I am a cheapskate.
Everyone knows it.
In Spanish, someone who is notoriously stingy with their money is often called a codo.
Codo also happens to be the Spanish word for elbow.
Every time my grandfather sees me the jerk points at his elbow and laughs.
But hey, I’ll take some good-natured ribbing from my abuelito if it means I get to stay abroad for an extra month or two.
Once I committed to my trip, in an effort to save as much money possible, I took my thriftiness to new heights, or lows, by utilizing three steps outlined in Rolf Potts’ book, Vagabonding.
Step One: Stop Expansion
There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes. Put some new Oxfords on my feet and I’ll be whistling all day, feeling like the Mexican Don Draper. But dress shoes aren’t cheap my friends, and I already have four pair under my bed. Insert step one. I had to stop adding to the collection of things I already owned, and in most cases, neglected. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes I never wore. According to my last count, I own 37 hats. THIRTY SEVEN. Once I had that embarrassing number in my head, it was slightly easier to tell myself, “No, Aaron. You do not need that new snapback.”
I think I need a new surf board. Nope.
Those jeans are nice, you don’t have that shade of denim. Forget about it.
I was amazed at how much extra money I was able to put into my savings account when I stopped making unnecessary purchases. The next step on Mr. Potts’ list escalates the intensity of frugality, and has proven the most difficult initiative for me to stick by…
Step Two: Rein in Your Routine
A tightwad by nature, refraining from spending hundreds of dollars on new stuff was relatively easy. I’ve always been one who preferred to use my dollars on experiences rather than physical objects. Consequently, the pain of the rein became noticeable when I was forced to make sacrifices in my routines and social life. I gave myself a daily food allowance and tried to stick to it, by any means necessary. Suddenly, I was declining dinner invitations from friends. If I did go, I’d make sure to eat at home first and stick to the appetizer menu. I even brought a Subway sandwich to a restaurant after convincing myself that if I did this every week I’d save hundreds of dollars before leaving to Europe. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.
Bi-weekly haircuts became monthly cuts. Movies? If it wasn’t on NetFlix, I wasn’t seeing it. When the music festival season came around, it seemed like all of my favorite bands were playing every weekend and all of my friends had tickets.
Florence and the Machine, Chet Faker AND the Black Keys? I get it… they rocked last night. Yes, I watched your 260 second SnapChat story… dick.
But before I became a total Scrooge and got a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, I reminded myself of the end goal. Traveling takes money, and saving money takes sacrifice. Altering your lifestyle is not an easy endeavor, but small adjustments can pay large dividends.
Step Three: Reduce Clutter
When I pulled into the parking lot of the police station my heart was racing. I was almost certain that no one had followed me, but I scanned the area for suspicious vehicles just in case. This is the last time I sell anything on Craigslist, I thought.
“Robert” seemed normal enough during our first phone conversation. We scheduled a time and location for him to come and see the first item of clutter I had elected to sell… my 100th Anniversary Harley Davidson. When Robert called me the next day to confirm the meeting, it was from a different number. Red flag.
Robert pulled up to the restaurant parking lot thirty minutes late in a black Chevy Tahoe that had no license plates. He seemed nervous and his knowledge about motorcycles was almost non-existent. He circled the bike, took a blurry picture of the fuel tank and never even asked to hear the engine. The red flags were flying like a Mexico vs. USA World Cup match.
“I love the bike bro, I want it. Can I give you a deposit now and bring the rest of the cash tomorrow when I pick it up?”
“Sure man, sounds good.” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth I regretted them, but I’ve always been a sucker for crisp, hundred dollar bills.
I couldn’t figure out the hustle, but I knew this dude was going to try and make my bike his for the seven hundred dollar deposit. I called my Dad the next morning and told him the story.
“Why would you take that deposit?” He prodded.
Salt in the wound. As my old man was making me feel like a ten year old, a text came through from Robert the Scammer, “Hey Aaron. I have to work late tonight, so I was thinking you could drop the bike off here and I’ll get you a ride home. Don’t worry, I have the money all ready for you.” Shit. So his scam is murder. Awesome.
But I didn’t want to die and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let some cholo run off with my travel money, so my pops and I devised a plan and I text Robert a response, “Hey Robert, I won’t be able to drop the bike off to you. I have to meet my Dad to grab the title. He works in Huntington Beach as a police officer (lie). I was planning to have you meet me at the station after his shift and he can give me a lift home.” Boom.
Six hours went by without a response. Maybe he’ll cut his losses and reward me the seven hundred for outsmarting him. A hustler’s tip of the cap, I thought. Just as I was basking in the glory of my newly found street knowledge, good ol’ Bobby threw me a curve ball and replied, “Okay sounds good, just send me the address.”
When Robert showed up to the police station with a backpack full of small bills, I was ready for anything. As I counted the money, my eyes scanned the bushes nearby, ready for an ambush. “You’re fine,” whispered my dad, “just make sure it’s all there.” It was. I handed over the keys and watched Robert’s friend ride away on my beloved Harley. Much ado about nothing.
In hindsight, I’ve realized that selling an expensive vehicle in a parking lot to a guy from the internet was not the best idea, but I certainly let my paranoia run wild. Perhaps the paranoia was a manifestation of my reluctance to part with the material things in my life. The last charge of consumerism that courses through my American veins.
I loved that bike, but not as much as I think I did.
In his writings about Minimalism, Mark Manson describes the psychological phenomenon known as loss aversion, wherein, “humans feel the pain of losing something to be much greater than the pleasure of having it.”
Over a span of three years, I rode my Harley a grand total of two thousand miles. Translation: a few rides a month down Pacific Coast Highway. I had to pull the bike out once a month just to clean the dust off. But when I took my bike out for one last spin down the coast, I was suddenly Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. The chrome pipes glistened in the California sun and the engine sounded better than it ever had. What was I thinking? I needed this Harley, it was part of who I was.
Identities are quickly formed around the things we own. Naturally, reducing the things I own has caused some discomfort… even pain. But the feeling is also freeing. In two months time I’ll be boarding a plane with everything I need strapped to my back. No anchors, no clutter.
I’m off to see what I can do about those thirty seven hats.
3 thoughts on “Pinch Your Pennies”
Can I like this post a thousand times? Awesome post!
Check out my latest post http://www.vingnguyen.com/backpacking-in-egypt-a-report/
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Thanks Vinh! I loved your piece about Egypt. I have been considering visiting after Spain so it was rather timely. Thanks for sharing!
You should go now! You could go to Egypt in the hight season when everything is a little bit costly (but still cheap trust me), or you could go in the low season like me when the temp is like 46*C oops!