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How We Are Saving For Our Yearlong Van Trip

As I’ve written about before, my girlfriend Anna and I are planning to ship off on a year-long cross-country adventure in our converted camper van, Cecilia, in a little over a year. If you’re wondering why we would do such a thing, you can read all about it here. The trip is going to take a lot of planning, from figuring out what route we will take to avoid terrible weather as much as possible and see as many national parks as possible, to deciding just how many pairs of socks to bring along.

One major factor that will make or break the trip is having enough savings to cover our booties in case we find ourselves unable to work during the journey. While my job is pretty remote- and freelance-work friendly, Anna’s is not so much. We want to make sure we’re good and ready for the possibility that we will not work for a full year. That’s why we’re saving aggressively now. Here’s how we’re doing it.

1. Sweat Equity

The number one way we’re saving for our trip is by not paying rent for one year. Since we put our sweat, blood, and tears into renovating the Avocado House this past year, we’re living here rent-free for 2017. We are incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity and we want to make the most of it by saving as much as we can while we avoid high LA rent prices.

The opportunity to work on the house and get free rent also allowed us to learn a plethora of new skills. Indeed, we are confident (ish) woodworkers, tilers, floor-sanders, painters, and general tool-users. This will we useful not only when we eventually purchase our own home, but also as we prepare our van Cecilia for the journey. We can DIY the work and save ourselves the cash.

2. Cookin

We have a huge weakness for food. We are foodies and fatties through and through. But eating out is expensive, and so is getting takeout. It’s also not very healthy. So, to save ourselves the cash, and hopefully somewhat save our waistlines, we are committed to eating home-cooked grub pretty much every night of the week – certainly every night during the workweek.

A lovely pie Anna made the other night.

We aren’t on an all-out purchased-food ban like some frugal devotees are, but we are very conscious of our eating habits and make an effort to cook nearly all of our food at home. We have abandoned lunches purchased at work and random takeout nights during the week.

Nowadays, we limit our eating out budget to just fun times out with friends or with each other, where we go somewhere nice and actually enjoy the meal. Greasy takeout isn’t worth the high price tag. Plus, Anna makes a mean Thai green curry, so why would we order takeout anyway?

3. Flo’s Clothes Ban

That’s me. I have a problem, and the problem is clothes. I wouldn’t say that I’m “into fashion,” but I did realize that I 1) spend a lot of time noticing clothes on other people that I would like to have and 2) tend to randomly bleed bits of money by buying articles of clothing that I don’t need. A cute shirt here, a new pair of pants that I “need for work” there, a new pair of running tights over there, and a constant stream of socks everywhere.

Reading about how Mrs. Frugalwoods hasn’t bought any clothes for several years, I thought to myself, Hey, I could do this. I know that the truth is, I have every article of clothing I need right now. In fact, I could probably do with getting rid of a few things. So, I decided to ban myself from buying a single article of clothing for all of 2017. So far, it’s going swimmingly, and $0 has been spent on clothes.

Anna has the opposite problem where she doesn’t buy clothes until hers actually give out, so she does not need the ban. She also is skeptical about my ability to make it to the end of the year (there are some really fierce feminist shirts coming out lately that I would love to have, hint hint), but I am determined to stay strong.

4. Avoiding Impuse Spending

I have another problem, and it’s called Target. I’m sure I’m not alone. Anytime I venture into that store, even if I have a real, written-down-on-paper list, I still discover dozens of other things I “need” and end up spending way more than I intended in there. Given that my office is directly above a Target store, this problem was a serious one for me.

Or, that’s how it used to be. I’m a new woman now. I get only the things that are on my list, and nothing else. If there’s something that I feel like I want or “need,” I’ll write it down for consideration at a later time. Sometimes if I’m shopping online, I’ll put the item in my cart and let it site there. 9 times out of 10, after a couple of days I find that I don’t even want the item anymore.

5. Taking Advantage of Free Stuff

If you are patient (or just disorganized, as the case may be), there is free stuff everywhere just waiting to rain benevolently down on you. We are not at professional free-stuff-getting levels yet, but we’re doing alright. We snagged a free fancy-schmancy coffee maker from one of Anna’s coworkers, we got all our kitchen cabinets and our dishwasher for free, we lucked out and got a bunch of fancy cookware for free, and we are penciled in to grab a free futon from a family friend this weekend.

Our lovely kitchen featuring free cabinets and a free dishwasher.

The thing about getting free stuff is that it won’t arrive on your schedule. It’ll show up in your life maybe when you’re least expecting it. That’s where the patience comes in. For example, the futon. We’ve been living in our place for a month or so now, and we still don’t have a futon for our guest room. Though we did scour Craigslist pretty religiously, this problem actually wasn’t very urgent, and so we decided not to jump the gun and buy one.

Lo and behold, the patience paid off and my mom’s friend offered us hers, for free. Yippee! Our favorite price. We were able to save ourselves hundreds on household goods just by waiting a bit and then taking the free items that were offered us.

There is also other free stuff to be taken advantage of, that does not come in the form of actual objects. We take advantage of the library to curb our terrible book-buying problem. I take advantage of my employer’s transit program and enjoy free rides on the LA Metro every day. We both love free entertainment in the form of hiking on the weekends. There’s plenty of fun and interesting stuff to be done for free, if you’re looking for it.

So there you have it, folks – the great secrets to our saving technique. There’s actually not a lot to it. We got lucky with our living situation, and we seek to optimize everything else in our lives. We still have a long way to go in some categories, but we’re on the path toward a more frugal, and happier life. We’re also on the path toward our van trip!

How are you saving? Do you have any savvy tips for a couple of beginners like us?


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  1. I live in the land of 10,000 Targets. A few years ago I decided not to go into Target for six months and EVERY single person I knew thought I was insane! I wasn’t even a big spender there, but I spent too much energy thinking about random clothes and pillows and candles, haha. I did it, and it was eye-opening to see how avoiding just that one store curbed a lot of my ‘wants’.

    • Flo Flo

      I totally feel you on that! Target is a dangerous, dangerous place… and it really is amazing to realize just how much mental energy we spend thinking about stuff we don’t even need!

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