- Melissa Vance and Wade Smith have lived in their RV for four years.
- Smith works for six months, earning $2,500 per month, and they spend $1,200 per month on expenses.
- Every year, they travel abroad twice by sticking to a budget and using credit card points.
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When Melissa Nance was diagnosed with cancer, she knew it was time to make her dreams of traveling a reality.
“Travel can be expensive, so I was trying to figure out how we could travel on a budget,” said Nance, who is now in remission. “While in chemo, I realized I didn’t want to keep working for a car, for a house, for furniture – what I wanted was experiences.”
That’s when she learned people were living out of their RVs full-time. She and her husband, Wade Smith, spent the next two years saving money and paying off their debts.
In 2016, Nance and Smith – who now run the blog Penny Pinching Globetrotters – bought a $13,500 RV and started living on the road. Four years later, Nance and Smith are adhering to a strict budget to ensure their dream life on the road remains their reality.
Nance and Smith make about $2,500 per month from seasonal jobs
Nance and Smith do not have full-time jobs. Instead, Smith works seasonal gigs at national parks, at campgrounds, or at gift shops. The jobs average $13.25 per hour, but they come with a range of perks like free parking and discounts on food.
At the moment, Smith is working as a maintenance worker at Mount Rainier National Park where he is earning $2,500 per month. Nance supplements their income by completing small tasks – like taking photos of products found at stores – on websites and apps.
Of the $2,500, they spend between $1,200 and $1,400 per month
Nance is a former executive director of a nonprofit, so she says she is great at balancing a budget. Over the last four years, she has developed an airtight money-saving system that works for the two of them on the road.
In an average month, their most costly expenses include $350 for gas and propane, $309 for health insurance, $300 for food and toiletries, $171 for cell phones, and $100 for entertainment. Their cheaper expenses include $45 for a storage unit and $25 for laundry.
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Those numbers can fluctuate, and at the moment, they’re paying $1,252 per month. There can be changes in their spending depending on what they’re doing in any given month – for example, Nance said their gas expense can vary depending on how far they travel. Some months their budget reaches $1,400.
To stay within the budget, Nance explained they never eat out, always buy their groceries from discount stores, and always boondock instead of paying for parking.
While living on a strict budget doesn’t stress Nance out too much, she said she does wish their entertainment budget was higher. She recalled a time when they wanted to go to a museum, but they couldn’t because it cost $30 each.
“When your budget is only $1,300 or $1,400, $60 is a lot,” Nance said.
Nance and Smith save the rest of their money for months they aren’t working
Currently, their temporary income is around $2,500, and they spend $1,200 each month. The rest goes into savings. But that money isn’t an emergency fund. Since Smith works seasonal jobs that last six months, that chunk of savings is actually for the six months he isn’t working.
Since the couple doesn’t have an emergency fund, Nance said they stress every time their RV breaks down. One time it stalled near the Mexican border and they had to pay $900 just to have it towed. It took another grand to fix it.
“It was really stressful because that’s like over a month’s worth of expenses for us,” Nance said. “It was stressful whenever something unexpected happened.”
Recently, however, they sold their house in Tennessee, which they’d rented out for their first few years on the road. Now that they have some money in their savings, Nance said she feels more comfortable, but she refuses to touch it for their daily expenses.
Despite living on a tight budget, the couple still manages to take yearly overseas trips
Each year, Nance and Smith take two trips abroad. In the past four years, they have been to Italy, Paris, Morocco, South Africa, and Ireland.
How do they do it if they live on such a tight budget? Nance said she spends a lot of time building up points on nine credit cards. She pays all of their expenses with credit and pays them off every month. Eventually, she builds up enough points that they can fly and stay in hotels around the world for free.
While they’re on vacation, they still stick to their $1,200 to $1,400 budget. Luckily, they don’t have to pay for laundry, gas, or propane when overseas. Additionally, they spend less on eating because food is cheaper wherever they go.
Nance said it’s not easy keeping to the budget, building up points, and finally getting to travel for free, but it’s all worth it to live out their dream.
“These things take time,” Nance said. “You’re trading the time for the money. If I put in a couple of hours figuring out this credit card, then I get a free trip.”
She added, “You have to put the time and effort in to make it happen.”
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