How can we afford this bike trip without a regular paycheck? Well, that is a tough one! The good news is that we’ve had a lot of experience living without weekly paychecks. When we ran our own “holiday intensive” special event business, we got used to 6 months a year of watching every dime and 6 months of “new shoes for everyone and dinner out every week!”. After 15 years of it, we developed a rhythm and the slim months became less scary each year. In fact, after 10 years, my assistant ran the business almost entirely, which freed us up to do “side projects”.
Almost since we met, Frankenbutt and I have invested in real estate. Believe me, we were (and are) small potatoes when it comes to real estate. We always bought and lived in “handyman specials” and did most all the rehab work ourselves. Neither of us had a wealth of knowledge or experience in remodeling but like Billy Joel sings, “things I did not know at first, I learned by doing twice” (The Entertainer). We either resold or rented out duplexes and older homes, occasionally holding mortgages for good solid tenants that wanted to buy. So, besides the event biz, the real estate brought in a few extra bucks every month that certainly helped us through our “slow” months.
About 4 months before our business closed, we opted to move to Hawaii, believing the economy would recover and hence our business would return to it’s once decent profit levels. Hawaii?? Yes, Hawaii. Our older daughter fell in love with Hawaii’s weather and it’s food during a family cruise vacation. She applied to and was accepted to the University of Hawaii at only 16 years old. While looking at the brochures together, I noticed that Hawaii residents received a hefty $8,000/year savings. Hmm.
Years prior, we had sold our home in Jersey (at the top of the real estate boom) and traveled in a 2 bedroom 45’ RV around the country for over a year, frequenting BMX tracks, national parks and anywhere else that struck our fancy. We figured we’d invest the proceeds from selling our home and re-buy in a lower taxed state. Our daughter’s desire to attend UH (and my desire to save a few education bux!) pointed us in the direction of Hawaii.
At first, we thought that real estate would be unaffordable in Hawaii. Like most, when you hear Hawaii, you think about Honolulu and/or Maui. Both of those areas are real estate markets we definitely couldn’t even afford to look at! However, the less popular tourist islands (the Big Island of Hawaii, in particular) had some well priced properties. Frankenbutt and I connected with a good realtor, pre-screened properties over the internet and flew in for a 1 week whirlwind tour of properties. On the first day out, we both liked the same 3 acre property up in the mountainous area of the Big Island, Hilo side. The lush “spaghetti lot” had the foundation and septic for a 2600 s.f. kit house, much of the parts of which were piled up off to the side. We made an offer and signed an agreement of sale just before leaving at the end of the week. We bought the property with the proceeds from our last home sale and had a few bucks left over to move and buy the extra building materials we’d need.
Frankenbutt flew in ahead of the girls and me (our son remained behind to attend college in Jersey) and began putting the giant “erector” set of a house together. When we arrived 6 weeks later, we had a roof, walls and a flushing toilet! When the oldest daughter balked at the outdoor shower during the ride home from the airport, Frankenbutt and my jet lagged self dragged ourselves to the Home Depot to buy a shower unit. Luckily, we tied it down well enough on the roof of the VW Jetta that it made it 2600 feet up the mountain without a “Lucy and Ethel” moment. Frankenbutt had it installed and running by nightfall. He really is a good dad!
Back to how we can live without a paycheck … About a month after we settled into Hawaii, my assistant and friend of ten years gave her two weeks’ notice, with very little explanation or apology. I knew that it would take more than 2 weeks to train a replacement and I dreaded the idea of leaving my family and returning to salvage the business … but I flew the 13 hours back any way. Like many a business owner who has taken their “eye off the ball”, I paid dearly for entrusting one of my most valuable assets to another. In a nutshell, the business was in a downslide and there were red flags at every turn that I hadn’t noticed before. This was not a business I could salvage in short order. I had to choose whether to stay in Jersey and fight an uphill losing battle or close the business and return to my family in Hawaii, knowing that I‘d just ended our main source of income.
Frankenbutt and I had just spent 6 of the longest weeks of our lives apart as he built the house and I squared away all the details before joining him in Hawaii. The thought of spending more time apart depressed me. My 16 year old daughter was starting college and the Beast was enrolled in a charter school … all of us were in a new neighborhood, a new lifestyle and needed each other. I made the decision to thank my clients and my staff, help them transition to other event companies and returned to Hawaii feeling pretty beaten down by life.
We both started looking for jobs in Hawaii while we got by on monthly rents and a few payments from loans we held for family members, friends and former tenants. Unfortunately, the semi-remote location that gave us a good price on real estate, offered no real job opportunities close by. With gas almost $5 a gallon, we’d be lucky to break even working most of the jobs that were available. We also pursued event work but found out quickly that being a white mainlander was a detriment to our success. Losing the business income forced us to pare down our expenses. We gave up cable TV, drove economic older cars, shopped in thrift stores and yard sales, planned our outings to cut down on gas expense and gave up so much of the unnecessary stuff we got used to surrounding ourselves with. We settled relatively easily into a life of living within our meager means.
We lived quite frugally for nearly a year in Hawaii while we continued to improve the property we bought. Once our daughter met the criteria for residency, we listed the house for sale, sold the cars and flew back to Jersey. Shortly after our arrival, my brother generously offered to pay off his loan with us early so that we would have the seed money to invest in a real estate project. We had been carefully watching the Florida real estate market via the internet and both felt that it offered the best possible return on our dollar, not to mention a sunny climate without the drastic heating bills we used to pay in Jersey.
When he first arrived back from Hawaii, Frankenbutt bought a pickup truck and an older slide in camper that we utilized while we searched Florida for a good starter property, saving us hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms. We later sold both for about what we paid for them! We had now lived almost an entire year without a regular paycheck. Albeit, there wasn’t much of a cushion in the bank after our first property transaction but we fixed up a 2 bedroom mobile home in short order and rented it out adding an extra $600/month to our cash flow. Although it helped our cash flow, our savings cushion shrunk as we paid for materials to work on the first mobile home. However, we scraped together enough to buy another 3 bedroom mobile home in the same park that was livable and we figured we’d work on it as money permitted.
We both got nervous that we were playing it a little too close financially. We decided to look for jobs and found a good situation: the Census! We applied and tested and were both offered management positions as Crew Leaders. Don’t hate us! We’re not the ones who knocked on your doors asking all kinds of personal questions; we’re the ones who oversaw the people who knocked on your doors. We worked from April through July in what was both fun and frustrating work. During that time, we had several offers and deals that fell through on our Hawaii property but luckily closed on a deal that let us recoup almost every dime we spent on the house plus have the seed money to buy a house, a fixer upper of course. So, our year in Hawaii paid for itself and ended up saving us about $30,000 in tuition for our daughter!
After a few weeks with the Census (and new shoes and dinners out!), we started to breathe a little easier. Our paychecks helped buy the supplies we needed to finish the work on the 3 bedroom mobile home and tuck away a little money. I’m glad we took the risk and bought it, even though it left us dangerously close to zero in our accounts. After the Census job ended, we resold it for 8 times what we paid for it! The buyer gave a decent down payment and pays us monthly for the balance of it.
So, our work situation is not typical but does offer flexibility. Before you start envying us, bear this in mind: rehabbing homes comes with no company benefits, no paid vacations, no sick days and no guarantees. We are totally reliant on ourselves and each other and the work can be really hard some times. We take risks that most people would find uncomfortable; we lived through one bad real estate decision that took years to swallow. When we take time off, like for this bike ride, we have to rein in our day to day expenses and work twice as hard when we return to catch up.
So, no real paycheck, but plenty of flexibility and enough to pay the bills. Hope that gives you a little better idea of how we get by.
More later; Til then, Feel free to weigh in with your shock, support, doubts, wisdom and your own biking experiences. You can post a comment or email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miles ridden so far: 0