Last week, I wrote about building wealth, and how Mr. ThreeYear and I began saving and investing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss one of the major ways we’ve been able to save: our incomes. Mr. ThreeYear has worked hard to increase his earnings over the years and now earns a very competitive salary for his field.
While I work part-time (as a teacher no less), I have increased my hourly wage with my job so that were I to work full-time, I would earn a very competitive salary (higher than the average teacher salary).
Mr. ThreeYear and I have worked hard to increase our salaries over the years, and this is one of the key ways we’ve been able to pay off debt, invest, and increase our net worth.
Earning more during your working years is one of the fastest ways you can increase your savings, especially if you’ve developed the discipline of banking your raises.
Many financial bloggers talk about side hustles, building your own business, or buying real estate as a way to increase your income. These are fantastic ways to earn more money, but today I’m going to focus on increasing your wages as an employee (or a contractor–we’ll get to that).
Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel.
In today’s interview, you’ll hear Kara‘s story. Kara is a mom of 4, married 22 years to her college sweetheart, and a simple living blogger. I asked her to tell me her story after I kept seeing her amazing Instagram accounts of her European trips.
This interview will cover:
how Kara and her husband TJ are able to travel around Europe for a month at a time
how frugal living has allowed them to pursue their love of travel, even while raising four kids
how they keep their spending low, even in a HCOL area and with kids at home and in college
best tips for low-cost travel
For the complete story of how Kara and her husband take month-long trips to Europe, read on!
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I don’t consider myself an expert in travel, money or simple living. My blog is a space to have conversations about ideas that can add value to life. Sometimes I talk about money, and other times the topic is growing vegetables. It’s really about all the activities that are necessary to live well; food, exercise, money, goals, self-investment, travel, gardening, minimalism and lots of other things. Habits can have a big impact on our quality of life; everything really is related. Working toward financial freedom and living frugally doesn’t have to mean operating from a place of scarcity. I’ve been so inspired by others’ stories and it brings me joy to pass it along to someone else. I hope in sharing my thoughts and experiences, I can encourage others to find their version of happy too.
I grew up in the Midwest, married my high school sweetheart at nineteen, and had four children. We’ve been married for twenty-two years.
Our oldest daughter is twenty-one and works as a gas turbine engineer in the Navy. We have three boys, aged 19, 17, and 16. Our oldest son is studying software in college and shares an apartment with roommates. Only our two youngest boys live at home now and will both be graduated from high school in two years. Since we started out so young, it seems like we’re on the verge of life 2.0 and it’s exciting! We’ve got big ambitions!
I studied respiratory therapy and worked in that capacity in the hospital setting. When we moved to Colorado, I was ready for a change and went back to school to study science, a field I’ve always loved. I have four more classes left to complete my degree in molecular biology. In order to earn some extra money and keep developing my skills, I’ve done some work part-time as a teaching assistant for the writing department at the university I attend.
My husband TJ manages a product development group for an AV company based in Orange County, California. He works out of their smaller Colorado office and travels to the California office often. He loves the creativity and flexibility of his profession.
We’ve always been frugal and have saved money as we could over the years. A little over two years ago, I began reading more about finance and learned how we could be leveraging our money more effectively. Paying off consumer debt, downsizing our lifestyle, fully utilizing saving vehicles such as 401k, IRA, HSA and after-tax investment accounts has significantly increased our savings rate and brought us peace of mind.
In order to accomplish this, we live modestly. We own a 2-bedroom townhome and try to minimize our possessions more each year; following a minimalist lifestyle has freed up so much time, space and money. We have one car, a Toyota Corolla; we drive only when necessary. Instead, we bike whenever possible, even to the grocery store. We plan our meals, shop sales, eat leftovers, pack lunches, rarely eat out, and use our chest-freezer to minimize food waste. We use a clothesline to dry most of our laundry. We have Netflix instead of cable TV. We have a wide range of interests and entertain ourselves at home with cooking, hiking, listening to music, reading, and gardening. Rather than a miserly or spartan life, it’s full of life! And sprinkled in between is travel to interesting places. The goal is to invest in and improve ourselves along the way.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
I was recently chatting with a friend who’s considering spending a few months in another country with her family. It’s a big decision and she’s not sure if it’s the right one.
Couldn’t their travel bug be cured by a road trip within the country? There are a lot of unknowns and what-ifs about up and moving to a totally different country and culture, especially if you don’t know the language!
A few years ago, when Mr. ThreeYear and I were planning an anniversary trip to Southeast Asia, several of my parents’ friends, who have all spent their entire lives in the same region of the US, asked why in the world we’d choose… Asia. My mom asked me over the phone one day, “What should I tell them? Why do y’all want to go to Southeast Asia?”
Sometimes, new opportunities can seem amazing. Becoming location independent, traveling the world, taking a job in a foreign country.
But let’s face it. Those opportunities can also be terrifying. How do you leave a place where you’ve lived, maybe for years? How do you take your kids out of the only school they’ve ever known? How do you leave your family behind?
With exciting new opportunities come LOTS of feelings. Mr. ThreeYear and I have wrestled with lots of these feelings and emotions during our three year experiment. And it turns out, we’re not the only ones.
Jaime, who runs the blog Keep Thrifty with her husband Chris, is facing the same daunting challenges of leaving what she knows and loves to face the great unknown as her family debates taking another year of mini-retirement, going back to traditional corporate jobs, or moving somewhere new.
Like us, Chris and Jaime are contemplating moving somewhere new or possibly, extended travel. They have lived their entire married lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and are surrounded by their extended families, whom they and their three girls see regularly. They’re facing the uncertainty and guilt of leaving behind their families in the face of a really strong pull towards adventure. Continue reading “When You Want to Move, But You’re Scared”
Sometimes we follow paths in our lives for no particular reason–they’re the expected thing to do, or we’ve told ourselves the story of how our lives will look, and so we go about making our lives look like the story.
If you’re starting to ask yourself why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made in life, that might be the first step toward realizing you may want to change some things. Our family definitely got to that point after mounting frustration with our inability to spend enough time with our respective families.
We knew that in order to reach our dreams of location independence we would have to make some big sacrifices, ask some hard questions, and explore scary and unfamiliar options. We’d probably have to live in the land of limbo for awhile. Continue reading “Figuring Out the Why”
It’s no secret that the ThreeYear family loves to travel. But we have two kids who almost always travel with us, and four travelers are a lot more expensive than two! So over the years, we’ve learned how to keep our travel expenses down.
Here are 5 ways that we budget travel with our kids.
We stay with friends or family.
One major way we travel is to plan where we go around where our friends and family live. We have friends all over the world who have invited us to stay with them. This is a great way to save on the cost of hotels. Our friends generously invite us into their homes, and share their food, lodging, and most importantly, expertise with us.
We make sure to buy groceries, buy them a nice meal, and/or pick up a nice gift to thank them for their generosity.
On the flip side, we open our home to any and all family and friends who want to come visit. We love to host because it’s so much fun to share our region with our friends. If friends come in the winter, we take them to our local slopes and help them get the best package deals possible for skiing. We show them our favorite places to eat and update them on the history and significant sites.
When we travel to our friends’ or families’ homes, they do the same for us. We have built-in travel guides who tell us what attractions to skip and what are must-sees.
One thing we’ve learned over the years is that when we’re visiting, it’s important to take a day or two to explore on our own, to give our hosts a break. We also offer to make dinners or take them out, to give them a break from hosting. The cost of a meal is a fraction of what we’d pay in hotel or AirBnB costs. And the experience of staying with friends, often in the heart of a cool city or country, is priceless.
We know how much we love to host others, so we take people up on their offers when we can. It truly improves our travel experience at least 100% to stay with people we know and love.
You may be thinking, “but I don’t know anyone who lives somewhere exotic!” Do you know someone who lives somewhere you’ve never been? Even if it’s one state over, staying with a friend or family member can give your family a novel travel experience, and your hosts can show you the coolest parts of their city or town.
We visit local supermarkets and cook for ourselves.
One of the most expensive parts of a vacation can be eating out, unless you’re somewhere like Southeast Asia. There, meals can be had for about $1 a person, but in the rest of the world, eating all of your meals at restaurants can add up fast.
Our family chooses to shop at supermarkets and buy ingredients to cook many of our meals at home. When we visited Chile this December, we visited the feria, or farmer’s market, and stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables. It was summer while we were there, and it was a treat to be able to eat ripe fruits and vegetables that weren’t available back home, where it was winter.
We ate our breakfasts at home, and often made simple dinners or at leftovers at home as well. Since lunches are generally the best eat-out deal in Chile, we’d pick up take-out and eat fried fish, potatoes, rice, and salad for lunch and dinner.
One of the best parts of shopping at local supermarkets is eating like locals eat. When Mr. ThreeYear and I were in Bangkok, we shopped at the 7-Eleven across the street from our AirBnB and found strange but delicious local foods, like Ramen with super-spicy flavoring, instant coffees, and toast-able sandwiches that we ate for breakfast. You can also pick up beer and wine this way at much cheaper prices than at restaurants.
We pepper these eat-at-home experiences with well-chosen eating out experiences. That way, our dining out experiences feel more special and we don’t suffer from dining-out fatigue (have you ever been there? When all you want is a nice fresh salad that you make yourself after eating big, heavy, expensive meals for days on end?).
Many of the best restaurant experiences, especially for families, can be inexpensive, but just as special as gourmet dining. And if you only eat out on occasion, you’ll appreciate wherever you go that much more.
We sign up for airline deal sites.
We are members of Scott’s Cheap Flights, and we get notifications with cheap airline deals every day. We keep our plans flexible, so that if we see a great deal, we can jump on it.
It’s also very helpful if you have flexible dates for travel. We are more flexible in the summertime when neither I nor the boys are working, but if you’re able to jump on flight deals during the school year, you can get some incredible flight deals. I recently saw flights to the Caribbean in the $200s (US) from Boston, which would have been a spectacular winter getaway.
Oftentimes, if you can find cheap flights to an incredible destination (especially Southeast Asia), the rest of the stay can be dirt cheap. We stayed at an AirBnB in Bangkok for just $27 per night while we were there, and meals cost around $1.75US per person! While flights to Asia are long (especially from the East Coast of the US), if your kids are slightly older, they can binge on movies for 15 hours. I’ve seen flights as low as $450 from Boston to Bangkok (with stopovers). While that would be $1800 in tickets for four people, your lodging and food expenses would be just a fraction of that cost.
We sightsee for less.
Many times, when we visit an iconic city, like Santiago, we feel compelled to visit all the famous, but pricey, tourist destinations. While it can be fun to visit the top of the tallest building in South America, it’s also very expensive–it was $81.25 for the four of us to visit the top of the Costanera Center when we were there in December.
However, it’s much cheaper (and often less crowded and more fun) to spend time exploring the free attractions in a city. When you’re in Paris, you can enjoy the beautiful park around the Eiffel Tower without buying the pricey tickets to head to the top.
In Santiago, there are so many cool neighborhoods that you can explore–Bellavista, Lastarria, and Parque Forrestal, to name a few. Kids love to be able to run around and play, so finding a shady park and throwing down a blanket is a way to almost guarantee they’ll have a great time (and if you throw in fountains, it’s definite!).
You can also visit museums and other attractions on half-price days. While this takes a bit more planning, especially if you have a short trip, it’s a great way to keep costs down if you can make it work. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are days more likely to be half-price for museum entry. Just remember to pack a lunch or eat somewhere else if you can, because museum food tends to be overpriced and bad quality!
One of the biggest shifts we had to make with sightseeing was mental. We had to tell ourselves, “We don’t have to see everything. If we ‘miss’ an iconic tourist destination, it doesn’t mean we haven’t had a successful trip.” The best trips involve connecting with a place, meeting local people, and enjoying it as they enjoy it, NOT standing in yet another line to experience some “must-see” overpriced tourist trap.
That leads to our number one piece of advice when you’re budget traveling with kids:
It’s novelty, stimulation, and getting out of daily and sometimes deadening routines. It’s needing some aimlessness and idleness in contrast to my norm of purposefulness. It’s learning new languages, cultures, facts. Meeting new people. A slower pace with less stress. Swimming in a different sea of assumptions, getting jolted out of narrow-mindedness. Tasting new food.
Travel is about seeing something new, experiencing new sights, sounds, flavors. But that doesn’t mean that every moment has to be filled with experiences that cost money.
Our favorite experience from Santiago this December? The feria. The feria is a farmer’s market where locals come to sell the freshest fruits, veggies, seafood, and toys. It’s a place to see and be seen. But it isn’t expensive. In fact, it’s the cheapest place to buy food that exists in the city. And it’s one of the most experience-rich walks you’ll ever undertake over three blocks.
Spending the afternoon in a park, people watching, letting your kids try new flavors of popsicles or ice cream, enjoying each sip of a delicious cappuccino, smelling the aromas wafting around you–all of these inexpensive or free experiences make travel so wonderful.
There you have it–our top five budget travel tips for travel with kids.
It looks like the stock market is giving us some buying opportunities this month. While our net worth took a dip, we hit our savings and spending goals, so I feel proud of our progress this month.
If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before! This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65%! from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try!
February was a month of full-on winter antics in New Hampshire. Our time in Santiago, just a month before, seemed like a dream, an impossibility! Our lives were cold and snowy this month. We enjoyed a bit of skiing, one week of winter break where we all got sick several times, and of course the Winter Olympics!
This is the second month in our net worth and spending reports for 2018, and although the market had a small “correction” that did negatively affect our net worth, we are still making progress towards our goals.
We are already entering the third month of the year! Crazy stuff! That means it’s time for another update in A Year of Good Food.
This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food, so we can reach our goal of location independence by the end of 2019. Last year, I challenged myself to adopt one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.
This year, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Our family spent an average of $966 US per month on groceries in 2017 for our family of four. That’s almost $12,000 in just groceries last year.
For 2018, we’ve adopted the modest goal of shaving 20% off that number, each and every month. That means we would spend no more than $772 in groceries in any month of the year.
The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see and benefit from our reduced spending in the food budget.
We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.
And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.