My 2021 Budget Breakdown as a Solo Nomad in the U.S.

As you all know if you’re reading this blog, 2021 was my first full year of full-time nomadic living. In years past, I dabbled in it, but still had a house (and a mortgage) to go back to — in September 2020, I sold my house in Phoenix and went for it full-time. 

And since there are a lot of you who tell me, “Julie, I wish I could do what you’re doing!” and cite cost as a factor, I want to bare my actual spending to you so you can: 

  • See what I chose to spend money on and compare to your own spending
  • See where you could cut or make adjustments
  • See where you could share costs with a friend or partner and how that could significantly affect the numbers (IE: sharing a hotel room or Airbnb vs. paying for it all on your own)
  • See how I plan to cut in 2022, since as of mid-December 2021 I don’t have a job (and naturally, that affected how willing I was to spend in 2021!)

Total spending in 2021: $52,924

Average spending per month: $4,410.33

P.S. I’m starting off the first six months of 2022 in Mexico… where I expect my money to go much farther!

The main categories I spent money on in 2021 as a solo nomad:

Travel ($19,481.30 a year or $1,623.44 a month): this includes Airbnbs (73 nights for $6,112), hotels (117 nights for $10,106), air travel (CHS-PHX in February, MCI-BZE in May, and a tourist flight to see the Blue Hole, $864) and some miscellaneous travel expenses (like renting a friend’s house, 35 nights for $2,100). I also stayed with friends and family for 140 nights ($0), although I thank my hosts with food and alcohol, hence my expenses in that category!

Food & Dining ($11,323.57 a year or $943.63 a month): this includes restaurants ($5,384), groceries ($3,027), alcohol & bars ($2,424), food delivery and coffee shops. Obviously, this is a pricey category, and I can certainly trim here — but I also consider this part of the experience

Auto & Transport ($4,469.59 a year or $372.47 a month): the nomad life has seen me on the road — a lot! My major expenses in this category are gas ($1,894), auto insurance ($883), service & parts ($214), registration ($399), parking ($158), and tolls ($154). This category also includes ride share ($289), public transportation, and deductibles. Luckily, my car is paid off, so that’s not something I need to account for! Can you imagine what my expenditures would be otherwise? (Buy an affordable car, people!)

Personal Care ($2,856.32 a year or $238.03 a month): this category includes hair ($836), massage, and spa services. This is a category that I admit, I do splurge on — at this point in my life, I’m willing to pay extra for salon-quality highlights, anti-aging treatments, and other beauty services. I largely consider this a self-care and well-being category; obviously, this category is scale-able based on personal preference.

Fees & Charges ($2,768.70 a year or $230.73 a month): this includes the annual membership for my Chase Sapphire card (well worth it), the annual fee for my Costco membership (also well worth it) and financial advisor fees ($2,390 — groan!!). In the fall, I severed ties with my financial advisor for making frequent trades that carried transaction fees, for choosing holdings with a high expense ratio (some up to 2%!), plus he carried a 1% service fee and he was NOT returning higher than the market. I am now self-managing my portfolio, so I won’t have this expense next year… you live, you learn.

Shopping ($2,760.04 a year or $230.00 a month): this includes cosmetics (like I mentioned, I’m willing to spend more on quality skin care products!), toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner), a splurge item like a new Apple Watch, and also includes clothing ($636), sporting goods ($127), and books ($163 on Kindle, natch’ — I also borrow eBooks free from the library).

Gifts & Donations ($1,553.39 a year or $129.45 a month): just that! Birthdays, Christmas, wedding gifts, and charitable donations.

Business Services ($1,323.74 a year or $110.31 a month): you think this blog makes me money? Think again! This is the cost of hosting my website, cloud storage, and other miscellaneous business expenses.

ATM ($1,100.71 a year or $91.73 a month): cuz sometimes you just need cash for incidentals! Honestly, this is probably tips or snacks. 

Pets ($1,043.09 a year or $86.92 a month): Penny’s veterinary wellness plan, dog food, and flea & tick. We are letting her wellness plan expire in 2022 since we’ll be in Mexico for half the year. I plan to pay out of pocket as needed.

Mobile Phone ($986.45 a year or $82.20 a month): this is my AT&T mobile phone plan, which includes a mobile hotspot and unlimited data, calling and texting in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. I will probably consider a cheaper plan in the future.

Rental Insurance & Storage Unit ($850.41 a year or $70.87 a month): In November, I moved my things out of my storage unit in Phoenix and brought them to my mom’s place in Overland Park, KS. I pay about $13 a month in rental insurance that protects the belongings I have in my car while I’m on the road and at my mom’s place. In 2022, I’ll only pay the rental insurance. 

Entertainment ($856.1 a year or $71.34 a month): This is my monthly Hulu subscription, park entrance fees, tours, the movie theater, or concert/plays. 

Tax Return ($759.99 a year or $63.33 a month): Nothing’s certain in life besides death and taxes, right? I’m looking forward to paying no income taxes in 2022 given that I’ll be without income, and I’m also likely to get a refund in April!

Medical, Health & Fitness ($759.73 a year or $63.31 a month): Unfortunately, my health care expenses WILL go up in 2022. In 2021, my employer paid for my health insurance premium and I contributed $500 pre-tax to my FSA (which is not indicated here). This amount includes copays and out-of-pocket expenses after I exhausted my FSA — and my monthly gym membership to OrangeTheory Fitness, which I froze a few times in 2021 due to breaking my foot in Belize and pulling my bicep in Maine. (I also froze my membership for the first half of 2022, since I’ll be in Mexico.)

Surprised? I am, just a little bit. 

  • TRAVEL: I stayed with friends and family one-third of the year? Who knew! Obviously, this had a huge impact on my financials. THANK YOU to everyone who hosted me and helped me keep my budget in check in 2021! When I started out on the nomad life, I aimed to stay under $2K a month on housing, and I succeeded (thanks to my loved ones and a little something called the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which saved me $1K-2K on hotels and food). In Mexico, I’m going to aim for $900 or less on housing per month, which I think is totally doable. 
  • TRAVEL: when all was said and done, Airbnbs cost me almost the same as hotels… $83.73/night vs. $86.48/night. And with hotels I got points, breakfast, housekeeping, and a reliable customer experience. Time will tell if I gravitate towards hotels or Airbnbs in Mexico. 
  • FOOD: It’s kind of crazy seeing in black and white how much money I spent on restaurants, groceries, and alcohol. However… it boils down to about $10 per meal, which actually sounds… not unreasonable for the U.S. Still, I definitely see an opportunity to cut down a bit as long as I’m not sacrificing my experiences. 
  • FEES: Investment fees. This was ghastly. 1%, 2%, and 3% adds up! I encourage all of you to learn a little bit about investing so you don’t have a financial advisor slicing into your gains… it really adds up (or subtracts, ahem) over time.

»If you want to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, use my referral link to make my day — I get bonus points!

And for you numbers’ geeks… a budget table of my nomad life expenses

2021 monthly spending (AVG)2022 budgeted (first 6 months)Notes
Food & Dining$943.63$500
Auto & Transport$372.47$400I’m not sure how much gas and tolls will end up being in Mexico, but I do have to pay Mexican car insurance (in addition to U.S.), which is basically double.
Personal Care$238.03$70I stocked up in the U.S., so I think I’ll be good for several months!
Fees & Charges$230.73$20Goodbye financial advisor fees!
Gifts & Donations$129.45$130
Business Services$110.31$110
Mobile Phone$82.20$82
Rental Insurance & Storage Unit$70.87$13
Tax Return$63.33$0I think I’ll get a few thousand back, actually…
Medical, Health & Fitness$63.31$160I found a health insurance policy that covers the U.S. and international, provided you are outside the U.S. for at least 6 months out of the year. $160/a month seems quite reasonable!
Total$4,410$2,650… let’s see how I do in a few months!

The first step towards financial freedom is understanding where your money is going. Want to track your spending categories like I do? I use Mint, and it’s free. Sign up here with my referral link so I get a little something for sending you there:

Thoughts? Questions? How does your budget stack up? Leave a comment!

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7 thoughts on “My 2021 Budget Breakdown as a Solo Nomad in the U.S.

  1. Your transparency is awesome. I’m looking forward to this kind of lifestyle in a few years and appreciate all that you put out into the blogosphere. Happy New Year!

    1. Julie,

      I’ve been speed reading through your blog since first finding you a week ago! I’m really enjoying living vicariously. The “return” to office even after short breaks always make me want to cringe so I don’t think I can do a mini retirement (I will never return lol) but I am working towards full retirement and hope to reach that within the next 7-10 years.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’m a dividend investor so I’m curious where your living expenses will be coming from in 2022 and beyond. Do you have money saved or are you living off of investment income like dividends?

    1. Hi Bobby! I have savings for 2022; I’m also invested in some dividend-producing funds, but not enough to live on now. I will likely shuffle some things around in 2022. Which holdings do you like?

      1. Thanks for the reply first off. I know your probably busy but I love that you find time to connect with your followers. I have an insta @DividendDawg that shows my progress from 2019 to current day. My top five are MAIN, KMI, EPD, ABBV and AVGO. I’m producing just over $100 a month in income but looking to grow that for the next 15-20 yrs until I can live off of them. What are some of your faves?

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