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5 Tips to Live Wherever You Want and Still Save Money
When I made the decision to pursue a location independent lifestyle back in 2014, I was really just in it for the freedoms it would afford me — freedom from a job that left me unfulfilled, the freedom to travel the world at my own pace and the freedom to live each and every day with intention.
What I didn't suspect was that this new lifestyle would actually save me loads of money, too.
Now that I’m a travel blogger and freelance writer working from wherever I please, I'm very much enjoying this unexpected perk.
Below are just a few of the many ways location independence has reduced my living expenses and allowed me to live a truly rich life.
1. I Said Goodbye to Commuting
Because I don't work in a traditional office setting, I never have a commute to contend with, regardless of whether I'm at home or in a faraway city. This drastically reduces my transportation costs when compared to someone with a 9 to 5 job.
When I’m in the US, I work from home rather than a cafe or a co-working space. When I'm abroad, I work from wherever I happen to be staying — typically long-term apartment rentals — or, in rare cases, I hoof it to a nearby coffee shop.
People are often surprised to learn that I don't even own a car. In fact, I haven't since 2009. That's eight years of no car insurance, eight years of no gas or maintenance costs, eight years of no paid parking, and eight years of reducing my carbon footprint by choosing to travel by foot or public transportation instead.
In my home state of Washington, for instance, the average cost of a year’s worth of car insurance is estimated at $1,500 and in 2017, the average American is predicted spend more than $1,500 on gas. Without even getting into potential maintenance and repair costs, that’s already a minimum of $3,000 I’d be looking at spending annually to own a car.
Perhaps most importantly, however, not having a commute saves me an enormous amount of time each week that I’m able to put toward the things that really matter to me. This includes spending time with loved ones, expanding my mind with books, or experiencing the world through travel.
2. I Don't Need a Fancy Work Wardrobe
Working from home means I have no dress code — I can wear whatever I want every single day. On rare occasions when I have important Skype meetings, all I have to do is throw on a nice top and I'm good to go (pants optional).
On the even more rare occasions when I need to meet with someone in person, a dress code is usually the farthest thing from our minds. In a creative industry like blogging, we tend not to take ourselves too seriously. As long as I'm dressed modestly in a way that aligns with my brand, I'm golden.
Now that business attire is a thing of the past, I’d estimate I save at least $300 annually by shopping minimally and prioritizing versatile pieces that can be worn in a variety of settings.
3. I Stopped Paying for Gym Memberships
In my first few years of location independence, it was not uncommon for me to move to a new city every few months or even weeks. Decent gyms were hard to come by and were not generally cost effective during short stays.
Nevertheless, I needed a fitness solution. Eventually, I realized just how little I really needed in terms of equipment and space to have an effective workout. Once I had procured a few basic pieces of gear that would travel with me wherever I went (including training shoes and a jump rope), gyms and their costly membership fees quickly became distant memories.
Gym memberships aren’t necessarily more affordable in low-cost countries, either. When I spent a month living on the remote island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand, the nearest gym charged 200 baht per visit (roughly $5.75 at the time). Had I sprung for the more affordable monthly membership, I still would have forked over a tidy sum of 2,500 baht — nearly $72.
Waving goodbye to these high fees saves a fitness devotee like myself nearly $1,000 per year.
These days, I’d rather rely on body weight exercises, yoga, and jumping rope to keep me in tip-top shape no matter where I'm living or traveling. Not only are these activities free, but they require minimal space and little-to-no equipment. If I ever get bored, there's certainly no shortage of free workouts to try on YouTube.
4. I Rarely Eat Out
Eating meals at home isn't just economical — it's convenient and far healthier than eating out. On the road, this is sometimes easier said than done — my accommodation isn’t always properly equipped for cooking and local restaurant options are always seriously tempting.
Since my slow pace of travel allows me to stay longer in each destination, though, I usually have enough time to try a few places without totally destroying my budget.
To keep my grocery spending under control, I follow a few basic rules:
1. Purchase only local ingredients
2. Cook as simply as possible
During short stays, I buy necessities like oil and salt and only “splurge” on additional seasonings for stays of one month or longer.
While traveling through Europe, I quickly learned that bodegas selling fresh produce and staples like bread and pasta were never far away — frequent trips to the market helped me avoid wasting food I couldn’t eat before my next move.
With these frugal habits, my eating expenses are significantly lower than when I lived a stationary life: back then it was not uncommon for me to eat out three to four times per week. Now that I eat at restaurants half as often, I easily save an extra $50 per month ($600 per year).
And since eating at home means meals happen quickly and efficiently, I can be back on task in no time. Ultimately, eating the majority of my meals at home allows me to be more productive so I can spend less time working and more time living (but the savings are pretty sweet, too).
5. I Learned to Live With Less
It was the travel obsession of my early 20s that eventually gave rise to my location independent lifestyle, and it was during those worldly wanderings that I learned just how little I needed to be happy.
While possessions might have made me feel good temporarily, my experiences are what molded me into the person I was meant to be. Possessions could be lost, they could be stolen or they could break. Possessions were fleeting, and my attachment to them only caused me suffering. The experiences, on the other hand, became a part of me.
When I returned home to Washington in 2013 after my first two years of living and traveling abroad, I was able to part easily with everything I no longer needed. I held yard sales to make some quick cash, and everything that didn't sell was donated.
My remaining items fit neatly into just a few suitcases, and while I accumulate new stuff just like everybody else, I also downsize regularly. Anything that no longer serves a purpose or sparks joy in me has to go.
Owning more could have meant shelling out money for a self-storage unit ($45 per month just for a small one), but instead, what I own travels with me. Had I never overcome my attachment to material things, I’d be paying for it dearly — to the tune of at least $540 per year.
These days, possessions feel more like a burden than a blessing, and I make a conscious effort to purchase things out of necessity rather than extravagance. That way, I have what I need — no more, no less — and instead of wasting my mental faculties worrying about my belongings (or paying to store them), I can focus on the things that matter.
And when the day comes that I decide to pick up and move again — because I can and I will — it will be a downright walk in the park.
Leah Davis is the founder of the travel and lifestyle blog The Sweetest Way and author of Take Your Life Back: Finding Freedom Through Location Independence. She has traveled in over 30 countries and is currently living a location independent lifestyle in Washington state.