These Choos were made for walkin': an interview with a modern urban nomad
Fabulously Broke in the City is the nom de blog of a young Canadian woman who frequently comments on Wise Bread. I've been reading her blog for several months, and have become intrigued by her lifestyle (modern nomad), and her shared struggle to pay down her education debt while living a fun, urban, and stylish life - all while living out of a suitcase.
Since one of Wise Bread's own Canadian bloggers, Nora Dunn, also leads a modern nomadic life, the concept of living out of a suitcase, literally, has been on my mind as of late. I asked Fabulously Broke to tell us more about her life and her lifestyle (FB actually lives in hotels, staying wherever her employer needs her to be - her husband travels with her, and they actually keep all of their worldly possessions in a suitcase). You can read her version of an FAQ here (recommended).
Who are you? Why do you blog anonymously?
*laugh* I'm "FB".. I'm 24 years old, just recently married to my husband whom I've lived with for the past 6 years, with a goal to clear the rest of my $35,000 in debt by the end of December 2008, and be debt-free, and begin saving for a mortgage.
Oh, and I'm a reformed shopaholic. Seriously. Until I started tracking my expenses in June 2005, I had NO IDEA where all of my money was going and I kept living on borrowed time and money. Now, I love organizing my expenses in Excel and budgeting as well as playing around with my debt repayment numbers.
I blog anonymously not because I really want to.. but because I don't want my friends and family to start reading this blog, and compromise my ability to blog about whatever subject I want - be it my monthly financial situation, problems with my family and Husband's family, and all that sort of information. Not a lot of my friends agree with my lifestyle and the choices I've made. *shrug*
You write a blog about your lifestyle, called Fabulously Broke in the City. Why did you choose that name? Are you actually broke?
I chose that name because I was inspired by the hit TV series by HBO called "Sex and the City", and I was fascinated with the idea of the main character Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), working on a modest writer's salary yet being able to afford a fabulous New York apartment that wasn't a rat-infested hole in the wall, and being able to shop to her heart's delight with and do all of these amazing things in a city that's so notorious for its high cost of living. But nowhere in the entire show did they really mention how the reality of her situation. Then I thought about Suze Orman, and how she calls our generation the "Young, Broke and Fabulous", and that's how "Fabulously Broke in the City" was born.
I actually am very broke, in terms of net worth. I think I started the blog in 2006, but I didn't actually take my blogging seriously until June 2007 when I finally got rid of my apartment, and began to aggressively pay down my debt, save for retirement and strive for a more frugal lifestyle - that's when the blog just evolved to what it is today.
I started with -$56,000 in education debt, no savings, no retirement plan, nada... and the real push to get out of debt began in June 2007 when I looked at what I was spending. As of today, I sit at about -$35,000 in total education debt, but with my retirement savings I'm at -$22,000.
You've described your life as being lived "out of a suitcase". What does that entail? How can one live in a big city without a fabulous apartment and a walk-in closet full of designer clothing?
It just takes a change in perspective. :) It was hard to think about becoming what I call a "modern nomad" but the more I considered it, it made more sense based on my line of work.
I basically live wherever my next project takes me, and while it's been mostly big cities, I could also be sent to a little town in the middle of nowhere - which I think might be better for me because there'd be less temptation and chances to shop!
The client normally loves having the consultant live in the city where the company is, because then I'm not coming in late to work on Monday, or leaving early on Thursday, and I'm available almost 24/7 as I am just a stone's throw away from the company. Plus, I love what I do, and that usually translates into working long hours, and if I have to worry about getting back to my home in another city when I'm trying to finish something for the weekend, it gets to be pretty frustrating. I also hate the hotel & airport song-and-dance.
It was pretty hard getting rid of my 'stuff' when I first started, and I still find myself pining for certain clothing items or shoes that I have stored away at home. But you just make do with what you brought. I also find that since I don't have a home and I basically carry my life on my back, I've learned to pare down more, pick essential pieces, buy less and really analyze whether I need certain items or not - which is helping develop my frugal streak. It's not for everyone, but I love the uncertainty and being able to see different cities and really immerse myself in the local milieu.
I've also never bought a piece of designer clothing in my life, unless you count buying it from a thrift store. I haven't even touched the threshold of $300 for a single pair of shoes/boots/piece of clothing and I don't want to!
You blog frequently about fashion. Is this cathartic, or does it just make you want to shop a lot more?
Hmm..... Good question. It depends. If the price tag is outrageous, but I still think it's beautiful and appreciate its workmanship, then I blog about it, but I don't even remotely fantasize about owning it. But if the price tag is reasonable, and more affordable, that's when I get in trouble..
I have one major weak spot: Just physically being in the store around all the beautiful, affordable items.
That's why I tend to try and keep very busy with my blog and going over my budget, so I don't feel the desire to go out and ultimately be tempted to spend for nothing. It seems to be working so far... until I need to go out and buy something like a winter coat. Then the temptation is really hard to resist, and I sometimes fall back into my old habits. The good news is that now I find that every purchase now goes through a different thought process than before I started caring about my money.
Now, I really, REALLY think about what I'm buying, and compare coats across 15-20 stores before I decide on the best one for the best price.
Can you tell me more about life as a "modern nomad"? I'm assuming you have a 'home-base' to return to? How long are you typically away from home? How do you save money on things like food if you are always 'out of town'?
I do have a home base. A home city in fact. But I've since given up my apartment, so it's really just a formality to let people know which division/department I'm from. I don't have any ties to the city whatsoever other than my family and friends, and everything is in storage in another cheaper city.
My job is such that I have to be willing to travel 100% of the time. At first I was very hesitant to do so, but ever since I gave up my albatross (my apartment), it's been a lot easier to ask for projects that are not within my home city, and my company loves it because not many people are willing to travel 100% of the time and not go back home.
Most of my projects last around 5 months, but I sometimes get extended for longer, up to 8 months, but that's quite rare. It depends on the nature of the project and what the client wants to get done.
I save money on food, shelter and utilities (the big 3), because when I'm on a project, the client pays for all of my travelling and living expenses (transportation to get there, hotel, food, laundry, taxis sometimes a car rental). It's sometimes cheaper for the client to keep me here than it is to let me keep going back home every weekend and I tend to work longer because I am in no rush to catch a plane.
I get a meal limit that I can use to spend on food every day, and they pay for my hotel as well as for my laundry. When you don't have an apartment, it works out very nicely to keep staying in a hotel - I've started thinking of my hotel as my home now. I also don't have to clean any more, or buy cleaning supplies, and/or basic necessities like toilet paper because it's all included in the hotel rate.
A lot of people believe that eliminating debt involves giving up benefits that seem so common to modern, middle-class living. What are some of the luxuries that you have given up in order to work at paying down your debt? Do you get a latte every morning, for instance? Do you have a gym membership? Do you own a car?
To be honest, I haven't given up anything that I truly miss. I don't get a latte every morning - I only get it once in a while when I know it's going to be a long day, and I'm in the mood for one, but sometimes when I'm waiting in line I start thinking about the cost of it, and berate myself for almost succumbing to the delicious nectar of Starbucks and I force myself to walk out of the store.
However,bh when I wasn't as serious about paying down my debt, I got a latte every morning (a huge venti one in fact). But as my wallet got thinner, my body started getting bigger. I put on quite a bit of weight and as a result I decided to cut myself off and now I only drink lattes as a treat.
I don't have a gym membership - all the hotels I stay at have a in-house gym, and/or I just walk everywhere since my hotels are usually located right in the heart of the downtown close to where the company is.
I don't personally drive or own a car, but my husband does. We just have an old beater car that we have had for about 6 years now. It stays in decent shape and working condition because we don't drive it :) We only use it to get back and forth between different cities if I'm on a project or if we're visiting family, but other than those occasions, we just walk (which is healthier for us in the long run), and we take the local public transportation (which is cheaper, considering the price of gas lately).
I think the 'luxury' I miss the most is having a lot of cash at my disposal to do whatever I wanted with and knowing that I'd be able to clear it without a problem with my next cheque. This was what fuelled my shopaholic habits before I got serious about clearing my debt (mid-2007). Now that I have a budget and I track every single penny of my expenses, I am a lot more frugal and discerning about buying items because I want my budge to succeed.
Luckily, I've gotten so used to the bank debiting a HUGE amount of my paycheque every month, that I don't even register how much extra money I have now that we're modern nomads. I just take the amount I would normally pay into my rent or utilities if we had a place to live, and channel it into debt. I don't miss the extra money because I foster a sense of scarcity in our household, and my husband knows I'm deadly serious about clearing my debt (he calls it obsessive, I like to call it aggressive).
So, I suppose the one luxury I miss the most is shopping with abandon and without any cares in the world, and safe in the knowledge that I could clear it without a problem with my next cheque... if that makes sense.
What tips do you have for people who are interested in adopting a lifestyle that is similar to yours?
You have to be willing to be lonely and away from anything familiar, as well as not having everything you would normally have in an apartment, nor being able to go to parties or special events that are happening in your home city unless you're willing to pack up your home into a suitcase every weekend, and crash at a friend's place for that weekend to attend the party.
To elaborate, when I join a new project, I normally don't know ANYONE. And depending on the client culture (so far, it's been fabulous), you may or may not make friends with your colleagues - the age gap can be a huge factor, as well as personality.
You have to be willing to be by yourself for a majority of your weekends and weeknights for the first month or so, and be OK with not having your friends to go out with, or your entire wardrobe to pick out exactly what you want to wear. Whatever you've brought, is all you've got and you have to work with it. If you start rebuilding your wardrobe again, you're going to amass a LOT of junk that you'll have to figure out how to carry around for the next year or so.
A lot of people cannot understand why I would willingly stay in any foreign city the entire time and be away from my friends and family, but I'm not very close to my family, and while I'm very close to my friends, I make it a point to do an hour-long call each week to a different friend just to keep up on what's happening in their lives. It is VERY easy to just communicate by email, MSN or other social networking sites like MySpace. But there is no substitute for seeing a friend in person, so I try telephoning them each week so I can hear their voice and connect that way to stay an active part of their lives.
It's pretty lonely at times. Even with my husband here. But I find that we've started to really connect on another level and we're finding ways to have fun together, and go for walks as tourists in a new, unfamiliar city, and experience all the local sights and attractions together.