The 2021 Highlight Reel

The past year was not the most exciting year we’ve ever spent for a variety of reasons. Brett and I practically turned into full-time hermits and stuck close to home, only heading out of our apartment for walks at the park or a few other hikes, a few trips to the beach, or shopping trips and a very occasional meal out. Our daughters’ visit was the first and only time we had others in our apartment all year, and we didn’t visit anyone else either.

I really didn’t realized how tightened down we’d become and how little we did until I went through this past year’s blog posts. I am so grateful we moved up our travel plans because I don’t think we could have survived another year of pretty much standing still.

Lots of important things did get accomplished however:

  • Health: Brett and continued to lose weight; segued to a vegetarian/vegan diet; and walked/hiked over 1,000 miles. We got our COVID vaccines and boosters; Brett finally got his wonky parathyroid gland removed, and I had an endoscopy and confirmation of a small hiatal hernia. Regular skin checks were done and we are up to date with our dental visits.
  • Travel: Plans for future travel went through several permutations, starting with walking tours in the UK and then Japan followed by short visits to some other places if possible. We then got caught up in the idea of permanent moves to first Portugal and then France, and finally ended up with a decision return to full-time travel. An itinerary was made, our Kaua’i departure date moved forward from 2023 to 2022, and Airbnb reservations were made in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Edinburgh. We have tickets to get us over to Paris in May of next year following YaYu’s graduation from college and are getting ready now to hit the road again.
  • Downsizing: We decided to once again sell almost everything before departing Hawaii, and started the downsizing process with the sale of my KitchenAid mixer in June. We sold something (or more than one thing) at least once a month, and the Etsy shop I opened to sell my hashioki collection and a few other Japanese vintage goods proved to be more successful than I imagined. All of our son’s and daughters’ things we’d been keeping were sorted and sent back to the mainland or Japan, either with them or through the mail, and Brett and I began the process of packing up the few things we will be keeping to be mailed to our daughter WenYu’s home for storage.
  • Savings: We made our last deposit into YaYu’s college savings this month. Through regular deposits, downsizing sales, the Etsy shop, the change/$1 bill bag, and other savings hustles we put away over $11,000 into our travel savings, more than enough to make our initial reservations and purchase our flight to Paris.
  • Family & friends: We had a lovely reunion with our niece and her family when they visited Kaua’i in June, and also were able to get together with another friend visiting the island the same month. While we greatly missed being able to see our grandkids, son, and daughter-in-law this past year, they sent loads of photos and we kept up through messaging and calls. The highlight of the year was having our three daughters together with us for 10 days for the Christmas holiday, and we made the most of our time together. I remain grateful for all the friends I’ve met and made through the blog, and your comments and interaction.

Although we stuck close to home this past year we still accomplished quite a bit and moved a great deal closer to reaching our goals for next year. As busy as we’ve been recently, things will be picking up after the new year, and we know our remaining time on the island will be moving along at a quicker-than-expected pace.

So, it’s goodbye to 2021 with fondness and gratitude, and it’s on to the new year with hope for all it promises to bring.

The More Things Change . . . or Don’t

This ShopRite ad from 1976 is a little difficult to read, but it’s still not impossible to see that prices were much, much lower than they are today. But so were incomes, although those today haven’t really kept up with the price increases.

I think just about everyone has been feeling the pinch from this latest round of inflation, and how the price of everything seems to be going up and up and up these days. However, prices have been going up . . . forever. I remember my mother getting very excited about whole chickens going on sale for 29¢ per pound back in the early 1970s because that’s what she had paid back in the 1950s (so she went out and bought 10 chickens to cut up and freeze). The average price per pound for chicken then was around 79¢/pound, so 29¢ was a huge savings. Cut up chickens or boneless, skinless breasts weren’t available anywhere let alone any other boneless, skinless chicken pieces – you brought whole chickens at 79¢ per pound and brought them home and cut them up yourself (or paid more and had a butcher do it).

Just because things were cheaper before didn’t mean they were better, either. Gasoline in 1970 averaged 36¢/gallon, up from 28¢/gallon in 1952. In 1952 that price got you unleaded gas that burned in cars without pollution devices. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and remember going months without ever seeing the mountains that were less than 20 miles away, and days when I could barely breathe for all the smog in the air. Cigarettes cost 25¢ per pack, and anyone could get them right out of a vending machine. Many of the convenience or speciality foods we take for granted were unavailable, let alone the variety of foods we routinely find today. Brie cheese or a baguette? Organic? Good luck finding those at any price.

Anyway, for fun I looked up some prices for 1952:

  • Bacon: 39¢/pound
  • Apples: 39¢/2 pounds
  • Coffee: 37¢/pound
  • Medium eggs: 79¢/dozen
  • White bread: 12¢/loaf
  • Ground beef: 89¢/3 pounds (no wonder our family ate so much of this!)
  • Iceberg lettuce: 25¢/2 heads
  • Turkey: 49¢/pound

A hamburger at McDonalds cost 15¢ compared to 30¢ at most other diners or restaurants. A slice of pie in a restaurant was 15¢ and a prime rib dinner could be had for $2.75.

By 1970, prices had gone up some (or down in some cases thanks to advantages in modern farming and the rise of factory farms):

  • Apples: 59¢/4 pounds
  • Coffee: $1.90/pound
  • Medium eggs: 25¢/dozen
  • Bread: 25¢/loaf (that was for white bread. Other choices were pretty much limited to wheat or “brown,” rye, and sliced “French” or “Italian”)
  • Jif peanut butter: 59¢
  • Pot roast: 79¢/pound
  • Lettuce: 10¢/head
  • Bacon: 86¢/pound

Two lobster dinners could be enjoyed for $7.25, and a speciality salad (without meat) at a good restaurant could cost $3.95.

I can remember the same complaints I hear now about rising prices from my parents back in the day, and how my mother struggled to keep our family’s food costs and other budget items in line even though both my parents had good, white-collar jobs. Their first home in 1951 cost $15,000, a price my grandparents considered to be far too expensive for a first home. But in today’s prices that house should be $157,000, an incredible bargain in the community where it’s located. Instead, it’s current valuation is $1.5 million! Inflation in the early 1970s was high, and gas and food prices prices soared during the oil embargo in the early part of the decade. Steak, gas, and other consumer items might have been cheaper in the past than what they are now, but that still didn’t mean they were affordable for many. It’s fun to be nostalgic about prices in the past, but in reality some things weren’t often that much easier than they are today.

This is all not to say that I don’t get ticked off about prices and the cost of living these days, and that people aren’t struggling to put food on the table or with other expenses. The average car payment in the U.S. these days is $577/month for a new car for 70 months ($413 for used for 48 months). Things really are more expensive now than they were in the past in a big way, and salaries and incomes have not kept pace for too many. Housing costs or the price of a college education is enough to give anyone palpitations, and low income families now compete with the middle class and higher for financial aid. The only thing I can think of that gets less expensive every year is technology, although prices for the newest thing or next iteration always still seem to be in the stratosphere. There are bargains to be had, but you have to know where to look, and work for them now.

The more things change, the more they stay the same . . . or don’t.

Full-Time Saving

(photo credit: Mathieu Turle/Unsplash)

Yes, yet another savings post, but this is where we’re at right now.

Although travel remains out of picture for the rest of this year, Brett and I have big plans for the future, and our Number One priority now is to save, save, save. We want to sock away as much as possible to not only cover setting off on our next big adventure but to have enough to get ourselves to YaYu’s graduation in the spring of next year and to Japan in the fall.

Back in 2017 and last year I posted the list below of ways to save for travel. Since Brett and I are once again back into savings mode big time we are following our own saving advice and it’s making a big difference. Besides getting YaYu through school, future travel is our priority now, and in spite of rising inflation we’ve made a game of seeing how much we can put away each month.

Here’s how things we’re doing currently are going (using our own savings tips). Even on a fixed income there are still ways to save if travel or something else is a priority:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. We have gone over our budget with a fine-toothed comb and found ways we could cut back so we’ve been able to increase the amount that goes into this account. The current amount will increase again once we get YaYu’s final bill paid in December – just a few more months to go!
  2. Save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into travel savings. We do this every month, although it’s not easy lately with prices creeping up everywhere. One way we’re saving this way is rather than filling the tank when he goes for gasoline, Brett stops at a present amount about $7 under what a full tank would cost. The amount nearly fills the tank and seems to be enough for now to cover our driving. The extra $7 goes into our savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. We have a full-time needs over wants mindset and do very little spending outside of fulfilling our needs. We have almost no discretionary spending, and what we do have is planned. Every week is pretty much a no-spend week, and almost all spending we do is planned in advance.
  4. Save change and $1 bills. Saving $1 bills and change is a habit for us now, but we are not shopping much these days and are putting away less than we used to. Only one store, Safeway, now lets us round up to the nearest $5, and we rarely shop there. The goal these days is to put away at least $300 per year. It’s not much, but like everything else, it helps. We have compared this to using a cash back credit card, and this method provides more savings.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to travel savings. We don’t get many rebates/refunds now, but they still all go into the travel savings account when they do show up, like our Costco rebate last February. Once a year two of our three daughters refund us the cost of keeping them on our phone plan; next year all three will be sending us an annual payment.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. We use our rewards card to buy groceries and then pay the card balance immediately. It’s not a lot, but again, it adds up.
  8. Sell unused or unnecessary things. We have started going through our apartment and are already selling items we don’t use and know we will not be keeping. This includes items we have been storing for the girls and they have said they no longer want. I created my Etsy shop to sell our Japanese things, including my hashioki collection. We are putting nothing into storage when we leave this time, another big savings. We also try to sell one item a month through our local Buy & Sell group.
  9. Get a part-time job. We still have absolutely no interest in taking on jobs, even part-time, but I am now earning a small income from the blog, my Etsy shop is bringing in some income, we sell something on Buy & Sell, and we get a monthly payment from our neighbor for sharing our Internet. None of it is going to make us rich, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a month.
  10. Be creative. I have earned three $500 Delta Airlines gift cards through Swagbucks for future travel and want to earn two more before we leave Hawaii. Swagbucks can drive me mad at times, but those gift cards will make a real difference. We still pick up change when we find it, and recycle bottles and cans as well. There are loads of other ways to earn extra money as well; these are the ones that work for us.

These ways to save got us over to Hawai’i in 2014, and helped us set out on our Big Adventure in 2018, and we’re confident will get us on the road again in style in 2023! Game on!

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Have to Save Some Money

Dreaming about travel, thinking of places you want to travel, making plans, and making the actual trip are fun. But, actually getting someplace takes money, often lots of money. And, because we are not independently wealthy, making our travel dreams come true requires saving. And saving is work. It can fun work for some, but it’s still work, and takes determination and persistence.

We live on an adequate but not-very-big fixed income in one of the most expensive places in the country. We still have one child that we are helping with college expenses. However, we’ve always been able to find (sometimes creative) ways to save for travel without compromising other areas of our lives.

The big secret to our success? We make saving for travel a priority.

Last time we set off on a big adventure we needed to save a lot. Like over $30,000 a lot in order to upfront fund what we hoped would be at least three years of travel. We did it, but had the luxury of a little over two years to put that amount away. It wasn’t easy but we were persistent.

This time around we want to save at least $20,000 to get started on our next Big Adventure. We’ve put ourselves back in persistent mode again. We’re using the same playbook we used before and so far it’s going well. Here’s our game plan for reaching our our goal:

  • Not buying stuff. I can’t began to say how much we save by not spending. We used to be able to talk ourselves into buying just about anything, but these days we’ve become even more skilled at talking ourselves out of buying just about anything. It’s actually fairly easy because we don’t seem to need much these days.
  • Saving our change and $1 bills. We had been saving change and $1 bills for as long as I can remember and it does add up.
  • Saving credit card rewards. We don’t use our credit cards very much, and rewards we earn could be used toward plane ticket purchases, but for now we’re prefer to have what we do earn deposited into our savings account.
  • Earning Swagbucks. Earnings from Swagbucks this year and next will fund at least half of our airfare to Pennsylvania for YaYu’s graduation, and hopefully half of the cost of flying to Japan. That means more money will be staying in our travel account.
  • Gradually increasing our savings. We have a set amount automatically transferred from our income into a special travel account each month, and that amount will increase next year when we no longer have set aside anything to assist YaYu. Any cost of living increases in our social security and military retirement income next year and 2023 will also go into our travel savings as do any and all rebates, rewards, etc.
  • Selling all our stuff again. Before we depart in 2023 we will be doing some extreme downsizing – everything must go this time! While we put around 1,500 pounds into storage last time, this next time we plan to keep very, very little, just what can be mailed in flat-rate boxes to our daughters.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – William Hutchinson Murray

We have committed ourselves to reaching our goal, and the work has begun. We know we can do this! With dedication and a lot of hard work in the past we’ve paid off our debt, made our dream of retiring and moving to Hawai’i a reality, and saved enough to travel the world full time. We are facing this next saving challenge with the same commitment and determination – we can do this!

A Fun Distraction

Road trip! (photo credit: Katie Moum/Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, with all the bad news about the COVID pandemic around the world, Brett and I took a deeper look at our Plan B, an extended road trip around the continental U.S. We wanted to see if it was indeed possible and what it might cost compared to our original Big Adventure II plan.

The Ultimate National Park road trip

The exercise really got going when I came across a map for the Ultimate National Park Road Trip. Brett and I have often dreamed of doing a western National Park loop trip, but here was one that stopped at all the parks in the U.S.! For a few days he and I poured over the map trying to decide which direction we’d go and where we’d stay. I investigated Airbnb rentals in the areas we chose, we figured out the best state to set up residency before we set off (Washington), and we evaluated whether to buy an RV or a car (new or used), and with a car should it be hybrid or not, sedan or SUV, and so forth.

For several days we were caught up in the excitement of trip planning, imaging a nomadic life on the road for a few years before settling down. We even figured out how we could still fit in an annual trip to Japan and started heading down the road of convincing ourselves that maybe this was the better way to do the second round of the Big Adventure.

And then we crunched the numbers. Comparing those to our original plans we discovered there was no contest: overseas travel was the easy winner. A road trip would cost us a whole lot more.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best choice for size, comfort, MPG, and cost. We were quite surprised to find that buying used made only a slight difference in the price.

The reason? Purchasing and operating a car put a huge dent in the budget. Even with a substantial down payment, even with choosing a economical car (our ultimate choice was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid), the cost of owning and operating any car would take a big chunk out of our monthly budget. It didn’t matter whether we bought new or used, the total cost each month would be a lot (not just the monthly payment but also the gasoline, insurance, and other operating costs). We told ourselves that at the end of our journey we would at least own a car, but then remembered our ultimate goal is to not own a car. An RV purchase was even more out of the question, but we also found Airbnb rental prices to be higher in the U.S. than many places overseas. It would be something of a struggle to stay within or under our monthly budget for lodging for almost any place in the U.S., even staying in one location for a month.

We also realized we are not crazy about being in the U.S. during another election year.

It was a fun diversion to think about doing a big road trip versus traveling overseas again, but in the end our original plan proved to be the more frugal and exciting choice for us. Our goals for the future are solid and we want to stick to them. We know we can do a road trip if things comes to that, but for now it will continue to retain its Plan B status.

The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.

Saving, Saving, Saving for Travel Once Again

Posted on  by Laura & Brett

For some people, saving is easy. For others it’s a matter of discipline. We fall somewhere in the middle, but tend move closer to the easy side when we’ve got a goal to meet.

We’re saving now for a return to our nomadic life. We’re throwing every spare dime we can into our travel account and making saving a priority because once again we have a big goal that we’re excited about.

Our unexpected and sudden move to Kaua’i last year was expensive. We had to buy a car, rent an apartment, and purchase everything from scratch to set up housekeeping again, from furniture to kitchen goods to linens to small appliances. Because everything was shut down because of the pandemic, there were no yard sales, and thrift stores were also closed so bargains were few and far between. While we got lucky and were able to buy our old car back from friends, everything else had to be purchased new, from Costco, Walmart, Amazon, and two furniture stores on the island that graciously opened for us and allowed us to shop privately (but no delivery – we had to rent a van and pick up and move our purchases ourselves). We paid $$$$ to have our stored items shipped back over to us, but it was good to have our own stuff back with us even if the movers did lose one of our boxes.

To put it mildly, the move decimated our savings. Still, we’ve been able to live well on our income, help with YaYu’s college expenses, and put a small amount away every month into our travel savings. We were able to pay for our recent car repairs. But there hasn’t been much of anything else left over for travel except for that small allotment every months and from saving change and $1 bills.

However, now that we have a travel goal once again, to say we are once again motivated to beef up our travel savings would be an understatement. Wants, other than wanting nice, healthy balances in our travel account, have been set to the side. Brett and I have everything we need, and are now working at finding ways to tuck more into savings any way we can. I will continue earning Swagbucks to earn as many airline gift cards as possible. We’ve decreased our grocery budget a bit and so far are doing fine with a smaller amount. We have found ways to cut back on driving to keep those expenses lower. YaYu’s college costs will finish in January 2022, and after her final payment the amount we now dedicate to her will be directed into travel savings. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time for this, but Brett ages out of his life insurance policy this year, and that long-time monthly payment will go into savings instead. We are already making adjustments to future travel plans in order to save more. For example, while we still plan to go to Tokyo in the fall of 2022, we’ve decided to only visit for a month, and that there will be no fancy walking tour this time. We can do some great day hikes in the Tokyo region and through the city on our own. In other words, every spare dollar or cent that comes our way for the next two years will be saved.

We’ve accomplished big goals before – we paid off nearly $60K of debt in three years, and in the 18 months between when we decided to take our Big Adventure until the time we left, we saved just over $30,000, and with less discretionary income than we have now. We won’t have much to sell this time to add to our savings, but by carefully sticking to our budget, and keeping to needs versus being tempted by wants, we believe we can come close to that amount again in the next couple of years.

We’ve once again moved ourselves over to the easy side of saving, but are bringing our former discipline back again to reach our goal this time. We can do this!

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Brett and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary this past Monday. In the past we’ve usually gone out to dinner to celebrate, but this year we ended up doing something different that gave us more for the same amount of spending. 

We had originally thought we’d have dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, but we turned out to be nervous about dining in, especially with the return of visitors to the island and cases of the virus already starting to climb again. Also, we knew the restaurant would be expensive, and we just weren’t as keen as we thought on spending so much for one meal.

However, the idea of someone else doing the meal prep and cleanup continued to appeal to us and we came up with the idea of giving ourselves a Day of No Cooking. We wanted to challenge ourselves to keep the cost of a full day of restaurant meals the same or less than what we would have spent for one meal at a fancy restaurant. We knew there were plenty of affordable restaurants offering good food, outdoor dining or socially distanced seating, and enhanced cleaning in our area that could make our plan work.

Here’s how the Day of No Cooking went:

The first stop of the day was for breakfast at the nearby Kalaheo Cafe. They offer both socially-distanced indoor or outdoor dining, and we chose an semi-isolated indoor table by an open window. We each had a cup of coffee, and shared an order of kalua pork Eggs Benedict. I am not sure how anyone finishes a full order of this – one half of it (and no hash browns – Brett got those) and I was stuffed! It was very, very delicious though and a wonderful start to our day. The pastries on offer were very tempting as well but we managed to leave without eating or buying one.

We had planned to head to Hanapepe after breakfast to explore the Habitat for Humanity thrift & rebuilding store as well as drop off some clothes, but we sadly discovered it was closed on Mondays. We don’t need or want anything but have always wanted to check out this big store. Our upstairs neighbor furnished over half of his apartment with some very nice things from this place, and we’ve heard other good things about it from others. We ended up going back home for a while with a decision to visit later this week.

It was pouring rain by the time we started down to Hanapepe Old Town for our lunch at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe. We had heard good things about this restaurant, and had wanted to eat there since before we left the island in 2018. We figured lunch would be less expensive than dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had originally planned to order tenzaru (tempura shrimp and vegetables with cold soba noodles) but the calorie load for that meal is outrageous, so instead ordered hayayako (chilled tofu) and vegetable futamaki (sushi). Brett ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) bowl topped with a soy-ginger sauce and a nice salad. Even though it was raining it was still warm enough to eat outside (under cover). Our waitress surprised us with a very tasty slice of house made matcha cheesecake to help celebrate our anniversary!

One taco al pastor for each of us.

Plans for the day had included a late afternoon walk at Kukuiolono and then picking up takeout for dinner from Paco’s Tacos up at the park clubhouse. A continuing downpour kept us from walking, but we still wanted those tacos! Brett somehow also included beans and rice when he placed the order so he had those as well, and we enjoyed our delicious tacos with some added cilantro, onion, and a few tomatoes and along with a couple of celebratory gin & tonics.

The day was supposed to end with scoops of Lappert’s ice cream, but when it was time for dessert neither of us wanted to go back out in the rain, and we also really didn’t want another dessert. We had eaten enough.

The total cost for our three meals ($88, including tips) was slightly less than we would have spent for dinner and drinks at the restaurant, and our time together was priceless. The total number of dishes that had to be washed in the evening was six: morning coffee cups, glasses for the G&Ts, and the plates for our tacos. We had such a good time that we decided to make a Day of No Cooking our annual anniversary event, no matter where we are in the world at the end of every March!

Saving On Our Minds

How can we maximize savings when living in an expensive area? How can we cut back when there’s nothing much to cut? How do we allocate what goes into two important savings accounts and continue to put away money each month for our child’s college education? These are some of the questions Brett and I have been pondering these past couple of weeks as we think about increasing the amount we save each month.

What was somewhat easier for us to do in the past is not so easy these days as we have nothing to sell, nothing much to cut back on, and completely different commitments. Our streaming services are all free or in the case of Amazon Prime, one we’re not willing to cut because we (maybe unfortunately) need Amazon here. Our insurance, phone, and Internet services are already as low as we can get them, and all utilities are included in our rent. We don’t have cable. We drive an older car with great mileage, so our gasoline expenses are already low, less than $50/month, even with the higher prices here. Maintenance expenditures loom though. We have nothing to sell – we did that before we left in 2018 and everything we have accumulated since we returned needed and used – there’s nothing “extra.” During more normal times I suppose we could find jobs, but there are currently none of those on Kaua’i, and if there were others that have been out of work for months on end need them more than we do.

While we continue to save for YaYu’s college expenses we also want to save for a future downpayment and for future travel, which remains very important to us (especially as we have family living overseas). This past week Brett and I combed over our budget and figured out the maximum we can put away each month from each of our income streams. The money we put away for YaYu is already set, but we found some other $$$ to put into other accounts although how much goes into each one may shift as we figure out the best ways to allot that amount.

However, besides paying our savings accounts, what else can we do to save? How can we increase the amount we put away when we’re already living very, very small.

With some thought, there are a few things we can do, as it turns out:

  • Continue making a budget each month and sticking to it. Put the money into savings first, then spend. And, always, always try to spend less than what’s budgeted.
  • Food: We already have a fairly tight food budget, but I believe we can cut it back a little bit more. One way is to follow Coco Chanel’s maxim for accessories: Before you go out, look in the mirror and take off one thing. We can do the same with our grocery list – before we shop, go through the list and remove at least one thing (if not more). Also, we need to be even more mindful of needs versus wants. We have lowered our farmers’ market budget from $20/week to $15, and still are able to get a lot of good produce with that and I’m sure we can do the same with our regular grocery lists. Also, we need to be sure there is no impulse shopping or stopping at the store for one or two things “we forgot.” We need to get what we need for the coming week(s) when we do our regular shopping. There will always be exceptions to this (like finding ground pork at Costco), but we can keep this to a minimum.
  • Change/$1 bills: Continue to challenge ourselves to always have something left over any time we shop and put that change aside each time. It really does add up.
  • Cut back on driving: We take one day off a week from walking, so that gives us one no-drive day a week. Brett has figured out though that six loops of our dead-end street equals three miles, so we can do a couple of days a week here and keep the car at home. Less driving means less gas and more saving. We can also strive to be more mindful of combining errands and keeping our gasoline purchases at two a month.
  • Use what we have on hand: I need to be better about always, always, always checking the pantry, fridge, and freezer before making a menu or putting something on our shopping list. Same for buying toiletries and other household items. I haven’t been as good about this lately as I have been in the past, but it makes a big difference in our spending. This is not just for food though – both of us have plenty of clothing, and other than a new pair of walking shoes, have everything else we need. Necessary items like new shoes can be added to the budget ahead of time.
  • No more purchasing books. I bought several books last year, especially when it was a book that had a long waiting list at the library, or something we both wanted to read. This year we’ll wait for the book to become available, however long that takes, and Brett has already started going through my Kindle library and reading things we already own.

These are a few of the small changes we can make, but generally, by being more mindful and careful about these sorts of thing we know we can make a real difference in the amount we are able to save.

Brett has also signed up and is earning Swagbucks again in order to pad our Christmas budget this year. He’s not as gung-ho as I am about it, but what he earns will make a difference and allow us to keep more in our savings accounts.

The blue one was the first temari I ever made, the purple the second. My style is monochromatic and subdued while Japanese temari style tends to be multi-colored and bright.

Finally, I’ve also decided I want to begin making kimekomi temari again to sell on Etsy, and possibly at some local shops. I checked some kimekome sites on Etsy and they do well, but my temari have a very different (i.e. more Western) aesthetic and have sold well in the past. I have supplies on hand now to make only two of them, but have found online sources for more supplies, including the ball cores and new fabrics. However, package service between Japan and the U.S. is still restricted, expensive, and takes a l-o-n-g time (the package our son sent took over four months to get here), so I am going to wait to order until those restrictions are lifted. If this endeavor goes well, I can also purchase more supplies next time we’re in Japan.

This is our last year of helping with YaYu’s education costs, so that will help next year, and I’m sure other things will come up along the way that allow us to save even more. We can do this!

How We Did It

(This is an updated version of a previous post.) 

Some friends once asked us for a blueprint of how we set up our nomadic life, and how we sustained it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor would we be the last, and how we did it was definitely not the only way. We met other nomadic couples during our travels, and every one of them was doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our full-time travel lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were still living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would heading off to college in a few months and Brett and I were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility of traveling full time and crunching numbers, and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make a big travel dream happen.

Many people have assumed that because we traveled full time we must have a large retirement income but that wasn’t and isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it was possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we began traveling and our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded and paid their own college expenses. Although the Senior Nomads were homeowners when they set out, they still initially sold all their stuff and rented their house while they traveled, and we could have done the same if we had still been homeowners. Because our income came/comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (and a small pension from Brett’s last employment) – it was/is consistent from month to month which makes budgeting easier. All we had to do was figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled beyond covering travel expenses, a couple of fixed payments, and getting our college-aged children to and from places. We had/have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we didn’t take money from anything but our travel savings. Instead of paying for rent, utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we used our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our travel lifestyle worked from two different directions: 1) we carefully planned ahead and 2) we had a budget and stuck to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we were able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we received each month as we went along.

Planning ahead for where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do gave us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing was left to chance and there was very little to no spontaneity involved when it came to those big decisions. Once we committed, we were committed – there was no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we would have lost quite a bit of money if we had. We also continued to put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

The only fixed bills we had each month were my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month. So, the amount we had in disposable income each month didn’t vary. That income covered lodging and long-distance transportation costs, groceries and (very) occasional dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintained a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we were doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit (he still does this every day). We had to adjust that amount and lower our daily spending average when we started putting money away to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We were also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, we learned that because we have military insurance we didn’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our credit card benefits covered most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we found the longer we traveled, the more we wanted to continue. We had a much better time than we imagined, and learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we discovered we preferred longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provided a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We worked it out where we got together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spent time in Japan with our son and his family. We made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around. While we are happy to be back on Kaua’i these days, in hindsight we realize we maybe should have fulfilled our stay in Japan, and then traveled on to Mexico and stayed put there as getting resettled on Kaua’i ended up costing us much more than expected. However, it’s been an extremely safe place to ride out the pandemic; the same probably could not have been said of Mexico.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We flew from place to place, but have met others that were doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some were pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we met were housesitting and others had kept their homes but did house swaps. The one thing everyone seemed to have in common was living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step. Oh . . . and, no pandemics.