Money is an aspect that shapes most of our lives, such as where we live, what kind of car we drive, where we go on vacation, and even what we eat. But in our over-commercialized world, we may be being told a lie about what we need to make us happy.
With the advent of social media, following the lives of other people has become even easier, and so has comparing ourselves with what other people have in terms of material possessions. We see luxury brands coating the Instagram profiles of the super-rich, magazines telling us how to live our lives, and beauty brands advertising '8 products to achieve the natural look'.
But what does that mean for us in terms of happiness? Does living an expensive lifestyle suggest we will be inherently happier? Or can we decide to live with less, become debt-free, and see benefits to our mental health and well-being?
This article will cover some of the ways you can liberate yourself from money, possibly leave the 9-5 and learn to live with less, and potentially retire early, all while increasing satisfaction around work.
Living Debt-Free and How It Can Change You
In a society that is accumulating more debt with each generation, it is essential to look at the consequences that come with living outside of our means. While credit comes in many different forms, from student loans to mortgages to credit card debt, they are all forms of debt that can hold us back from achieving happiness, and in some cases, seriously affect our mental health and well-being.
The Freedom To Chase Your Dreams
When we are debt-free, it opens the door to doing what we want in life. If you want to travel, especially on a budget, but are crippled by a mortgage or credit card repayments, it makes things much more difficult.
When you have debt obligations, everything you might want to save for becomes further away. You must think about minimum interest repayments, the principal amount you owe, and you also have the smog of the debt in the back of your mind.
Starting a new business, for example, can be very difficult with previous debts. We are more likely to have increased stress and anxiety when we owe large amounts, and these are not ideal factors to have going into a new venture.
Mental Health Benefits
Research shows that half of all adults with debt problems suffer from mental health problems. It is proven that debt can make us feel anxious and stressed, especially for those without a support system. Worries around debt can also lead to sleep loss, affecting our mood and energy levels and contributing to many medical issues.
Those who are in debt and financially responsible for a household also report significantly lower psychological well-being than those who don't have any significant debts.
Alternative Living and Saving on Rent
It can be all too easy to read an article on the internet that says decreasing debt can increase your quality of life. But we all have to have a roof over our heads and keep food on the table for ourselves and our loved ones.
With rental and property costs rising each year and very little change to how much the lowest earners make, it can be daunting to live month-to-month, and many of us end up taking on debt just to secure basic living expenses.
Alternative living can provide excellent quality of life; often with very little difference in the creature comforts we experience at home. Tiny-living, downsizing, and living from a vehicle is becoming more popular across the globe and can save you from the perils of a mortgage or dead rent money. If you are single or your family is on board for living alternatively, the following suggestions might be helpful to you.
There are many variations of the term off-grid, but the most predominant today is being disconnected from municipal services such as electricity, piped gas, city water, and sewage. Being off-grid can mean a mix of these things, but to the true off-gridder, it would mean all of the above.
"Personally, I came from paying rent (over 10k USD a year down the drain) to off-grid, and I wake every morning with a smile on my face. Don't think I'll ever not appreciate it." - Reddit User
Off-gridders decide to pursue the lifestyle for different reasons. Some want to save massively on rent, utilities, and bills, others want a more peaceful lifestyle that is more in tune with nature, and others like the security that being self-sufficient provides.
Self-sufficiency is something many people don't even consider. Still, it can offer a life free from bills and oftentimes can be more reliable than relying on external organizations to provide you with the things you need.
Another aspect of off-gridding is growing your own food. If you live in an area where land is abundant and not too expensive to buy, growing your own crops and raising your own animals can be rewarding through the production of cheap, organic, and high-quality foods. You don't even have to own lots of land. A great book by Sally Morgan illustrates how you can get by Living On One Acre Or Less!
The off-grid revolution is happening worldwide, with approximately 180,000 families off-grid in the US alone. Many are getting tired of the idea of a 30-year mortgage and want a way to take control of their lives, for themselves and their loved ones. With the tiny house movement inspiring people to live with less and hold more value to the things that matter, some are seeing massive benefits to finances, mental health, and quality of life.
"I learned so much about myself I can't even begin to explain." - Reddit User
Being off-grid does require a bit of know-how. You can pick skills up along the way, though. The key takeaway is learning and applying the knowledge. You don't want to have to call someone out when your water stops pumping, for example. The more you know, the more money you'll save and the more independence and personal reward you will feel.
What a truly off-grid setup can save you from:
- Paying your rent/mortgage.
- Buying most foods.
- Paying utilities such as water and electricity.
Things you will still be responsible for:
- Costs of maintaining your property (that you own!)
- Costs of growing crops and raising animals.
- The upkeep of any equipment such as solar panels and batteries.
There's no doubt that an off-grid lifestyle is different from an on-grid one. But that's part of the charm. If you are ready for the work required to start a beautiful homestead and are appealed by the lifestyle it can provide, it could be one of the best moves you ever make.
The van life is becoming more popular, especially in places like the United States, with almost 1.5 million subscribers to the Reddit sub 'Van Dwellers.' Singles, couples, and even families live out of vans of all sizes to cover their living needs, with some staying stationary and working regular jobs and others remote working and traveling.
Common questions that arise when talking about vans are how do you shower and use the restroom? In larger vans, there may be space for a physical shower/toilet solution in the vehicle, but most people turn to their local or national gym to use their facilities. Subscriptions don't typically cost a great deal compared to how much you save on rent, and if you work out, that's covered too! Small porta potties may also work in a cinch!
Living in a van can help save you from paying substantial rental costs. With a proper renovation, comforts can be similar to a small home, and solar-powered electricity can afford you the chance to beat the power companies and not pay another electricity bill.
Here are some things you may still be responsible for paying:
- Parking fees or camping fees.
- Gas for driving.
- Natural gas for cooking, if you have a gas stove.
- Vehicle maintenance.
Here's what you're saving on:
- Rental or Mortgage costs.
- Home insurance.
- Home maintenance.
- House utilities.
- All the things you buy that wouldn't fit into your van.
The VanDwellers subreddit suggests that people are paying anywhere from USD 750 all the way up to USD 50,000 for their vehicles, so the choice really is up to you.
Being A Liveaboard
Boat life can be similar to van dwelling in terms of the flexibility it affords you, with some key differences. Boat's are typically bigger than vans, although you can, of course, get tiny boats too. But it would help if you looked for a boat with a shower and toilet facility at the bare minimum.
Location is important too, and marina costs vary wildly based on where you are in the world. If your boat is big enough, continuous cruising and anchoring at sea could be appealing to you. One thing to note is that marina's often charged by the boat's overall length rather than paying for a 'spot,' so the bigger the boat, the more it's going to cost you.
Here are some other things to consider when buying a boat:
- Boats offer the flexibility to go almost anywhere that's coastal.
- Many people use their boats as a stationary home and never even sail!
- Marina fees are often significantly cheaper than paying dead rent.
- Boats can often be more expensive to buy than a van.
- Boat maintenance can be costly unless you do it yourself.
- It's essential to have a survey carried out by a professional before buying a boat. This is almost always at the buyer's cost.
Having spoken with numerous 'liveaboards,' many say they feel like living on the water affords them the flexibility to travel while also saving money on traditional expenses such as housing and creating a more adventurous and exciting life. After all, if you live in a marina, even if you don't sail your own boat, there are always opportunities to act as crew for someone else's.
A commune is a group of people who share possessions, labor and generally have the same ideologies. Communes vary wildly by nature; some are tuned towards eco-friendliness, some have a political agenda, and some are more spiritual, but all communes have one aspect built into their very name: community.
The modern world has labeled communes as places for 'hippies,' but the truth is that communes can offer something for many of us. They often provide a way of living much more disconnected from large organizations. Many rely on self-sustainability and a shared labor force to produce food and commodities required for a comfortable life, without the haze of the commercial world telling us how to live our lives.
You don't have to commit your life to a commune either. Some communes such as Auroville in South India accept individuals that want to experience a different way of life for a short time. However, one thing that is prevalent to most communes is that you probably won't make any financial gain during your time spent at one, so you will leave with what you came in with, no matter how much you helped out while you were there.
So that's the basics of communal life. But as they vary wildly, we want to leave you with some examples of communes that you can check out:
Sacromonte is located in Granada, Spain, and hosts the Gypsy community of Spain, along with others from all around the world. Dwelling in beautiful caves, practicing art, dancing, and talking about ideas happens in this commune. Most residences have modern comforts such as electricity, tv, and even wifi. You can even stay a night through Airbnb.
Auroville is a small township in South India with a population of around 50,000 at any one time. Aurovillians focus on unifying humanity through diversity, creating a self-sufficient way of life, and being in tune with nature. You can also stay at Auroville to learn more about this beautiful area dubbed "a project of importance to the future of humanity" by UNESCO in 1966.
Arcosanti, set 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona, is a small town established in 1970 devoted to teaching architectural ecology and sustainability workshops. Around 50 permanent teachers live here, with the rest of the population comprising students and guests interested in learning about Paolo Soleri's masterful ecological architectural style.
Freeing Ourselves From the 9–5
Escaping the 9-5 is a dream that many of us talk about in the office or wherever the regular, salaried job has us converse on our breaks. The truth is, the 9-5 isn't just the 9-5 anymore, with many of us working longer hours, over-time, and of course, there is the dreaded commute.
With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the masses into remote working, there hasn't ever been a better time to take control of your professional life and start working remotely, especially as a freelancer or contractor.
We don't want to offer a dispassionate list of jobs you can do from home or on the road, but there are some industries worth mentioning for you to think about exploring, so let's get into it.
Here are some careers that you can take on as a freelance or even as a contractor for an organization:
Freelance writing is something that is becoming more popular. Everyone needs content, and even if you're not a writer, you can be valuable to an organization. You might have developed specialties during a career in a regular job that translates wonderfully into writing materials for companies to use for sales, marketing, and more. Check out the subreddit HireAWriter for some easy-to-find writing gigs.
Graphic design is something that should have been remote work from the beginning. If you have the necessary kit for producing your work at home, everything else, including communications, can be seamlessly handled through your computer, especially in our post-pandemic world.
Blogging sounds like it belongs in the 2000s, but in reality, it's just as popular as ever. The one difference is today; many bloggers are promoting products through affiliate links to earn kickbacks on products. How you want to monetize your blog is up to you, one piece of advice would be to ensure that you're providing value to your readers.
Ok, that's the end of the quick list. The truth is, almost everything that you do in an office environment can be translated into remote work. In reality, the only industries that require you to be in a specific location are ones where you have to make direct contact with other people, such as hospitality or practical health care. You'll be able to figure out what you can and can't do from a remote location pretty easily.
If you currently work in an organization and feel that you can do your work remotely, it's worth asking whether it would be possible to transfer to remote work. If not, there are many opportunities to find remote work by using the many job site indexes with filters for remote work or even checking out sites like WeWorkRemotely to find organizations explicitly looking for remote employees. Another great place to find remote work in a variety of fields is the subreddit ForHire.
The term minimalism first came into widespread use in the 1950s in New York to describe an art style, but today it carries a much more significant meaning; it represents the way an individual can lead their life.
The core principalities of minimalism include:
- Owning fewer possessions.
- Ensuring everything you own has an inherent value in your life.
- Generally buying fewer consumer goods.
- Using your finances to support a life full of experiences.
Minimalists may also buy higher quality products such as clothing in order to have to replace them less, saving time, money and helping the environment.
The quest for material gain can lead to dissatisfaction, and on average, materialists are not the happiest people. When we buy products we don't need, two major things happen. It costs us money, and we have to spend more time and energy caring for and thinking about those possessions when cleaning or moving homes.
You don't have to throw everything away immediately; consider going through your belongings and deciding what has value to you. What do you use? What has been sat in your attic for years but still holds resale value? You can sell or donate items you don't use, clearing your physical space and creating more room in your head for things that matter.
Being a minimalist also fits nicely into the lifestyle of those who practice alternative living, who are typically more strapped for space than those who have giant houses with basements and attics to store clutter in.
Financial Independence / Retire Early
Abbreviated to FIRE, the Financial Independence, Retire Early movement is geared towards taking control of your finances earlier than what is typical within society, so you don't spend your entire life working for a late-stage retirement.
Everyone will have different retirement goals, but realistically the numbers should add up for you to have a comfortable life once you stop working or shift to a low-hour workweek.
Factors that may affect your planning could be:
- If you own your own property.
- Your lifestyle and how much you spend.
- Where you live or plan to live in the world.
The basics of early retirement boil down to spending less, saving more, and earning more. Let's explore each a little more:
Spending less and saving more:
- Cut down on rent. Live in a smaller apartment or consider alternative living.
- Live closer to your job to cut down on commute costs. Consider finding a remote career.
- Cook more meals at home, order less on food delivery apps. Make your own coffee. DIY where possible and safe.
- Make sure you are being paid what you are worth. Your time is valuable!
- Consider a side business or learning a skill you can market as a freelancer. It could potentially replace your 9 to 5.
- If you can afford it and it's relevant to your goals, get an education.
- Consider learning the basics of investing and start from there. Nobody wants to earn 2% a year on their savings for the rest of their lives.
There are many intricacies and things to think about if you want to retire early. A great place to start looking around is communities such as Reddit's Financial Independence subreddit. While reading information about financial independence from investing organizations such as Vanguard may be beneficial, remember; they too have an agenda, and it's best to stick to non-bias sources.