(or) You Can Have Roots and Wings
“You can’t have roots if you want to have wings.”
Fixed costs can limit freedom, yet they can make your life more stable and grounded. After being virtually homeless for 2 ½ years, I signed a one-year lease on an apartment in Venice Beach last summer. I could only put off buying a car for seven months, and before long, I had the following bills to pay before I got out of bed every day. Rent, Internet/Phone/Cable, Utilities, Car Insurance, Netflix, Yoga Membership, Cell Phone and Health Insurance. As a “value” fanatic, I hate paying for things I don’t use, which meant I had a hard time justifying an $1100 r/t flight to Thailand with all those fixed costs. What I learned is that none of them were truly fixed.
First, I subletted my apartment. I’ve used Craiglist.org in the past and just discovered Airbnb.com, which was fantastic. Because I had a business/family trip in late November, I was able to sublet my place for six weeks for more than the combined rent. I put my Netflix, yoga, and car insurance (besides comprehensive) on hold, and since VirginMobile, my cell phone carrier, doesn’t require a contract (this isn’t an accident; I avoid fixed contracts like the plague), I changed my plan to per call only. I was happy to keep my health insurance and the subletters absorbed the cost of cable and utilities.
|Funds coming in/saved|
|R/t la to bangkok||1100|
So what about food, clothes, entertainment (just got back from the Full Moon Party!) and all the other variable costs? Those are costs I’d have no matter where I am, and even with a daily massage in Thailand ($10), those costs happen to be lower when I travel (an 8-day fast did wonders for my food bill). If I had to pay for Internet or rent a car, it would be fair to include those in my “fixed” costs, but I don’t include a taxi ride here and there since those add up to less than what I spend on gas when I’m home. And as to whether sublet income is really income, yes I’m still paying rent but the reason I make out is because my lodging costs are so low. For more than half my trip I stayed with friends (thanks again Lumyai and bandmate Hajjar) and for the sixteen nights that I stayed in a hotel, it was only $320. Did I mention that for $20 a night, it is beachfront and that I love Koh Samui, Thailand?
In 2004, the Republican National Convention was in New York City and word was that people were renting their apartments for a fortune. My girlfriend at the time suggested I sublet my 1-bedroom apartment in Soho and stay at her place (I slept on the couch…I swear). I ended up getting $500 for three nights—from someone who had nothing to do with the convention! We were hardly put out and enjoyed what felt like free money. On every trip of four days or more since, I’ve subletted. This summer I spent a week driving the Pacific coast with my sister and god-daughter and even with a 4-star hotel in San Francisco ($80 on hotwire) and two nights at Harbin Hot Springs, I made money for the trip. In 2006, I went to Vegas on “business” and rented my New York apartment for $900. I added $100 of my own and entered a World Series of Poker event. The $102,542 pay-out for second place was quite a return.
Add the fact that my subletters have been kind, clean and respectful, and you can see that subletting has allowed me to enjoy the grounding of having my own place along with the freedom of not having fixed costs. Hence, the roots and wings.
Having family and friends to crash with (at home or when you travel) and/or finding inexpensive lodging is what really makes this work. And since you typically stay with family over holidays when others are also traveling, there will likely be demand for your sublet. If you want to go upscale (or prefer a good waterboarding to staying with your family), you may not make money on your trip, but that sublet income may be the difference between the Four Seasons and the Super Eight.
The real hero in this story is a lack of attachment to stuff. I’ll explain in my next column…after I get another massage.