Money is such an awkward subject. Most people hate talking about it but at the same time will inevitably talk about it even when they know that it would be polite not to. In part because it’s on our minds a lot. I know that it’s on mine. And when you embark on some crazy ass plan that involves quitting your job and voluntarily living off your savings for six plus months, you get the question a lot. Sometimes even second hand.
For example, my mother works with a man I went to high school with. When talking about my trip to him (knowing my mother, he knows as much about this trip as she does, in intricate detail… love you Mom), the first thing he asked was How is she going to afford all that?
I mean, it’s a fair enough question. And here’s the answer.
Research, “creative” financial planning and flexibility.
Probably the most important one is research. Research is how I found Volunteer HQ. It’s also how I knew how it compared (financially) to similar programs and how I found a couple hundred other people who had used their services. Research is how I learned that yes, I could spend $120 for the tourist bus to the Taj Mahal in Agra from Delhi. Alternatively, I could spend $18 for round trip train tickets, $16 for the price of admission and X amount for the local transport from the train station to the Taj Mahal and back. X being at or less than $5 in all likelihood. That’s about $39. Now, instead of doing a day trip from Delhi I’m thinking about turning Agra into a long weekend and catching the Taj Mahal at sunrise. I haven’t done the extended research for that trip yet, but I’m betting it will be at about the price of the tourist bus day trip.
While living in Vietnam, I lived really well. I splurged on hotel rooms, ate at fancy dinners, did weekend jaunts, had clothes custom made… and spent about one fourth what my peers who went to Europe did. If I had cut the fancy dinners and the splurging on hotel rooms when traveling, I could have spent even less. So my plan is to do that: spend even less while in India & Nepal.
Subsequently, my budget for five months in South Asia is the same as what I’ve budgeting for one month in Europe.
Creative financial planning? That’s been tough. I knew back in June that I was doing this trip, so I will have about six months of active savings built up. Before I would even allow myself to book this trip, I made sure I had a couple of months bare bones expenses for when I returned to the States and at least six months of my student loan payment tucked away. So, for the past six months I have been putting what amounts to about 40% of every paycheck into savings. I’ve cut my monthly spending down as much as I can and not be a complete hermit in DC. I’m eating a lot of PB & J. A lot of PB & J. And this week has been filled mostly with the left over lasagna from a meeting at my office earlier this week. (I’m taking a page from my ex boyfriend‘s Book of Frugal Ultra Cheapness. But I refuse to dumpster dive.)
I’m moving back in with my parents in December – both so I don’t have to move in the few weeks before I leave the country and to save money on rent. There’s an extra couple hundred of dollars right there that wouldn’t be possible if my parents didn’t live in the area and weren’t willing to put up with me for awhile before and after this trip (and Mom at least reads this, so a shout out & thanks to them on that account).
I’ve had to shift how I think about money almost completely in order to make this possible and I’m contemplating kind of scary adult choices as a result. Never in my life have I been without health insurance. Is it worth the ~$50/month for eight months ($400) to get US-based “parachute” insurance on top of my travel/emergency medical insurance? I’m a reasonably healthy twenty four year old who doesn’t smoke regularly and has no prescription drug costs. Do I need hit-by-a-bus-insurance while I’m abroad where it probably won’t even be valid just to keep continuous medical coverage? (Side note: because I am leaning towards not getting the parachute health insurance, I am taking as many precautions as possible – e.g., actually taking anti-malarials.)
I’m due for an annual eye exam and my frames are now almost five years old. A new get up will run me another $400 plus dollars even with my medical insurance. Do I get the new glasses because I have insurance now even though they’re not quite at a need level yet or do I wait what might end up being another two years?
Of course, these are decisions that many people make regularly based on the simple fact of not having money. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of that and am not complaining. After all, I am making these decisions by thinking things like: Is this ten day organized trek through the Himalayas of Nepal worth more to me than new glasses? (The answer is yes.)
Speaking of trekking…
Can I tell you how ridiculously excited I am about this company? They’re a women owned Nepali trekking company that just happens to have scheduled a ten day trek through the Himalayas when I will be in Nepal. It is an organized trek through this. No, seriously, click on that link. It will take you to a google image search of the region that trek takes you through. Even if the cost of doing the trek almost doubles what I had budgeted for my time in Nepal, I’m going to go with it being completely worth it.