Finances, A Dirty Word –
Jim practiced public accounting for many years (quite a while ago). You get right down in people’s stuff doing that. One thing he can share: most people he dealt with lived in a bubble, not of vast wealth, though some did. It’s more that our culture doesn’t encourage openness about personal finances. Few of us know what goes on with our neighbor’s checking account, not that we’re interested.
Some aspects are pretty obvious, but somehow it’s unseemly to get too much into this area with others, even though we all might share all sorts of other personal things. There’s a code of silence that stops what could be a useful conversation: lots of shame, fear, and anger around these issues, especially these days.
We hope our little article helps break that down in some small way. Our life might not be an open book, but it does seem to be a book at this point. We hope we don’t bore you with our look at a few of the pages.
Since we’re full-time house sitters; maybe we can agree up front that our life is unusual. We didn’t know that house sitting was even a thing a couple of years ago.
You can find a lot written about the exotic travel and adventure opportunities as they seem to be the primary hook. That’s not us. We’ve chosen house sitting as a way to create a simple, sustainable life for ourselves.
The big house sitting websites don’t say much about the day-to-day reality, especially the finances. As with so many things, there’s a lot of advice and many good ideas but little on the reality. Here’s our stab at that.
But We Don’t Have a House
How can you have a household budget if you don’t have a house? We don’t know what else to call it, and life goes on no matter. We have fairly good records: Jim’s somewhat compulsive about that.
Most of the house sitters we know about hit the road after selling a house. That means there’s a kitty to fall back on. We didn’t have that: a couple of divorces later, one each, and homeownership was out of the question. Again, not that unusual, just our reality.
Whether we’re house sitting or not we have some of the same bills most people have: cell phone service, medical and dental care, gas, car repairs and insurance, clothes, food, and storage fees (for a while). Some of those are pretty fixed. We also have new expenses or increases as a result of our house sitting.
All Those Incidentals
There are some subjective factors at work here: houses (or apartments) take more money than is ever obvious. Repairs and maintenance, sure. But also little doo-dads that seem so important and can easily fit in a house, but not if you don’t have one.
It also works in reverse: giving up an apartment cuts costs by more than the rent. Expenses rise to the level of income: yup! But that can work in reverse as well.
Sometimes we spent money because we had it, no other reason: that stopped pretty fast. Also, we’ve been in new places. If we’re to spend money, we have to find a place to do it. No, that’s not very hard, but it’s more difficult than making the rounds of familiar stores back in Los Angeles. The opportunity to spend money just never ends and is highly encouraged constantly.
The main challenge for us was reducing our expenses in line with losing my salary. That is no small thing on many levels, and yet for our budget. Some of this was offset by part-time consulting work Jim does.
If you don’t have a house payment or rent bill each month, that makes for a massive reduction in expenses. Utility bills and other household expenses are gone as well. Those reductions: rent, utilities, cable service, household items, repair and maintenance, clothing, and various other things added up to $2,900 a month.
Another obvious thing – lower income means lower, or for us, no income or payroll taxes. We also had a $125 a month bill for our storage unit for almost a year, but that’s gone now, too.
Our increases seem to be primarily travel related – gas, higher insurance (more miles), more oil changes (and a windshield!) Those go around $100 a month more. Our food budget has increased by about $200 a month. We don’t have a pantry to stock up on things, and travel makes it impossible to avoid spoilage and waste, and we often have to buy small sizes and quantities.
We also have some new expenses as a result of our house sitting: the annual fees for the house sitting websites and camping gear. The former run about $200 a year: money well spent, an absolute must.
The later, we’re up to around $1,000 so far. We like camping, though we’ve done little recently (lots of house sits with no gaps and winter!) We might still be in the hole on camping gear versus hotel bills, we’re gaining on that one.
Running this blog adds another $200 a year. We could do it for less, or a lot more, or not at all. We enjoy it, though, and our thousands of readers demand it. Wait, that’s not really how it’s going. We do enjoy it and are learning so much about punctuation: our new best friends -,:;”‘(). But the blog is optional. That puts it in the entertainment budget, right?
Maybe We’re Minimalists
There are many everyday purchases we chose not to make whether we travel around or not. I don’t drink coffee, and Jim doesn’t like Starbucks very much at all (makes his own), so we save quite a bit.
I never buy any make-up of any sort since I hate how it feels on my skin and don’t want chemicals on my face. We never go to the barber or beauty salon either. I cut my hair, and we bought a shaver for Jim to cut his. Those two items save us quite a bundle.
We Don’t Buy Much
With rare exceptions, we don’t buy new clothes now either. We both had a lot, and now we rarely go anywhere or do anything that requires ‘fancy clothes.’ We do each own two ‘good’ outfits – just in case. For the most part, if we do need new clothes, we visit the local Goodwill.
There are exceptions of course. Also, if you don’t wear fancy clothes and you hand wash your wool sweaters, there is less reason to visit the dry cleaners. So, in the clothing department, we also save a ton of money.
We have no need for expensive vacations, as we now travel quite a bit. Our entertainment budget is practically non-existent, lots of savings there too!
We try hard to avoid silly purchases, and we get some strong encouragement and support along those lines from the Social Security Administration: fixed income and all that. That is our simplicity program in action. We’ve been exploring minimalist living and will say that a reduction in income has forced us to keep exploring.
Drum Roll Please
Here’s how it’s working for us. Combining everything we’ve done, it’s allowed us to hit one of our primary targets: letting me stop working without having to live in our car! That’s quite a surprise when we stop and think about it. We owe a lot of this to the benefits of house sitting.
Right now we’re $200 a month better off than we were! Jim was quite surprised by this, me not so much. It took us a year to make some of the changes while others happened quickly. So overall, we’re making it on 40% of the income we used to have. Objectively we might be the poorest folks you know (we hope so, for your friends’ and family’s sakes).
What’s the evidence? We won’t have to file incomes taxes this year. That’s no great honor. That’s a funny statement, but ultimately this life works for us financially. We just need health insurance for me, and we’ll be set. That’s one of the biggest risks we’ve had to accept along with all our other changes. Jim is old enough to be covered by Medicare. Lucky guy.
What’s Next – A house in Los Gatos, California
We'd love you to subscribe!