tips for contemporary living

7 Tips to Save $10,000 in 10 Months (at an Entry Level Job)

Derek Johanson saved $10,000 in just ten months (working an entry level job) to make his travel dreams come true.

Derek loves doing things that people think are more dangerous than they actually are: bungee jumping, traveling to Colombia, and talking to strangers. “He’s the real deal. His blog is an experiment in micro testing his philosophy (Live Uncomfortably) and creating his personal lifestyle design” – Jet Set


Over the course of 10 months, I was able to save $10,000, working an entry level job, in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. – Los Angeles. I saved over half of my measly $2,400 monthly income despite the inflated costs of living. Now I’m traveling the world, starting my own businesses, and generally loving life.

I don’t say this to brag (entirely), but to remind everyone that anything is possible if you focus enough energy towards your goals. Here’s I how I did it.



I saved my receipts and entered them into a spreadsheet at the end of every day. You’d be amazed how quickly the little untracked expenses add up – coffee, gum, etc. If you record your spending you’ll naturally be a little smarter with it.

Here are what my expenses from January ‘08 looked like (rounded up to the nearest $):

  • Rent: $485
  • Utilities (gas/electric/water): $35
  • Cable: $15
  • Bus/Gas/Transportation: $53
  • Food/Vitamins/Supplements: $265
  • Eating Out: $41
  • House Items/Toiletries: $11
  • Entertainment/Beer/Gifts: $230
  • Education/Business: $70

Total: $1,165

*Note: I didn’t have a cellphone bill because I was still on my parent’s plan.

Clever Budgeting
Clever Budgeting © Jeff Keen


I had a set amount of money deposited directly from my paycheck into a high yield savings account. This way I didn’t have the chance to spend it. A high yield savings account is better than a regular savings account because I accrued interest.


The more people you live with, the cheaper the rent and utilities are going to be. My bill was split between five guys. Consider sharing a room instead of keeping the single. There’s no shame in having a roommate these days, especially with the ridiculous costs of housing.

Privacy was hardly ever an issue for me and my roomies. Whenever my girlfriend and I ‘needed the room’, I just asked and it was ours for a bit.

I don’t, however, recommend sharing a room with a complete stranger. You could get a psycho – I know from experience. Screen potential roommates carefully.


I was eating 5-6 times a day and a lot of healthy foods at each meal. I also bought an expensive protein supplement from Biotest. Yet, I still spent less money on my grocery bills than most people I know. These strategies worked for me:

I bagged my lunch to work.

People hear this all the time but hardly anyone actually does it. My co-workers would routinely eat out and spend $7-8 for their lunch-time meal. I spent just over that for an entire day’s worth of food.

I had a meal plan.

I made a meal plan for the whole week and bought all my food at once. My roommates would often end up at the grocery store every other day because they didn’t want to buy a week’s worth of food at a time. What they failed to see is that they were actually spending more because when they didn’t have food in the house, they’d end up at a fast food joint spending about 1/7 of my weekly bill for one, awful, greasy meal.

I followed the deals.

For healthy, cheap food I went to Trader Joe’s. It kicks the competition’s butt on a lot of products. A dozen cage free eggs is only $2.50!

Go to farmer’s markets on the weekend and stock up. Buy in bulk from Costco. There are cheap places for high quality food in every city. You just have to know where to look.

I ate out sparingly.

Eating out is great. It’s fun and delicious. But it’s also expensive. I usually end up ordering a drink or two so it gets out of control very easily. Instead of going out, I tried cooking nicer meals for my girlfriend at the house. I’m not a good cook (yet) but I tried and I think she appreciated the effort.

Daily Commute, Istanbul
Daily Commute, Istanbul © Kıvanç


Try public transportation – it’s not as bad as you think. I rode the bus in LA for ten months with no real incidents to speak of. Unless you count getting made fun of for wearing a tie.

I had no car so I saved on all types of expenses – oil, insurance, and the other hidden costs. When I needed to borrow a car, I did, and I paid my roommates for my share of the gas. But, because I didn’t have my own car, I felt the need to drive places less. Obviously, if I didn’t live with friends, it might have been a problem, but that’s where good roommate decision making comes in to play.


Everyone’s idea of entertainment differs so you might have to get creative. Rent movies and split the $5 rental fee with a friend, or go to discount theaters. They often have movies that are just out of theaters. Avoid the hype and necessity to see a movie as soon as it’s released.

Some of my best nights in LA were spent with a cheap bottle of wine watching classic movies with my friends in a discount theater near my house.

There are times when you need to cut loose. Because I was spending so frugally on other things, I decided to splurge and spend a lot of cash on my friend’s birthday in January. The extra cash for sushi and drinks was well worth the fun.


Saving was difficult so I had to keep myself motivated. I made sure I read at least one personal finance article (usually something at and one travel blog a day ( anyone?). It helped me stay on track and stay focused on my travel goal.


The bottom line is: I didn’t spend my money on stupid things! As long as you follow that rule you’ll be fine. If it does you no good in the future, don’t buy it. Everything is an investment.

Yes, I may have forgone some immediate pleasures and comforts, but now I’m in a position that few people ever will be. I was able take an entire year off to make my dreams come true.



My wife and I live on about $1,300 a month (and that includes $100 invested) as college students.
I only wish that we made more so that we could be saving for more adventures. We take not-frequent-enough backpacking trips to the nearby national park, hit up the discount theater, and only rent movies from RedBox ($1 rentals, as we only keep it a day).

No TV or internet helps keep expenses low. We access the internet on campus for free, and the two shows that we do watch we can see the next day online for free (via the company websites, so it’s legit too).

I’m currently working on ways to increase my income, and those increases will be applied directly to savings. I’ve got more traveling to do!


$41 for eating out? I couldn’t do it ! It’s great that you saved 10k !


Well done, glad to see that you’ve got your priorities right, this will certainly give you a lot more happy memories to look back on that a life time of eating out at lunch time.

Good luck with all your travel plans!


i am currently in a situation extremely similar to the author and I’ve been doing all the things he mentioned: he is completely correct. I’ve been steadily increasing my saving account balance by the steps mentioned above. I’m almost up to the $5,000 mark and spending the fall in Asia. I am 21 years old


These numbers do not add up. So you made $15/hr and you saved $1000 a month for 10 months correct?

So $1000+$1,165(your expenses) = $2,165 a month you had to bring in, atleast. So you only paid $235 in taxes each month?

According to PayCycle.coms calculator you would only be brining home around $1844 a month after taxes. There calculator may not be to the dollar, but I believe you were taking home much less than the $2200 your calculations say you needed.

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8 tips to help you travel long term and live rent-free

Nora Dunn discusses eight online tools to help you travel long term and live rent-free.


So you’ve decided to do it. You have a friend or family member who can store your belongings for an undetermined period of time, you’ve tied up loose ends, and your bags are packed. It’s time to start traveling long term!

But now what? You have a few family members and distant friends who have offered up a couch if you’re in their neck of the woods, but surely they won’t appreciate your arrival on their doorstep with no planned departure date in sight.

How then, do you travel long term and not run out of money? Hotels (and even hostels) are expensive over time, and finding rental accommodation in every city you visit is impractical. Heck – you don’t even want to pay rent at all!


Available Couch
© *sean

Here are eight handy resources to help you get started on your long term travel adventure:



By joining this service (annual membership is approximately US$30), you will gain access to a classified system of people looking for caretakers in exchange for rent-free living. The opportunities vary widely in scope from ranch hands, to organic farm workers, campground hosting, motel management, nursing for the elderly, to just plain house sitting. Locales for your next potential gig could be anywhere in the world, from numerous U.S. locations, to Australia, to Europe and even Micronesia.

Some are paying opportunities, while others are simply work-trade arrangements for accommodation. Others yet will supply an additional stipend depending on your experience and the work entailed.

This is what TIME Magazine had to say about the Caretaker’s Gazette.



WWOOF is an acronym for a number of different phrases, the most apt of which in my mind is “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”. It is an international organization (located in over 70 countries) of organic farms, gardens, businesses, ranches, (you name it) where you can exchange your services for accommodations, food, and training.

Required services include basic garden and farm maintenance, as well as cooking, teaching, caring for children, and handy work. There is usually some work suitable for anybody willing to adopt this lifestyle.

Whilst surfing Wwoofing opportunities, you will likely also find links to volunteer organizations, and other similar work exchange opportunities. It’s a great way to gain valuable experience, friendships, and to cover your living expenses in a constructive manner.

Most countries require a subscription to gain access to their full listings and contact information of the hosts, and the subscription prices vary from area to area but are not over-priced for the value received.



If you are happy to spend your vacation house-sitting for somebody else, you may find the right opportunity here. You will find lists upon lists of people requesting house sitters for periods of time from a few days to a few months, anywhere in the world. In many cases there are a few hoops to jump through in order to gain the opportunity with liability and bonding issues, and already living or traveling in the same country carries an added advantage.

You can choose from the limited free membership options or the full US$45 one year membership, depending on your needs.



Much like Caretaker’s Gazette and woofing, you will find many worldwide opportunities to proverbially “pick blueberries for a living”. The prospects aren’t limited to organic farms though; you will find hostel management jobs, artist retreat internships, in addition to various agricultural and permaculture settings.

For US$20/year, membership will help you gain access to many great listings and a user-friendly system of contacting hosts and searching for opportunities.



Couch Surfers are a network of people who are willing to open up their homes and hearts to frugal travelers, as well as be those travelers when they are not hosting guests. The site prides itself on referrals and having only high quality members, and has a comprehensive program in place to ensure the safety of both traveler and host. But as with any chance to stay at a stranger’s place for free, a prudent amount of caution should be exercised.

A Few Travel Guests
© Hamed Saber



Similar to Couch Surfing, Global Freeloaders is a cultural exchange program for hosts and travelers. Registration is free, but members are required to be able to host as well as travel, so unless you expect to be able to offer up your digs as a host within six months of signing up, you are politely requested to wait.



This is the original Couch Surfers and Global Freeloaders. Servas (meaning “serve” in Esperanto), is a non-profit non-denominational non-ethnic organization of good-will and cultural exchanges. It’s been around for at least 50 years, and is recognized by the United Nations. In addition to being a network to connect people and places, volunteers around the world work in relief camps and advocate for peace through various projects.

Hosts offer their homes and dinner tables for two nights (or more, at the discretion of the host) to travelers who contact them and who meet with their approval. Travelers must go through an exhaustive process which includes an in-person interview before being accepted to the program, as a way of screening for quality candidates.

Once travelers are interviewed and accepted into the program, they are given printed lists or booklets of the hosts in their destination country (Servas is moving towards an online platform, but is not there yet). There are also membership fees which vary from country to country.



Free to join and internet-based, it appears to be the Servas of the online world. It is kept “safe” through a series of passport checks and online feedback systems with checks and balances.

These are just a few opportunities in the world of long-term travel, as you will discover with a little research. I don’t vouch for any of the services or programs, and a healthy amount of caution should always be exercised when accepting hospitality from strangers. However I think Servas says it best when they say: We are all friends. We just haven’t met yet!

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10 tips to escape world conflict. Or not

There’s no place like home for a blogger.

Brian, from, came up with a list that generated 760 comments and keeps growing with his twist on finding the 10 best places to live if you want to escape world conflict. And we love it. Let’s take a look:

“Where would you be the safest if World War 3 broke out tomorrow? Perhaps it’s a grim subject, but safety and distance from world conflict can be a motivating factor in your choice to expatriate. At the very least, conflict around the world can weigh heavy on the soul, and it’s nice to know there are some places still left in the world where you might be left in peace. Thus, we’ve assembled a list of the 10 best places to live if you want to escape world conflict.”

10. Switzerland


Switzerland’s long history of neutrality and its tucked away location among the valleys of the Alps still make it a safe bet, even despite having a high number of bordering nations. It helps that neighboring Austria is also considered a neutral nation.


9. Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a stable democracy, a disbanded military and a national policy of neutrality. It also ranks highly on the Global Peace Index, Happy Planet Index, and Life Satisfaction Index. Although it sits in the middle of a tumultuous region, there are far worse places to sit in peace as the world goes down in flames all around.

8. Papua New Guinea


There are regions of Papua New Guinea that are still being discovered for the first time. The canopy covered, mountainous nation contains some of the most isolated places in the world. Tuck yourself away in a nook here and it may be one of the few places left where you can completely insulate yourself from the outside world.

7. Canada


Canada is the second largest nation in the world, yet it only shares a land border with one other country– the U.S.A.– and it is a peaceful border. That means there is a great expanse to escape to, if need be. Furthermore, Canada has few world enemies, ranks consistently high on the Global Peace Index, and is relatively homogeneous.

6. Seychelles


Aside from being safely isolated from the rest of the world in the middle of the Indian Ocean, this beautiful island nation is a great place to forget about your worries. Isolation is the key here. And conflict is as transparent as the water.

5. Finland


Finland has a long history of desiring to stay out of international conflicts, is recognized as neutral and always ranks in the top 10 of the Global Peace Index. It’s northerly location also typically means the remote areas of this country are a perfect place to disappear.

4. Tuvalu


Isolated in the middle of Micronesia, Tuvalu is among the safest and most remote places in the world. It is the third least populated country on Earth, and the forth smallest. There are only a few places more distant from the world’s strife than Tuvalu.

3. Iceland


Iceland, of course, has no borders, has remote locations, is stable as a country and has virtually no world enemies. Its people are happy and the nation always ranks highly on the Global Peace Index. If world conflict erupts, Iceland is one of the few stable nations in the world unlikely to get caught up in the middle.

2. Bhutan


Landlocked among the Himalaya mountains, Bhutan is one of the most isolated nations in the world. It also showcases one of the most stable balances in the world between moderization and retention of ancient culture. Its religious population believes in peaceful resolution to all conflict, and although it sits in a troubled region, it remains protected by its geography.

1. New Zealand

New Zealand

New Zealand might be the most isolated and expansive fully developed nation in the world. It shares no borders, sits relatively distant from any other nation, has no real national enemies, has a safe democracy and a diverse landscape with many remote places to hide away within. Furthermore, it ranked #1 on the Global Peace Index in 2009.

That being said, the readers reacted. Here’s a sample:

  1. Oelando Florida says:

    stay in the states, as patriots!!! if you decide to go to NZ, PNG, or Island you will die anyway, cos you, selfish rats, are China’s target. seed love to change the world + and burn up Karma, call your dirty mates brits and israelis

  2. HeavenlyJane says:

    Bhutan’s inclusion in this list is laughable, especially the line: “Its religious population believes in peaceful resolution to all conflict”. Try telling that to the 105,000 people who were expelled 20 years ago in an massive ethnic cleansing, and who have never been allowed to return, even though they still cling to that dream.

  3. RW says:

    The comments in general on this topic are amazingly myopic and generally seem to reflect a low-end view of the world. Though I suppose its typical of the state of humanity these days. Sad.

  4. PN says:

    I think those pictures posted and places referred are for holiday and relaxation .The OP was asking with reference to the eventuality of the dreaded WWWIII ,wake up people .

    The best places to go is a country not much involve in war but we don’t know this yet . It is not just war but calamities too .You think those little white sandy low lying islands will survive a great earthquake and tsuanami ?In out present time ,not one place is insulated from any elements of conflict that may arise.Think about the 7 billion population get hungry – no food ,nuclear boms exploding ,draughts ,floods ,commerce totally put to a a hault. Man you need to get yourself away from the cities and run to the mountains and live wild .Read teh Bible Matthew 24 . Desperate people will do desperate things .So prepare for the extra horrors happening.

    I am thinking of the same line too and wondering where I can be sheltered and get lost ,perhaps through thick forest and never seen when chaos and NWO starts chipping people.

  5. Revolutious says:

    I have to say, the comments here have been very enlightening. NZ seems to be the clear cut winner.

    I second Chuck’s opin that Zam should write a book. Hilarious. I’ve been to Canada and he nailed it for anyone thinking the grass is greener…..Uh, well it is a little greener, but it’s usually frozen and when it’s not, it costs about a weeks paycheck to buy a mower. Socialism, Jeez.

    I read this article because things have been inching closer to collapse for years here in the US and now we’re running to the flames, but I guess I’ll stay right here in Florida, buy some guns (I don’t want to be the only one with a knife), and go down with the ship….well, unless I can get the ship to sail to NZ!

  6. P.J.Andros says:

    I lived in New Zealand all over North and South Island for four years. It’s a Commonwealth country, not an independent nation. It’s found in the Southern Hemisphere, only somewhat isolated and the people seem preoccuppied comparing themselves to much greater, true, nations. And this lack of self-confidence is telling in many ways. The currency exchange was nice. A fair enough place to hang for awhile. But rather boring. An island is an island is an island.

  7. Sam says:

    Anyone know where that photo of NZ was taken?

  8. Brandon says:

    This is an OPINION piece people, not scientific fact, so I wish you guys would’t read so deeply into it. I am Canadian, and out country IS very peaceful, and understanding, and not really that expensive to live in (in the grand scheme of things) I’d rather be here than in the USA if there was a WW3. I travel a LOT and Canadians are definitely welcomed much more openly than Americans (sorry guys)

    Im using this piece as a travel guide above anything else. I’d love to go to Seychelles or Tuvalu and experience a REAL country, not one that has been bastardized for tourists that can’t travel without access to Starbucks and McDonalds.

    Good work poster.

  9. Jo says:

    I don’t think the inclusion of Tuvalu or the Seychelles is very sensible. The people of Tuvalu are already being evacuated to New Zealand because sea level rise is flooding their country. At high tide you can be knee deep in water in some places- where houses have stood for years. The Seychelles is also shrinking due to rising sea levels so I doubt either of these will remain conflict free places

  10. Tony says:

    Sam ,photo of N.Z is central north island,Mt Tongariro,it’s a small mountain beside Mt Ruapehu,the water is a crater lake,I grew up on a sheep farm about 80miles north


    It’s not easy being a blogger. ;)

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