How I Support My Adventurous Lifestyle

Recently I was floored by a comment from a Twitter follower:

You are lucky you get to do all the crazy stuff. Some of us just have to work to pay the bills…

It didn’t seem fair. I also have a job and bills to pay. Maybe I’m just better at making it look like I don’t.

Here’s How it Works

First of all, I do not have a trust fund, inheritance, alimony, or a settlement, nor have I won the lottery.

I might have a talent managing money, though.

I moved out at the age of 15 and have supported myself about 95% of the time since then. I put myself through nursing school at OHSU (an expensive school, racking up about $26,000 of debt). So I worked tough but well-paying jobs to pay off the loans as quickly as possible. Seven years in hell. During that time I bought a Toyota Prius and paid it down at $1000/month, 0% interest. People think that’s crazy, but I owned the car outright in under three years, and it still had value. When I was debt-free, I quit my job as a nurse and sold my car for $20,000. At that point I had been running Little Package for several years, and was confident I could cut costs and simplify my life to the point where a 90% pay cut would work. I used $10,000 of savings from my Toyota to ease that transition. I put the other $10,000 in the rainy-day fund.

That transition wasn’t easy. I could no longer buy whatever I pleased at the markets. It was no longer organic everything, fancy label clothing, eating out whenever, or even paid amusements. I rode my bicycle everywhere. If I didn’t need something in my household, I returned it or sold it for extra cash. If I saw an opportunity to flip something, I took it. I consider myself an extreme bargain hunter. Though I try to have some scruples about this as far as “putting my money where my mouth is,” and buying socially-responsibly, when you are poor this isn’t always an option. Though I bought less overall, I bought more from Amazon, eBay, and wouldn’t be too proud to shop at Walmart if need be. I hunted, clipped and actually used coupons.

When you have to choose between eating and having what you need, suddenly you have a lot more empathy for people who shop places like these, and for the choices they make. Take a moment to appreciate your privilege, at whatever level it’s at.

I had 4 years practicing frugality before I saw my chance to sell all my belongings and hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Over a few months, I denuded my 450 square-foot apartment of its furnishings and decorations. Everything was carefully gifted, sold via Craigslist, or donated to thrift shops. At the same time I was selling all my furniture, half my bicycles, and most my kitchen gear, I was selecting backpacking gear for the PCT. I was moving into a backpack. How thrilling!

During this hectic time I was still running Little Package, even fulfilling custom orders. But I also made time to create digital versions of my sewing patterns and program software that would automatically watermark them upon sale (protecting my intellectual property). I manufactured many paper copies as well, sewing their spines and packing them myself, and sold those wholesale. In other words, I was industrious and trying to be forward-thinking. Finally, I sold all of my sewing equipment. The total plunge.

Then I hiked.

Although the hike dropped my expectations even further, finding me eating the cheapest food, wearing the sloppiest and dirtiest clothes, and taking freely from whomever offered anything, I was still spending too much money. I ran out of funds and accepted help from friends who were vicariously enjoying my hike. That was weird, but looking back I know it was the only way I could finish my hike and still afford re-integration. Re-integration was budgeted as well, and sometime during my hike I decided to spend my rainy-day money on a VW Vanagon. That was a huge decision, because it meant I would no longer have a safety net. But my van would be my sweet home, and Vanagons hold their value.

At this time I am living out of my van just south of Brookings, Oregon. I am trading work for a place to stay, and again working on forward-thinking, money-making projects. I do work nearly every day, but I work for myself, whenever and wherever I want. My income is beyond below the poverty level at this point, but I cost-cut at the extreme level. Case in point: last week I hitch-hiked across Oregon back and forth to surprise visit my favorite man. In the past month, I have eaten at soup kitchens and once showered at a homeless shelter. Trivial purchases are deliberated and surprises (such as the car insurance bill that just turned up as I wrote this) are dreaded. I pay $20 for my Verizon data plan on my iPad (allowing me some Internet and rare phone calls). I do not have children or own pets (but I want a dog!). I am still medically uninsured, as I find it more affordable to pay cash for visits* and was declined catastrophic coverage. I am almost debt-free**. I just try very hard to not spend money I don’t have.

A lot of making it work just has to do with faith. I’m not saying “just pray” and everything will work out. No no. But I am saying that if you are confident, resourceful, and drop your standards a bunch of pegs, you can manage. And life automatically becomes a heck of a lot more adventurous!


* My broken collarbone August¬†2012¬†cost me $9. But I never went to the hospital or the doctor’s office for it.

** It does seem like credit issuers have radar for when people make less money. I just got issued another credit card. They’re evil (but my new safety net).