I realize this title is dramatic and only partially accurate. To be more accurate, I'd have to remove the word "great".
I hope this reads more like an explanation rather than a rant!
I’ve had money on my mind a lot over the past several months and I’m finally ready to talk about it.
There are several points I want to hit on.
The cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and most of California.
Money as it pertains to living minimally/minimalism.
I’m a born and raised Californian but I’m being “pushed out” of California. Now, I know I could stay. No question. I could stay on the 24/7 work hamster wheel and keep earning enough to barely make ends meet. Working this schedule I earned (prior to Covid), low six figures. That seems like a LOT of money but it barely covered my overhead. And the more I made, the more I spent, mostly on taxes. Thanks exclusively to the last administration, my taxes were raised significantly and I was thrown into the 50% tax bracket. So for every dollar I netted, fifty cents went to the IRS. If my net was $100,000, I paid $50,000 to the IRS per year. Compound this with the high cost of health insurance, over $1,000 a month for the lowest coverage and the high cost of living in the bay area and well… it’s a recipe for disaster.
Just to give people an idea; I like to compare several financial expenses that change depending on where you live. I have pet insurance for my dog. I’ve been paying it for about five years and so far it hasn’t covered anything. The insurance costs $150 a month. But if I had a Texas address the exact same coverage would be $70 a month. When I called the company to ask why I thought they would tell me it was because veterinarians charge more in the bay area. But no, it’s because more people in my area have bought the pet insurance which raises the costs so that their claims can be covered. So I’m paying twice the amount as someone in Texas so I can pay for other people’s claims. I do also think the vets here are more expensive but I haven’t lived anywhere else yet so I’ve nothing to compare it to. My pup had to go to the vet twice this month so far. One was a standard check up that cost me $300. And last week he had an infection on his leg from a tiny wart he chewed off. This cost me $200. So this month alone my dog’s health coverage (and he’s worth every penny and more) was $650. (Vet + insurance that didn’t cover a dime of my out of pocket expenses).
Eating out. I happen to live in the most expensive county in Northern California. I originally moved here in 2004 from San Francisco where I lived for twenty years, because I was working here and didn’t have a car. The cost of my favorite Vietnamese dish here in Marin County, for lunch, is $20. The exact same dish in San Francisco is $10. Breakfast here in Marin, in my small town, is $60 for two people (without alcohol). Dinner for one person in my area is $50 (without alcohol). I will say that I am a bit of a food snob (AKA foodie) and I won’t eat fast food (unless it’s Amy’s organic LOL) but still! Come on! I was a food snob when I lived in SF proper too and I spent 1/3 to 1/2 per meal there. Here’s another great example, I met a friend for lunch yesterday and we each got a small take out caesar salad and a cup of tea. Mine alone was $25 for a tiny salad and a cup of peppermint tea.
Grocery Stores. Again, food snob, which plays in to this but my local health food grocery store is $150 for one and a half bags of groceries. $250 for 2 bags. These are regular sized paper grocery bags. When I shopped there regularly and bought food for just me or for me and a part time partner, I spent $200 to $250 per WEEK. When I went to other markets in my area, the costs were slightly lower, but not significantly.
Gas: I filled up my tank yesterday. Gas is currently $3.80 a gallon, which is “cheap” for California, it’s gone past $5.00 a gallon on several occasions. California has the highest taxes for gas in the entire country! It’s cheaper in Hawaii! It usually costs me $50 to fill up my tank but often times it’s even higher than that. According to a recent article: Currently, California state’s average cost for gas is $4.14 per gallon while the national average is $2.65 per gallon.
Rent: Monthly costs are $2,000 to $3,000 for a studio apartment. $1,500+ a month for a room rental in a house with other roommates. Enough said.
Gas and Electric: I have a unique circumstance. There is a hot water leak under my apartment but our Gas/Electric company won’t fix it. When it flooded my house once, they patched it. Prior to the leak my Gas/Electric was about $100 a month. Now it’s $300 a month and has been for 3 years. I have friends and neighbors with the same square footage and the same heating system and they pay $50 - $100 a month.
Our Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is completely corrupt. They are the reason we've had dozens of huge, devastating fires that have killed people and destroyed homes and forests. So instead of taking responsibility and fixing the issues they turn off our power whenever it's windy. In 2019 they turned off my power for a WEEK. In 2020 they turned off my power for 3 days. This is during the cold season and I have no heat plus I lost all my food in the freezer and fridge. I was unable to work when the power was out since I had no heat in my office and I'm a healthcare worker. I just got news that they're turning our power off again this week - IN JANUARY - when it's 40 degrees! And the power company is not responsible for this and they don't give a F!
These are just a few of the reasons why California is unaffordable. Sadly another issue is that people who purchased their homes here 40 years ago for $25K in San Jose are now selling those homes for 5.5 million (I am not making this up) and moving to other states where they spend 1.5 million on the most expensive homes they can find and it’s currently driving the housing costs up significantly in Washington, Idaho and Colorado (to name a few). People who owned expensive homes are also selling them to buy vans and retire. And while this is awesome for them, it’s driving the costs up for people who can’t afford to do this, like me. When I started looking at used vans, they were already going for more money than they were a year ago. And as soon as I called, they were sold. They all sold in under 24 hours for more than the asking price, including the one I ended up buying. I only got it because the deal fell through at the last minute and I raced over to buy it, paying $10K more than it’s actually worth.
Road Rage: I’m mentioning this here because it’s another symptom of the ongoing problem - the entitled rich taking over. I have nothing against the wealthy, I myself came from an upper middle class family, back when that class existed. What I can’t handle is anger, mean, entitled people! And sadly this often corresponds with how much money they make. I grew up around plenty of those people too. People here in Marin County California, try to run you off the road if you drive too slowly or if you try to merge or for no reason at all. I wish I was kidding but I’m not. Every day there are a myriad of complaints on NextDoor with people reporting aggressive/angry and dangerous drivers.
When I went out the other day I tried to merge, legally as my lane was ending, and a car sped up so that I couldn’t. When I merged behind them, they slammed on their brakes and sat blocking the intersection for about 15 seconds. I am so unfazed at this point that I didn’t even react. So they tried again as we entered the freeway, slamming on their brakes and blocking the entrance. I laughed because this is a regular occurrence in Marin. Several people reported last week that an aggressive female driver tried to run them off the road. Same lady, wearing the same sunglasses in the same car. The people she tried to run off the road all had kids in their cars :( She even drove into oncoming traffic to harass someone! There isn’t a single day that I don’t experience someone else’s road rage here. My theory is that all the money in the world and the biggest, most expensive house with all the servants you can afford and a brand new Tesla, Mercedes or Porsche can’t make you happy. These people are still miserable and angry.
So what’s the answer? Living minimally is one and obviously it’s the one I’m going for. As well as leaving California. I could keep working 60-80 hour weeks so I can afford my exorbitant overhead and life would go on the same way it’s been going for a decade+. But I’m tired. Tired of working 2 full time jobs. Tired of the rat race. Tired of making six figures and giving 1/2 of it to the IRS. You aren’t rewarded for working this much. It’s the 1% who get the tax cuts and rewards and it’s the 1% who keep making more money than they could ever possibly spend. I guess they’ll have to learn how to make their own coffee soon and live entitled lives with one another as neighbors. As for me… greener pastures and less expenses please!
I need to do a “quick” post about the travel aspect of #vanlife. If you don’t like to travel, you can still live in a van if you have somewhere to park it long term. But the idea of van living sprung from travel. Setting yourself free on the open road, finding your rhythm with nature, exploring hidden wonderlands and discovering yourself. There is a 2015 movie based on a true story about a lady who lives in a stationary van. It’s not unheard of but that’s not why I’m doing it and that’s not what my blog, instagram, youtube videos and podcast are about. (The latter two are in the works for the not-to-distant future)
I am not a spontaneous person. Weird, right?! But neither do I accomplish each daily task at a specific time without deviation. I prefer a solid plan for my daily goals, but my plan seldom has specific times set for each task. For example, I may have a list that says: finish chapter ten in book x, write a blog post for penname y, create automation sequence for newsletter z. But it doesn’t look like: 9am to 10am = x, 10am to 12:30pm = y. I’ve tried this and I’ve failed. Lists without times work best for me.
I usually have so much on my list to accomplish each day that I have to prioritize and put the most important items first. This means the items toward the bottom are often carried forward to the next day. And the joke among my friends is that I usually accomplish more in one day than most people accomplish in a week. It’s true, but that’s how I’ve always been.
Working two jobs for 40 years without stopping has made me proactive, disciplined, productive, motivated and focused. Not every single day. I have my off days just like everyone, but 90% of the time. This is not to brag, I’m not actually sure it’s a good thing. I haven’t scheduled (and therefore haven’t taken) time to stop and smell the roses, have fun, explore… I haven’t even been to the beaches near my house! I live 40 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in my state and I love the beach. I’ve lived in this particular location for 10 years and I still have yet to explore it. That’s not something I’m proud of.
When I travel I am spontaneous. When I travel, I explore. I still manage to work when I travel too, but I don’t fill my days with x, y and z between 10am and 2pm.
I walk out the door of whatever hostel or airbnb I’m staying in and I go where my little feetsies (size 5) take me. Sometimes I’ll research a highly recommended place to eat (right before I walk outside) and I’ll head there, but more often I’ll walk until some place catches my eye.
There are definitely some things I loosely plan. Like when I was in Barcelona, I was told I had to buy tickets for La Familia Sagrada months ahead of time or I’d never get in. So I did. But you know what? I still didn’t get in! I made a mistake and bought the wrong ticket for the wrong day! But in that moment, standing in front of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, I simply did something else.
When I travel I point my boat downstream and go with the flow. It’s the ONLY time I do this!
Before I leave for a vacation, I always plan where I’m going and when because when traveling through Europe (my preferred destination) and having a set amount of time, you kind of have to.
So I will know that from this date to this date I’ll be in Prague and from this date to this date I’ll be in Berlin. I print out a calendar and I write in how many days I’ll be in each destination and which day I’ll travel to the next. I sit with my laptop and book all my accommodations and plane fares. I don’t book most train rides before leaving. Those I book when I’m there, usually the day or up to a week prior. Sometimes I book them after arriving at the train station. If it’s a particularly important train ride to a smaller town, like the time I flew from Spain to Italy and then had only 5 hours to get down to Cinque Terre, I’ll book ahead.
So what does my perceived vanlife look like for me? I plan to work on the road. Currently when I’m not at Job A which takes place in an office, I’m at Job B, which takes place at home. And I AM disciplined. I work from 10am until 4pm, five days a week and from 9am to 9pm, two days a week. I used to work 12-hour days, all 7 days a week, but 2 years ago, I decided that having a life was more important. Most days that I work from home (my preferred job/passion of writing, editing and publishing) I also exercise for 90 minutes, walk/run the dog for 30 minutes, make dinner and eat for an hour.
When I’m on the road, I know that everything will change. But I still plan to work for six hours, exercise and eat well. At night instead of watching TV or playing video games, I will probably be planning my next day of finding the local grocery store to purchase water and somewhere to park and sleep the next night. While I plan to be somewhat spontaneous while living in a van, I will have to stick to a schedule too.
There is a method to my madness. I will follow vanlifers before me and go south for the winter and north for the summer. I’ve already written out a list of where I want to go and a rough idea of when. For example, I’ll be moving into my van in June 2021 and for the first 3 months I plan to explore the Pacific Northwest and visit friends there. I have friends who live in Southern Oregon all the way up and through Seattle into the San Juan Islands, and they all know I’m coming to visit! I have a rough idea of where I want to go and what I want to see in the fall and then plan to visit family and friends in Southern California for the winter. But I know plans can and will change, and I love that. The idea of shedding my belongings, all this STUFF, and hitting the road to the great unknown is my anecdote to the 40 years I’ve worked my life away in stagnant rooms.
A new beginning. Forced spontaneity. Moving out of my comfort zone. Facing fears. Yes, please! Where do I sign up?
Hi, I'm Kimberly Anne! (aka K.A.)
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