Becoming a grey nomad is the ultimate retirement dream, but too often financial fears get in the way. However, you can ease a worried mind with the help of some smart saving strategies when planning for such a massive lifestyle change.
Peter Spooner and his wife Joan made a plan to caravan around Australia for five years before returning home and organising their next adventure. Currently spending their final year of travel in Western Australia, the retired couple’s projected return date is February next year.
As there’s no one better to explain the ins and outs of everyday budgeting on the road than those who are currently living it, Peter chatted to Starts at 60 about how he and his wife adjusted their everyday budget to suit life on the road. And to help out other newbies preparing for their own caravan trips, the savvy couple kindly shared some of the best money-saving tips they’ve picked up along the way.
Living in a confined space definitely changes the way you eat. With limited storage, it can be hard to keep large amounts of food in the caravan and so the quantity of what can be purchased in shops is often subject to change.
“We eat the same meals and the same types of food we eat at home,” Peter says. “We just don’t have a massive freezer or a fridge that’s bulging with food. But then we don’t have as much wastage either.”
Restrictions in the kitchen might seem stressful for food lovers, but Peter assures there is nothing to worry about. The good thing about this situation is the fact that driving around the countryside tends to mean heaps of fresh produce.
“We can buy local produce from the farm gates in many places that we pass,” Peter says. “So you can get fresh food that’s also very cheap. On occasion, we have spent the whole day just going around from farm gate to farm gate buying things that we knew would keep or that we liked.”
Another option that the couple has tried is working as mystery visitors which involves going to restaurants or breweries on behalf of reviewing companies. All they have to do is enjoy a meal and write up a report to send back to the company to be reimbursed for their efforts.
“Basically it’s a free meal but then there’s a couple of hours involved in actually writing up the review. It’s one way to enjoy top end restaurants and have a good night out. It’s not costing you any money and at the end of the day, it’s just some time and effort.”
Deciding how you want to travel and where you want to sleep is an important factor when planning for life on the road. However, the type of campsite or caravan park you decide to stay in is reliant on how you’ve set your van up.
If you require a power or water source, caravan parks can become more expensive with the cost of powered parks ranging between $35-$50 a night. Meanwhile, those running their vans through solar panels, battery or gas would have the freedom to settle into low-cost or free campsites for the night. Peter says the best place to head for the cheaper options are smaller towns.
“Something that grey nomads do is put a lot of money into small towns and in this drought lots of small towns are struggling, so they welcome grey nomads and caravans by offering free accommodation.”
Small towns take advantage of this dire situation by lowering accommodation costs to entice more tourists all while reaping the cost benefits of things like caravan fuel fill ups, dining costs, groceries and local attraction entry fees.
WikiCamps is an app that Peter uses to locate these low cost and free campsites as well as other essential on the road resources like dump points and fresh water. The app is operated though reviews and ratings made by fellow travellers which means you can always trust you’ll find the best.
It’s an obvious and unavoidable expense that goes hand-in-hand with life on the road. But there are definitely plenty of ways to manage your fuel costs and ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Peter uses a free app called Fuel Map Australia to evaluate his fuel consumption, find the cheapest service stations in the area and even make sure his caravan is running at peak performance at all times. He says managing fuel prices are imperative to a successful budget as many grey nomads will come across unexpected prices throughout their travels.
“If you’ve had a windy day, your fuel consumption will go up. In parts of Western Australia we’ve been paying around $1.90. So, it’s quite expensive in the outback.”
And although there is an urgency to jam as much into your trip as possible, Peter says it’s also important to slow down sometimes for the sake of the budget.
“When you’re not traveling as much you don’t spend as much on fuel. You’re not wearing your tyres out as quickly. So, when you slow down a bit, you’re actually conserving money.”
Creating an initial budget is vital and being aware of your expenses as you travel just as important. Peter says budgeting apps have allowed him to stay on top of his expenses at a daily rate rather than collating every month.
“I use two different apps for money and it sounds a bit pedantic but it only takes me about five minutes a day to update the apps. One gives me good overall detail and the other one is an immediate indicator on how you’re traveling.”
The first app is Money Monitor which helps capture neatly categorised spending, while the other is Trail Wallet which gives intel on daily spending against your budget and includes features such as spending limits.
Just because you’re retired and spending your life travelling, doesn’t mean you can’t make some good money on the side. Peter and his wife have chosen to rent out their home to family friends for a small weekly fee that covers most of their at-home expenses that they would otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket.
“We’ve gotten into the habit of getting younger people in as they tend to look after the house reasonably well. It has to be a win-win because we want people to do a good job and we make it attractive for them by only charging minimum rent.”
When it comes to budgeting on the road, Peter says that there has to be a happy medium, and if you are lacking some sort of control then you’re guaranteed to run out of money quicker than you think.
“There’s lots of things you can’t control, but you have to be able to identify the things you can control and manage them the best you can. The others you just have to make allowance for or ride it out however you can.”