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The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

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Van dwelling, or the lifestyle of living in a van, is becoming more and more popular as a way to travel full-time. Since we bought a van a few months ago to live in, I have received a lot of questions about van dwelling.

While they seem funny to us now, I know that we had some of these same questions before we started RVing. 

Some of the questions we are asked are from those who think we are crazy for living in a van. Whereas, others are from people who are interested in van dwelling but are unsure about certain things. Either way, I hope to clear up a lot of the common questions we receive about living in a van.

You never know, maybe I’ll convert some of you. 🙂

Below are questions that I’ve been asked by friends, family, readers, and even strangers. It’s always interesting trying to explain RVing/van dwelling to strangers who stop me at the store after they’ve seen me get out of our van.

It’s a lot of fun, though. I love answering questions about what it’s like living in a van full-time and getting others hooked on this lifestyle!

Some of the questions I answer in today’s post include:

  • Are you done sailing?
  • Why not just keep your last RV?
  • Biggest pros/cons of van dwelling compared to boat life?
  • Do you shower everyday?
  • What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?
  • How much does living in a van cost?
  • Is van dwelling safe?
  • How do you receive mail?
  • Why would you want to explore the U.S.?
  • What do you do for health insurance?
  • How do you have internet while traveling full-time?

If you want to follow our travel adventures, please click here to follow me on Instagram.

Related articles on van dwelling:

Here are the van dwelling questions you’ve asked me:

 

Are you done sailing?

If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question.

I know some of you are thinking, “You quit sailing to live in van?!”

No, we did not quit sailing! We are splitting our time between van dwelling and boat life. We still have lots and lots of plans with the boat, and we enjoy having it. We are getting back to the boat in just a few weeks and cannot wait!

So then, why did we get a van?

Last hurricane season, we mainly stayed in the marina on our boat. We did several short sails, but we wanted to do something different this hurricane season.

We talked to so many sailors and quickly realized that many take a few months away from their boat each year during hurricane season, and we completely get it.

To have the best of both worlds (in our minds), mountains and beaches, we quickly realized that having a 4×4 van along with the boat is how we achieve our dream living situation.

We’ll mainly be living/cruising on the boat, but we will also be occasionally living in our van so that we can still do all the hiking, biking, and rock climbing that we’ve been wanting to do. We’ve been feeling like something has been missing from our lives, and now we feel refreshed and ready again for sailing! ⁣⁣

We have done a lot of traveling off the boat this summer, for family reasons, a wedding, and events, and van dwelling made traveling everywhere much more comfortable for us and our two dogs.

Also, another positive of van dwelling is that the systems are pretty simple, and there isn’t a whole lot that goes into it. So, it’s less likely that we’ll have large repairs that take up a lot of time and money.

We really wanted it to be as simple as possible. Since we already have a sailboat that is quite complex (compared to a van or RV), we wanted our time away from the boat to be as carefree as possible.

Related: Welcome To Paradise – We’re Living On A Sailboat!

 

Was getting a van planned?

I know some people think we’re nuts for our non-traditional living situation, and I hesitated talking about getting the van until we drove it off the lot because I was afraid of being judged. 

When we sold our motorhome in 2018, we had already planned on living in a van when we’re off the boat. So, yes, this was all in the original plan. And, the van makes us even more excited for our future sailing plans!

For us, we think it will be the best of both worlds – sailing and van dwelling.

We have a lot of outdoor goals that we want to achieve, and a van makes all of them much more realistic. We don’t have to wait until we’re finished boating to do those things, and who knows if and when we’ll ever be finished sailing. Now, we can do both of the things we love!

 

What kind of van did you get?

We’ve been looking at vans for quite some time, and decided to get a Winnebago Revel. This is a four-wheel drive van that also has:

  • Solar panels on the roof
  • A small rooftop AC
  • A very small bathroom (you shower over the toilet)
  • A bed that can be easily brought up and down, which gives lots of space for the dogs
  • A kitchen (again, very small, haha) with a stove, fridge, and sink

It sleeps the two of us and our two dogs just fine. Honestly, we were a little surprised with the space (the layout is PERFECT!), and we have really loved being in it this summer.

No, we did not pay full price or anywhere near it. We’re master negotiators when it comes to vans and RVs, haha. We got the van at a little over 30% off MSRP, which is a normal percentage when it comes to new vans.

Sadly, I do know of many people who paid full price for this same van! In fact, I know of people who have bought this same van used for a higher price than what we bought it for new. We got such a good deal on it that we are still scratching our heads on why and how it happened.

 

Do you actually like van dwelling?

Yes!

We are willingly living the Sprinter van life, haha!

Our van is 19 feet long, which surprisingly isn’t much longer than your average vehicle at around 15-18 feet (yes, we measured other vehicles because our family became curious as a joke).

Many people even make jokes about living in a home with wheels, like it’s something you shouldn’t aspire to.

“Living in a van down by the river” – I have heard that so many times now, haha.

But, it’s my life, and I really, really love it!

Here are some of the things that I love about van dwelling:

  • I love the freedom. Whether you’re living in a van, an overland vehicle, a big motorhome, or anything else, living in a vehicle gives you a lot of freedom. You can choose where you want to live, and you can mix it up and change it all the time. You can also decide how long you will stay somewhere and travel however you want. Perhaps the city is for you? Or, maybe you just want to hike all the time! Whatever you decide, it’s about living your life the way you want.
  • I love having all of my stuff with me. I really enjoy traveling in a van because I can travel to tons of amazing places and bring everything I have with me. While that may sound like I’m a hoarder and may have suitcase packing problems – it’s really just that I like to be able to bring my husband, dogs, my work, my clothes, food, outdoor gear, and so on with me. Van dwelling just makes sense for me because I can easily bring everything wherever I go. And, it’s more than just going on a vacation, which is nice too, but I love being able to bring my entire home with me. This way, I’m not forgetting anything, and because my home is always with me, I still get to live comfortably.
  • I can spend more time outside. I’m much more active than when I lived in a “normal” house, and I believe that’s because living in a vehicle takes me to all of these amazing places that I am just dying to explore. We love being able to do things outdoors, and we usually pick places that make that even easier. So, we like to park next to hiking trails, bike trails, rock climbing routes, and more. This is great because we can usually just walk or ride our bikes to wherever we want to go, which allows us to spend a ton of time enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
  • I can easily travel with my dogs. A major reason for why we chose to live in a van was because we, of course, had to bring our dogs with us. They are a part of our family. By traveling via van, our dogs can go everywhere with us. While it would be possible to travel full-time with them and not live in a van, I think it just makes it easier on everyone to have a place to call home. 

 

What do you not like about van dwelling?

Living in a van isn’t perfect. If it was, then everyone would do it!

  1. We can only carry so much water (21 gallons). So, long showers aren’t really possible.
  2. We have a very small fridge. In a van, you can’t have a residential fridge.
  3. We don’t have a washer/dryer. Since we’re really active outdoors when we’re in our van, that means we have lots of dirty clothes!

Those things aren’t really negatives, though, as there are ways around all of them. You simply fill up water more often, go to the grocery store more, and have to visit a laundromat.

 

 

How’s van life compared to the big RV you used to have?

Before we started boating, we lived in an RV for several years. Our previous RV was a Tiffin Allegro Bus, which is a big diesel pusher. It had heated floors, a fireplace, a residential fridge, a bathroom bigger than the one in the house we used to own, 4 TVs, and more.

When you think RV, you probably don’t think of the one we used to have (although, it’s actually quite common in real life!).

Our van is much, much smaller. For example, our WHOLE fridge is smaller than the freezer in the RV we owned.

But, the van is great because we are able to get in to some amazing places due to its smaller size and it being 4-wheel drive.

One of my favorite things about living in a smaller vehicle is that we can pull the van in to places that most vehicles can’t get to, and then comfortably sleep and eat there!

 

Why not just keep your last RV?

Right before we bought the boat, we sold the RV. Some of you are probably wondering why we didn’t just keep the last RV we had, especially if we knew that we were planning on living in a vehicle when we weren’t on the boat.

We didn’t want both a big boat and a big RV – we didn’t want all of the maintenance that goes along with a big RV, we didn’t want a big RV just to be sitting there for months without being used, and the cost difference is fairly large. We also sold our last RV for nearly what we bought it for, so it made sense to get something that better fit our new situation.

We also wanted to be able to pull up to all the amazing trails that we are used to exploring, and since we are only doing it for a few months each year, we don’t need anything massive. The boat is still our “main” home, so living in a van is simply something we do during the boating off season.

 

Biggest pros/cons of camper van life compared to boat life?

I know that everyone wants me to tell them which one is better, but they are so very different that it would be impossible to answer it that way.

Both van dwelling and boat life are both great. They are both very similar, but also drastically different with certain things.

The biggest pro to van dwelling/RVing is that it is a much easier way of living and traveling than being on a boat. The degree of ease/difficulty isn’t even comparable between the two.

RVing/van life is also great because you can drive straight to the best hikes, bikes, climbs, and sleep right there. While it’s possible on a boat, it’s not nearly as easy to access all of the wonderful land adventures that the world has to offer.

Boat life is great, though, because you’re on the water, it’s more eco-friendly since you can make your own water, tend to have more solar, can use the wind, and sailing is a ton of fun. Boats can also bring you to amazing islands and allow you to access more water-based activities. Sailing is very rewarding because it pushes you to learn really fun and new skills.

I think we will always do both for as long as we can as they allow us to do different things.

 

How long will you stay in the van for?

We will be back on our boat in just a few weeks. We will be heading to the Annapolis Boat Show in October and then going to the boat right after that.

 

What will you do with your van when you’re on the boat?

Our plan for now is to store our van when we’re not using it. So, in about a month, we will be tucking her in until we want to use her again.

Here’s an option if you have an RV that you’re not using full-time – How To Make Extra Money By Renting Out Your RV.

 

Do you shower in your van?

Yes, we shower. We have a shower in our van dwelling. I use soap, shampoo, and everything else. I shower pretty much the same way I would at home.

See, our water tank only holds 21 gallons, and since we do a lot of off grid camping, I have to take a lot of short showers.

We even get hot water because we have a water heater. Now, it’s not always the most relaxing shower, but I am still able to shower.

 

Do you shower everyday?

No.

Yep, I’m super gross.

I shower pretty much after each outdoor activity I do. But, if it’s an uneventful day and there’s not much water, I’m probably not showering.

And, when I do shower in the van, I have become the master of the one gallon of water shower.

I do brush my teeth like normal, wash my face everyday, and so on. That hasn’t changed at all.

 

What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?

We use it.

Haha! For real, we have a toilet in our van, so we use the bathroom, just like if we were in a “real” home.

It’s only different in that you have to dump it.

This is often one of the first questions people have about van life 101.

 

How/what do you eat?

We make food in our kitchen. We have a very small table, fridge, stove, and a slow cooker. We are able to cook just as if we were at home.

Yes, our kitchen is tinier, but it works well for us.

We try to keep our meals to something more simple, as cleaning a lot of dishes just means that we’ll quickly go through our water tank. We also only have one stove burner, so we try to only use the stove top or the Instant Pot.

 

How much does living in a van cost?

As I answered in How Much Does It Cost To RV?, RVing can be extremely cheap or it can be very expensive. It’s the same for van dwelling.

We paid for our van in cash, so we don’t plan on having many other costs that go along with it, except fuel and insurance (we did go ahead and prepay for a year of insurance). Of course, we’ll still be paying for food, cell phones, and other normal expenses.

One of the big reasons for why we chose the van is because it is small and can get almost anywhere. That also means that we can park for free in more places, such as family and friend’s driveways, boondock wherever, and more.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.

 

Is living in a van safe?

Yes, I believe that living in a van dwelling is safe. We’ve never really felt unsafe while traveling in our van.

We hardly ever park in cities and are almost always either in the backcountry or in someone’s driveway (it’s our favorite way to visit family and friends!).

 

Can you live in a van with a family?

I recommend reading this van life guide to living in a van with kids – How This Couple Does Van Life with A Baby (and a dog!).

Also, this one – Becoming an RV Family – How We Travel Full-Time With 4 Kids and 2 Dogs.

 

How do you do laundry in a van?

Interestingly, this is one of the top questions I get about living in a camper. I could probably write an entire van life guide just about laundry because of how interested people are in how we wash our clothes.

Yes, we do laundry!

We either use a campground laundromat or find a public one.

It usually takes us less than an hour to do our laundry and less than $10. We do our laundry around once per week.

 

How do your dogs do in the van?

We chose the Winnebago Revel because we thought it would be perfect for our dogs, and it is!

Our bed retracts up, so it is completely out of the way when we’re not sleeping in it. We use the area below the bed as a sleeping space for our bigger dog. Our smaller dog has his own area as well.

They also get to go on lots of hikes and walks and explore lots of amazing places.

The van easily stays climate controlled, so that is great for our dogs. We have an AC for when it’s really hot, and we also have a great van fan (if you don’t have an RV, then you probably don’t know what this is, but it’s simply a really, really good fan). We try to follow good weather as much as we can, so that the temperature is nice for our dogs.

 

Do you hate each other yet after living in such a small space?

One of the most common things about full-time van dwelling that we hear from others in relationships is that they think they couldn’t do it because they might end up hating their spouse.

We live in less than 100 square feet, and we’re still doing great!

We are just fine with the small space and it’s never really gotten to us. Sure, there are times when it rains all day and you can’t go outside, but there are always other things to do, such as read, work on the business, and just relax.

 

What do you do for a living, so that you can travel full-time?

This isn’t a common camper van life question that I receive from readers as you all know what I do! However, I hear this all the time when I’m on the road or when I bump into someone in person.

This is a question that is always funny to answer, because many don’t think you can make money while traveling. However, you can!

I make my living entirely online through my blogging business. Here are helpful articles to read:

 

How do you receive mail?

We belong to a mail forwarding company called St. Brendan’s Isle. All of our mail gets sent there, and then they forward our mail to wherever we are.

For example, the other day I knew I would be at my sister’s, so I had all of my mail shipped to her house. St. Brendan’s Isle puts it all in one tidy package and ships it to where I’m staying.

This is one of the top things that stops people from traveling full-time, and I just find it funny. It’s so easy to get your mail so please don’t let this stop you!

 

Where do you like to sleep in the van?

I’ll be honest and say that we are not usually huge fans of RV parks. There are some nice ones out there, but we don’t like to be packed in the middle of a bunch of RVs, which is how most RV parks are.

If we do stay at an RV park, we like to make sure that we have a view, where at least one side of our vehicle backs up to something awesome, such as the ocean, desert, mountain, etc.

This is why we prefer campgrounds at state parks, national parks, and so on, because you get a much better view and a little more space.

For the most part, though, we are camping for free in the backcountry. This is our favorite way to sleep while living in a van full-time as you can get a ton of space all to yourself, you can see the beautiful night sky without any light pollution, and it’s great for exploring.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.

 

Can you just park anywhere you want?

Hardly a week goes by without someone saying that we should visit them and that we can park in their driveway, some random lot next to their house, inside their garage, and so on and so on.

I always laugh – you can’t really just park anywhere in your RV or van. RV and camper van life isn’t that easy!

There may be rules and laws against RV parking in some cities on public streets, there may not be enough space, the space might not be level, there can be low hanging trees, or there may be a 9 foot bridge to drive under.

There are plenty of places to stay, though, so for the most part you won’t have a problem. We have stayed in people’s driveways (Google Satellite and Street View are your friend in these cases), free public land, RV parks, state parks, national parks, and everything in between.

However, we always make sure to research where we are going so that there are no difficulties.

 

Why would you want to explore the U.S.?

This is my least favorite question and it honestly makes me want to scream.

BECAUSE IT’S FUN.

The U.S. is full of awesome landscapes and there are so many beautiful and fun things to see here. Just take a look at some of my Instagram photos for proof.

 

What do you do for health insurance?

Learning about health insurance options is part of van life 101 – and unfortunately, there are no realistic options. I didn’t want to pay the penalty for not having health insurance, and I also didn’t want to go uninsured.

For full-time travelers, it is difficult to find health insurance companies that will cover you.

Some health insurance companies won’t cover you once you travel out of your state. If they do offer out-of-state coverage, they usually require that you at least live full time in your home state. While we do have a home state and address, it isn’t technically where we live full time. So, it was important to find a health insurance provider that wouldn’t possibly void a medical expense if they found out that we were trying to get around this loophole.

Plus, the only policy that we qualified for (in our state) had an astonishingly high deductible of $39,000 for out-of-state medical expenses. And, as full-time travelers, we are excluded from the majority of policies anyways due to the loophole described above, so that just didn’t work for us.

Paying a high monthly health insurance premium that comes with a $39,000 annual deductible, and the fact that many of our claims would probably be voided, made this decision a no-brainer.

So, in January of 2016, we started a membership with Liberty HealthShare. For the both of us, we pay just $249 each month.

With this monthly fee, 100% of our eligible medical bills – up to $1,000,000 per incident – are covered after the $1,000 per couple annual unshared amount (think of this as your annual deductible).

Now, belonging to a health sharing ministry is not perfect. Liberty HealthShare is not traditional health insurance, which means:

  • They are under no requirement to cover your medical expenses.
  • You cannot deduct Liberty’s monthly costs from your business taxes.
  • You cannot contribute to a Health Savings Account.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions are not covered until years later.

Health care sharing ministries all have some sort of ethical rules that you must abide by, such as no smoking, no drinking, and so on. If you incur a medical expense due to something that is against their policies, there is a chance that they will not cover it.

You can read more about Liberty HealthShare at We No Longer Have Traditional Health Insurance – Liberty HealthShare Review.

 

The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

How do you get internet while traveling full-time?

I hear this question all the time, and it’s one of the top things that stops people from traveling more.

And, I completely understand the hesitation!

When we first thought about traveling full-time, I had no idea what would happen to my business. I didn’t know how I would connect to the internet, if it would be super expensive, or anything else. I didn’t even really know if it was possible.

I still remember telling Wes (my husband) that I would not be able to travel full-time unless we had internet.

But, now I know it’s actually not too bad. There is usually some form of internet, and I almost always use my own source. It’s not terribly expensive either. Yes, sometimes there is absolutely no internet. However, I usually try to prepare for that by working ahead as much as I can.

We currently have AT&T for our phones and internet. We used to have both Verizon and AT&T (many full-time travelers have multiple sources because you travel to different areas), but we switched to just AT&T and have been happy with it.

Even with that being said, sometimes our internet connection is not that great. Working ahead as much as possible alleviates any work stress that would come from having a lack of internet or a bad connection.

I did just get a WeBoost and put it on the van so that I can improve my signal and work in more places. Since Sprinter van life means we are off the grid a little more often, this is a must for us so that I can still work! 

So far, it has been amazing, and I have been able to have internet almost everywhere that we’ve been due to the WeBoost. About half of the places that we have stayed so far in the van have had no internet, and the WeBoost has boosted our signal to a point that I can actually work! I don’t know how I’ve gone the previous four years of full-time travel without it!

Surprisingly, I’ve found that our internet connection is better in the Bahamas than anything we ever had in the U.S. while traveling full-time. We used a new company called MyIslandWifi. It is truly unlimited internet for just $75 a month (and there’s no contract!). I can make phone calls, text, and hop online whenever I want, and it’s always a fast speed. For people in normal homes, this may seem expensive, but keep in mind that when traveling full-time you don’t have access to the kind of affordable (and FAST) wifi that is usually found in a home.

When we start traveling further outside of the U.S. and Bahamas, I know that finding internet will become more difficult. I’ll update you as I go!

If you’re wanting to know more about the various options (and there are a lot of options!), I highly recommend RV Mobile Internet.

Everyone’s situation is a little different and different options exist due to that.

What other questions do you have for me about van dwelling? Are you interested in living in a van?

The post The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.



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Finance

First-time home buyers: Advice in a high COL area. Do I have my ducks in a row?

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Quick intro and thanks: I have been following this sub since 2012 when I turned 21 and I am sincerely grateful for the plethora of individuals who take time out of their day to educate those who browse this sub. All constructed criticism is welcomed and thank you in advance for a sanity check before our largest financial decision in our lives.

I (28M) and my long-term girlfriend of 5 years (26F) are aiming to close on our first house/townhouse in the greater Denver area this spring. We aim to live in the unit for a few years while building up equity and then rent it out while we move on to our next property. We plan on getting engaged this year and married next year. All the units we have looked at are near downtown, right next to public train transit centers, and have seemingly high ROI rental opportunity. We have no issue with living in a 1,300 sq/ft townhouse and for now don’t have a need for a larger house; we would rather pick an area with high growth potential. No kids and no plans for children until mid-late 30’s.

Townhome we are looking to put an offer on is listed at $499,000. Comp’s in the area seem to be around $525k but have a bit better of a view. Rent in identical units in the small complex are between $2,600-2,700 a month for future cash flow estimates. Area has high growth projections.

I qualified for a 30-year VA loan @ 3.000% (3.281% APR) w/ no PMI @ 0 down. I am debating on if we should put any money down and cut into my liquid cash savings. They qualified me for up to $548k but I don’t feel comfy with spending more than 500k. Calculator's online say our mortgage after property taxes and insurance will be between $2500-2650 a month on the quoted townhome above.

Income: $159,800 pre-tax combined yearly income. $9,850 a month post tax combined income

Current savings: $34,500 in an Alley high-interest savings account

10k in a checking account @ a credit union

$2,500 in an HSA

Investing/Retirement: $18,500 saved in a lifestyle fund 401k. Currently contributing 10% pre-tax income with an additional 4% company match.

$10.2k of Cryptocurrency @ current market value I purchased back in college.

Dept: Neither of us have student loans or any CC dept. We have 2 car loans. My car has 9k left to pay off @ 1.8% interest and a payment of $385 a month. Car’s current trade in value is 27k and has 2 years left of full warranty. Her car has 8k left on a loan @ 2.1% with a $310 a month payment. Her car’s trade in is valued at 18k and has 3 years left of full warranty.

Both of our credit scores are slightly above 800.

Current rent is $1,750 a month but we have longer commutes than if we were to live closer to downtown. We have been living together in our current rental for 3 years.

Am I missing something major here? My calculated mortgage with property taxes and insurance included @ 0 down would be right around 26% of our post-tax monthly income. Including our only other dept (2 car payments) our total dept payments post-tax would be 32.4%. We could shop for a cheaper house or townhome farther from downtown but older homes seem to be in the 430-470k range and need some updating/new appliances or have an older roof. Projected rents in those homes farther from downtown seem to be lower than the unit we are looking at that is next to a main st district and public train transit center.

Do these numbers check out or should I continue renting/searching for cheaper places? Are we in a good position to be purchasing our first house in a high COL area? The sticker shock of spending half a million on a townhome is a tough pill to swallow but I have been dreaming of being a homeowner since I got out of the military and made it one of my young-adult goals to start acquiring property to generate a cash-flow rental LLC. Any and all advice is welcome!

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Practical Strategies for Gratitude, Mindfulness and Financial Success

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When I think about my worst spending mistakes, when I abandon all sense of frugality and damage my financial success by spending a lot of money on something wasteful, there’s almost always one big element that those mistakes have in common. They always happen at a moment when I feel really negative about myself and my life.

If I feel really good about things in my life, the things, the relationships that I have and all of the things going on, then I’m far less likely to make spending mistakes, particularly big ones. It’s only when I’m feeling as though my life isn’t very good and I’m missing out on things that I find myself spending money recklessly.

For me, perhaps the most powerful tool to avoid spending mistakes, stay frugal in my spending habits and keep heading toward financial success is to simply have a positive attitude about my own life and the various elements in it. As I noted, if I’m feeling good and feeling content about what I have, I’m less likely to spend recklessly to try to fill some emotional hole, and the less likely I am to spend recklessly, the easier it becomes to achieve all of my financial goals.

How do I really do that, though? I’ll be the first to admit that I find this approach to life easy at times and hard at others. There are times when I find it quite easy to feel good about myself and what I have, and there are other times when I find it very hard to feel good about things and find myself thinking very negatively about some elements of my life. That latter mindset almost always leads to big spending missteps.

I am never going to be a perfect person with a permanently sunny outlook and positive perspective on my life. I don’t think anyone is. Even though I know it’s foolish and it feels bad and it almost always causes financial and health missteps, I still sometimes fall into negative feelings and discontentment with my life.

Instead, what I aim for is a life that’s a little more positive overall than it used to be, with a set of tools I know I can use to make negative thoughts a little less likely and to help myself get out of a rut of negative thinking. These tactics aren’t like some kind of magic switch that transforms everything. Rather, they move a mind that might be, say, 60% positive and 40% negative to something like 70% positive to 30% negative. That might not seem like much, but it’s actually quite huge. That simple switch means my negative thinking is 25% less frequent than it used to be, which means 25% fewer spending mistakes. (It’s actually bigger than that, because I find that my spending mistakes get worse and worse the longer I dwell on negative thoughts, and these approaches help to stop long runs of negative thinking.)

Here are 10 techniques that work well for me in terms of cultivating a persistently more positive mindset, which not only helps me feel better but also helps me spend less money, eat better, and be more active.

Write down, in your own handwriting, five things you’re grateful for each day.

In the past, this was something I did in fits and starts. I’d do it for several days, then stop doing it, then pick it up again for three weeks, then drop it. It was only over the last year or so that I’ve really started doing it consistently, day in and day out, as part of a morning routine.

I try really hard to think of ordinary, little things in the last day that really made me feel good. In the last month or so, I wrote down things like “the enchiladas we made for supper last night,” “my youngest getting excited about figuring out a good move in a game,” and “curling up in the big blanket on a really cold day.”

What I’ve found is that the process of reflecting on my day and intentionally looking for those positive little things makes it easier to see those little things throughout the day. I’ll see one of my kids laughing, our family dog will curl up next to me when I’m reading a book or I’ll smell apples baking in the kitchen and I’ll think, “Man, life is pretty good,” and I’ll try to remember to include it tomorrow.

The thing is, when you start to see those kinds of things popping up all the time, you begin to not just see those little things, but also see that life as a whole is pretty good. Yes, there are things that aren’t perfect and there are things that are uncomfortable and difficult in life, and this doesn’t make them disappear. Rather, this is about getting your mind to notice more of the flowers in the field, not pretending that there aren’t weeds.

Challenge your own negative thoughts, particularly ones about yourself.

Everyone has a monologue of thoughts going on in their head most of the time. It’s a mix of hopes and plans for the future, reflections on the past, things that need to be done, reflections on yourself and people in your life, and all kinds of other stuff.

Depending on your mood, that monologue of thoughts can have a positive tone or a negative one. I find that, for me, when it’s positive, it tends to focus on things I like about myself and my life and optimistic things about the future, whereas when it’s negative, it’s very self-critical and gloomy. It’s that sense of self-negativity, doom and gloom that often drives me to spend foolishly, as I’m much more easily swayed by product pitches, marketing and the idea that I can buy something that will fix it.

A much less costly solution, albeit one that can be sometimes hard to remember when you’re in a funk, is to push back on those negative thoughts and question them fiercely. When you think that your life is terrible, push back on it. Is that really true? What about all of these good things in your life? When you envision failure, ask yourself if that’s really going to happen, particularly if you put some actual effort into making it not happen.

This doesn’t mean that you should be converting every critical thought into something positive. Some level of self-criticism is good, as it drives you to do things and to make yourself better, and some self-criticism is justified.

Pushback merely separates the meaningful and useful self-criticism, the stuff that should translate into action to fix it, from the stuff that just tears you down for no good reason.

It’s never a perfect filter, of course, but every step you can take to separate some of the useful things from some of the trash in your internal monologue is a step in the right direction.

“Pre-load” decisions when you’re in a good mindset so you can do less damage when you’re in a negative mindset.

Whenever I’m feeling good about myself and my life and the things I’m doing, I try to pre-load as many decisions as possible so that I can keep the good things rolling. I’ll do things like making an extra contribution to my Roth IRA or adding some extra money to our vacation savings. I’ll do a big frugality project. I’ll dig through the pantry and organize it for meal plans for the next few weeks.

The point is that I’m trying to reduce the space for bad decisions later when I’m in more of a bad spot mentally. If I’m feeling down but I know that I have supper planned out and all the stuff is already bought and ready to go for it, I’m much less likely to just order food from somewhere. If I’m feeling down and want to buy something foolish, I’m less likely to do so if I know that I’ve already “spent” that money on Roth IRA contributions.

At the same time, I try to delay big decisions if I know I’m in a bad spot. If I’m about to spend money (or eat something or waste a lot of time or whatever) when I’m in a negative mood, I try to tell myself not to do it and just to wait until I feel a little better. Again, this doesn’t work all the time, or even most of the time, but it pops up often enough make a difference.

For me, this type of thing works best when I use some visualization. I actually think about myself in a funk and then visualize myself giving that kind of pushback. I do this kind of visualizing when I’m driving somewhere, waiting for my daughter to get out of choir practice or sitting in the dentist’s office. I just visualize myself doing things the right way in the near future, and more often than not, I end up actually doing things in that “right way.”

Practice mindfulness meditation every day for 15 minutes or so.

One of the most influential books I’ve read in the last ten years or so was 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story by Dan Harris. For those unfamiliar, Dan Harris was a news anchor for ABC News who had a panic attack on-air during a newscast. His stress level was through the roof and he was having a hard time dealing with the number of things he was juggling in life.

The thing that helped him more than anything else was discovering basic mindfulness meditation. Basically, he spends about 30 minutes a day over two sessions simply sitting in a chair, closing his eyes and focusing his thoughts on his breathing. If his mind wanders and starts monologuing, he brings his attention gently back to breathing. That’s it. It seems comically simple.

I read this book when I was struggling with a lot of things in my own life. I had tried meditation a few times in the past, but not as an ongoing, consistent thing. After reading the book, I started practicing it on my own, about 15 minutes a day. I’d just sit in a chair, focus on my breathing with my eyes closed — breathe in, breathe out — and if my mind wandered, I’d bring it back to breathing.

What I found was a lot like what Harris found: it was at the same time life-changing and not at all life-changing. That might seem self-contradictory, but you might get a clue from the book’s title, 10% Happier. Basically, as long as I keep doing that practice every day, I find that I’m consistently calmer and less anxious and better able to focus on the moment. My resting heart rate is lower (seriously), as is my blood pressure (seriously). I’ve had a lot of other nice effects, too, but they seem to vary a lot from person to person.

My own practice is about 40 minutes a day, split into two sessions. I’ve tried lots of meditative practices, but honestly, the simple practice of focusing on the breath for 15 minutes really works incredibly well. It will not be life-changing, but it is noticeable if you stick with it for long enough, and the time I put into it has paid off many times over.

When things inevitably go bad, look for humor in them.

Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way you want. You or someone you care about gets sick. You don’t get the promotion you want. Your car breaks down. Your furnace stops working on one of the coldest days of the year when you have several houseguests (I’m speaking from recent personal experience on that one).

It’s easy for those moments to nudge you into a negative mindset, one that can stick with you for a while. One of the most powerful antidotes for that is to simply find humor in the situation. Make a joke about it.

Whenever someone in our family is sick, we play up humor about how everyone else is their “servant” or how badly they’d do at a normal activity, for example. I almost always follow any bad event by saying, “It could be worse…” and suggest something comically awful that’s far worse than what’s happening.

Even with something like the death of a loved one, I’ll try to find really good stories to tell about them — funny, lively ones that make people (including myself) remember the good times rather than dwelling on the loss.

Look for humor in your current situation rather than despair. It’s a spectacularly powerful way to take the edge off of negative thoughts about it, and that almost always indicates the start of a turnaround in one’s mindset.

Hang out with positive people and dial down the time spent with negative people.

If you surround yourself with people who are generally negative in their comments and attitudes toward others, you’ll find that you begin to be negative in your own attitudes and comments and those begin to shape your thoughts. The reverse is true with more positive people — if you’re mostly around people who are generally positive in their comments and attitudes toward others, they’ll shape your attitudes and thoughts in that direction as well.

Thus, one easy solution for nudging your thoughts in a more positive direction is to simply spend more time engaged with people that have an overall positive perspective on life and spend less time engaged with people that have an overall negative perspective on life.

If you have a friend that mostly just complains about everything and sees the worst in everything and makes fun of people in a cruel way, then time with that person is likely to shape your thoughts in a negative way toward the world and toward yourself, so dial down your time with that person. The reverse is true: if you know someone who largely talks about people and things he or she likes and reacts to you in a positive way, that person is likely to shape your thoughts in a positive fashion both toward the world and toward yourself, so increase your time with that person.

How do you “dial down” your time with negative people and “dial up” time with positive people? Intentionally choose to do social things with the more positive folks. This doesn’t mean that you start avoiding the more negative person, just that your calendar is more filled with time with positive people.

I should also note that I’m not talking necessarily about people who are cloyingly positive. Rather, I’m referring to people who don’t react in a negative way toward news of your life and don’t spend their time talking down and ridiculing others. Rather, they talk in a positive way about things of mutual interest.

I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating my friends toward the more positive folks, not in an effort to cut my friendships with the more negative folks, but just to put myself in a better place, and it pays dividends.

Spend less time on social media.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all of the other social media sites can be a useful way to stay in touch with people, but they can also be incredible hotbeds of unnecessary negativity.

All of those platforms encourage people to share only unrealistic highlights of their life — causing you to feel negative by comparison — or to spur people into extremely critical and negative discussions about the issues of the day, cutting people to shreds for simply having a different viewpoint.

That’s not a healthy way to interact, and it doesn’t reflect real-world, face-to-face interaction very well. It also strongly encourages negative thinking, even when away from social media. Dial down your time on social media and find other things with which to spend your time.

Spend less time with entertainment that makes you feel bad; spend more time with entertainment that makes you feel good.

There are some books, movies, television shows and other forms of entertainment that leave me feeling emotionally cold afterward. That can be fine in small doses, particularly considering how many great works do have a negative tone to them. However, the reverse is true: if you primarily dwell on and consume content that has a negative perspective to it, it will begin to shape your thoughts in a negative direction.

I’ve witnessed this often in my own life. For example, if I spend a lot of time watching 24-hour news channels, I often end up with a more negative perspective on life and the world around me. I’ll view people, particularly politicians, as being far more crooked than they are (on average) and that large swaths of people are lacking any recognizable personal values.

Yet, when I interact with people in real life, the vast majority of people are good people. They might have differences of opinion, but they’re almost all working to make a better life for themselves and their family or, at the very least, trying to get by. A very small percentage of people are out to genuinely cause harm or to rip off others. I’ve witnessed astounding kindness and generosity from people time and time again, with comparatively few acts of cruelty in the big scheme of things.

Spend more time with people and less time with media, particularly media that presents humanity in a negative light. While you don’t have to exclusively choose positive entertainment, use that as a consideration when choosing what to watch. For me, the best switch I made was to stop watching 24-hour news entirely.

Go outside and move around.

A few years ago, I spent a bunch of time doing mood tracking. I wanted to figure out what things I did during a day would shape my mood in a positive and negative way. It was hard to really find consistent patterns in all of the data, except for one thing: almost always, the higher my step count was on a given day, the better my mood was on the following day.

Basically, the more I walk, the happier I feel for the next 24 to 48 hours, and it’s very consistent over time. It’s not something I consciously notice at the moment, but if I step back and look at the big picture of my life, it’s pretty consistent. If I’m outside and walking a lot and moving around a lot, I tend to feel good about things. If I stay inside and barely move around, my mood will start to decline, my thoughts will grow more negative.

Again, when I’m in a negative mindset, I’m much more likely to spend unnecessarily on things that don’t really matter in the long run, whereas if my mindset is positive, I’m far less likely to fall into that trap of overspending.

Focus on the best you can do in this moment, above all else.

This final tip is perhaps the most universally useful of all: focus on the moment and making the best of that moment.

For example, if you’re having a conversation with someone, put your phone on “do not disturb” and focus on that person. Make that conversation amazing.

If you need groceries, make a thoughtful grocery list, go to the store, and focus on getting the items on that list.

If you have a huge project at work, think about what you can be doing right now to move that project forward effectively, then focus intensely on that task.

Whatever is going on in your life, whatever you’re doing right now, aim to do that well. Aim to do it the best you can, with the best long term outcome.

If you do that consistently, you’ll find that you’re not only proud of your efforts in that moment, but you’re also going to be happier with how your life goes in the long term. Your relationships will improve. Your finances will improve. Your career will improve.

Focus on the moment, make it the best you can, and aim to make choices that improve your long term prospects. You’ll feel better in the short term and in the long term.

The thing is, you’ll never do this all the time. The key is to do it just a little more than you do it now, taking a step in the right direction.

The path to success isn’t perfectly even.

People often buy into the idea that if they just nail this one project or do this one thing right or buy this one product, the success they want will just magically appear.

In truth, success at anything involves a lot of little steps forward, a lot of failures that knock us back a few steps, and then some luck on top of that.

A lot of the time, the difference between success and failure is that you took a few more little steps forward and a few less little steps backward. It’s consistently making little decisions and taking little actions and being a little more positive that makes the difference. It’s about moving from 60% positive steps to 70%, and that’s really what all these strategies are about.

Success is often found simply by making a few little decisions each day a little better than before, having a slightly more positive attitude about life, and looking at things from a “glass half full” perspective a little more often. Do that day in and day out and before long your trajectory is heading in a much better direction.

Good luck!

The post Practical Strategies for Gratitude, Mindfulness and Financial Success appeared first on The Simple Dollar.



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CVS: Deals for the week of January 26-February 1, 2020

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Looking for all the best weekly CVS deals? Check out this list of the hottest deals you’ll find in-store this week!

Here are the best deals at CVS this week, with a big thanks to Passionate Penny Pincher for her help in compiling them:

Buy 2 Crest Pro Health or Complete Toothpaste 2 pk at $4.99, Get $3 ECBs (Limit 2)
Use $2/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Pay $5.98 out of pocket, Get $3 ECBs
$1.49 each after coupon and ECBs

Buy 2 Dove Hair Care at $4, Get $2 ECBs (Limit 1)
Use $3/2 coupon from the 1/26 RMN insert
Pay $5 out of pocket, Get $2 ECBs
$1.50 each after coupon and ECBs

Buy 2 Crest 3D White Brilliance or Whitening Therapy at $6.99, Get $4 ECBs (Limit 2)
Use $3/1 Crest CVS App coupon and $3/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Pay $7.98 out of pocket, Get $4 ECBs
$1.99 each after coupon and ECBs

Buy 2 Crest Pro Health 16 – 32 oz or Scope Mouthwash 1 L at $4.99, Get $3 ECBs (Limit 2)
Use $1/1 Crest CVS App coupon or $1/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Pay $7.98 out of pocket, Get $3 ECBs
$2.49 each after coupon and ECBs

Spend $12, Get $4 ECBs (Limit 6)

Buy 2 Revlon Liquid Eye Liners – $8.49
Use Buy One Get One Free Revlon Lip or Eye Cosmetic (Max Value $12.99), exp. 11/2/19 (SS 10/06/19 R) or $5/1 Revlon Face Cosmetic, exp. 11/2/19 (SS 10/06/19 R)
Pay $6.98 out of pocket, Get $4 ECBs
$1.49 each after coupons and ECBs

Spend $20, Get $10 ECBs (Limit 1)

Buy 1 Aleve Pain Reliever 100 ct – $11.79
Buy 1 Aleve Pain Reliever 50 ct – $8.49
Use $4/1 coupon from the 1/26 SmartSource insert
Use $2/1 coupon from the 1/26 SmartSource insert
Pay $14.28 out of pocket, Get $10 ECBs
$2.14 each after coupons and ECBs

Spend $30, Get $10 ECBs (Limit 1)

*Deal Ideas*

Buy 3 Bounty Paper Towels 6 Huge Roll or Charmin Toilet Paper 8 Mega Roll – $9.99
Use $0.25/1 Bounty CVS App coupon or $0.25/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Use $0.25/1 Charmin CVS App coupon or $0.25/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Pay $29.22 out of pocket, Get $10 ECBs
$6.40 each after coupons and ECBs

OR

Buy 2 Tide Pods 12 -16 ct – $4.94
Buy 2 Tide Laundry Detergent 50 oz- $5.94
Buy 3 Pantene Hair Care – $4
Use $2/1 Tide CVS App coupon or $2/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Use $2/1 Tide Pods CVS App coupon or $2/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Use $3/3 Pantene CVS App coupon
Pay $22.76 out of pocket, Get $10 ECBs
$1.82 each after coupons and ECBs

OR

Buy 3 Pampers Diapers Jumbo Pack – $9.99
Use $1.50/1 Pampers CVS App coupon and $1.50/1 coupon from the 1/26 P&G insert
Pay $25.47 out of pocket, Get $10 ECBs
$5.15 each after coupons and ECBs

Other Deals In Ad

Arizona Tea – $0.50

ERA Laundry Detergent 40 oz – $1.99
Use $0.50/1 coupon from the 1/26 RMN insert
$1.49 after coupon

New to shopping at CVS? Be sure to check out my CVS 101 post that gives you the full scoop on how to get the best bargains at CVS. See the full list of deals at CVS here.



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