanguard, saving the other $9k.
I have also started ramping up my side gigs that would be doable on the road, and am happy to report that I already have 3 SEO clients! Finally, we set a departure date for our trip for March 31, 2018! We might not be able to leave exactly on that day, but having a set date is helping us prepare.
-Florence

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214 Responses

  1. Congrats on being debt-free! I’m VERY impressed with how you two renovated the house yourselves. That’s a huge accomplishment!

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods you might want to cut down on your eating out budget since it looks like a lot for two people. I’m risk-averse, so I’d save up for another year while experimenting with different kinds of online work to see which one I like best and can do on the road while traveling. You definitely don’t want the financial burden and stress to ruin your fun along the way.

    Best of luck with your future plans! 🙂

    • Florence says:

      Thank you! You (and so many others here) are so right about the eating out…eek! Experimenting with different kinds of online work is a really good idea.

      • Congrats on your plan. The 401k contributions seem a little light. How close are either of you to reaching the 2017 IRS 401k maximum of $18,000 per year? I think before you invest after tax, this is where you should both max out your savings in order to reach your dream of early retirement the quickest.

        The reason it is efficient is because you save taxes at the high end of your income, and pull those funds out later at the lower end of your income, at a lower rate.

        Good luck and best of wishes.

  2. L says:

    Great work! Is there an amount they are currently setting aside monthly in savings to help them meet their goals? Although their income exceeds their expenses, and the percentage contributed to 401k’s is listed there is no budgeted monthly savings listed.

    • Florence says:

      Hi! Good question – we don’t have a hard-and-fast number that we save at the moment, but since the beginning of 2017 we’ve been aiming for about $2,000 a month. Sometimes we don’t quite hit it, but we do our best!

      • Love the enthusiasm and how you both have the goal of financial independence by 35. I’m 28 and graduated with way more loans than I’d like so I definitely feel your pain in terms of paying all of that off.
        I personally think your best bet in terms of saving is to make it as automatic as possible so it’s out of sight out of mind. Together you’re making pretty decent money – the numbers in terms of monthly savings of $2k actually seem a little low to me off of your budget. Even with the extra eating out and everything as listed you should be saving about $3800 pre 401k (unless I’m missing something). I had a point when I moved into my own apartment where I *thought* I was saving a certain amount, but after 6 months I was way short. Since then I’ve made it as automatic as possible, and for you guys you could easily have $3-4K a month roll into your vanguard accounts (get one for Anna as well) and the market will do the rest.
        If I were in your shoes, I’d probably try and stick with the current employer and look into a more flexible working situation. (Check out the Mad Fientist’s story for how he did something similar). That would give you guys the ability to do your awesome van road trip and still keep trekking on the road to FI…you’ll get there in no time!

  3. Kelly says:

    Tip for personal care/cleaning:

    -Diva Cup – I haven’t bought pads/tampons in 10+ years (I’ve also sewn some pads out of scrap fabric to use in the weeks after birth and they work well).

    -Vingear/baking soda – your cleaning bffs….I don’t buy cleaning products. I buy a 2 gallon container of white vinegar at Costco. In a spray bottle use 1/3 vinegar, 2/3 water, a splash of castille soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s). Optional – adding essential oils. I use this to clean everything (except if you have stone counter tops). I use straight up vinegar for the toilet.

    -I also make my own washing machine detergent and have used this since 2010 with great results – (just not ok on cloth diapers which I know you don’t have to worry but wanted to put that disclaimer out if anyone else is interested in it) – 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 grated bar of castille soap

    • Lisa says:

      Seconding the Diva Cup so hard. There’s also a blog out there that did a review of almost all of the available menstrual cups (http://thesweethome.com/reviews/best-menstrual-cup/), which might help Florence and Amanda determine what works best for them.

      In terms of the cleaning, I’ve gone to using primarily apple cider vinegar as a rinse for my hair (this won’t work with color-treated hair), and I sometimes use some brown sugar as an exfoliant on my scalp. The super low cost of these DIY hair methods have helped off-set the gel I use to keep my curly hair in line!

    • Becky says:

      Diva Cup/other menstrual cups (there are a bunch of brands) = YES YES YES. Took my period from something I dreaded to not a big deal at all.

      But if you’re not into an internal solution, so to speak, cloth pads are also fantastic. I like the ones from Party in my Pants — super low maintenance, easy to travel with, you just treat them like regular laundry. They’re not super cheap up front, but over time they’re much more cost-effective than disposables (and they are also MUCH more comfortable). Or if you’re crafty you can sew your own.

    • Florence says:

      These are great tips, thanks Kelly! Definitely going to try the cleaning products and detergent ideas. I already make my own soap, so I really don’t know why I haven’t tried this!

    • Michaela says:

      Oh my god, I adore my Diva Cup – I love how environmentally friendly they are and I’ve not had ONE scenario yet where it’s failed me, including some intense soccer games.

      • sara keeney says:

        Another endorsement for the DIVA Cup!

        • Sarah Dawn says:

          I’m giving a huge second for cloth pads!

          Florence, since you knit, how are your sewing skills? You can easily make cloth pads from old flannel pajamas and such, if you don’t want to buy a set. You don’t need a sewing machine, just a bit of time with thread and needle. 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    I have a couple of points.

    My spouse was not knowledgeable about his everyday little expenditures. We did 2 things. First put him on a all money diet. He got his spending money in cash and put the change in a jar at night keeping any bills. At the end of the week for 2 months we tallied what was left against what he had for spending cash. The length of time was to see if he really needed an increase. We get the same amount, but i pay for groceries and have a smaller car. Therefore pay less in gas. He kept arguing that he needed more because he had the bigger car. He doesn’t write things down and a free app on his phone didn’t work. Actually having the money in his hand brought him closer to his spending. He changed a lot of habits during this time. No coffee that wasn’t brought from home. Second I tried very hard to not nag, belittle and argue during the 2 months. This is a failing of mine but according to him I did very well. Maybe because he also didn’t do these things back.

    Another spin on the Hobbies. I prepare taxes and have several clients who make their hobbies pay for them. Are any of her hobbies a potential for an income stream? Just some examples are quilts, RC airplanes, stain glass artist, Gravely tractor collector, photography and extreme running (trainer.) Yes these are current clients making a little money and it is after the expenses.

    • Florence says:

      That sounds like a really effective plan. Anna and I have talked a few times about little expenses adding up and she has basically told me “you should really be in charge of the money,” but (like you I’m sure) I’d rather be part of a team. We are having a “financial date” soon, so maybe we can try this!

      Regarding the hobbies – the majority of that price tag is because it is….(drumroll)…horseback riding. I know, I know, the only thing more expensive is yachting. I just found out that my barn offers a work-to-ride program, so I’ll be checking that out. Great advice, thank you!

      • Kristin says:

        I love the idea of a financial date! A friend of mine does “nachoes and numbers” (which could just as easily be “beer and budgets”) once a week to make sure she and her husband are on track, and I’ve always thought that was a great idea.

      • Kate says:

        Whatever you do, set the example in love. Anna sounds as if she might be “frightened” of money. A surprising number of smart, competent women are! The more you can show her how simple money management can be the more likely she may be to get on board with the team approach. Tell her that you NEED her ideas and input, that it’s better with two. Good luck!

      • Susie says:

        I’m in a spender/saver relationship, and my partner and I combined finances earlier this year, mainly because he wanted me to handle the money. I get the impression that he thought I had some magical way of dealing with money that got me out of debt, so I’d be able to get him out of debt, and he’d never have to make any changes or feel the pinch.

        It’s been a big adjustment for both of us; Him learning to be a little more frugal, me trying not to be so strict. I think one thing that has really helped is that I track things “big picture”: He works in construction, so his weekly check is variable, and he’s laid off every Winter. I’ve tracked our expenses out through next year’s layoff, and am able to tell him exactly how much he needs to bring in every week in order to cover his spending money and get us through the layoff (I’m salaried, so my set weekly amount is calculated in). That doesn’t include any debt payoff. That’s helped put his “big” weekly checks into perspective, and has helped curtail his drive to spend tremendously.

  5. wendy says:

    You are both off to a great start! I second the reco on the Uber Frugal Month Challenge – it will help you dig deeper into your spending priorities (LA restaurants, tasty but expensive). Once you have that in hand and start working on those estimated travel costs, you’ll be closer to answering the question of if to start the Van Life in 2018 or push it off a year. As you get a grip on your spending and work on the alternate employment options and side hustles, you may find it just makes more sense to delay departure for 6-18mo. You build your stash, build up alternate work skills/habits (30+ days to form a habit), and have time to research those locations for homesteads so your travel journey has a bit of direction. Don’t underestimate those home reno skills – some of that can be traded as a side hustle too! Best of luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thank you! I agree, we need to try the Uber Frugal Month challenge. I kept putting off proposing it because of holidays, birthdays, etc…but really there’s never an ideal time and we need to just start!

      Also, such a good point about trading home reno skills as a side hustle. A little bit of handy-woman work here and there on the road could be a great side hustle for us.

  6. Ann says:

    As one way of preparing for your year of van living, for any long weekend trips you would take this year, do a van trip instead. It will give you a much better idea of what it is like to live in it, what your expenses may be over the year, and how much you can realistically work during the trip.

    • Florence says:

      Yes, great tip and this is a definite goal of ours! We already did one quick beach camping trip in the van and it gave us a good idea of how much gas she uses, how it is to sleep in her, and what improvements we still need to make.

  7. Bonnie says:

    Wow, it sounds like you two are doing great, and I think your adventures sound fabulous! I would say that your eating out budget could likely be cut. Something I’ve found to be a good way to cut eating out costs is to eat at home, and meet friends for a drink, meet for coffee, meet for dessert, etc…basically anything but the main course. I’ve found that (since I love eating out), going out once in a while for a drink or coffee gives me the same satisfaction, and fulfills the social need of meeting up in the same way a whole meal does.
    Also, I recently switched from Verizon to Cricket, which is $30/month, cutting my phone bill in half. I’m very happy with it so far!

    • Florence says:

      Ahh this is a great idea, meeting up just for a drink. We are such suckers for eating out, it’s really bad. I’ll definitely propose this one at our financial date.

      Yeeup the phone bill is really rough. We were actually thinking of switching phones AND providers to Google Fi, but will definitely check out Cricket as well!

      • Beth says:

        Hey Florence — congratulations on all your success! I have a pay-as-you-go plan with Verizon for $30 per month. I tried switching from Verizon serveral years ago when I had a traditional $65 Verizon plan, and while the cost was cheaper, the service was not reliable — and I live in Atlanta. So I switched back to Verizon via pay-as-you-go. I get unlimited calling and texting and a small amount of data. Since I use my computer and Kindle for data, I have never used the that feature so it works well for me.

        Check it out — it might be a good option for you too:).

      • Emily says:

        I have Google Fi and I really love it. I would recommend it.

      • Erin says:

        Google-Fi is great! We switched from Verizon and cut our bills by at least half. I love that they reimburse you for data you don’t use. They recently started a family plan as well.

  8. brookst says:

    I am so impressed with your goals and motivation. I don’t have much financial advice here but as a “mature” woman whose finally got her own house in order I want you both to know you will reach your goals I have no doubt. You already know where you can cut back on spending “eating out” etc. You both have a lot of amazing skills so don’t ever sell yourself short. My one idea would be before you hit the road do some extensive research on outdoor festivals. With all your artistic talent you could travel and hit a lot of shows making and selling your wares. With your on-line experience you can also sell and ship your products anywhere. I do craft shows and you may not get rich but keeping costs low you can make some good money, especially on line. Go around and check out some in your area, pick the brain of other crafters. They love to share their experience. Best of luck. I know you will do well whatever you choose.

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for such an encouraging reply! :’) I’ve recently gotten much more into making soaps, and people seem to like the ones I make. I’ve definitely considered taking this craft on the road to sell at farmers markets, craft shows, etc. It was just a sort of dream idea, but now I realize it could be possible. I’ll start researching today! Thanks again.

  9. Alison says:

    As far as waxes go, I use wax strips and do it myself, or you could do this for each other? Saved me lots of money over the years. Also got a donor egg which was 20k. Needed to do this twice for another 20 k. Do you have a male friend who could donate? Check into legalities but it’s an option one friend successfully used in 🇨🇦

    • Florence says:

      The waxing is of..eh…sensitive bits. I’m a little scared to try to DIY it!! But I’ll look into it 🙂 Regarding donors, while we do have some wonderful male friend who would be willing, we’ve agreed we’d rather go the anonymous route because of possible legal and emotional issues. It might be a little pricier but we think it will be worth it to make it more “clean,” if you will.

      • Marcia says:

        That’s a good point (OTOH, I know more than one family locally who went the “friend donor” route. One has 3 kids, donor not involved. Other has 2 kids, donor dad is involved.

      • Mary says:

        I suggest laser hair removal! A quick search on Groupon yielded something like $200 for 6 treatments of 1 large area in LA. Here’s somethings to consider: 1) it works best with dark hair and light skin 2) 6 treatments may not be enough 3) it is not technically permanent… pregnancy hormones can cause the hair to grow back. A middle of the road frugal option perhaps? (I got laser hair removal.. and I’m pretty stoked because I’m also planning a van trip AND no shaving required since I got laser hair removal!)

  10. Cindy in the South says:

    What fabulous wonderful young folks! I like your plan. The only bit of caution I would add (I am old) is that I would save another year before taking your fabulous van trip.I also might add that I had four children, and one will have special, expensive, medical needs for the rest of his life, which will curtail my future travel plans. Kids are fabulous, but they can derail travel plans. I would cut back on the restaurant meals to maybe one a month and keep that amount to a $20 limit, which is doable for lunch in most parts of the U.S., especially if you luck up on some coupons or specials for that restaurant. I would also get telecommuting jobs lined up before going on the van trip. There will be no break in employment, and that will also help you get a homestead in the Northwest, which I think is awesome (as well as Vermont)! Because I lost most of everything due to a divorce, the Great Recession, etc., I would recommend having a huge amount in savings. My pitiful 12 months worth of savings could not weather a 39% pay cut during the recession and that pay cut lasted almost three years, then I lost my job anyway. The good news, is I bounced back, somewhat, BUT, I would have been in much better position if I had just had more money in savings. I wish you well, and oh, I went with prepaid Total Wireless, they use the same cell phone towers as Verizon, which works well, where I live in the boonies. Anyhoo, save more, cut back on restaurant use, find a better prepaid cell phone, get jobs to telecommute while in van, and enjoy life!!!! We only get on go of it!!!

    • Florence says:

      Restaurant coupons (groupons!) are a great idea, and something I hadn’t even thought of! That’ll be a good way to plan where and when we eat out to get the most bang for our buck, and to save serious bucks too.

      We definitely want to get work lined up before the trip, which we are already working on! Having a huge amount in savings is a good recommendation considering you never know what may happen. I know that, being very risk-averse, Anna would especially appreciate that piece of advice 🙂

      Also, never heard of Total Wireless, but I will add it to the list of providers we need to check out!

      • Lindsey says:

        Florence, I do mystery shops. I have not paid for a lube job for our vehicle, vitamins or movies in a decade. We’ve also made a few bucks but many of the shops are things like free movie tickets for two and $15 worth of concessions, or free lube job plus $5 for the paperwork; we just did three vitamin shops (I am extremely anemic and have to take special vitamins) where for each shop we got to buy up to $20 of vitamins, plus $10 for the shop, so we ended up with $59.90 worth of vitamins and $30 cash. Both my husband and I do them. When we travel, we put in a different zip code and you can see what shops are listed for that zip code and apply for those. If you fly, there are always tons of food court shops at various airports. There are lots of food shops, mostly for things like Red Robin (good salads). It won’t keep you out of the poor house, but it will fund free meals, entertainment (like movies) and car maintenance. I work for two companies and if they like your work, sometimes they call with a special shop they want you to perform. Recently there was a $150 shop for checking out motorcycles…Anyway, a small side gig you might want to consider.

        • Florence says:

          Hmm, mystery shops. I’ve heard of it but never met anyone who does it! Is there some site you sign up to become a mystery shopper at, or something like that?

  11. Lanae says:

    What an awesome plan! I wanted to weigh in on fertility and the van trip bc if aligns nicely with what I’ve done!

    I decided 5 years ago that I wanted to become a mother, and not having a husband/boyfriend/etc. I went the donor route. Good news- I found that if you have a relatively healthy reproductive system artificial insemination is not so expensive. I had really great insurance that covered almost all the testing and I just had to pay out of pocket for one additional test I needed based on family history, the actual insemination and the sperm. I think it was less than $7000 altogether. I was able to get pregnant on the first round so that helped financially. I went that route but now some ob/gyns are being trained to perform intrauterine insemination in office which is probably less expensive than a clinic. It was such a wonderful experience, though!

    When I was looking at your monthly spending you put that you spend $200/month on travel bc you like weekend trips. Now that you have the van you should use that for your weekend trips! I bought a Subaru forrester and my toddler and I car camp out of it! I choose a place to go that has cheap or free camping spots and I fold down the back seats and put an air mattress back there and that’s where we sleep. Usually if we stay at a campground there are bath houses for showers and washing up. I pack a cooler of food to cook while we’re away. It’s such a fun adventure and allows us to explore our love of travel without derailing our goal of FI

    Good luck! Your goals sound amazing and you two seem focused and committed to succeeding!

    • Florence says:

      Thank you so much for the info about fertility/ family planning! When we first started talking about starting a family we were both scared that costs were going to soar into the tens of thousands even with insurance, but it looks like if we are smart about our planning and have good insurance, we should be able to swing it. We are lucky to both be healthy, so we have the added advantage that if it doesn’t work with one of us, maybe it’ll work with the other….but hopefully we can get lucky on the first try like you did!

      Your weekends away with your toddler sound like a dream! What a fun and frugal way to get away, and also cultivate a love for the outdoors in your little one 🙂 We definitely need to take more weekend trips in Cecilia!

  12. Debbie says:

    For the gal who is intetested in interior decorating, there is an excellent online course that you can take while you are working your other job. Here is a link. Be sure to read all the comments too.

    http://yorkavenueblog.com/nyiad-complete-course-interior-design-review/

  13. Bridge says:

    Could one of you turn the van trip into a revenue generator? For example, could you photograph, write about or blog the experience? You could do the same with those weekend trips too if you’d rather not give them up.

    • Christine K says:

      Or make YouTube videos of the van trip…people love those “van life” and “tiny house” videos on youtube from what I’ve noticed. They always seem to have a lot of hits on them.

    • Florence says:

      This is an excellent idea, and one I am working on making a reality! I’ve already written some about Cecilia in my own blog. I think we could leverage Anna’s film/photography experience to shoot some videos once we’re on the road. Christine K (below) is totally right, those videos on YouTube are super popular. We watch them all the time for inspiration!

  14. Stephhanie says:

    You have the best basis for being a translator, Florence! You’ve studied languages and you’ve lived in the country where they are spoken. Excellent!!! Did you pick up Spanish while in Chile or do you feel confident enough to teach Spanish to yourself with a study guide? Might be an additional plus. Start building up a career in this field asap if you really want to pursue this since it takes time to develop to such a level that you can live from it. Have started as a professional translator in 2010 as a side-job and doing it full-time/as my only job since February 2014. Have a look at such databases as translatorscafe.com and proz.com (ProZ is THE database I would always consult first) and sign up (they both offer free options with less opportunities, paid memberships offer additional perks – in my view ProZ.com is definitely worth its fee, translatorscafe.com doesn’t necessarily deliver good enough results on the long term to justify the expenditure). If you like, drop me a line via email – can chat some more then about any specific things (NB though: am living and working in Germany with a different set of languages, so can only offer general advice).

    • Florence says:

      Working as a translator really is my dream! I will check out those links you included TODAY. I did pick up Spanish in Chile, so I’m pretty functionally fluent. I would LOVE to hear more about how you were able to go from part-time to full-time working in translation, and which language pairs you work with, etc. Your email doesn’t appear here with your comment, but if we could get in touch somehow I would love to chat more 🙂

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        I’ll connect you two by email 🙂

      • jp says:

        Also with the languages, or any skills really, you could tutor while on the road. I use Wyzant mostly (but have used UniversityTutor and craigslist) and I would think you could just change your location as your trip progresses, or use their online tutoring options…

  15. Erin says:

    Hi Florence and Anna! Just an idea – I too have amazon Prime and the free streaming TV shows included with it include almost ALL of the HBO shows. You may have to wait a season, but can still watch your favorites on demand. If you still want more TV options, maybe consider Hulu – its about half the cost.

  16. Oh how I loved reading your story! Big props to both of you for having such amazing perspective at a young age. The fact that you are even thinking about this right now is a big predictor of your success.
    I love the Van Plan. Have you explored how to potentially generate income from the Van Plan itself, perhaps through social media? I would totally follow an insta and blog with vignettes of your travels, and even with updates on your road to financial independence. I think Mrs. F can attest to the value of storytelling (and bonus if it can add to your income).
    I second what Mrs F said about researching state required fertility treatments. I live in NY and personally my IUI treatments (turkey baster method) were covered in full, but there’s no coverage for IVF. The complicating factor may be the timing of when you decide to start a family, and if you still plan to have employer sponsored health care at that time.
    I wish you both so much luck and happiness.

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for the advice and kind words! 🙂 We are definitely going to keep a blog and instagram of our van travels. I would love to get Anna on board to make videos of our travels as well, as another commenter here suggested. We follow tons of van bloggers – who’s to say people might not follow us?

      “Turkey baster method” is our Plan A, and it’s awesome to hear that yours was covered! I need to delve into the fine print of my health coverage, as well as find out about CA requirements. I don’t know if we will still live in CA when we decide to start a family (or if I will still have the same employer, likely not) but knowledge is still power. Thanks again!

  17. Christine K says:

    The advice here is already really good. The only thing I think I could add is a suggestion for “frugalizing” your knitting hobby. I read in a crafting magazine that buying sweaters from yard sales, thrift shops, dumpster diving them, etc. and then unraveling them for the yarn is a very cheap way to get high-end yarn for knitting. It might be worth trying…you can google exactly how it’s done, but it didn’t seem complicated at all and the people were finding things like cashmere sweaters for 50 cents and then unraveling them for the yarn.

    The other thing I wanted to say is that I love how flexible Millenials are as a group. It blows my mind that you can major in one thing and then work in something so completely different. I’m sure it comes down to being able to learn many different things and being creative, and that’s one thing that impresses me a lot about this age group. I think that flexibility and creativity will serve this couple well on their path to financial independence 🙂

    • Florence says:

      I’ve also heard of unraveling thrift store sweaters! That’s a great idea and good way to frugalize. I suppose if I buy a sweater with the intention of unraveling it, it doesn’t count against my clothes-buying ban? Haha. I have also been frugalizing my knitting by offering my services as a sample knitter for indie yarn dyers – they send me yarn, I knit what they want knitted out of it, and then they give me free yarn or gift codes for their yarn! So far it’s been working out really well.

      It’s nice to hear kind words about Millenials! I certainly owe it in large part to my parents, who always encouraged creative solutions to problems I encountered.

  18. Bob. Frugal+as+dirt. says:

    I’m struck by the wide open possibilities here and by the acknowledgement that I myself did not take enough risks at their age, decades ago. Isn’t that what older people always say? (Take a chance!) I re-read Florence’s skill set, and wonder if she’s ever considered applying at Nike in Portland OR, and realized that’s where some people stall… they get a job and quit looking for the next step up. (Just do It?) A PNW job would solve the location issue and put van travel in the Northwest into high gear. It could also allow Anna an opportunity to develop something location independent, which could then leverage Florence to back out of a day job. I have no solid advice – except to say risk is acceptable when you are young – when you have a family later it will be much harder.

    • Florence says:

      That’s a really interesting thought, and one I hadn’t really considered. My younger sister lives in Portland, so I’m pretty familiar with the city and enjoy it there. Living and working there could also give us a good PNW foundation (employment history, etc) and make it easier to visit properties when we decide to buy land. Thanks for the idea!

      • Vee says:

        Or come move to the Gorge, just an hour away! I live here and thought of you guys immediately when you said PNW.

      • Mary says:

        I also highly suggest keeping an eye out on the startup scene in Portland/Boulder. Even though you haven’t enjoyed working in SEO, it could be a good transition job for the PNW or other places with lovely mountains. I live in Seattle but it’s pretty expensive. I want to develop my skills to a high-enough level to work remotely (and/or buy a boat/van and just live in the PNW in the summertime, haha). It’s slowly happening in Seattle for me, but I’ve noticed a lot of startups moving from Seattle to those two cities because rent is insane in Seattle. Just an alternative I’ve thought of myself.

        Also, I’m loving seeing a same-sex couple write-up and y’all sharing your plans/dreams. You are inspiring me to work harder on a side hustle to save up cash. I wish you two the best of luck!

  19. Wow! Florence and Anna have their lives together so much more than I did right out of college. 🙂

    As far as being more thrifty with her money, I agree about taking the Uber Frugal challenge! Just show her how much money she can save in a month when she forgoes things like restaurants, movies, new clothes, etc. I think it’s a lot more fun if you do it with someone else, so take it yourself and compare how much money you save over the month. 🙂

    • Florence says:

      That’s nice to hear! 😀

      I am definitely going to propose the Uber Frugal Month challenge at our financial date next week. I think once we can both see the savings numbers adding up, it will really fuel the fire and get us both more inspired to save more.

  20. Erin says:

    And this channel may be helpful
    https://youtu.be/4zMrNXRby7k

  21. Rachel says:

    I love these reader case studies! It’s so fun to see what adventures other people have planned.

    All sounds like great advice to me! I know combining finances can be emotional and complicated, but my only other thought is that it would be wise to think about ways to combine/share at least some things already. Like a cell phone plan and car insurance. My Verizon plan for two people is $88 (includes data), so though being on a family plan is a good deal, being on a plan together may be even better! $180 sounds like a lot for two cars, which makes me wonder if they are on different plans. Putting the van on as an extra car that you don’t drive regularly should make it cheaper, right? I’m not an expert, but it would be worth looking into!

    Regarding home waxing: definitely doable. Until waxing started irritating my skin (I have super sensitive skin–I don’t think this is a common problem), I would buy the microwaveable “warm” wax + strip kit to do my upper lip, chin, and eyebrows (yep, I’m hairy! Haha)

    Also some thoughts about interior design career plans: I’m an architect (and could technically call myself an interior designer). I wouldn’t go back to school for this. In my town a lot of interior design majors are working at furniture stores. I would consider (and I have for myself as well) real estate investing in he realm of updated rentals and/or house flipping since this nicely dovetails interior design + construction+ financial independence/wealth building.

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for all the tips! Combining Anna’s car insurance and the van is a good idea – her car is insured through the military insurance (I forget the name?) because her stepdad was in the military. I’m not sure if there would be special hoops we might need to jump through to get the van on there, but that is a good idea.

      Home waxing…eek. We are both lucky to have easy-care eyebrows and no stray facial hairs to speak of, so the waxing is for, eh, more sensitive areas. I’m really scared to try DIYing it, to be honest! 😮

      Your thoughts on interior design career plans are super helpful. I had no idea the market was like that! Real estate investing and house flipping would both be totally up Anna’s alley, the only problem would be the up-front capital. However, she might have an “in” to help out a family friend who is a designer/architect, so maybe that could be a good foot in the door to the business. We will see. Thanks for the advice, though!

  22. First off, planning this deep at this age is amazing, keep it up! (I wish I had!)

    The Frugalwoods advice is solid and right on, run with it. The only piece I would add would be concerning the Van Plan. I love the Van Plan and wish I had done one, I think mine is in my future, but on the tail end of things instead of at the beginning. If the Van Plan is a top priority for you guys, then I would schedule a FIRM departure date. You will have to decide how far out, but I would say 1 year+. This will allow you to save up some more money. This will also, assuming you set a FIRM date, force you to ramp up the side hustle income. If you KNOW your income from a ‘standard job’ is ending on a date you will be very motivated to replace it. If you are thinking SOMEDAY it might happen, you have very little motivation, and it will drag on and on.

    Good work so far, tighten the belt a little, as recommended and keep going!

    • Florence says:

      You’re so right about setting a firm date. It will also keep us from chickening out! This is a dream of both of ours, but it is a little scary to drop everything and move into a van. Thanks for the advice!

  23. Dicey says:

    Glenn Morrissette is from the LA Area and lives and works in his van. http://www.tosimplify.net/

    There’s some great stuff about making babies on a budget, along with traveling with said baby and budget, here:

    http://www.gocurrycracker.com/the-7000-baby/

  24. Bonnie says:

    Love the van plan! Anna and Florence you may want to check out http://www.thedividendguyblog.com/ he’s been travelling in an RV since summer 2016 with his wife and 3 kids! Lots of tips and the nitty gritty of RV travel, along with how he finances it.

  25. jad says:

    Living rent free for a year is lovely, but it can also give you an unrealistic sense of how much you actually have in disposable income.
    It would be a good idea to research comparable rents for your space in your area and put that amount immediately into a savings account.
    Even the $600. rent you will eventually pay is not realistic when contemplating a mortgage and related home expenses.
    You will find that you will really have to come to grips with you non essential spending at the same time creating a sizeable savings account for whatever future plans you have. This may alter your view of things to come or give you additional zeal for those plans…. depending on how important they really are vs the reality of living within tightened financial parameters for an extended period.

  26. Iris says:

    Cell phones are all about coverage. If Verizon is what you need, then look at Tracfone, Straight Talk, and Verizon’s new prepaid plans. Verizon throttles data speeds on MVNOs to a degree, doesn’t throttle it’s own prepaid until you’ve used up your LTE allotment, but throttles that way down. The thing about Tracfone is that as long as you keep your line active, you don’t lose unused minutes/texts/data. If you’re good about using wifi when available, then you only pay for the cell data you use and it never goes away. AT&T appears not to throttle MVNO data speeds, but of course that could change. Decide which carrier will work, and see about a family plan. Would Florence’s family’s plan work for both, and would her family consider adding Anna if they paid her share?

    Eating out needs to largely go away. Groceries need trimming. Weekend trips in the van should be cheaper, and might need to be reduced in frequency.

    If you really want to relocate to the Pacific Northwest – I suggest looking for jobs in the area before the van trip, using the van trip to move though you likely couldn’t have as long a trip, and then living there, employed, while looking for a homestead. That will give you W2 income for a mortgage, insurance coverage (hopefully) and give you more time to look for just the right place. If you’re going to be paying rent, you should be paying it in a location that works better for you,

    Good luck!

    • Iris says:

      If AT&T will work for you, Tracfone is the best choice for them as well, I believe.

      • Soudea says:

        Cricket also runs on AT&T and is a better option for folks who use data on their smartphones. The plans are a bit more expensive than Tracfone but not so limited in the amount of data- 1, 2.5, 5, 10 GB plans vs maximum of 1.5 GB (at $125/month).

    • Florence says:

      I’ve never heard of Tracfone, thanks for the tip!

      Yup, everyone agrees – the eating out must end! It will! I’m newly determined, and armed with a crock-pot 🙂

  27. Turia says:

    First up, congratulations for having already achieved so much! I wish I had been as financially savvy when I was your age.

    I wanted to comment on the health insurance side of things. When you are settled and getting ready to start a family it might be worthwhile for one of you to look for a job with a company that has an insurance plan that covers assisted reproductive technology, if your private health plans do not (I am Canadian and don’t quite understand how the system works down south).

    With any luck it will be relatively easy for you to conceive and carry successfully. But if you hit snags, you can very quickly spend a ludicrous amount of money. Yes, you might have enough money saved to pay for it yourselves but if you can get yourself in a position where your insurance covers it, so much the better. Adoption is not cheap either.

    If you have side hustles that make you happy and one of you could stand a “normal” office job for a year or two, I would seriously consider it just for the insurance. In our quest to build a family we ended up $30,000 out of our own pocket, plus close to that figure in medications covered by our health insurance. And the provincial health plan covered all blood draws, ultrasounds, etc. Hopefully it will be straightforward for you, but if it isn’t you need to understand the financial realities of how quickly treatment costs add up. I would also consider the distance to a good ART clinic when looking at homestead locations. If you want children you will want to be within striking distance of a good hospital, and clinics are often nearby.

    • Florence says:

      Oh wow, thanks for all the tips and information! $30k is not a trivial amount by any means. So sorry that you ended up with such a difficult time, and I hope it all worked out for you in the end!

      We want to be ready for any possibility, so you’re right – having an office job and the insurance that goes with it would be a good plan when we start a family. Luckily, Anna in the right environment, Anna is very down for the traditional 9-5 schedule.

      Proximity of hospitals is definitely a really important point when considering locations for our future homestead. Thanks for your advice!

  28. Alison says:

    Researching fertility by state if a great suggestion. Come to Massachusetts!! We do have tiny mountains.

  29. Tara says:

    Do the van trip while you’re young–you’ll never have an opportunity once kids come along and you’ll regret not doing it. I had to take out a $7,000 loan to study abroad for a semester, but considering I had very little undergrad loans (single parent household and was an RA), I don’t regret that one bit. I was able to pay it off early and I still remember fondly on my days in the Netherlands.

    I do suggest cutting back on eating out and groceries ASAP. Look for cheaper grocery stores and avoid large bulk purchases of food unless you really go through that much amount. I became a big fan of Aldi for groceries as it really helps our family cut back on the budget. And sometimes they do have the fancy cheeses! And as far as eating out, that really is something that has to go. Find out why you are drawn to eating out so often (time crunch? stress?) and then figure out a way to fix it. If it means batch cooking pulled pork and making a huge chopped salad on Sunday so you have lunches for the week, then make it happen. A crock pot really was what makes my life easier in terms of ensuring I cook the groceries we buy. Then, always have a frozen food back up for those really tough times–things like frozen meatballs are a nice addition to an easy pot of spaghetti and jarred sauce.

    Lastly, are you buying that random stuff on Amazon? That is why to this day I don’t have Amazon Prime. I know if I had access to random stuff all the time with no shipping minimum, I’d go out of control. We have access to a family member’s Prime account (shhh don’t tell) for TV streaming which was the only thing we really wanted. But by not having access to an easy way to spend $20 bucks here or there, it really keeps the “random spending” down in our household.

    As far as cell phones, shop around. My dad loves Google Fi, my uncle Republic Wireless. If you want an iPhone though, neither of those work. It’s not cheap, but I love T-Mobile because I had free cell phone service and data in Europe on the last family vacation. If traveling internationally is in your future, that’s something to consider (if you’re in the PNW, maybe you’ll go to Canada enough?) We do need more than 2 G data a month so for us, the continued spending more for T-Mobile ($100 for two people plus taxes for 10 gb data) really made more financial sense. But for light data user, you might be good with a service like Ting or something similar.

    best of luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for the advice, Tara! I think delving into why we want to eat out so often is a really good direction to go. I know for me it’s about the time crunch and stress. We work 8-9 hours a day, plus an hour commute in each direction, and so if we don’t have something planned ahead of time, it’s really tempting to go the eating out route after a long day! Cooking ahead of time on Sundays is a good plan. We love Aldi, too! Bless that place. We will have to get more serious about our planning and cooking ahead, but I think it can happen.

      We really aren’t buying much random stuff on Amazon, it’s more I feel that every month things just come up – birthday/wedding/baby shower gifts (we try to DIY these as much as possible, but sometimes it’s last minute), things that break (Anna’s shoes…), etc. Actually, I really need to go look through that category and find out what it is. Unfortunately we ARE the family members with the Prime account that everyone uses right now, but we could always look to reshuffle that 😉

      • Monica says:

        I think you need to have a series of instant meals at home ready to go. When my kids were little and I heard other moms talking about getting take out because it was hard to cook after a long day at work and picking up kids etc, I would always think: How hard is it to boil pasta and add either 1) Red sauce (homemade and frozen or from a jar!), 2) olive oil & parmesan cheese (with frozen peas added at times) or pesto from the fridge (again either homemade or purchased). These three meals are way cheaper than even the least expensive take out or restaurant and are ready in the amount of time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta. Also on the list are : grilled cheese with or without some type of meat, veggie or hamburgers, meatball subs, a can of chickpeas or two mixed with Aldi Korma sauce (my personal fav at the moment) to go over rice, soup (prepped on the weekend) and bread. These meals also work when you have kids and they have sports or things SAT classes during the week at dinner time! Whatever you do, seems to me like you simply have to stop eating out and begin to make this a lifelong habit – Good luck!

        • Florence says:

          Those are some great meal ideas – Anna LOVES pasta, and that chickpeas and korma sounds amazing to me. I think you’re right. The ingredients are there, we just need to buckle down and do it! Thanks again for your pointers 🙂

          • Helen says:

            Just a word of encouragement on the cooking front – it really is all down to the planning! I work 8 hrs at my primary job (with some 10-14 hr days) plus bike commute, work 2 side gigs, walk the dog, have normal hobbies and friends (incl wkly 3 hr singing rehearsals) and still cook everything I eat from scratch – often including my own bread and baking cakes etc. For me I found the trick is to a) make it fun (I love to try out different cuisines from around the world – with the added bonus of exploring new neighborhoods on my bike as I venture to different ethnic grocery stores) 2) always look at my meal planning with an eye to which evenings I’m not going to be able to cook. If I’m cooking I NEVER just make one evening meal, at the very least I make a large batch, but often I’ll work on two recipes at once – have Dahl cooking in the frying pan while a French stew bubbles on the other burner and bread is rising next to them in the warmer corner of the kitchen. Ill throw a couple of portions in the freezer for “emergencies” – when I simply don’t have the time or energy to cook- then portion out the rest to pick from for lunches or rushed evenings over the next couple of days. I also factor snacks into my planning as I always need to be munching on something plus I have a fatal sweet tooth and regular coffee shop muffins can be a big money drain for me! Also consider eating little meat in your day to day diet – it really trims the budget down, not to mention all the side effects of eating healthier (you naturally end up with more veggies in your diet) and being more environmentally friendly. Good luck!

  30. Jen says:

    It’s amazing that both of you are looking at your finances at such a young age. No debt, saving money, and tracking your expenses is an awesome way to get started on the path to financial independence. Well done!

    I have Cricket wireless for my cell phone. As someone that’s not really good with technology, having a physical location is great for me in case I have questions or need help. The service is pre-paid and only $30 / month.

    Mrs. Frugalwoods recommendations on cutting down certain expenses are right on point. You can definitely start paring down your food (groceries and eating out), travel, clothes, and personal care pretty quickly and easily. I love the Van Plan – it sounds so exciting! Good luck to both of you!

  31. shannon says:

    Chiming in on the fertility/child planning portion from the health perspective. It is a good idea to go off of any hormonal meds and start tracking your ovulation now so you have a feel for if you are ovulating on a regular basis. A good (free!) app for this is Kindara. If you find you are ovulating regularly and have easy, healthy cycles, then great! If not, then now is the time to start looking into what may be going on as it can take many cycles to get things straightened out. Starting now gives you plenty of time to address any fertility-related health issues before you are ready to have a baby. Good books that can help guide you are Period Repair Manual (Lara Briden) and Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Toni Weschler).

    Regarding timing of the van year…I would go sooner rather than later, IF you can get your spending down as Mrs. FW suggests (basically doing an Uber Frugal Challenge for the rest of the time leading up to the trip). There will only be more reasons to NOT go vanning as you get further down the road. A van year sounds like a great opportunity to reflect on and research your long-term career and family goals. I think there is a sense of urgency here too…you already have many goals percolating. If you delay the van trip beyond spring 2018, you might start to feel antsy about getting started on the homestead, marriage, children, etc. which would make the van year less fun.

    Final thought: you might want to kick off the mobile work/side gig plans now. This would increase your current income and also build a foundation for how you will earn money during the van year. Plus, if you find a side gig that you enjoy doing, it also feels like a hobby which may help to reduce the hobby/eating out/stuff buying expenses.

    • Florence says:

      That is such a good point (regarding tracking cycles) and something I hadn’t even started to think about. We are both on hormonal birth control right now (she has an IUD, I take the pill). I tried going off the pill about a year ago and my acne flared up something AWFUL. I think living in a van (read: not having to compose myself for a professional environment every day) could be a good time to go off it again and get my body re-used to regular ol’ hormones. You seem to be pretty informed about this, do you know anything about lingering effects of birth control on natural cycles?

      You are so right about delaying the van trip – we are pretty comfy right now and I would hate for that to get in the way of our van living dream. No worries about the side gigs, though – I’m already on it!

      Thanks again for your advice! 🙂

      • shannon says:

        Welp this is pretty late but in case you are still checking the comments, here is a link with more on coming off the pill with WAY more information that I could relay:
        http://www.larabriden.com/how-to-come-off-hormonal-birth-control/

        Most of what I’ve learned has been from the two books I mentioned and from the user forums on Kindara. It’s not information that is readily taught in sex ed or discussed very often even among female friends, but it’s pretty easy to learn if you are interested.

  32. Mrs. BITA says:

    You have a stupendous amount of stuff figured out really early in your lives, and I hardly feel qualified to pretend to be the voice of wisdom and offer advice.

    About eating out: we did a lot of this until fairly recently, an average of about $800 a month. We make fairly high incomes so we could have kept this up and achieved FI anyway, with only a slight delay. So why did we stop? We stopped because I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore when we did so much of it. It wasn’t a special treat that I looked forward to, it was meh. I didnt want to spend $800 on meh, and so we ended up deciding to step off that hedonic treadmill. Now when we do eat out (In n Out for dinner in the park last night) it is an experience that we actually look forward to and remember.

    Regarding expenses: the most important thing is to track them in a way that is convenient and accessible so that the numbers are at your fingertips. You should be able to look up your current spending, remaining budget etc. in a heartbeat. Being aware of your money makes it harder to make mistakes with it. I use Mint for this purpose. If you are a visual person, seeing a bar go from green to red in your budget is motivation to make it stop.

    • Florence says:

      Your point about eating out is so good! When it becomes commonplace, it’s no longer special. We are definitely guilty of spending on “meh” at times, and I think this point is a really good way for me to sell Uber Frugal Month in a way that makes sense. Thank you!

  33. Caroline Brown says:

    Go live in your van!! You won’t regret it, it will be life changing and the space and time will help you learn how happy you can be with less! Less stuff, less eating out, less entertainment options. This can set you up for a trajectory change that could actually HELP–not hurt–how you achieve financial independence ultimately. Now is the right time in your lives to explore — both the world, and yourself! Set a departure date, and DO NOT WAVER.

    My partner and I did something similar two years ago, but we had 10 years on you and it was quite hard to jump out of and then back into an established career. I still count it among my best decisions, despite the bumpy road back to “real life”. We pushed our departure date back by six months due to work requests — twice — perhaps my only regret!

    One thing I see conspicuously missing from the Van Plan — health insurance for you both? With the uncertainty of the ACA, perhaps it would behoove you to see if you could work out a deal with your employer to return after your trip, and continue your health insurance (at your own expense) during the trip. That kind of continuity is huge, and alleviates a lot of the stress of taking a year off of work. We were able to work that out with my partner’s employer, and so we had full coverage during our trip, and as soon as we returned. It was major peace of mind. We secured a domestic partnership in advance and got on the same policy so we both had the same benefits. Just how we did it, there are many ways to look at that pickle, but we felt maintaining coverage was very important especially if travel plans include domestic travel.

    • Florence says:

      Eee! Thank you for the advice! It’s great to hear from someone who did something similar!

      I have done some pretty extensive research into health insurance for when we are on the road, and the results are, well, grim. We can get catastrophic coverage for both of us for the year for about $2k through one provider I found. I also found an ACA plan that would work for us for about $200/month (ouch), but like you said, all of that is very uncertain.

      For me, the catastrophic coverage would work fine, but Anna has some prescriptions that she needs, which also require blood tests every few months. I hadn’t considered making a deal to return to work with my employer, but that could work. I am lucky to have a very understanding boss who (I think!) likes me quite well, so that just might be a possibility. Thanks for the idea!

      How did you go about securing your domestic partnership, and how far in advance did you do that?

      • Kandice says:

        When you leave employment (all employers with more than either 20 or 50 employees, I can’t remember which off the top of my head), you are entitled to continuation of your health insurance (at up to 102% of the full cost – both employer and employee portions) for a specified period of time (18 months, I think unless there’s a disability situation). It’s called COBRA. That is independent of the ACA exchange policies. So, you don’t have to agree to come back to work to get the COBRA coverage. (COBRA = Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, FYI.)

  34. Elizabeth says:

    Have you looked into Wwoof at all? If you wanted a way to make the travel cheaper (and maybe learn things for your future homestead), you could break it up with stints on organic farms around the country, or just in the Pacific Northwest. Seems like that could be a win-win. Good luck! Sounds like you have fun adventures in store.

    • Florence says:

      Yes! I can’t believe I didn’t mention that in my case study story! WWOOFing is an integral part of our Van Plan, not only to save some money, but also to learn skills we can put to use on the future dream homestead.

  35. Alyssa S. says:

    As somebody also trying to reconcile my equestrian lifestyle with frugality…another option I’ve discovered is to volunteer with my city’s mounted police force, which is a great cause in addition to giving you the much needed horse fix! 🙂 These programs typically need volunteers to care for and lightly exercise the police horses on their rest days. I saw above that you also found a barn that offers lessons in exchange for work, which is also a solid option. Good luck!

    • Florence says:

      That’s a great idea, I’ll have to see if our local mounted police have needs like that. The life of a frugal equestrian is tough! 😉

  36. Just a note on the van trip – I really think you should go for it. You’re in a really great position with no debt and some savings already banked and like Mrs. Frugalwoods says, there are lots of ways you can save even more from your monthly outgoings. You have time between now and next Spring to save aggressively for your trip and to work on developing side hustles for potential income on the road.

    Me and my husband have just recently taken the plunge, quit our jobs and are going travelling for 4 months. This was a huge decision with lots of soul-searching and back and forths as, like you and Anna, we are working towards financial independence. We estimate the trip will cost us a year in terms of when we can quit our 9-5’s in no wages/spending some savings but we still have the fire in our bellies of wanting financial freedom, that this slight delay in our retirement date was not a deal breaker for doing the trip. As much as we can plan for our future (and it’s sensible to do so), it’s not guaranteed.

    • Florence says:

      That’s so true. We are pretty determined to do it now for the same reasons. We are in a good position, and we just don’t know what the future may hold. Of course it’s great to plan ahead as well! I guess it is all about balance. Congrats on taking the plunge and going traveling with your husband! May you have many memorable adventures 🙂

  37. Christy says:

    I’m a married lesbian who will be the one carrying, and neither my insurance nor my wife’s covers any assistive reproductive techonology.

    It’s actually not terribly expensive if you’re fertile. Like, ain’t it the truth and all, but it’s definitely not as bad as I was expecting. My GYN told me to expect to pay like $1000 or $1500 per try, and that includes the donor sperm and the IUI procedure itself. Compared to what I was expecting, it’s not that much! One thing that I’m doing before we conceive (we’re a few years out still) is getting my health to its peak–making sure I’m at a healthy weight and fitness level so that can’t impede conception.

    We’re expecting to just divert our income that now goes to savings to conception (we save more than the per-attempt cost each month anyway) and then start putting that money to maternity leave (none through our employers, aka the federal government) and then daycare. But we’re also not trying for FI so our calculations are different from yours.

    Good luck! (Also, I don’t think there’s ever an answer to “how can I get my partner to see ______”. You just have to wait for her to accept _____ into her heart.)

    • Florence says:

      Oh my goodness! Thank you! Advice from the “family”!

      We obviously want to plan for the possibility that it will be really expensive, but it’s great to hear that if you get lucky, it doesn’t have to be! As we are planning now, I will carry. I have no idea what our maternity leave situation will be when we do decide to have kids, but I do know that we are hoping to have at least one of us working from home, so that will help with day care costs.

      Thanks for the information and advice!! And I hope everything goes very smoothly for you and your wife 🙂

      • Liz says:

        My wife and I are starting IUI as well (I’m carrying)- 1000-1500 per attempt is a pretty realistic range, with a success rate of only 20% per cycle. The younger and healthier you are the higher the odds of course. Keep in mind that even if you have infertility coverage in your insurance (I do) it will rarely cover lesbians since most arent actually infertile- this is very policy-specific. Don’t forget when the time comes to use an FSA or HSA if available at your job to offset some of the costs. We are career women and have waited until our early 30s which gave us a huge financial leg up but that is a very personal choice.

        • Florence says:

          Good to know! We also plan to wait until our early thirties because we really want to be a bit more settled before starting a family (and not…you know…living in a van). That technicality regarding infertility coverage is really good to know. I guess it makes sense, but, ugh. Thanks for the info!

  38. Kara Barr says:

    You two seem like really interesting and fun people! I admire the creativity and passion you seem to find in life. In terms of your questions, there are a lot of comments already regarding your fiances, so I’ll just add that as you consider where you want to live, be mindful of the racial makeup of your future family. It appears from your photo that you are both white, and if you’re thinking of having children of a different race, it’s very important to pick a place to live that not only accepts your family makeup in terms of same-sex parents, but also is a place where your future child of color can thrive. If you have a child of color, you’ll want to pick a diverse place where your child can find racial mirrors to grow up proud of their heritage. Secondly, whether your child is of your same race or not, it’s not a bad idea to start exploring nontraditional ways of growing your family so that you get a good feel for what your future family may be like. There are a ton of great groups on Facebook that will help expose you to various issues that will affect your future family, and you can learn great ways to respond to those issues. As you listen and learn in those groups, you can also figure out what method(s) of growing your family will work well in your situation. Feel free to find me on Facebook for some suggestions if you’re interested. Best wishes to you both!

    • Florence says:

      This is such a good point to bring up and great advice! I was lucky to be brought up in a super diverse area, and I would love to have the same for my children, regardless of their ethnic makeup. While we know we can’t control EVERY factor in where we decide to move, diversity and inclusiveness for all kinds of people is pretty much the most important factor in the community where we eventually decide to start our family. Thank you for bringing up such an important point!

  39. Caitlin says:

    I don’t really have anything new to add, but also wanted to commend you for your excellent financial status and planning. Great job especially on paying down your student loans–that is something I’m working on.

    One thought is that Anna may want to consider learning about staging homes for sale–I think that is a side gig that would work well with her skills. She might even be able to do it here and there as you are van traveling. (I mean researching online and talking to other home stages and real estate agents, as opposed to going back to school for it.)

    I agree with those who suggested taking the van on your weekend trips. Not only will it help cut costs and allow you to still travel, you’ll get used to dealing with the van and possibly any issues might arise before you’re too far away from home and/or give you time to learn how to fix them yourselves. I also agree with not delaying the van trip beyond next spring–it’s good to plan but after a certain point it doesn’t make much difference, and you don’t know if other life events will get in the way. A year is enough time to plan and prepare and save, especially with your excellent foundation, and a firm deadline will help you focus on building up your side hustles and saving money.

    Overall, your plans sound awesome and I wish you both the best!

    • Florence says:

      That’s a great idea, home staging. I think it would be right up her alley, and considering her background in photography she could be quite good at it. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  40. Kim says:

    Regarding fertility treatments, you could read up on Go Curry Cracker’s blog about their international medical experience (IVF) – could be a big cost savings plus an opportunity for more travel.

    You have renovation experience, your partner wants to be an interior designer – how about taking the $19k inheritance and putting it as a down payment on a fixer-upper (while you still have reliable day-job incomes to qualify for a mortgage) and live in your van while you fix it up, then sell it – lather rinse & repeat until you can afford to pay cash for your homestead! And of course blog/YouTube the journey 🙂 Similar to the Mike and Lauren YouTube channel.

    • Florence says:

      There’s an idea, I hadn’t thought of medical-tourism-ing IVF – I’ll head over and read about it.

      And another idea! We have both talked about how much we would looove to fix up a house, especially Anna. I just don’t know if she would be ok with the idea of putting “all her eggs in one basket” as it were, with her savings. It’s definitely a possibility, though, especially if we could find ourselves in a slightly cheaper area for some time. I’ll bring it up and see what she thinks! Thanks 🙂

      PS we love that youtube channel!

  41. Caroline Bowman says:

    I’d say that just by committing to cut the eat-out category by half, i.e. not getting rid of it completely since it’s something that clearly has a place in your lives and why shouldn’t it, you’re young and social, you will be on your way to your savings goals. If you’re spending $400 now, commit to $200 and that’s it. When it’s gone, it’s gone. This will make you plan ahead a bit more and use that allowance on occasions where you will actually properly enjoy it and look forward to it. You ladies sound so switched on and capable, making a double portion of whatever you happen to be cooking a couple of times each week will translate into a second meal with no forward planning either the following week or within the same week. We do this – for example, I will make a large curry on Sunday, we eat till we’re stuffed, then I freeze the rest, sometimes it’s enough for 2 full extra meals at a future point. My husband will make a huge amount of bolognaise sauce that translates into at least 2 meals…

    It doesn’t eliminate ANY eating out, but it massively reduces it.

    And another thing. Brown bags to work every. single. day. Make the night before, make in batches, whatever you need to do. Pack it and whatever snacks / fruit and no exceptions.

    And then as others have said, try and get discounts on your various insurances, take those little savings, and they might be small and seem a bit pointless, but put that precise amount into your travel savings.

    As for the future plans, definitely consider your state carefully re medical insurance and legal rights… and just for your own happiness. There are very hidebound areas that might be unpleasant to live in, and most importantly, be hard for your future family too, which is unacceptable! Since the world is your oyster, choose somewhere amazing, that ticks the boxes AND is the right sort of community in a wider sense.

    Best of luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for all the tips! I would really like to try an Uber Frugal Month where we don’t eat out AT ALL, but in the larger scope of our lives, it’s really unrealistic for us to never ever eat out. I would like to cut it back significantly though, and so I think your idea to budget a certain amount toward eating out per month is great. We can decide together what that will be, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

      We already do cook in large batches and bring leftovers for work lunches, so we’re good there! We have the occasional slip-up, but for the most part we bring lunch to work every day. It’s amazing how much you can spend on work lunches if you don’t bring it from home! (Especially in LA!)

  42. Suzewannabe says:

    If I woke up in your shoes knowing what I know at 49, retired at 46?

    *Don’t underestimate the benefits of a job. Check to see if either of you are entitled to a Pension (I had no idea that I was). Once you leave a company, healthcare premiums may skyrocket.

    *Once you marry, get Term life Insurance. 10* your annual salary. When my first stepmom died early from a rare cancer, my dad had to live in a camper behind a bowling alley.

    *While you’re in good health, continue to work your butts off. I had 5 major surgeries during my career and it was so tough. My career never recovered. Don’t take good health for granted.

    *The van trip? You already answered that one. No. Don’t quit your jobs to do this. Get some years under your belt and ask for a sabattical instead. Consider a 2 week trip with it.

    *Keep up the hard work, take Ms. Frugalwoods advice, love each other, have kids-they are a blessing.

    • Florence says:

      Wow, 5 surgeries! I hope you’re well-recovered and healthy these days! I’ll definitely check out that book you recommended below, and thanks for the tip on life insurance! We definitely want to make sure that if anything happens to one of us, the other one (and any kids we have) is well-taken care of.

  43. Suzewannabe says:

    I forgot to add 1 thing.

    Read the book “Quitter” by Jon Acuff. It helped me learn how to become a writer and not quit my day job as a geologist. Plus, it’s funny.

  44. Lena says:

    You guys sound like so much fun, and I’m super impressed with your foresight in getting ready for FI.

    I currently live in Seattle and have my own veggie garden and fruit orchard in my back yard. In the middle of the city. We even have chickens, two cats and a dog.

    I was thinking, since you already have mad home building skills, why not build a tiny home? That way, you’d only have to buy the land and materials. You could do a mini homestead in the city and be close enough to all the fun things that a city offers. Just a thought. Tiny homes are a big thing in Seattle right now😀.

    You guys are doing awesome! So impressed.

    • Florence says:

      We totally want to do that! Well, the super ~* dream *~ idea is to get ourselves some land somewhere nice (probably PNW, as I said) and have our own regular house on the property, plus built a couple of tiny houses to rent out! We are all about the tiny house craze, as you can imagine.

      Your veggie garden and fruit orchard sounds like a dream! 🙂

  45. Deirdre says:

    Google the article on “vanlife” in a recent issue of the New Yorker – really interesting re. how a couple monetized traveling around the country in a van.

  46. Erin says:

    I love the Van Plan!! I come from a family with a serious case of wanderlust so I can completely relate to wanting to go off and explore! And…I’d start practicing now. It should help to cut down on that $200/mo for vacation because you won’t need to pay for lodging or meals out and hiking is free!

    My sister left her librarian job to become a knitwear designer in 2010 (because of her love of knitting and serious wanderlust!). Although she loves what she does and has found a lot of success as a published designer, she discovered that the pay does not equal the work. To help even things out she started “Who Pays Knitters” (https://whopaysknitters.com), a website that provides crowd sourced data on the actual pay rates for knitwear designers. She struggled with knowing how much to ask for when she first started out and often there was no rhyme or reason why pay rates varied. I hope that this site can give you an idea how to navigate this side hustle idea and also inspire you and other knitwear designers to ask for more. 🙂

    One alternative to eating out that I’ve had wild success with is potlucks. Every month my friends and I gather for a potluck. One friend chooses a theme and supplies the main course and everyone else brings a side, salad, or dessert to pair with the theme. People that don’t love to cook typically bring a grocery prepared meal so that everyone is included and puts in the energy that works for them. It’s always a fantastic time filled with good food, company, and lots and lots of laughter.

    And finally, I’d love to read a blog chronicling your adventure – both in preparation and when you head out (hint hint)!! I’m really excited for you both! Best of luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for the link and the tip about potlucks, Erin! I checked out your sister’s site and…I totally have seen her designs before! 😮 I am going to delve so deep into this site. Thank you, thank you!

      Potlucks are an excelllennntt idea. I don’t think it would be too hard to get our friends on board, either – we have several friends who love cooking!

      Also, the blog – I’ve already started writing (a little bit) about the van on my personal blog! I’m hoping to chronicle our preparations and our adventures, once we hit the road. If you click on my name here in the comments it’ll take you there 🙂 Be warned: lots of knitting photos await as well!

      • Erin says:

        That makes me such a proud sister to read that you’ve seen her designs! I know I might be a bit biased but her talent seriously blows me away (if you haven’t seen her wedding dress that she designed and knit – get ready for a jaw drop!). She’s working on her second book now and has decided to take the self-publishing route. Best of luck to you! I’m sure my sister would be happy to answer questions you might have. Best contact is through her Worldknits website but please be patient with her response time – she’s busy chasing around a toddler these days!

        http://www.worldknits.com/blog/2015/1/6/a-year-ago-today?rq=wedding%20dress

  47. Jessica says:

    Can Anna go on Florence’s family plan as well? My family does that and it includes unmarried couples.

  48. Jennifer says:

    Move to Vermont!

  49. amy says:

    I would definitely do the van year sooner rather than later. Responsibilities/commitments/things you don’t want to leave just pile up without you noticing.

    Also, on adopting: I have a friend here in Ontario that dreamed of adopting a baby locally who it isn’t working out for because she already has biological children. No biological parent wants to give their baby to a family that already includes biological children, she and her husband have been on the list for years and years. Just a heads up if you plan on doing both, it might be easier to adopt first.

    • Florence says:

      So true about life commitments. And I had no idea there was that kind of bias when it comes to adopting, but I guess it makes sense. Good to know! Thanks.

      • ann says:

        It is easier (and cheaper) to adopt through the foster care system than to go on lists for a baby. You may want to explore that – there also tends to be less bias regarding non-traditional families and families that already have biological children.

  50. Katharine says:

    Thanks for sharing your life plans with us! I always advocate travel, because I did tons of it before I settled down and had kids, and I will never ever regret it. However, I always did it without debt, by working until I had enough money to travel and then heading out. Here in the US, similar to your Van-plan, I traveled with a friend (in a minivan and tent) but what we did was figure out a daily “cost” and try to live within that for food/ campsite/ gas/ etc. My numbers wouldn’t be useful as I was traveling in the 90’s, but we discovered quickly that cooking at the campsite was cheaper than eating out, that staying in State parks (or even city parks!) was cheaper than National Parks or private campgrounds (though we did many of the big National Parks too, since we wanted to see them), etc. in order to maximize how long we had to travel. Our daily cost was $60 a day, I think, and we just stretched it as far as we could go. As far as saving, we worked three jobs at the first part of the summer, and when we had enough that we thought we could travel for 2 months, we took off! If you have an “amount” you’re saving before you leave, it helps with cutting the items like eating out/ etc, though. Staying with friends and family is a great way to maximize travel- and we would always help with a project when we stayed for awhile. Enjoy your trip!

    • Florence says:

      Wow, your traveling sounds great! Calculating the per-day cost is a great idea. I think we need to take a few more weekend van trips before we really know what our gas prices will be, but food and lodging are easy to control for. We want to hit a good number of National Parks, but there are some amazing State Parks out there that we want to see as well. We’re also planning to bum with friends and family along the way, if they will have us 😉

  51. Victoria says:

    I’d go sooner rather than later with the van plan or you’ll get caught in jobs/family etc. It’s also a great way to trial homestead living. Absolutely not trying to being depressing but it might be a good way to test that you are right together as a couple and can handle living together in more homestead type ways (spending huge amount of time with each other, stressful situations like van breakdowns, not having close family support).
    Check out Cait Flanders blog for her recent work/travel trip because she gives details on how stressful it was to work and travel, not getting the best of either. Might make you rethink some aspects or plan differently for your trip. Emily from Jones Design Company and I think Tsh Oxenrider both did recent family travel and work remotely.
    Try an epilator instead of waxing as one off cost and lasts a long time and for the more hard to reach areas you can assist each other 😉. Can see other ppl recommending moon cups or cloth pads which I hate the idea of so thought I’d weigh in there with an opposite view. Definitely something I’d regard as a necessity in terms of spend!
    If you are planning to leave in 2018, bear that in mind for decisions made now (eg don’t sign up for two year cable subscription).
    Erin Gates at Elements of Style was incredibly open about her fertility journey. I saw prescription costs on your budget, depending on what that is for, is there a lifestyle change you could do in the next year to limit the need? I have a chronic illness so not downplaying, but there might be something you could do. Or at least plan how to manage that when you are traveling.
    Great work on doing up the property and learning those skills. You couldn’t do better than follow the Frugalwoods journey on what it’s like to homestead with a young family. Remember everything takes time so going through fertility, whilst building a homestead and developing careers all at once will be difficult. Use some of your traveling time to plan out to an extent your life with some broad time frames.
    Good luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for the tips! Your last point is such a good one, and something that I in particular would do well to remember – don’t try to do everything at once!

      I read Cait Flanders blog long ago but I haven’t read any recently, so I’ll head over and get up to date on her latest. It’s always good to see the perspectives of people who have done the work/travel thing.

      I have to agree with your opinion on diva cups and cloth pads, to be honest. Also, honestly, as we are both on hormonal birth control, we have extremely light periods as it is, and tampons/etc are not a huge expense for us these days. Unfortunately, the condition for which we have the prescriptions is chronic as well, and I don’t think there’s much we can do to avoid having to get those meds. It’s a good suggestion though!

  52. Cheryl in So. Cal says:

    For a wireless provider, checkout Cricket Wireless. (Cricket is owned by AT&T) We live in the mountains in So. Cal and it works really well for us. My DH travels a lot and has no issues with coverage. There is the occasional dropped call but it is no worse than when we first moved up here with AT&T and Verizon.

    In regards to your Computershare stock, if you have any of the no fee accounts I wouldn’t change anything. Just let them keep dripping. It depends on the company as to whether or not there are fees involved. My kids have several different stocks with Computershare. We only invest their money in the no fee stocks. When two of their stocks changed to fee based plans, we just stopped adding to them. One doesn’t charge to reinvest the dividends so we kept the DRIP on. The other charges to reinvest dividends so we now take the dividends in cash and reinvest them in a different no fee stock. When the accounts get large enough and/or the kids no longer have small fund amounts to invest then we will transfer to a regular brokerage account. Wells Fargo and American Stock Transfer also have many stock plans that are no fee plans.

    Have fun on that van trip. Do it now while you can. Who knows, you may decide van life is for you and you may make it permanent or decide to move into a class c. It can definitely save you some $$$.

    Best of luck to you.

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for the tips! I am not 100% sure about the fees involved in those, to be honest – they were a gift for my 25th birthday! I know that I have them all set on a reinvestment plan, but I’ll have to check out the nitty gritty before I decide whether to move that all over to Vanguard or not.

  53. anon for this says:

    I’m happy to share some costs on the having kids as a queer person front. Firstly, and I don’t want to rush you (REALLY), but starting earlier (meaning by 35) definitely can make a difference (there are plenty of people having kids after 35, don’t panic, but it’s one of the things that can be helpful). If you use a known donor but need to have sperm frozen and stored, or have the person get medical testing or draw up legal document, it’s not actually free at all, so that’s not quite the frugal route. It is certainly the communal route and there’s value to that, too.

    Here’s what our most recent month of trying cost us, and we’re a two-lady family living in a large city on the East Coast. We’re doing a middle route – not the home route, as my wife’s early blood testing revealed it would be unlikely to work. So, we do monitored cycles. She has insurance coverage, so these prices are with insurance.
    1 vial of sperm: $750 (there’s sometimes a bulk discount, but paying for storage can get pricey)
    Day 3 testing (an ultrasound + bloodwork): $40 copay
    Ship the sperm to the clinic: $225
    Clomid: Insurance covered, I think it was $10 copay
    Day 10 testing (ultrasound + Bloodwork): $40 copay
    Ovidrel Trigger shot: $100 with insurance + coupon
    Day 12 IUI insemination: $140 (ultrasound, insemination, $100 “warming fee”)
    Day 19 bloodwork: $40
    Day 28 beta/pregnancy bloodwork: $40

    So, that’s $1385 for a cycle with relatively low intervention AND insurance coverage. It makes me so frustrated. That said, plenty of folks can get away with not having this level of intervention. As far as I understand, IVF is between $5K-$15K depending on coverage and where you buy meds, and frozen embryo transfers are $100-$3K, depending on meds and insurance.

    For now, I think the best things you can do are take good care of yourself (which doesn’t prevent infertility, which can happen at any age, but can help you retain egg quality and healthy cycles longer) and enjoy your relationship. This baby making stuff isn’t always easy, and having a strong and happy relationship definitely makes it much easier to manage, whether you end up with an easy at home process or a more medicalized process.

    There are a number of facebook groups/online support type places when you decide you are ready, and the best thing has been realizing how many queer families are all over the country, in places we might not always expect.

    Lastly, while insurance certainly helps, the other stuff we’ve invested in (eating better, acupuncture) isn’t covered by insurance. So much varies employer to employer that I think it’s best to set up the life you want and then see what will work. (e.g. some FSA accounts can cover sperm and some won’t. Some insurance plans may have lower co-pays but higher premiums.). There’s no way to figure out EVERY detail in advance – there’s just too much.

    So! enjoy your life, your van with a plan, and your amazing adventures, and see how the chips fall when you’re ready.

    • Florence says:

      Thank you so much for your insights, it’s so SO helpful to see real numbers and hear these stories from real people! Seriously, thank you. We obviously want to be ready for anything, but we’re really hoping (like any couple would) that with good health and fertility we can avoid having to have too much intervention. We will just have to see, though! Also, even though the communal aspect is attractive, we really want to avoid any legal and emotional drama with our kids to the greatest extent possible, and so will likely go the anonymous donor route. Is that what you’re doing?

      I am planning to carry, and I’ve always been lucky to have good health, no chronic conditions, and maintain an active lifestyle. I’m hoping these things will help! We are also super hoping be able to start trying before 35. I wanted to try by 30, but then I realized that’s kind of….really soon and we’re really not ready!

      Thank you again for sharing so much information with us, it’s really so helpful. All the best to you and your wife and your growing family 🙂

      • anon for this says:

        Oops, hadn’t seen your response! We are using an anonymous donor with open ID – meaning, from a sperm bank, but when the kid turns 18 they can find out the donor’s identity.

        We’re not pregnant yet, but keeping our fingers crossed it’ll happen soon.

    • Kirsten says:

      I just wanted to add a little on to this as another queer person who is currently pregnant (due June 4!) and has also endured a myriad of reproductive procedures.

      I live in California and have health insurance that covers most fertility related procedures. My costs per IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycle were pretty similar except my medications and ultrasounds were just copays and donor sperm was a little more expensive. We spent around $1100 per IUI cycle and ended up doing about 10 cycles before deciding to pursue IVF (in vitro fertilization).

      IVF was not covered by my insurance and is not covered by the overwhelming majority of insurance policies so the procedure itself, all medications and the embryo storage were completely out of pocket. The IVF procedures (egg extraction and frozen embryo transfer) ran me $15k. My doctor overestimated how responsive I would be the medications because of my age at the time (32) so my initial prescriptions were $3k but ended up going up to $5k when my hormone levels weren’t hitting the target numbers at my near daily blood draws. In talking to friends who have also done IVF, these costs are pretty standard unless somehow you luck out with an insurance policy that covers at least some portion of IVF.

      So total cost of this baby that I’m about to have:

      IUI cycles: $11,000
      IVF: $20,000
      Total: $31,000

      Worth every penny, I’m sure. 🙂

      If we could do it over again, we would have gone to IVF a lot sooner than we did. It would have saved us about a year of being on the emotional roller coaster of two weeks waits and several thousand dollars spent on the IUI cycles. Just something I always recommend to keep in mind to couples trying to conceive who think that they may at some point choose to do IVF.

      As an added bonus with IVF, we have another embryo waiting to be transferred if we decide that we want to have a second. The cost of the additional transfer is estimated to be about $5k if that’s ever something we decide to pursue.

      Anyways, best of luck to you, Anna and Florence (and you, anonymous commenter, that I’m piggy backing on).

      • Florence says:

        First off, congratulations!! Thanks so much for chiming in with your experience and costs. Your total cost is closer to what we were imagining it would be, so I guess it can’t hurt to be prepared for a similar cost. Certainly worth every penny 🙂 I will likely be a similar age when we start trying, so I will definitely keep your experience and advice in mind!

        Also, really good to know about the additional embryo (is it like a 2-for-1 deal? heh). We’re pretty sure we want more than one child so that’s good information to have. Thank you!

  54. Sara says:

    Wonderful plans! I am going to comment on the Van plan as I have some experience with RVing for months on end and I participate in the Wandering community. First, we have found that we actually spend less when we are on the road, and your Van will guzzle less gasoline than our small RV! We cook all of our meals, so the grocery costs are no different on the road than at home. We stay in state and national parks and forests for a small overnight fee. Many national forest campgrounds are free, as is much of the BLM out west. Use an app like Allstays to find overnights, including Walmart parking lots and Cracker Barrel parking lots for free when you are simply trying to drive to your destination. Learn to survive off the grid, so no hookups ( think electricity, water and sewer) are needed. There are lots of beautiful, scenic places to camp for free! If you plan on traveling to Alaska, take the Van on the maritime ferry. It follows the same inside passage as the cruise ships for a fraction of the cost. If you drive to Prince Rupert,then connect with the ferry, you will save about $1000 in fees, but miss none of the great scenery! You can drive the Van off at each of the ports of call, and spend time( days) at each.

    Finally, the national and state parks, as well as forest campgrounds, are always looking for camp hosts or other employees.some are volunteer jobs, but you get free campsites and utilities. Others pay you to maintain trails, campground facilities, or man the information booths. There are also camper jobs at Amazon prior to the Christmas season. Many full time campers work for Amazon once a year, helping to fund their road trips. Check out the website Hitch Itch, filled with blogs by people traveling/ camping in everything from vans like yours, to fancy class A motorhomes. Many of these people fulltime it, and you will learn a huge amount from reading some of their stories. Some are young, and others are old ( like me:)!) BTW, Canada will mail you a discovery pass, for free, just for 2017 for entrance into Canadian National Parks, historic sites, etc.

    • Florence says:

      There is so much good information in here that I don’t even know where to start! I just wrote down Hitch Itch and Allstays to check out – thank you for those! Also, we had thought about campground hosting, but I had no idea about Amazon – what a great idea. We could totally do that. Also would love to head up to Canada for part of it, so that is great to know! Thank you so much for this wealth of information 🙂

    • This is exactly what I was going to say! There are several major companies (e.g. Amazon) that hire seasonal employees – specifically in their 5th wheels – and give them a camping spot to help with work. Campground hosting is ‘free’ or minimally paid. You can go to the north west territories and work seasonal there as well – what a hoot! I did this with my kids for a 2 month version between jobs – they were 9 and 12 respectively, will remember it for the rest of their lives.

  55. RayinPenn says:

    1) You are changing the oil and maintaining the car right? I didn’t see a line item for that…
    2) $700 a month rent is cheap stay were you are…

    Brown bag your lives…
    1. Save every win fall
    2. Cut back on restaurants
    3. Never pay for anything you can reasonable do your selves

    • Florence says:

      Easy as 1,2,3 ! You’re so right, though, those are the key points and if we can follow those, we will really be cookin. Definitely have to cut back on the eating out. About the car maintenance – yes! We are doing that ourselves, at least for routine maintenance 😉 Anna needed a new clutch about a year and a half ago, and that was a bit of an expense..but she is being very kind and gentle with her new clutch!

  56. sara keeney says:

    I would totally let you guys redo my house in Seaview Washington! That picture of the white board ceiling with the light is exactly what I want!! You can get married at Adrift Hotel during their annual ceremony in June 🙂 Washington state has no state income tax too –something to think about!

  57. Debbi says:

    I am so impressed with how together you both are! I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods’ advice but would like to add my own two cents as well. First, I started to hyperventilate a bit when you said something about helping Anna see things about her spending. I am married to a wonderful person who does not feel the same way about saving/spending that I do. It is really hard to “educate” someone about money without putting enormous stress on the relationship. Anna seems interested in learning more about managing money but I would recommend the library book route – Your Money or Your Life and Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money are in most libraries. Read them together and then discuss the books. This may help prevent her from feeling like she is begin criticized or treated like a child when you discuss money together. You can also share articles on things like hedonic adaptation that you might come across (or do a google search for!). Share them because they are interesting but it may help Anna think about her own spending decisions as well.
    Second, you might see if Anna can also join your parent’s cell phone plan. We have six people on our plan because the incremental cost of adding people is much less than if everyone has their own plan. Everyone pays their portion of the pie so we do not feel like we are being taken advantage of.
    Third, other people mentioned seeing if you can do a sabbatical/remote work while you travel. I think this is a fabulous idea, particularly since you can keep your health insurance in place while traveling. Whether you do the van trip now or in a year, do not wait too long. I do not regret anything about my decision to have children but a van trip would be challenging with school age children, to put it mildly.
    Fourth (I am quite the bossy girl today – feel free to ignore all of this!), do not take your biology for granted. After thirty, your eggs will start to deteriorate and getting pregnant becomes trickier. While you should not have children until you feel ready, the cost of getting pregnant tends to go up as you get older. One of my friends discovered this when she wound up needing a surrogate egg, which is quite a bit more expensive and complicated that the in-vivo fertilization she had planned on.
    Finally, I am on Ravelry and would love to see your designs if you do not mind sharing your Ravelry name. If you would prefer not to do that, I totally understand that as well.

    • Florence says:

      Not too bossy at all – thanks for your advice! That’s what I’m here for, after all 🙂 I think you really hit the nail on the head when it comes to talking about money with a partner. I know it’s so, SO important not to be naggy, or belittling, or in any way make it into a one-sided Right and Wrong conversation. I have heard those books recommended time and time again, so I think it’s time to finally take them out of the library!

      Regarding trying for kids, I responded to another commenter above about the same – we definitely want to start before I’m 35! At first I wanted to start trying by 30 but then I realized that is….really soon! 😮 So we have pushed it back a bit, but honestly I would be uncomfortable waiting much past 33 to start trying. So we are proceeding with that timeline in mind.

      And finally: Ravelry! I’m on there as bulbulflo 🙂 http://www.ravelry.com/people/bulbulflo See you there!

  58. Sandra says:

    Follow the Frugalwood’s suggestions first of all. Then look at your hobbies and see if they can’t pay for themselves and earn additional income, too.

    For our cell phone plans we use the AT&T Pay-as-you-go plans for both our phones. I have a smartphone with the $60 a month plan that includes 5GB of data with rollover. He uses a $10 phone that is loaded with $100 a year. I use my phone as a WIFI hotspot for both our Nextbook’s when we travel, because we both earn money remotely and need that access. At one point we got by with two $10 phones and $100 per year loaded to each.

    I’m a bit sticker-shocked by a $400 grocery budget, but that is one of the hardest areas of the budget to tackle if you are used to buying certain things and rely on processed foods. It was a journey for us, but eventually we weaned ourselves entirely off of processed foods and got our budget down to about $100 for two people. That means that we do all our own cooking and prep, and we even grow a lot of bit of what we need. Typically we are buying organically raised free range turkeys and chickens from a local producer, then turning the whole birds into prepared meat for pilaf, salads, soups, sandwiches, stir fries, and curries. Then the bones are rendered into lovely stock, along with vegetable stock and mushroom stock made with odds and ends of prepped veggies–every usable scrap goes into the freezer until it’s time to simmer a stock. If I spend $24 a month on meat, that’s a lot. Dinner yesterday was a turkey stock based soup full of organic carrots, green onions, sweet red pepper, spinach, celery, mushrooms, shredded turkey, quinoa/brown rice noodles, herbs, and spices, with a huge salad from our own small garden. I make my own taco shells and wraps and can turn anything into a “taco”. We eat a very high quality high-fat/low-carb diet, with moderate protein from a variety of sources. The kind of cheeses we eat are high-quality parmesans, goat cheeses, paneer, imported cheddars and more. We also keep organic goat yogurt on hand, which is equivalent in taste to sour cream. It goes well with curries. A typical grocery list includes coconut oil, avocados, celery, carrots, lemons, split peas, lentils, dried chickpeas, quinoa, and whatever bulk spice we are running low on. The garden yields greens, green onions, onions, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, squash, green beans, cucumbers, and more. What I found was that having a smaller budget for groceries helped me be much more creative in the kitchen. It also serves us well on vacations. We are taking a trip to Lake Huron for two weeks of camping in June. The grocery budget will not change much for that trip, which gives us more money for side trips if we want. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube on how to eat fairly well on $1 a day spent at a Dollar Store (not my preference), or $3 a day very well by being creative with simple ingredients.

    The thing to remember is that there are always alternatives to spending money–always! Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle

    • Florence says:

      Wow, Sandra, can I just come and hang around your kitchen for a bit and learn from you?? Seriously, you’re living my dream in the kitchen. I would really like to steer us both in this direction, and Anna loves cooking and getting creative in the kitchen. I think our real downfall comes from poor planning – we plan to do shopping and meal planning on Sunday, but then social events get in the way, and then it’s Monday morning and we have nothing for the week, so we end up buying groceries a day or two at a time instead of planning holistically around an entire week (where it would be easier to plan to repurpose leftovers of one meal to make the base of another meal). Do you have any tips that helped you on your journey away from processed/convenience foods and toward making everything from scratch? Do you have certain go-to recipes or cycles of meals that you make often?

      Thank you for your insights!!

      • ann says:

        I plan my week’s meals around a type of cuisine – Like Greek or Mexican. So for Mexican I might saute some corn and bake chicken, cook rice. And then the next few days use those ingredients as a base for salad (add greens), enchiladas (add cheese, black beans, avocado), as chicken-avocado sandwich or wrap, etc etc. basing it around a type of cuisine helps keep the ingredient list reasonable while allowing flexibility/creativity so you’re not eating the same thing every day.

  59. Katie says:

    You guys are doing such a great job! I think that you are at the perfect age to travel. The older you get the more complicated it becomes to leave for a year or more, so I say go for it!

    One question- are the Vanguard accounts IRAs, or just regular taxable accounts? If they aren’t IRAs, I would encourage you to set those up and fund them fully every year.

  60. Julie says:

    Hi! I would consider adding Anna to the family phone plan that you are already on….. We pool together with my parents and sister and it is a good deal. I would also recommend investigating various plans and ensuring you have the right coverage…. you don’t want a plan so cheap that when you are traveling you end up incurring tons of extra money in roaming fees.

    You also mentioned you would like to work remotely and be efficient so you have time for other things. This might be a misconception about working remotely- on the days I work remotely I have an extra hour or so by not commuting but I am expected to be online and available. If I finish all my work, my boss would give me more work.

    Good luck with your journey!

    • Florence says:

      Adding Anna to our family plan is a good idea, and I think I’ll talk with my family about it. It could save her a lot and wouldn’t be any extra burden on any of the rest of us!

      I used to work remotely at my last job, and because it was an hourly gig, as long as I got what I needed to get done during a reasonable amount of hours, I could decide when to start and stop working. I guess I got lucky with that setup! If my boss had more for me to do and I wasn’t working at that moment, tough – I would be online the following day to take care of it. I suppose it really depends on the company and on the setup. Thanks for the advice! 🙂

  61. llbrat says:

    Forgive me if this has been covered already (haven’t been able to read everything) but have you considered what your health insurance premiums might cost if you have to purchase on the individual market assuming you two leave your jobs with benefits. Things are in flux right now but with ACA or AHCA it could easily run several hundred dollars a month with deductibles in the thousands. Best of luck you two.

    • Florence says:

      Only in one other comment, and then only briefly! I have researched our options on the individual market, and they are….kinda grim, to be honest. I found a plan under ACA that would cover us decently and run us about $200/month, but who knows if it will be around next year when we leave.

      For now we are keeping our ears to the ground and keeping all options open, including (as some other commenters have suggested) making an arrangement with one or both of our employers to continue coverage for the year and then return to work after the trip. We definitely do realize that this could be a major expense for us! Thanks for the well wishes 🙂

  62. danny l says:

    Resource: Bob Wells @ http://www.cheaprvliving.com

    His experience in travel, income, maintainance, contacts will be invaluable to you.

  63. Julie says:

    One more note on babies: fertility isn’t the only expensive part when something goes wrong.

    I blessedly got pregnant the first month that we decided to go ahead with kids, and the pregnancy was a breeze.

    Then, all hell broke loose, and I was at home without my NICU-bound baby, staring down thousands in medical bills from out-of-network docs who snuck in, etc. Plus, once you pop the kid out, he or she has their own out-of-pocket costs for insurance, but no actual money.

    Even with me retuning to work after 2 months ☹️, we didn’t get our kid’s medical bills paid off till he was nearly 2.

    Basically, don’t think fertility issues are the only possible unexpected costs. I had good, reputable insurance, but keeping neonates alive isn’t cheap.

  64. Ross says:

    Hey florence, your plan sounds awesome and I’m glad you’re taking the right steps to make it a reality. My wife and I are actually doing 1/6th of your trip starting this June. We are renting a camper van and camping in 15 national parks over 2 months. One thing I don’t know much about is cooking in a camper van. Have you had any experience with this so far? Do you have any favorite meals where not many of the ingredients need to be refrigerated?

    • Florence says:

      Oh wow, how fun! That sounds like a great trip.

      We have only a little bit of experience with cooking in our camper van and campsite cooking. The van has an icebox, which is basically a glorified cooler, so we can use things like eggs, cheese, and veggies that need to stay cool but will be used within a day or so. Scrambled eggs are a go-to. We also make pasta in the van and on camping trips all the time. Anything with rice and canned veggies, beans, etc works well.

      There is also a great site that I would recommend checking out called Fresh Off the Grid. They share all kinds of camping recipes, stories of their adventures, etc. You should find some great ideas there!

      https://www.freshoffthegrid.com/

  65. Master Duke says:

    Congrats on being debt free – seriously an awesome accomplishment and such a great start to becoming financially independent!

    My answers to question 1: Use Mint or some other tool to track the little expenses, then show how much they sum to in the a few months. One of the best ways to cut out expenses from your budget, is have a budget and see where there is room to cut them out.

    For making a decision on your future – decide on what your life purpose is going to be, decide on the priorities in your finances that are deterring that purpose, then begin saving to meet that goal (financial independence). Being debt free is a great step, for you two it sounds like you need to create solid goals for your future, determine if the van trip is OK in delaying those goals, then take the steps to make those goals happen :).

    Good luck, your off to a wonderful start!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for your advice! I have Personal Capital hooked up to all my accounts, so I’m going to suggest to her to open a Personal Capital account to track spending. It really does help to see those little charts and graphs showing where all my money goes, and I think visualizing it will really help.

      I think your second piece of advice is spot on as well. We have a lot of nebulous goals, but we really need to define them in more concrete terms, and think of what kinds of mini-goals we can have on the way.

  66. Nita says:

    Wow! I sure wish I had so much financial savvy and clear life goals at your age. I’m now 31 and just getting things sorted out! Props to you!

    Mrs. Frugalwoods an others have outlined some great savings ideas. As a fellow horsewoman, I feel you on the expensive hobby! If you can work at your barn in exchange for lessons/lease, awesome! As a kid I worked off a lease and learned a ton doing it. It may also open other opportunities for horse-related side hustles (grooming at shows, clipping, braiding) and will give you some valuable homesteading skills!

    Also, you have a seriously mobile job as a language professional! Aside from translating, you could make YouTube videos or hire yourself out as an online language tutor.

    Also, since you guys already have some reno experience under your belt, Anna may want to look into a career in the trades. As a woman who works in the trades, I can tell you that yeah, it can be difficult at times, but working with your hands and the pride of being a woman in the trades is worth it! I don’t know your area specifically as I’m from British Columbia, but generally in North America skilled trades pay extremely well, have reasonable hours, and these days it is very easy to find a job almost anywhere. Lots of companies or unions will pay for training too. Depending on the trade, it’s something that could easily be turned into a work-from-the-homestead gig in future.

    Wishing you both the best of luck!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for your ideas, Nita! It’s great to hear some tips from a fellow equestrian 🙂 I was a working student at my barn all through middle and high school, so I really don’t see why I shouldn’t go back and do the same. I wish I had hear about my new barn’s working student program earlier! It’s a great way to get to ride and learn all aspects of the business.

      I also used to brain manes and tails for horse shows – my skills are a little rusty but with some practice I could get back at it!

      I think Anna really could make a great tradeswoman; she’s got a great eye and was really the driving force behind many of our renovation projects. What do you do in particular? How did you get started?

  67. Kandice says:

    I didn’t read through all of the comments, so apologies for duplication. First, props to both of you for being so on top of everything! I’ve not personally dealt with fertility issues, but you might want to investigate medical tourism. If your health insurance doesn’t cover the necessary care, don’t limit shopping around to the US only. IVF can be significantly cheaper in other countries. And if your work is location independent, this would be less of an issue. I do, however, encourage you to please make sure you put money aside for legal advice. I know there are a lot of proponents of DIY legal documents, but as an attorney, family law and same sex spouse related legal issues vary by state and can be quite complicated. It’s worth the upfront investment to avoid the consequences for a failure in this area. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say. You can call your city’s Bar Association for referrals to attorneys that are licensed and practice the relevant law you need.

    As for Anna and her mad photography skills, maybe try signing up with Twenty20– you can upload photos that companies buy for stock photography and you get paid a royalty. A tiny side hustle. Etsy also has a booming stock photography niche. Both platforms are easy to use.

    As for retirement, keep investing in your 401ks and any IRAs or other tax advantaged accounts you may be eligible to use. The IRS website has a great section for taxpayers (and a YouTube channel!) where they answer questions and provide tax information in English. Us tax attorney types use the section of the website dedicated to practitioners. 🙂

    You’re doing great! Now is the time to scrimp, when you have the power of time on your side. You can splurge later without worry. Good luck!

    • Florence says:

      So much great advice here, thanks Kandice! The medical tourism idea was brought up a couple of times here, and is a really good one, especially since we are both pretty well-traveled and comfortable with spending time abroad. Regarding legalities, that is great advice. We really don’t want to leave anything to chance, legally-speaking, so we will definitely get advised by a professional regarding our marriage, our kids, etc. It’s worth it to avoid fiascos in the future.

  68. Skye says:

    Hi Florence,
    I’m really excited for you both and I’m certain the future is bright for you. Re the van plan – go for it! the timing may never be right, but as someone who has “gone for it” transition back into “real life” can be challenging and its easier the younger you are (or while you don’t have kids). I have an idea for Anna for bringing in $$ on the road – mini family photo shoots. Here in Australia, photo shoots are pretty pricey, even more so for someone like me who only wants one or two nice pics at a time, not a whole album. We recently found a photographer who does mini shoots (40mins max in one location) for $100, and that includes a few edited pics on a disc. I found her at a makers fair where she had set up a tiny booth as a shoot spot with a few props and backgrounds and was doing $25 shoots (she mailed the disk later). Just plonk your kid down, wave toys at it and hope it smiles! It appealed to me as her mini-sets were quite contemporary, and then later when we took up her offer of the mini shoot, we just headed for the beach. You could come up with some awesome backdrops between you, and then market yourselves via social media where ever you are.
    Anyways, wishing you all the best!
    X Skye

    • Florence says:

      That’s such a good idea, she could totally do that! I could cover the social media marketing and she could do the photos and editing. Thank you for the idea!!

  69. Kandice says:

    Oh, and on the waxing front: if you aren’t exceedingly modest, you can see if waxing studios or schools that train aestheticians (that’s the facial/waxing pros, right?) offer discounts for serving as a “practice model” for less experienced personnel. There’s a place in my city that only does waxing and they offer a 50% discount. Since I’ve got children, my modesty levels went out the window a long time ago, so having one instructor and one student in the room doesn’t bother me. And I can get the same level of service for half the price. I’m also performing a public service. 😂

  70. Katie says:

    Hook ’em Horns! Thanks for sharing your story.

  71. talia says:

    Hi, Florence: I agree with others==brava! You two are doing a fantastic job and I love how you are thinking and aligning your priorities. So cool! You were asking further up on how to wean yourself off prepared food to do more cooking. It can be done! I am known among my circle as “the” cook, but I didn’t always like it. Growing up in a conservative, gender-normative family, I swore, as a good feminist, I would not be in the kitchen, where all the other women in my family always were relegated. It was two delightful men in graduate school, who had the most warm and welcoming dinners, who reignited my love of cooking.

    It sounds like you aren’t starting at the subterranean level I was since you and Anna like to cook 🙂 But the love of cooking can also be an impediment sometimes too. I love to make elaborate dinners, but it just isn’t practical with my current workload for day to day eating. Now, I strive to cook things that take 30 minutes or less (salmon and vegetables, curry, tacos, frittatas) or that can be made ahead (stuffed peppers, enchiladas). My partner bought me one of those pressure cooker/crock pots and I love it: soup and beans can be made in less than an hour. Another tip, if you two are like my partner and me, something inevitably comes up one night, someone works late, invites you out or you had a big lunch. I used to plan food for every night and it would go to waste. Now, I just plan three meals. That gives us some space for eating leftovers and the inevitable last minute things that come up. I love to batch cook and freeze too. I’m a professor, and I always make a couple lasagnas and other freezable goodies before the start of the new semester. It is such a relief to think when you’re exhausted, “Oh yeah, there is something yummy in the freezer to eat.” Buena suerte!

    • Florence says:

      Thank you for the tips! We totally have fallen into the exact same trap of (when we do get ourselves organized enough to plan ahead) planning for every day and then having food go to waste because events come up or we would prefer leftovers or whatever. Also, the feeling that every meal we cook has to be something elaborate – that’s a tough one to shake!

      I think we’re going to have to start getting more serious about planning ahead, and when we do cook, making plenty – enough to have leftovers in the freezer, like you mentioned.

  72. Mr. Tako says:

    Saving is where it’s going to be at for them for the next decade (or two). They need to get used to saving and doing things the ‘lean’ way if they want to find financial success. That’s my advice, take it or leave it.

    Right now, they seem to be spending about TWICE what they should be spending. My family of four spends about $1,000-$1,300 a month (not counting our mortgage or childcare costs). We certainly don’t live deprived lives. The two of them can do it too.

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for your advice, and wow! Your numbers. We have no kids and no mortgage, so there’s no reason we can’t get there, too. I’ll use you as an example when I propose tightening our belts drastically at our financial date next week 🙂

  73. Gemma says:

    First up, I’m also in awe of the DIY skills and being debt free! Everyone’s offered such great advice, I’ve only got a little more to add:

    A couple of little things that might help:
    If you have a “dripping tap” kind of expense ( a latte habit, for example), it might help to separate it from other expenses. I used to have a barista coffee every workday before I realised that it was expensive and I was taking it for granted (like the commenter with the “meh” eating out above). I now have a separate money purse for coffee and cake (did I mention the cake? That was an issue too) which I put a set amount of money in at the start of the month (I started off with 20GBP but have since gradually reduced it to 10GBP). If it runs out, that’s it for the month. I now tend to have the posh coffee once a week (and appreciate it much more! I’d also recommend drinking in rather than taking away for full enjoyment- it’s easy to just inhale coffee from a sippy cup).

    With phone contracts etc, your provider should be able to tell you how much you currently use in terms of minutes, texts, data etc (or there are apps for this). A lot of people have contracts that offer more than they need, so it may be worth seeing if you can switch to a more appropriate one. My husband and I barely use data as we mainly go online at home, so we don’t have massive amounts of data on our packages (he’s on contract and I’m on pay-as-you-go). Also, if you’re at the end of the contract and your phone’s still OK, consider SIM-only deals.

    Good luck and enjoy it!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for your tips, Gemma! I would say our food expenses are a definite “dripping tap” (gushing waterfall? haha) and that, as another commenter also suggested, if we start by putting a monthly cap on that it could really help.

      We’re going to have to shop around for phone plan options as well. Unfortunately because of the nature of her job, Anna has to use a good amount of data – but I want to see if we can maybe get her company to pay for part of the bill. We’ll see what we can get! Can’t hurt to try.

  74. Lee says:

    I just want to go on record as 100% supporting the Van Plan. My husband and I did something similar before we were married. it was an incredible experience and brought us even closer together. It did set back our savings a bit, but I think it also helped us learn some important money habits.

    I was definitely more like Anna–lots of little purchases that all added up. Saving for our trip helped me think about how I was spending my money more clearly. Everytime I wanted to buy something (a coffee, a new shirt, a bottle of wine) , I would think to myself: would I rather have this, or dinner on the road/a campsite for the night/gas for a day/etc. Sometimes I’d pick the shirt, but the trick helped me clarify my priorities and overall save money. It also helped in a second way. If I wanted to buy a chair/painting/random heavy object I asked myself: do I like this enough to move it, store it for a year, and then move it again? The answer was pretty much always no!

    Best of luck to you!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks for your insights, Lee! That kind of thinking has totally helped us in the past, and I think it could really get us to the next level with our savings. And you’re so right about holding off on bigger purchases. Only so much will fit inside a van!

  75. SisterX says:

    My first thought was, OH MY GOSH that’s an expensive grocery/restaurant combined line item! For reference, my family of three eats for about $400/month total. We like cheese too. 🙂 That should be the first place to cut, especially if you already enjoy cooking at home. Is this driven by friends requesting that you go out with them, or is it driven by the two of you deciding to go out?

    The second thought is that figuring out how to work remotely is by far your best option to both travel and reach FI. My brother travels the world by bicycle (theendsoftheearth.org, so you can see some of his journeys if interested) and he doesn’t work while doing so, but he’s also not going to reach FI anytime soon. That’s fine for him, but if your stated goal is to be FI then you need to figure out how to work and travel at the same time.

    Does your van have any way to store/carry bicycles? That’s one of the biggest ways I can think of to cut costs while traveling. Drive to wherever you’re going, then bike around that place while you’re there. It’s also a far more interesting way to get to know a new city/place and you’ll notice more out of the van than you would inside of it. Just be sure to get some really good bike locks that will keep your bikes and tires attached to your vehicle while you sleep or are away from it.

    We have a kid. The birth ended up being far more expensive than we planned on but, in the end, it was money spent that we never really thought of again. Not only is it done and there’s no going back but we wouldn’t trade our daughter for any amount of money. 🙂 I would suggest beginning the process of looking around at IVF costs (assuming that’s the route you’ll go for the bio baby) and also to which states will still cover fertility costs in healthcare plans. That will help refine your search for where to homestead.

    When you know the location you want, start looking at every possibility. When we began our home search friends told us to look at everything we could, whether it was in our budget or not. It would give us a better idea of what were good prices, what stuff to look out for, etc. In the end we got a GREAT house at what is, for Seattle, a darn good price. But we knew what to look for and when to leap, as well as what to offer, because of all our due diligence. Your experience with building/refurbishing a house already will take you far in that regard. It helps to be able to spot shoddy work.

    I hope you settle in the PNW. It’s beautiful here, and very welcoming/diverse. 🙂

    • Florence says:

      I know *shame face* we spend so much on food, but we’re cutting back starting now! The high price is driven by poor planning ahead (getting home late from work with nothing in the fridge OR getting plenty of food that ends up going bad because we didn’t take other plans into account), friends asking us out, and us deciding to go out. The friends asking us out is pretty easy to mitigate usually – we just invite them over to ours for a nice meal. The worst, I think, is when we decide to go out ourselves. We are kind of enablers in that sense.

      Working remotely: that’s honestly what I want to do anyway, van plan or not, so it makes sense for me to get started now. Also, our van does have a way to carry bicycles, and we do each have a bicycle. That’s a great idea, especially since we plan to stay in some places for a few days or more. It would be great to avoid guzzling gas whenever possible.

      Your advice about starting a family and searching for a home is great – these things are really going to go hand in hand so it’s smart to consider them both together (location of home also affects IVF costs, etc). Thank you!

  76. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    What awesome ladies you are!
    1-You taught yourselves to renovate a house! Anna should investigate getting a real estate license: $350 in Cali, and do the courses which I think my neighbor paid another $400 for. She could then entertain working at her speed. She understands property and it would give her some great experience to take to another state. Depending on where you end up, some states require a course, and some states just require their license fee. It can also be very lucrative.
    2-While I think that you should wait a year before the big van trip, just be prepared for the expenses. My advice is to read 2 blogs: Gone with the Wynns and FitRV. The Wynns were traveling and living in an RV for 10 years before they bought the sailboat, so they have plenty of advice on working remotely. FitRv covers a lot of technical info on traveling. Even cooking is different in an RV because it requires planning; cooking on the stove or using a slowcooker while you drive. And, can you do that in your van? Not wrong, just different.
    3-Read up on areas, get the tourist-y spots and the out of the way things in there, but also visit the nitty gritty. Does the area have a Costco and is it important to you? How close is a vet or a hospital? Those irritating everyday life things! And visit those stores. Some places have cleaner stores than others-for me, that matters.
    4-Just a warning;farm animals can be expensive. What kind of goats do you want? Milk or meat? Milk goats HAVE TO be fed at the same time every day & night, milked at the same time, the feed needs to be clean and sweet, and you will never take a vacation without a perfect back up. How do I know this? My friend is making a killing taking care of other people’s animals: dogs, cats, horses, goats, etc. She shows up on time, everytime, and knows what to do. To a farmer, that is worth the $100 a day that she charges. So, do a thorough investigation when you are dreaming of the homestead. It will save you 2 money and heartache.
    5-Both of you have a great start at saving and I recommend making it your priority. A lot of older people wish that they had. Don’t plan on social security, as some young people have told me is their back up plan. 😳
    6-Any hobby is doable, if you research. I have probably mucked out most of the stables in Los Angeles, where I grew up, so that I could afford to ride. Bonus: riding lots of different horses makes you a better rider.
    7-Ms. FW’s uber frugal challenge will teach you a lot. I highly recommend it!

    • Florence says:

      Thanks so much for all your advice, Sandra (and the Spaniels I can assume chimed in, too)!

      I have been really encouraging Anna lately to think about getting her real estate license. She has the interest and the skills, and it’s really not that expensive. Also, it’s an industry that exists anywhere where people live – unlike the magazine/TV industry, which kind of requires you live in a major city.

      Thanks for the blog advice! We’ll check those ones out. We both love reading about other people’s RV and van living experiences, watching videos, etc.

      Because of my experience with horses, I unfortunately know that farm animals are super expensive and require a whole lot of work. We definitely don’t intend to dive in blindly! That’s amazing what your friend is doing – she sounds totally worth the price tag (and: price tag noted!!)

      Taking your advice and that of lots of other commenters, I think we’ll be really ramping up our savings and definitely trying out the Uber Frugal Month Challenge. Thanks again for all the tips and insights!

  77. Allyson says:

    The van plan sounds like an adventure (My partner attempted this after college and did two and a half months of a planned 6 months). Everyone seems to have covered all the parts of your budget, so I figure I can help with the part I know all about. Being in a same sex marriage and a having kid. We met when I was 23 and Becca was 29. We both have degrees and make decent money. We live in southern Maine and own our own home with a couple of acres, a garden and a few free ranged chickens. We both are very active, eat organic and love to run and hike together, so we did that for years and then one day we decided we wanted more. We were living good if not great lives but one day Becca said, “Why do I mow the lawn? We don’t even have any kids.” We wanted a purpose greater than ourselves. When Becca was 35 we started trying to get pregnant, of the main options available ICI, IUI, IVF. We chose IUI because of her age. She got pregnant on her second try but then miscarried at 10 weeks, we kept trying. We used the Seattle Sperm Bank. Each IUI attempt was about $1300. We used meds (hormones and clomid), then didn’t used meds. On our 9th try (which we happen to not use meds on) we got pregnant with Madelyn. Becca and I have done a ton of things to together but the best adventure we have ever taken together is motherhood. Our Daughter Madelyn is 9 months old now and the joy my heart feels when she smiles at me or cuddles up to me is awe-some. She has changed our lives forever. Good luck on your journey. Live your life.

    • Florence says:

      Wow, Allyson, your comment gave me chills. How wonderful! Congratulations to you and Becca 🙂 Madelyn sounds like such a joy and I am so happy for you! It’s so nice to hear so many happy stories from queer mammas and mammas-to-be in this thread. Thank you so much for sharing your experience (and the cost & sperm bank specifics) with us. All the best to you and your family!

  78. Sue says:

    Way to go – you are doing great. I just have a few suggestions to add based on my own experiences:

    1) Laser!! – Laser away hair instead of waxing. A few sessions through a Groupon deal is all it takes to be hair free for life. I spent about $100 and now never have to wax the delicate areas. (extra bonus – it hurts WAY LESS than waxing)

    2) Start trying for a child earlier than 35. It just gets harder on so many levels as you get older.

  79. Emmy says:

    Work and savings is where it’s at for around another 1.5-2 decades. Use the van on vacations. Don’t walk away from work – it’s much easier to find it when you already have it, it’s much easier to negotiate UP when you already have work (whether you negotiate raises or negotiate new salaries with new employers). Early retirement is doable when you use the next 15-20 years to build your retirement base. I wish I’d started saving sooner, but alas my first marriage was to a spendthrift.
    I also wish I had a retirement calculator website handy to paste here, but I usually get to them through FIRE websites. To be your ages and making the kind of money you are, putting your noses to the grindstone now will buy you, literally, all manner of free time later. And on vacations you can learn what works and what doesnt in the way of van living, so that one day maybe a small (or large!) travel trailer or RV can be the base of operations.

  80. I am incredibly impressed with how well they’ve done so far! 🙂

  81. Gemma says:

    Me again- I had another thought: the year in the van is probably a good time to ditch the salon visits (saves hunting for a salon in out-of-the way places) and see whether you miss it. If you don’t miss it, then you’ve saved some money. If you do, then you can mark it down as a priority.

  82. Sabbaticalia says:

    Take an incremental strategy on the transition to homestead. Lifted from Rob Roy’s “Mortgage Free”, now out of print I think. ISBN 0-930031-98-9

    Live in the van while earning the money for the land — travel and figure out where that’ll be. Buy your land, build a place to park on it, and live in the van on the land. Gather materials and tools as you get funds. Build a small out-building (1-3 weeks for a 12’x16′ shed), and move into that. Maybe sell the van to speed up the process, or build a garage to house it. Build the main building as you go (4-6 months’ work). Move in and start the family.

    • Florence says:

      Hmm I’ll check out the book! Yeah, actually you’re describing a plan we have totally considered. If we’re already used to living in a van, why not purchase land and build it out ourselves slowly? Obviously it would take a very long time, but we would learn so much in the process, not to mention save ourselves a lot of cash.

  83. Mike in NH says:

    I skimmed because I was late to the party – I don’t think I saw vesting discussed though. You mentioned wanting to hit the two-year mark at your employers – is that when you would become vested in the 401K plan? Many employers that provide a company match, require you to be employed for a pre-determined amount of time (vesting period) before that money is actually yours to keep. If you leave before that time, you can lose all or a pro-rated portion of it – that would be a lot of cheese ;). HR should be able to let you know that information (as well as clarify the COBRA question from earlier).

  84. Anon says:

    Florence, depending on her usage, Anna may find US Mobile useful. It does require an unlocked phone. Check their coverage area and see what’s available in your area (I’m told it’s a T-Mobile MVNO). I pay $10.16 for 250 minutes and 250 texts/month. I don’t use data, though they do offer it. Just play around on their site to see what they offer.

    Another thing you might consider for making a bit of extra money is substitute teaching. Your state’s requirements will vary, but in my state, the only requirement to get a short-term sub license is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Most schools pay subs a flat amount for the day, not hourly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find schools that pay from $80-$100/day. Most of them in my area fall into this range. I’m already a school bus driver, so I’d imagine the kids couldn’t really be much worse (our kids are awful).

  85. nikki says:

    “Fortunately, there are a bevy of internet-based careers that can make you location independent.” …have you done a post on this? If not – I would love to hear more 🙂

  86. Sean says:

    I haven’t seen this mentioned yet in all the comments:

    When you live in a van (or RV), your rent is your fuel cost. It’s great that you are doing trips now to get a sense of gas mileage and what to expect. Slow travel is the best way to keep costs under control (and also to limit repair/maintenance costs too). During the year that you’re working out the details for van trip/living, you can also read up on blogs and do research to figure out a general route to take that will allow you to keep those fuel costs reasonable.

  87. Rebecca Ricks says:

    I read through a lot of these comments, but not 100% of them. You mention that you would both need to quit your jobs in order to take the Van Plan. Have you looked into taking a leave of absence from either of your jobs? If that option is available, that could help you determine the length of the trip, or take some of the financial pressure off by knowing that when you return you have a job lined up (even though you don’t necessarily want to stay at those jobs long-term).

    Also, check out Ting! My husband and I just switched, and we expect to cut our monthly bill in half (from 100$ per month with ATT), without severely monitoring or cutting our usage. We were also able to use our existing devices rather than purchase new ones compatible with a certain provider, which i believe that Google Fi and Republic Wireless require, at least for some plans. the Ting network we selected uses TMobile, and has good service where we live and commonly travel to. Definitely check into Ting to see if your device is compatible and how much money you could save!

  88. Libby says:

    Kudos to both of you! Sorry to be late to the commenting party, but I was traveling 🙂

    1. Have you considered learning some car/van maintenance & repair skills? This would give you even more confidence for the trip, lessen your dependency on professional help, and will save money.

    2. Can Anna sell her photographs to stock photography sites? In my job I regularly purchase stock photos of industrial items for our marketing projects. Photos needed that aren’t just “pretty locations.” This would be a non-location-dependent revenue stream for Anna.

    3. When I was married – I’m now divorced – I too was the person in charge of the finances because “I was better with money.” It set up a bad dynamic with me being the “controlling nag” about my spouse’s spending beyond what we had agreed upon. It is much, much better for both people to be in agreement and sharing responsibility for the finances.

    Have an awesome time and I hope you send regular updates from the road that Mrs. Frugalwoods will post!

  89. Olaf says:

    I know it’s looking ahead, but if you consider adoption, adopting from the foster care system can provide several financial advantages. This is based on our experience in NY state:
    – free homestudy
    – attorney fees paid by the placing county
    – tax-free subsidy while in foster
    – tax-free subsidy after the adoption is final
    – secondary Medicaid coverage that covers what your primary insurance doesn’t (including copays)
    – if your child is defined as special needs or hard to place, you get the full federal adoption tax credit

    You have to be willing to likely accept an older child with some level of traumatic history, or be open to a child of another race, or possibly having an open adoption (knowing the bio parents). We lucked out with a sibling group of 4 (THAT was the kicker with us) ages 3, 2 (twins), & 14 months with a limited history. That got us $52K of tax credits on top of all the other things I listed above. Vs. an outlay that could easily range $20K-$40K for a private or international adoption (plus travel requirements for the latter).

    Best of luck!

  90. Karl says:

    This is great. As others have mentioned go with the van plan! We spent a year travelling around Australia in a van, and three months in Chile in a SUV. The experience helped us realise how easy it is to live simple, low cost and minimalist and not get caught up with the daily grind and consumerism. Karl has also done some paid work as a writer while travelling, and though it wasn’t much and only lasted six months, I can’t even explain how awesome it was to have a couple of hundred dollars coming in every week just to spend an hour or two writing some opinion pieces in a column and on our various blogs.

    We have gone back to an apartment for a year but it’s just so boring and expensive, so we are now building our own tiny home on wheels in a large Sprinter cargo van so we can live more simply, travel, and reduce our current housing expenses by 80%. The next big project to to get back to location independent work, put some serious time into our various websites and blogs, and also start up a Youtube series in order to have a diverse source of income.

    50+ hours of office work and commuting in the past year have been a big reminder for us that it ain’t living, and we are determined to use the low cost van lifestyle to help free us from the shackles of corporate work, save more money, retire by 40 and also have a little homestead that we can share and live together with family and friends alike.

    GET OUT THERE AND DO IT! 😀

  91. Sarah Dawn says:

    Florence, if you want to frugal-ize your knitting hobby, a good way to do that is to publish your patterns. It’s very inexpensive to self-publish them online (look into publishing on Ravelry and Patternfish).

    In addition, you can get free yarn. (No, I’m serious.). If you submit a design proposal to a magazine, they’ll very often give you the yarn to make the sample. And just like sample knitters, you can request yarn support from indie dyers if you’re making a design in their yarn. It’s variable if they’ll say yes or no, but, it’s worth a try! So that cuts the yarn costs of your hobby right down. Downside is you might not get exact yarn/colour you want.

    Also, you can try selling your knits. If you enjoy the process of knitting more then the finished garment, you can look at selling your knits or working on commission. But, if you do go that route, don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth! Make sure you’re actually covering your cost of supplies, plus value for your time!

    The only expense I’d suggest you not cut is hiring a Technical Editor to look over your patterns if you’re self-publishing (but if you submit to a magazine, they’ll often do the editing for you, so there’s a way eliminate that cost!) Though, if you go through a magazine or publisher, you’ll have to read the contract carefully — you have to see exactly how it works. Best idea is to get your rights back after a certain amount of time (1 year, 2 years) etc, and then you can self-publish, and/or to have a contract where you will get royalties from the pattern sales.

    The best resource I can direct you to is the Budding Designer’s Forum on Ravelry.com. (it’s free, if you’re not already a member). 🙂

    I’m also thinking that because all that is required is an internet connection, yarn, knitting needles, and something to take notes, it could easily be remote work and work well with your Van Trip (which sounds like an amazing idea!)

    Just be aware that pattern publishing is not high-income. Most fiber professionals have hands in several areas. They may also teach, speak, sample knit, or other things. The advantage that pattern publishing (specifically self-publishing, or anything where you get royalties) has is that it’s a form of passive income. Once the pattern is online and being sold, your work with it is mostly done, save for errata and answering questions.

    Hope that helps!

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