Heather and Kent (of the blog Unexcused Absenses) were hardworking professionals living a perfectly normal, crazed, American life, with vacations that were WAY too short for their tastes. But instead of just dreaming of leaping into a saner life, they sat down and made a plan. Now, just short of middle age, they are living the life they love. I asked them how they did it, and here is their answer. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who's ever dreamed of a different sort of life. (Some of you may have read parts of this post over at The Daily Basics, but I'm running an expanded version here, to give their thoughtul plan a wider audience). Here is Heather and Kent's recipe for making dreams come true.
On the surface, we look like globe trotters with fat wallets stuffed with trust fund dollars. Each year we enjoy months of cruising the canals of France on our boat, Après Ski. During the winter, we live at one of the most expensive and exclusive ski resorts in the world, Beaver Creek, Colorado (the upscale, sister resort of Vail). It surprises folks when they learn we're not wealthy trust-funders, dot com millionaires or even spies. We're just two people, in our 40's, settled in what we refer to as the low-rent district of the high life.
The choices that enable us to live this 'vacation lifestyle' at a relatively young age flow from a few basic principles. We aggressively fund our savings, keep operating expenses small, make targeted capital expenditures, and eschew traditional careers. We focus on enjoying life now - while we can.
In the vacation lifestyle, we define our dreams in terms of how spend our time each day. One day last winter, I asked my husband, Kent, to describe his ideal winter day; catching first tracks on the slopes, he replied, and dinner later with friends. I pointed out that additional money wouldn't make it snow more, the lifts open earlier or the ski day longer. With more money we could step out of a slope-side mansion instead of packing a lunch and catching the bus. In the evening we could host friends a fancy restaurant in neighboring Vail rather than using our grill -- but our daily routine would be unchanged. If you compare our actual day to our ideal day, we have achieved our dream.
A Tale of Three Golfers
I often hear, "I want to golf every day when I retire," when folks share dreams of retirement. Here are three imaginary scenarios:
Golfer A purchases a lovely home on a golf course in Florida. This home includes mandatory fees at the country club, monthly dining minimums and high yearly association fees. Golfer A enjoys a great standard of living, with all the perks of living the country club life, and golfs every day outside his house.
Golfer B retires in her existing home in South Carolina, taking a part-time job as a starter at a favorite local course. As an employee, the course waives her greens fees and offers her a good discount at the pro shop. She continues to live close to her life-long friends and golfs every day for free.
Golfer C answers an ad in the Maui News. A small, family-run condo complex offers free lodging in exchange for several hours of handyman work per day as well 24-hour availability for emergencies. As Maui County resident, Golfer C golfs every day for $10 per round at the ocean-front municipal course.
All these golfers live their dream of daily golf, but Golfer C lives in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet and does it for far less money than the other two golfers. Thanks to lower costs, Golfer C starts playing daily golf years before Golfer A can save enough to fund his version of the same retirement dream or Golfer B can pay off her mortgage. Golfer C lives the vacation lifestyle.
While this isn't the usual sort of recipe you'll see in the Southern Fried French blog, here are a few guidelines that help us shape our lives so that we can go now, go with less and live vacation lifestyle.
Rule 0 - Pay yourself first.
This is the baseline behavior from which all the benefits of the vacation lifestyle flow. No matter how large or small your income, always put aside part of your income into your savings while eschewing debt. It's unlikely you will be able to retire at a higher standard of living than when you work, so living on less and saving more accelerates you toward retirement.
Rule 1 - You can't spend like you're on vacation when you live the vacation lifestyle.
Over the years. we've learned that you will pay the same amount for housing in a resort town no matter how long you stay. Stay in a nice hotel for a week, rent short-term for a month, or lease for an entire season and you'll pay approximately the same price. Therefore, we stay in one place for big chunks of time in order to keep expenses down. We also limit our meals out to once per week, don't have smartphones or cable TV, and opt to see local bands in dive bars over bigger shows.
Rule 2 - Act like a local - join the community.
A job? Absolutely a necessity! A vacation lifestyle job (which might be a volunteer position) is about much more than earning money, it is about joining the community. I find it necessary for a one's well-being not just to consume goods and services, but to offer something of value to those around you.
Acting like a local also means cooking like a local -- in your home. I'm sure the readers of this blog can attest to how much pleasure one takes from interacting with other cooks, vendors and fellow food-lovers. Entertain friends new and old at your home (or boat!) and rediscover the pleasures of the table.
Rule 3 - Invest in skills and that further your lifestyle.
Instructing others in your favorite sport or hobby or working in an industry which interests you offers good leverage for the vacation lifestyle. Insiders, no matter what industry, often receive hefty discounts or freebies. Generally, the more you dive into any hobby, the less likely it is you'll pay top dollar for training, supplies, or access to facilities. We work at Beaver Creek as part-time ski instructors and race coaches. This gives us our season ski passes, provides an awesome inside track for gear, makes us true seasonal locals, and covers the bulk of our lodging expense during the season.
Rule 4 - Own things that bring down your operating expenses.
Our 20-year-old, 29-foot canal boat, Après Ski, cost about the same as a mid-sized sedan. The cost of purchase and operation of our boat is significantly less than renting a similar vessel long-term. Assuming we get 60% of our capital back when we sell, we will have paid 20% to 30% of the going rental rate for our vacation once operating expenses are factored into the financials.
Rule 5 - Find your kindred spirits and pool resources.
By pooling resources with friends with different interests, we can each benefit from one another's vacation lifestyles. We always have room for friends on our couch during ski season, and likewise we can join them at their golf club during the spring. We find it great fun to share resources!
We once dreamed of owning a half million dollar sailboat with which to see the world. As it turns out, we actually wanted to travel and to live on a boat, not necessarily sail around the world. We've found a way to live our dream for a tiny fraction of what we once thought we needed! We ply the waters of France rather than crossing oceans, but we love every minute of our adventures.
Examine what it is you really want. Imagine your perfect day or week; what do you see yourself doing? Is there a way to structure your life so that it costs little or nothing to do this? Give up the expensive material trappings decorating your dream, the idea that all work stops when your dream starts, and embrace the vacation lifestyle. Be creative, look for the inside track, and don't be afraid to go for it. Once you leap, you'll be amazed the opportunities you can find!
Many people work longer than necessary, and wait too long to fulfill a dream only to see the realities of old age thwart it. Try going now, going with less, and living your dream sooner by adopting the vacation lifestyle. If you're willing to reside in the low-rent district, you too can live the high life!
Mille mercis, Heather and Kent! You can find them on the ski slopes, aboard Après Ski, and on the internet at UnexcusedAbsences.com.
Now, loyal readers and dreamers, any tips for us from your experience, on attaining the Vacation Lifestyle? Or--what lifestyle have you been lusting after?
If you missed our June post about visiting Heather and Kent's boat for a trip down the canal, you can read it here.