How I live healthy and happy on $18,000 a year

Live happy in a car

Living on AUD $18,000 a year in Australia might seem scarce to many, but it’s just what I need to live healthy and happy without much restriction.

Happy & Healthy Income

I work 4 months/year, usually 4-6 weeks every quarter or so, in various jobs that present themselves along our travels and relate directly or indirectly to permaculture. 
According to our values, I participate in project or work that either reconnects people with their natural environment, or protects natural habitat and biodiversity, or results in ecological improvements, or simply cares for the Earth, the people and all other species. It includes horticulture, nursery, gardening, landscaping, conservation, farming, and animal care. You can read more about our sustainability commitment if you wish.
Those jobs pay an average hourly rate of $25 depending on the region. Working full-time I earn $1,000 a week. So for every month I work, I make $4,500 and you achieve $18k after just 4 months equivalent of work.

Nursery work - Grafting
Nursery work - grafting
Nursery work - grafting
Private nursery
Conservation - habitat regeneration

Happy Rent-free

Now, the biggest part of saving money is living rent-free and we have different ways of doing so:

  • When the weather is nice and we enjoy our freedom and travels, we just go places and stay in our car if for 1 night or 2, or use our awning-tent system if we want to stay a few days in the same spot. It’s comfy, cosy and although we could enjoy a bit more space, it is certainly good enough for a couple of weeks in a row.
Life in a car
Volunteering on permaculture farms
  • We also do some intermittent HelpX / WWOOFing on properties that can practice and teach us permaculture. When we do that, we work 4-5 hours a day in exchange for shelter, food, laundry, often Internet, and some practical learning. We get to meet beautiful people, discover their lifestyle, knowledge and wisdom, and visit the surroundings on days off. It’s something we enjoy doing in different regions and climates to see what types of food to grow here and there.
Travel buddies
  • We’ve made a few good friends along our travels and we sometimes just visit and stay with them a few days when we drive in their area. When they want to, I help them implement some permaculture structures such as a veggie garden, herb spiral, worm farm, etc. and everybody’s happy to give and share.
  • In the last months, we’ve also been doing some house and pet-sitting. It’s quite convenient when staying in urban or suburban areas where overnight camping is often prohibited. We joined the MindAHome network and for the last 6 months that we’ve been staying on the Central Coast, only paid 6 weeks rent when we had to bridge the time between 2 missions.
    This system has allowed Tobi to commute to Sydney as part of his consultancy business and me to focus on setting-up “Permaculture Journeys” while caring for people’s animals and garden.
    As we travel a lot and can’t have animals of our own, it’s also been a great way to bond with furry and feathery friends and ensure to give them the love and happiness they deserve when their owners are away. And they give it back a thousand-fold !
    Last but not least, house-sitting is part of the new sharing economy where money isn’t involved and we love this concept. Feel free to check-out my article about a sharing economy.
House-sitting & Consultancy

Healthy Expenses

So what can we do with $18,000 a year? That’s $1,500 a month.
Here is a break-down of my fixed payments every month of the year:

  • $400 on plant-based food (feel free to check-out my article about vegan nutrition)
  • $300 on petrol / LPG (depending on how much we travel)
  • $100 on health insurance
  • $100 for my savings account. I receive an extra $150 / month when I do that so that’s $250 that go to my savings every month.
  • $15 on Internet with Aldi Mobile. I don’t need much data as we often stay with people who have Internet.
  • $15 on Netflix
  • $10 on Skype (to call my family members who have a crappy Internet or no Internet at all. Yes that still exists in 2018…)
  • $5 donation to the Orangutan Project that helps save the orangutan and their habitat from the palm-oil industry.

Total: Less than $1,000. The other $500 can be used to various occasions: hairdresser (usually no more than twice a year), restaurant or food deliveries, beer & wine (we’re German and French after all), op-shopping when our clothes or shoes need replacement, additional charity donations, professional memberships, car repairs, flight tickets to visit our family in Europe, etc…

Food & Petrol are shared expenses with Tobi and the rest of the list is up to me, so the only thing I’d have to pay more if I was single would be the petrol, but then I probably wouldn’t travel so much and would stay a bit more in permaculture farms. So all in all, I think it’s really feasible whether you are single or not.
The bottom-line is we really don’t feel deprived.

Additional tips

Here are a few tips that help us save:

  • We stopped wasting money on unnecessary stuff: more clothes, shoes, gadgets, materials goods…
  • Our computers and electronics are all second hand. Tobi recently refurbished an old Mac computer that was left at the tip. He upgraded it, used it for a few months and then sold it for $800. Smart.
  • We go to Vinnies, Salvation Army or any op-shops to replace old clothes. Sometimes I visit 4 or 5 shops before I find jeans that perfectly fit me. But I always find what I need and the last pair of jeans were brand new and costed me $8. My tops usually cost $3-6, and I bought my jacket at a local swap market for $10.
  • Our plant-based diet is less expensive. Meat and cheese are quite expensive while tofu, rice and beans are super cheap. Nuts are expensive but you don’t need a ton of them in a healthy vegan diet. Same for mock meats.
  • We eat seasonal fruits & veggies. It is cheaper, often sourced locally (I mean Australia wide rather than imported), respecting seasonal cycles and so it’s also better for the planet.
  • We make our own toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant), went no-poo (read no shampoo) and use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) as conditioner. It’s been nearly 2 years since we last walked the beauty aisle of supermarkets. I however do buy natural hand-made soaps from small businesses.
  • I learnt how to cut Tobi’s hair with his shaver. Saves him $25 every 4 weeks.

Simply be mindful of where you spend your money and look at how much you purchased in the last months that you didn’t really need. It’s insane how much we can save just by refusing consumerism and embracing minimalism. Feel free to check-out our article on down-sizing and becoming minimalists.

Many of you may wonder about the considerations of this lifestyle in relation to the future, and specifically about insurance, pension plan / superannuation, and real estate investment. I have thought through all of these points and will address them in a future post. If you have any other questions, please post in the comments section.

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