Affording Family Lifestyle Design

October 5, 2011

Rachel and Greg Denning travel the world with their kids and honestly make me fee like kind of a wimp.  I struggle taking our two little ones on a 6 hour drive through the Midwest, they’re taking their 5 kids on a massive road trip from Alasksa to Argentia!

The Denning’s lifestyle fascinates me not only because they’ve figured out how to manage 5 kids on the road for months at a time but also because they’ve figured out how to make it work financially.  Neither Rachel or Greg have “day jobs” – how could they, their family spends months at a time on the road.

Rachel and Greg have to make adjustments to be able to afford the lifestyle their family enjoys, I had a few questions about how they manage money and Rachel took the time to answer them.

1) When you’re living on such a variable income, how do decide when (and if) to splurge?

We live very frugally and simply for the most part. In the past, when we made a lot of money, I would feel ‘poor’ if I felt I couldn’t spend money on something (like if my kids asked for a new pair of shoes, etc.) Now I’ve changed my view of things, and I realize that I don’t want to buy more things for myself or my children, unless it is really going to add value to our life, i.e. they really need a new pair of shoes, or what we’re buying is going to make our life simpler, easier or more enjoyable.

I feel that my purchasing decisions are more logically, instead of emotionally based. I purchase because of actual need or deep desire, not of emotional attachment or infatuation with some ‘doo-dad’. When we do spend money, I feel that we can splurge because 1) we’re buying something we need, and 2) it needs to be quality and last a long time.

2) What are your best health insurance tips for a traveling family w/out an employer’s insurance plan?

Our family personally follows a 3 Part Health Care Plan, that focuses on:

  1. Prevention of illness through proper diet and exercise
  2. Personal care of minor illness and injury through education of treatments and  (this is our unconventional first aid kit)
  3. Use professional medical care when necessary – for example, when we were in a car accident and our three year old broke her femur.

When we our outside of the country, medical care is often free or inexpensive. We prefer to pay for these costs out of pocket, rather than to ‘be in debt’ to an insurance company each month ‘just in case’ something happens. This is the approach that works for us, though not for everyone.

3) What do you do when you run out (or are close to running out) of money?

In the past, we’ve returned to the United States to look for employment. Now we have an online business (selling a course on Family Lifestyle Design), so when the coffers are low, we’ll take a few days or weeks to focus on marketing and sales.

4) Do you give your kids allowance to spend on your travels?

Our children have the opportunity of earning money by completing their ‘job chart’ – essentially it’s a list of the activities they need to complete throughout the day – brush teeth, make up bed, grooming, education time, etc.

The aim is to teach personally responsibility. If they remember to do their jobs, or do them when mom or dad ask, and they remember to mark their charts (an app on our iPhone), then they can earn money on payday for every completed activity. Their memory for being responsible improves when they find something they want to spend their money on 🙂

Otherwise, we don’t buy anything for them. But we do buy things for ourselves, which sometimes includes something they will enjoy. I’ll buy a coloring book and crayons of animals in the Southwest – but it’s mom’s coloring book and crayons, that she bought with her money that she earned. They can borrow it, as long as they take good care of it and return it when they’re done.

I’ve found that this results in better care of the belongings we do have. My children still have toys that were given to them as gifts, but they don’t take very good care of them, because they didn’t earn it themselves.

5) What are the biggest financial obstacles to what you’re doing and how does your guide “Family Lifestyle Design” help people overcome them?

The biggest financial obstacles are finding a way to earn money to pay for living abroad or being nomadic. The way to accomplish this is as diverse as the individuals that are seeking the answers. Some create online business (whether blogging or online stores), others become freelance writers/contract workers. Some take jobs abroad (with non-profits or NGO, with the foreign service, etc.)

Our course will discuss all the of the options (and give concrete examples and resources) that we have personally used or seen used by the countless families we’ve encountered in our travels around the world.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing how they can afford to be “travel nomads”!  If you think your family might want to try something similar someday check out their guide, Family Lifestyle Design.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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