In the fall of 2008, newlyweds Adam Dudley and Heather Sterns, both 33, were sure they were on the right path. A self-employed entrepreneur, Adam purchased and managed a successful cafe at a South Florida real estate office building, while Heather worked 9-to-5 at an instructional design firm.
Once the housing crisis hit, things swiftly fell apart.
“In less than a month, sales were cut in half,” Dudley says. “Essentially, there was nothing I could do. I tried everything I could. It all happened too quickly.”
They were out of business within two months. When all was said and shuttered, they faced more than $100,000 in debt and were on the brink of foreclosure. It wasn’t long before they filed for bankruptcy.
Since then, they’ve come out on the other side – just not the way anyone might have imagined.
A new game plan
Before his small business went under, Dudley admits he spent a lot of time chasing the wrong dream.
“Throughout the years, I ended up being mentored by several multi-millionaires who had all made their money in different ways.” he says. “I was really hooked on that idea that I had to be a millionaire to be fulfilled.”
When he took a second look at their success, he realised it wasn’t their bank accounts he envied. It was their freedom to go and do as they pleased.
“I’m definitely not advocating not having a retirement plan, but the whole retirement plan idea conveys that rule that you have to work 20 to 30 years and keep your eye to the grindstone so you’ll have (a big enough) portfolio so you can retire,” he says. “That’s not the case.”
“We decided to get free”
Their ideal lifestyle was simple: Travel the country with as few possessions as possible and parse their work load down to 25 hours per week––just enough to cover the $2,000 (appox. $1,000 for rent, $250 for their Blue Cross Blue Shield health plan, and other expenses) or so they’d need to live comfortably.
“I realised I didn’t want to spend all of my working hours essentially in a cubicles, so we put our plans in motion,” Stearns says. “We decided to get free.”
Before they packed their bags, there was the matter of work to address. Stearns convinced her employer at the time to shift her from a full-time to part-time consultant, and Dudley arranged freelance work as a marketing consultant. Both arrangements allowed them to work remotely.
“With the leverage out there with the Internet and how easy it is to start a business, we’ve proven it’s possible to live comfortably and work 25 hours per week,” Dudley says.
The road ahead The couple started slowly, travelling just a couple of hours away to Sarasota, Fla., where they rented a house on the beach for two months. They paid the rent with profits earned from selling off nearly all their belongings, which included their car (they use rentals and bike when they can).
They took a bigger leap next, moving to Berlin, Germany for a couple of months. But because their pet dog was the one belonging they weren’t willing to trade, they’ve opted to stick closer to the states from now on in order to take him along.
“I think a lot of people associate our type of lifestyle with being a millionaire, but all the millionaires I know work more hours than other people. It’s been an eye-opening transition for us.”
Most of their lodging is secured via Craiglist, namely looking for short-term rentals for less than $1,000/month. In late spring, they were in the middle of planning to head to Denver, Colo. for their first house-sitting job.
They aren’t sure where they’re headed afterward––and they prefer it that way.
“We’re in a much different frame of mind than when we lost the cafe,” Dudley says. “(We both grew up) with kind of traditional suburban American values, which say go to school, get a job, get a mortgage, go into debt, get a career. We think this is a much better way to live.”
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