Since the Backwards Van published a post about money last month in an effort to disspell the many myths about the true price of vanlife, we have been inundated with even more questions about cash (you can read that post here, it’s been our most popular yet, read in 36 countries worldwide! https://wp.me/p8WlP3-ln ) It seems in trying to explain how cheaply we live I have actually muddied the shallow waters even further. Some of the frequent questions we get are easy, do we own property somewhere we have leased in our absence? (No), are we on any benefits? (No), and how can we afford it? (Please see all our other posts about saving money through frugality, budgeting and minimalism!) Many people said they don’t know what a budget of a certain amount a day even looks like. Some asked us to break it down further, to explain how we do it, why we do it and mostly how we keep track of our spending so precisely, some comments called that part the worst nightmare, the most daunting part of budgeting to them is recording their spending and thus revealing to themselves their habits. Whatever about how you chose to spend your cash, if you are trying to make or stick to a budget, it is much easier than it might sound once you decide to go for it and I promise you, not a single spreadsheet need be involved. Keep it simple and you’re much more likely to keep it going.
It has been 28 days since we decided to come to Scotland. That April morning we woke up high in the clouds of the Wicklow mountains and by sunset we were high again in another rocky range, Northern Ireland’s beautiful Mourne Mountains, nestled in cozily for the night in a quiet scenic spot beside Spelga Dam. Originally we had planned to tour the country for a month and so the Accounts Department (a.k.a. me, my notebook and my pen) decided upon a tight but theoretically do-able budget of €20 (or 17 and a half of these shiny new English pounds they trade in over here) each per day for this trip. This figure was to include EVERYTHING, fuel, food, entertainment, ferry crossings and tobacco (I know, I know) Since that day things have changed again, and again, and again and Scotland will be well explored by the time we leave now as our next “appointment” (so to speak) is not until the first week of July when we are due back in York to help with a house moving situation. Common sense turned a one month trip into 3 months, for what is the point in paying that fare again twice just to cross the Irish sea and then sail back again a few weeks later? We have found ourselves this week on the Outer Hebrides, a large string of islands sitting way out off the western coast of Scotland, an island hopping trip that wasn’t in our original loose plan of Scotland either, another spontaneous deviation off the road. All of this only reinforces the point I make consistently, vanlife is unpredictable, its all over the place, its completely and utterly unplannable.
4 weeks seems like a good milestone to check in on our cash flow situation and see how closely we are sticking to our budget. I was extremely optimistic to begin with but… well, have a look:
Week 1 – Total £392.50 (£28 each per day)
Thats not a good way to start is it, disastrously over budget, but this weeks overage was anticipated in advance and is mostly thanks to the £161 ferry crossing from Northern Ireland to the port of Cairnryan. We also paid £24 for a tank of butane, €/£20 in phone credit and £23.50 for 2 items- a decent back pack and a really useful laundry bag, both one-off purchases. £90 was spent on food including 6 bags of coffee (yes, 6) a couple of bags of chipper chips and many, many cones (icecream is a big downfall of ours in the Backwards Van…so delicious, so tempting…)
Budget meetings in the Backwards Van are not like the ones I used to attend when I worked in cubicle land. I didn’t even have to put my trousers on to chair this one for example, and William is wandering around the van in flip flops, muttering about biscuits, not sitting across a desk attentively with pen in hand. Every day is very casual Friday in here. We don’t really discuss finances that much, I mean there’s nothing to talk about, not until a decision needs to be made.
Frugality shouldn’t be such a bad word, filled with connotations of miserly, penny-pinching very old people, shifty-eyed, eternally miserably counting their shadowy stacks of change and trying to shaft everyone they meet. Thrifty is a better alternative, it’s a word more true to the spirit of our thinking, it means being sensible, economical and not being wasteful. Being thrifty isn’t about what you don’t do. Sure, we didn’t spend the day in the pub or at the festival or pay for the nice meal in the restaurant but we also didn’t book an expensive holiday or buy a timeshare or a yacht, so what? We’d much prefer to think about what we DID do. We did do a 10km cliff walk along a historic battle site in Bloody Bridge, we did have 5 picnic dinners, we did spend the day walking the town of Downpatrick, we did sleep on an actual faultline…. Campsie, in a little green glen hanging right over the lights of Glasgow City.
Week 2 – Total £406 (£29 each per day)
Oh dear, another target not reached. A rap on the knuckles is due from the imaginary executives upstairs for our 2 consecutive weeks of overspending. This week was a special one though, we drove all the way through Scotland, burning through £200.50 in diesel to get to York to meet with the daughter and Jonathan, who flew all the way from Bermuda to visit. In truth, we didn’t really think about money much this week. We took a long, lovely day trip to Whitby and ate a lot of icecream while sitting in the Yorkshire sunshine. Dinner in a wonderful little vegetarian restaurant called El Piano in York city set us back £71 and we had chips and cake by the sea another day… celebrations don’t come cheap and some occassions are definitely worth the spend. These are not everyday expenses and are hopefully nothing we can’t recoup next week…. if we keep track of course.
Keeping track is the most important thing. Otherwise one expensive decision will lead to another and another and we might lose the run of ourselves financially, the consequences of which would see our trip in Dixie cut shorter than we’d like. Some feedback we received on the last post was about how hard it is to record spending due to personal unwillingness to admit what is being spent and where, we can’t help much with that unfortunately, nobody can but you. The bright side is tiny steps made to save money often have huge immediate results and if you get onboard wholeheartedly you’ll have no problem owning your expenses because they will be well thought-out and well considered ones. People can use whatever word they choose, thrifty, frugal or even cheapskates but they can’t call us stupid, we earned our money and we are making it work for us, now, when we need it to.
Contrary to common belief, being thrifty doesn’t mean obsessing over money and we don’t actually discuss our finances every single day. We just aim to make as few transactions as we can and I scribble down the numbers each night in my diary, totting it up on a Sunday and reflecting on the week. My favourite number is zero of course and some weeks are full of zeros, 4 days out of 7 we might not cost ourselves a thing. We have learned to be much more clever when shopping for food and identifying what items last well in the van, how to stretch supplies out while giving us plenty of variety, taste and minimum fuss. We shop once a week and buy plenty of fresh fruit and veg along with bags of dried fruit and nuts, anything with a long shelf life really. Himself is partial to a pot of ramen and I love rice cakes, rye bread, crackers, any cheap tasty dry goods are the vegetarian AND the vans best friend.
Week 3 – Total £141 (£10 each per day)
Now, that’s more like it! I can imagine the executive suits high-fiving each other in the boardroom at the release of such fantastic financial results. 3 of 7 days this week cost us absolutely nothing and how? We did what we love most, we walked. And practically walked our legs off too. In forests, through the two unique World Heritage sites of New Lanark and historic Kinneill Castle, all along the lovely Clyde Waterfalls trail and spent one very memorable day at the amazing Falkirk Wheel, picnic on hand as usual. Falkirk is a great destination, so many sights to see and within such a small radius, every attraction was free and Dixie took a rest from consuming diesel too. We did our months laundry at a 24 hour machine near Connell in Argyll and William helped to offset that cost by finding a crisp Scottish £10 note on the ground, an £18 spend became £8 thanks to a bit of luck.
Week 4 – £287.50 (£20.50 each per day)
Back on track again in week 4 and amazingly enough this total included a £97 ferry crossing from Oban to Castlebay on Barra Island. We made a concerted effort to empty the cupboards before we shopped again and other than some fresh bread (and more icrecream) in Barra we found we didn’t need to spend a lot, tinned fruit, beans and rice and curry sauce are the dependables in our kitchen. We had a few drinks in the busy Castlebay Hotel Bar on Saturday night and the atmosphere was worth the visit, as non drinkers the pub is always a cheap evenings entertainment and Scottish bars don’t seem to add the pub tax you find in Ireland to their non alcoholic drinks. We topped Dixie up with diesel just once this week again, these islands are so small, so beachy and incredibly pretty. Very walkable.
So, like the suits in the important budget meeting would say, if you are not already lost in your own thoughts and drawing doodles in your notebook like I would be, let’s take a look at the last 4 weeks as a whole. Our £1,226.50 total spend puts us at the unfortunate number of £21.90 each, that’s £4.40 each over budget every single day we have been here. This might lead a good accountant to believe the current budget to be somewhat unattainable and propose raising the figure, at least temporarily, but I’m not an accountant (nevermind a good one) and I say nothing is unachievable and a goal is a goal, its too early to conceed budget defeat yet. Three slow months in Scotland is plenty of time to claw back the overspend of our first 4 weeks…. isn’t it?
11 of our past 28 days we haven’t needed to use any money or make any transactions at all. Minimising the amount of transactions you make is a fun and easy way to take a small step towards saving your hard earned money, try it in your own life for a week or two and see if it changes your thought process. Start right now by making a list of all your utility bills and see what you can minimise, I bet theres one subscription on the list you could easily do without paying for. Cancel it! When you’re out, act like you’ve left your wallet at home but be well prepared and always bring your own water and snacks. Would you break a zero day streak to buy a £2.50 takeout coffee? Or would you prefer the little time and effort involved to make 40 cups of coffee from a £2.50 bag?
This accounting game is easy really. Don’t spend the money and you won’t have to account for it 😉