Way back in July of last year, someone gave me the idea to track how much money I was saving by not having to pay rent in the area. I crunched the numbers (in reality, like two numbers) and wrote the code, and the savings clock was born. When I flipped the switch, it showed a fairly disheartening negative $6,000 because I was still half in the hole from purchasing my Ford-fabricated flat. But in the intervening seven or eight months, I've had the pleasure of watching that number dwindle its way to zero (where I hit my break-even point), and as of this writing, work its way up to five digits in our (just as arbitrary as my formula) base 10 number system.
So Brandon, you've successfully saved $10,000, plus another $10,000 or so if you sold the truck. Has it been worth it?
This is a paraphrased version of a question I received recently, and it definitely made me think a bit. First off though, I'm not sure I agree with the phraseology, because this is basically the equivalent of saying: Would you live in a truck for nine months for $20,000? and I don't think that's the right approach. The short answer to both of those questions is unequivocally "Yes.", but I don't think that's really doing it justice. Phrasing it like that makes it sound like a dare, like it's something I'm enduring just for the money. It's not about being worth it or not, it's about finding a lifestyle that fits my needs. It's about figuring out where my priorities lie and what my goals are, and then picking a life that makes them achievable. I've said before that being in the right mindset really is everything. And that applies more generally than just software engineers living in trucks too; going into any situation with an open mind and some goals will do wonders for your perception and overall happiness. I've written pages of posts expounding all the good things the truck lifestyle has done for me, but to put it into perspective, let's take a stroll through the hypothetical life of a much more vanilla Brandon, who chickened out of his crazy truck-centric life plans. We'll call him Normal Brandon™, or NB for short
What would Normal Brandon's life look like?
When NB first moves out to California, he spends two weeks living in his corporate housing, filling up his days with an endless search for long-term housing. After trawling around Craigslist, Zillow, and the "New Engineers" group his company set up, he eventually finds a roommate or two who are interested in living in South Bay, and together they find a place to inhabit. They all agree on the cheapest option they can find, which happens to be a second-floor apartment just outside of Mountain View. For ~$1,500 per person each and every month (plus utilities), they each get roughly 80 ft2 of bedroom space. They also each get a complimentary half-hour commute in the consistently bumper-to-bumper traffic along the 101. In the event there is any amount of water falling from the sky, make that an hour-long commute. Not ideal, but certainly not the worst thing that's ever happened.
NB starts work and quickly settles into a routine. Since the corporate buses don't start running until around 7 am, he ditches the early morning exercise routine he adopted in college, and instead exercises after work, around 5 pm. As it turns out, this is peak gym time, and half of his workout consists of aggressive thumb-twiddling while waiting for a squat rack. To pass the time, NB silently judges everyone around him, criticizing form, or outfits, or any number of other silly things because NB is jaded and cranky over wasting so much time. He starts going to the gym less frequently to save himself the frustration. Back at his apartment, his roommates are thinking of getting some furniture to make the place less spartan-looking. NB agrees and chips in, and the trio pick up some Ikea couches and end tables, and a 46" flat screen TV.
NB spends most of his waking time during the week working. Normally he'll either go out Friday or Saturday, and then spend the other nights hanging out and watching a movie or two and playing some video games. Oh, and he sleeps in until like noon.
This goes on for a decade or so until NB's biological clock kicks in and he finds himself in a serious relationship, at which point he gets married, buys a house in the suburbs, produces 1.9 children, and spends the next 30 years working to pay off his mortgage and finance trips to Disney Land.
You're probably thinking, "You know, NB's life doesn't actually sound all that bad." And I'd have to agree, it sounds like he has everything in order and is living some variation of the American Dream. He certainly doesn't sound unhappy.
He does sound boring though.
And that's what I'm most worried about. He sounds comfortable, he sounds complacent, and he sounds decidedly average. I'm worried he's going to wake up one day and realize he's 65 years old, wondering where the time went, all while he watched his perfectly unextraordinary life pass him by. I'm worried that he'll forget all of his goals and dreams and aspirations and he'll be content simply existing, a passionless lump of aging and dying cells smiling soullessly and nodding along to the tune of yet another water cooler conversation. And then he'll retire, ready to experience his new-found freedom just as his body begins to fail him.I apologize for the grimness, I swear it'll lighten up now
So yes, I've saved $10,000+, but I've also reshaped the path I'm travelling on. Granted, this whole discussion suffers from the straw man fallacy, it's not like I can grab myself from an alternate timeline and see how he turned out. Nonetheless, the relative comfort and ease of the life I didn't choose leave a lot to be desired. For one, I wouldn't be as painfully aware of my work/life balance. I enjoy what I do for work, and it's easy to get lost in it. If I didn't have to think long and hard about how to live so close to work without it becoming my life, it's likely I'd end up like the slowly boiling frog: working ever-longer days just because I didn't know what else to do, until eventually that's all I do or know or am. Without the threat of not showering and becoming a total bum looming over my shoulder, I wouldn't have nearly as much motivation to stay active and exercise, and I wouldn't be as consistent with it. And god forbid I had electricity and a living room, I'd end up buying a whole host of things that do nothing to make me a happier, healthier person.
But if it really came down to it, I could handle working longer, I could handle being less healthy, and I could handle owning things I don't need. What I would have trouble handling is the idea that I could lose my passion for life so easily. Getting into a routine is a double-edged sword. On one hand, everything goes much smoother when you've figured out a schedule that flows from one thing to the next. On the other hand, it's too easy to fall back to a routine just because it's what you're the most comfortable with, even if it isn't the best for you, or even what you want. And while I have all these websites and apps I want to build and posts I want to write and books I want to read and languages I want to learn and places I want to go, I could see all of those things just casually fading into the background noise of my perfectly acceptable normal life. The truck is a ridiculous, obnoxious reminder that I'm not ready to give up on any of that. And that is what makes it "worth it".