Reality Check: Cheap Living is Expensive!

Trip to Discount Tire
Luckily we were able to find the equivalent size for Scotty’s aged tires at Discount Tire, where it took them less than 30 minutes to install them.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve had some real ups and downs, which at times has made me wonder (again) what on Earth we’re doing living in this tiny metal box. The things that I worried myself silly over (like getting new tires) turned out to be easy. The things that I thought would be easy (like using the campground’s wi-fi) turned out to be so difficult I wanted to scream. Actually, I think I did scream.

The KOA North Nashville is a great place. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the location is perfect, and the amenities are terrific when you can use them. They take some pretty good precautions to keep people from hogging the internet (like limited codes and speed throttling) but that doesn’t stop the more savvy RVers (ourselves not yet included) from being able to get around them and watch Netflix all day long. Since I still have to work, I need the internet to operate reasonably well and that just doesn’t happen when the enabled devices on the network include a half dozen Roku boxes.

One day we decided to go to the library. It was closed. So we went to the food court in the mall instead. Their wi-fi was out. Oy!

A few of our "neighbors" at the KOA.
A few of our neighbors at the KOA. We felt even tinier sitting next to these big rigs.

We do have two internet hotspot devices. One operates on the Sprint network, the other on AT&T, but I try to limit their usage to just places where wi-fi is not available. I didn’t think the KOA was going to be one of those places. In all, we spent about $75 on internet data in July – not including our cell phones. That’s a bit more than I planned but then again, almost all of our expenses in July were more than I planned. For anyone thinking of full-time RVing, I would say this: the first few months are expensive so plan accordingly. Between necessary upgrades, repairs, supplies, campground stays, and general living expenses, we’ve spent nearly $5,500 in our first two months. We’re CHEAP so realizing we’d spent that much money was a shock (and another of those moments when you reconsider what you’re doing).

On Sunday, after filling up on pancakes and clearing our heads with coffee, we had the dreaded budget meeting. With Excel spreadsheet in hand, we went through each and every category and came to some very interesting conclusions.

  1. We paid $69 more per week to stay at the KOA over a nearby state park simply because it offered free wi-fi.
  2. We are paying approximately $15 per GB of hotspot data on Sprint and $10 on AT&T.
  3. Our grocery and household expenses cost three times as much as they ever did in our apartment.
  4. Campground fees in July were no cheaper than our previous rent.
  5. Gas was way less than we expected, considering we went on several 100+ mile day trips. (I threw that in lest you think it was all negative.)

For the month of August, we’re implementing a few cost cutting measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this adventure.

  1. We’ve set a cap on campground fees – no more than $25 per day.
  2. We have two library days planned into the calendar each week to cut down on data usage and we’ve decided to skip using the more expensive Sprint hotspot, except in the case of an emergency. We also turned off all of the apps on my computer and set the hotspot usage to metered. This is supposed to reduce data usage as well.
  3. We will get back on track with meal planning and shopping will be done once a week from a list (just like when we lived in a regular home).
  4. There will be no “looking around” in Walmart. Though we’re not spendthrifts, we always seem to find things that we don’t really need but would make life in the RV more organized, easier, etc. when we just kill time in Walmart.

I sincerely hope that August is a more normal month as far as expenses go. Knock on wood – we should not have any more repairs left to do so perhaps we can focus on the more fun parts of this adventure.

Missing Our Daily Routines

The word “routine” gets a really bad rap these days. We just don’t like routines. They’re boring, confining, and so very inside-the-box. If you consider yourself a free spirt, like I do, then just the mere thought of having a routine makes you shudder. But we all have them (even though some of us now affectionately call them “rhythms”) and I have to say, I really miss some of mine.

Our new home
Our new home

It’s been almost 5 weeks since we moved into our 22-foot travel trailer in pursuit of a simpler way of life and I’m finding it very hard to maintain some of the good routines that we had established back at home. Recycling is a big one.  At our apartment, we recycled everything. In fact, we had a 55 gallon wicker basket for paper products and a 13 gallon container for plastics and metals in our dining room. For a while, we even composted. All of our aluminum cans went to support the local wildlife center and dumpster diving for donations for Goodwill was almost like a second hobby.

While not impossible, recycling is more of a challenge on the road. We’ve stayed at 3 campgrounds thus far and our current one is the only one with a recycling bin. None of the rest have had even so much as an aluminum can collection box next to their vending machines. Once we even tried taking our recyclables to a facility but were turned away because we’re from out of state. And unlike some areas where grocery stores have recycling dumpsters in their parking lots, there are no such things here. It would be real easy to toss everything out in one garbage bag but we’re trying very hard not to do that.

Mealtimes are another routine that I’m struggling with. No matter what kind of crazy day we had before, I knew I could count on sitting down at night to a home cooked dinner with my sweetheart. We always prided ourselves on eating at home and eating a lot of fresh produce. Being on the road has tossed a monkey-wrench into mealtime. It’s more of a challenge to find fresh local produce (without driving all over creation) and in our cantankerous fridge, harder to keep it fresh.

Angie bakes our first pizza in the tiny oven.
Angie bakes our first pizza in the tiny oven.

It has also been more difficult to eat at home (in the camper) because our days don’t flow like they did before. Some days are full of work, some are full of fun. Full being the operative word here. It’s harder to plan, prepare, and sit down to meals when you’re always doing something. I think we’ve eaten more restaurant food in the past month than we ate all of last year, and that’s something I really want to fix.

Angie does the dishes in our improvised outdoor "dish station".
Angie does the dishes in our outdoor “dish station”.

But it’s not just the meal itself. In our apartment, we ate from real dinnerware – a set my grandmother saved for me when I was a child. We washed dishes by hand (most of the time) and even picnicked with real cutlery. It was a feel-good thing knowing that we weren’t adding any disposable dinnerware to the landfill. Granny’s plates were too heavy and fragile for travel so we bought a cheap set of reusable plates. All around us though, we see folks using foam or paper plates and I admit, it has been tempting to join them. Washing dishes in a tiny sink is no small feat by itself. Washing dishes when your hot water heater doesn’t work and you have to heat water in a tea kettle, makes for an even bigger challenge…especially when you’re exhausted and facing a whole day’s worth of dishes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m setting my frustrations free so that I can hold myself accountable for fixing them. Every new adventure brings with it positive and negative changes and sometimes those negatives scream the loudest for attention. But I love a good challenge and the challenge here is figure out what works best in our tiny traveling home to allow us to carry forward the good routines that are essential to our minimalist lifestyle (and our happiness) – even if that means riding around with a car full of recyclables until we get to a greener location.