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Reflections on Freelancing: Cutting Out The Crap

At the summit of the Mt. Batur Volcano in Bali after a sunrise hike, July 10, 2017

At the summit of Mt. Batur Volcano in Bali after a sunrise hike, 7/10/17

Greetings from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, where I’m about two weeks into a month-long journey of coworking and networking. Of all the places I’ve been, Bali is about as easy to adjust to as any. I’m settled into my place, just outside of town on this crazy side street at the edge of the jungle. Outpost, the coworking spot I’ll be working from while I’m here, is just a few minutes’ drive by motorbike.

All things considered, things are going great. I’ve been hanging out with a few people from the house and coworking spot, and am working towards closing a contract with a new client I met here. Not bad for less than two weeks in, but there are a few things I wish I’d noted or looked into prior to leaving the States. First of all, in regards to money, I’m an idiot for not bringing my business checkbook. My basic practice is to write myself a paycheck once per week, and for some reason, I neglected to remember that during the packing process. I’m here with no checkbook. In order to pay myself, I have to PayPal money from the business account to my personal account. It’s not that big of a deal, but it takes three or four days instead of the 1 minute it takes to write a check and do a mobile deposit.

Also, I had quite the time getting my motorbike going the first time. I actually ended up walking everywhere for the first five days or so because I couldn’t get the thing started. I thought perhaps it was broken, and nearly called the rental company to ask for a replacement. But I couldn’t quite get over this notion that I’m probably just an idiot and don’t know what I’m doing. I watched several YouTube videos, but still couldn’t get it. Finally I asked an Australian girl staying in the same coliving spot and she confirmed my suspicion. She lifted the kickstand, clutched both brakes at the same time and pushed the button. It started right up. Whoop.

Beyond that, it’s been smooth. Working at Outpost is great. The food in Bali is delicious and incredibly cheap. If you don't like rice, you'd have a hard time here. At my favorite warung, or small local food spot, I can get a full plate of Balinese deliciousness for less than $2. Imported liquor like whiskey and vodka is pricey due to the government tax, but the locally made arok is cheap and strong. I’ll take it.

Last Saturday night, I sat at an incredible vegan restaurant called Moksa with a group of digital nomads I met who are staying at the same villa. We discussed the most common responses we hear to our frequent and extended travel from family and friends. Most notably, when people wonder how it’s possible. None of us are blessed (or cursed) with a trust fund. I thought I’d share here a few of the ways I personally implement to make it happen. Mostly it involves cutting costs in other areas of life. I get why some of these points might be tough to implement at first, but when the reward is more travel and exploration, it’s more than worth it to me.

Side note: Making a living online is a prerequisite. I do this with Live Lingua and other contracts.

My wife and I cut down to one car.

Over the past two years, I’ve become quite the fan of Mr. Money Mustache. He preaches much common sense when it comes to money management. The more of his stuff I read, the more I’m baffled when I look back at certain parts of my life. Why was I so loose with money? Especially during the times of my life when I was the most broke?

One of MMM’s biggest and most frequent points of concern is the automobile. Particularly, the fascination of western culture with driving big, shiny, expensive hunks of metal around everywhere when it’s much cheaper and better to ride a bike, drive a used car, or take public transit. His basic rule of thumb is that one should never spend more than $10,000 on a car, and never buy one new. One car per household, used sparingly, is ok. My wife Alisha and I made the decision to go down to one car about a year ago after two years of continued headaches caused by car maintenance. Back in 2011, I bought a $20,000 Subaru and it gave me nothing but problems pretty much the whole time. I racked up a fair amount of credit card debt just keeping that piece of shit on the road. Why?

When the opportunity came to get the Blue Book value for the car, I took it (at least Subaru’s are decent at holding value). One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I used some the money to pay off the credit card debt and put the rest in savings. We shared her car for a while, then when it crapped out, we went in together on a used Toyota Tacoma that promises to drive at least another 100,000 miles. We spent over $10,000 on it and had to take out a loan, which sucks, but are justifying the decision because we’re splitting the truck and loan payment between the two of us, coming in right around $10,000 per person.

I cut out extras when going out, and basically just stay home more often.

Fortunately, this is something I’ve always been pretty good at, for the most part. I’ve never been a soda drinker. When at a restaurant, I’m either drinking alcohol or water. I never order desert. Ever. I’m not much for gas station snacks or other impulse buys at the grocery store that are meant to weasel that extra dollar or two.

I partially credit my time playing in a punk band for this frugality. I was broke as hell then, floating between restaurant jobs and time on tour. When we were on the road, I got real accustomed to not buying extras. When we bought gas for the van, I learned to skip the bag of chips and the Gatorade. Water would have to suffice. It’s better for the hangover anyway.

I keep this practice intact today. Part of it is a result of being married and in my thirties. Alisha and I buy most of our food at the grocery store. We love cooking at home. When we do go out to dinner in Denver, we try to go somewhere where we can use a coupon or other type of discount.

Being married means we’re not out at bars all that much. Contrast this with my twenties, when I probably spent more nights in bars than at home. Part of this resulted from being a musician and working the service industry, part of it was my seeming inability to stay at home by myself. This habit took time to curb. Getting married was – and this is meant with all due humor – the final nail in that coffin.

We rethought how we travel.

For many, travel is associated with spending excessive amounts of money. This is another misconception that being in a band taught me how to disprove. Sleeping on floors and in the back of the van is a world away from paying $100 per night for a mid-level hotel room. The truth is that the digital nomads of the world are traveling for less money than they spend at home. Particularly in places like Southeast Asia, which I’ve become particularly fond of, it’s possible to sleep, eat, and drink for far cheaper than in U.S. cities.

But even when traveling to more expensive destinations, all it really takes is some out-of-the box thinking. I’ll give this example, of Alisha and I’s upcoming trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, for her brother’s wedding.

The wedding is taking place at an all-inclusive resort. A night at this place costs about $110 per person. Per night! The itinerary recommended by those involved in the wedding planning includes five nights at the resort. That would run us about $1100, not including airfare or ground transportation. For less than a week of travel. To stay in a cookie cutter room, eat Sysco-quality food, and experience absolutely zero local culture.

That, my friends, is nothing short of fucking insane.

We quickly called a family meeting. This course of action was unacceptable, and revisions were in order. We brainstormed, and came up with a plan. We spent about seven minutes perusing AirBNB and settled on a one bedroom house, a mere ten-minute bike ride up the beach from the resort. The bikes, as a bonus, are included in the house rental. The house costs $80 per night. Total cost for five nights: $400.

We learned, however, that in order to attend the wedding at the resort, we would have to by a day pass or stay at least one night at the resort. A day pass costs $75 per person. We decided to book a room for only the night of the wedding. This would have cost us about $220. But, fortunately, I had a free night on my account. We booked the room through my account instead of through the travel agency responsible for planning the wedding, and used the night credit value of $150. Total cost for the night? $70. We’ll be sure to milk that buffet and open bar.

Our flights are paid for by credit card miles, costing us each a mere $32 for the unavoidable fuel surcharge. Additionally, I had a credit from one of my writing clients for four free nights at a hostel in Mexico City. So, we took some of the $700 we’ve saved by thinking outside the box and added four nights in Mexico City on the front end of the trip. The result is a trip for twice as long as the recommended itinerary, and costing about half as much. Moral of the story? Think outside the box. Don’t ever follow a recommended itinerary. There’s always a better way.

We optimize our travel points

I mentioned above that our flights on the Mexico City trip cost us only $32 each. I’m also flying back to the U.S. from Southeast Asia in August for a total of $75, and from San Francisco to Denver for $40. How? Credit card rewards points. I imagine you’ve heard a bit about frequent flier miles and credit card points. I’m not going to go into depth about that here. I encourage anyone not already using this incredible cheat of the system to look at my friend Travis Sherry’s website, Extra Pack of Peanuts. He’ll have you flying across the world for next to nothing.

I finally learned how to save money

Another Mustache-ian trait that I’m slowly getting better at. I recently signed up with the Qapital app, which can be programmed to transfer money into a savings account based on a number of triggers. I’ve got a trigger set up that rounds up to the nearest $2 every time I spend on my debit card, which is proving to save money pretty quickly. I’ve got another set up as a recurring weekly transfer into my savings account earmarked for paying off our car loan significantly earlioer than scheduled. A friend told me that there is a trigger that will transfer money to your savings account every time Donald Trump tweets – I haven’t verified this because I have no desire to be reminded of his tweeting any more than I already, but I thought it served as a good example of the widening array of ways to save money.

That’s about it. I’m out to another warung to see what cheap goodies I can find.


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