Confessions of a Penny Pincher

We get asked a lot how we were able to finance our trip. Usually we’re asked in Spanish by Chileans and Argentines so our response is a simplified “we saved”. However, there’s obviously more to it than that.

First of all, I want to start by saying that we were blessed to have parents that generously paid our way through college so we both had a great education and were able to find good engineering jobs right out of college.

Aside from our parents’ generosity, James and I live extremely frugally. Every monetary decision is well thought out from what we order when we go out to eat to what house we buy. James cuts his own hair and I buy used clothes. Although we have been blessed with great jobs and educations, we consistently live well below our means in every aspect of our lives. This has given us the freedom to save our money resulting in this opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime. Our lifestyle played a huge part but the “icing on the cake” also known as the “worst 6 months of my life” was when James’ work sent him to Wyoming for 6 months.  This work opportunity allowed us to put our most frugal skills into practice. The other day James and I were reminiscing over dinner about this time in our lives which now we can look back on and laugh. I figured I would share part of that story.

About a year and a half ago, James’ company was struggling through a slow time. His company asked him if he would be willing to go to the-middle-of-nowhere Wyoming to work for 6-12 weeks on a gas-processing plant that he had done a lot of the preliminary work on in Denver. Even though they didn’t come out and say it, due to the lack of work in the Denver office, we had a pretty good idea that it was “go to Wyoming for a while or get laid off”. They proposed this to him at lunch one day and he had until the end of the day to give an answer. James immediately called me while I was at work, we discussed for a few minutes and then we decided he should probably say “yes”.  While the idea of him leaving me in our newly purchased, slightly dilapidated duplex in a low-income neighborhood didn’t exactly strike my fancy, the chance for him to make more money in a shorter amount of time sounded like a good opportunity.

James’ work location in Wyoming

We were originally told that it would only last for 6-12 weeks but we knew better that it could go on for much longer. James’ company explained to him that he would make $170 per day for per-diem (to cover his room, board and food) tax-free plus he would get paid his hourly rate for any overtime which was pretty much mandatory. We quickly learned that everything James didn’t spend on room and board, he could keep. We decided to make the best of this situation. The first thing was finding a cheap place for James to live. I did some extensive searching on craigslist (which was quite limited in Rock Spring, WY) and eventually found someone who was renting out rooms in a 4-bedroom house for $400 per month. After making James a list of recipes that he could cook at home to save money, I kissed him goodbye and sent him off to Wyoming.

As soon as he arrived, he was told that the bedrooms were no longer available and had just been rented out. We had already looked into booking a hotel or a month-to-month rent for an apartment but that would cut too deep into his per diem for it to be worth it. Out of desperation, James asked if there was any other place he could stay – a basement perhaps??? Reluctantly, the owner said there was a basement but it was pretty crowded with “storage”; however, there was a fold-up bed down there and for $250 a month he could use it if he really wanted it. He did the quick math and realized that this would only end up costing him $8.33 per day out of his per diem. James quickly said he would take it. I mean, it was only for 6-12 weeks right?

6 weeks eventually got extended to 6 months with a visit home every 4-6 weeks. When I look back on this time it was really, really hard. Here I was in a duplex that we bought with some friends to live in community (they live on one side, we live on the other) and I was the only one living there since they were remodeling their side before they moved in. I distinctly remember our heat being broken so that it would only come on for a few minutes before it would trip the breaker and I had to go outside (in January mind you) to flip it back. After flipping it 20 times, I would try to get the heat up as high as possible before going to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, it was usually 40-something degrees in the house. I also used to go bed scared to death. I don’t particularly like sleeping alone; I naturally get scared no matter where I am but it just so happened that our friend’s side of the duplex was broken into just days before James left. So, naturally, I went to the Navy Surplus store and picked up some bear spray and some mace. The bear spray could shoot something like 30’ and I left it unlocked on my bedside table ready to shoot an intruder if need be.

James on the other hand had his own difficulties in Wyoming. Not only was the house quite the pig-sty with all oil-field workers renting rooms and no regard for general cleanliness, but that was just the main floor. He was going to be living in the basement. James’ new home for 6 months would be on a fold-up bed surrounded by mountains of junk and right next to the furnace, which was constantly roaring on and off. I remember him saying that he wouldn’t walk around barefoot and after he had been there for a few months, he had found a dead mouse not far from his bed, which he was pretty sure had been there all along. As minimal as his situation was, it didn’t really matter. His company worked him outside in the Wyoming winter for about 12 hours each day for 6 days a week not including the hour long drive each way; all he really did was sleep when he got home. Just when we thought he was going to be done, his company kept extending his time there.  They extended it at least 5 times and finally after 6 months, he had said enough. By that time, the Denver office had picked up and there was work for him back in Denver.

James in his gear

We look back on it now and laugh at how ridiculous his living conditions were and the great lengths we went to in order to milk the situation for all it was worth. But after 6 months of sacrifice, it was probably the thing that put us over the edge financially to be able to afford a trip like this so we were thankful for the opportunity.

Here’s a poem I wrote James back when we was in the thick of his stint in Wyoming. If I remember right, I hadn’t seen him 5 or 6 weeks and he was coming home that night.

Dear James,

I miss you so much, yes I do!
Not just cause the house is broken but the car is too
It’s freezing out here, I wish it was hot
But the furnace doesn’t work and the sink leaks a lot
Besides all of that, I just want you here at home
So when the burglars break in, I won’t have to bear spray them alone
Can’t wait to see you tonight!

Another one of James in Wyoming

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Penny Pincher

  1. Krissy, this is really good! I remember those times. You and James will have many, many memories to look back on when you are the age of dad and me. You will look back on this trip and say remember when, remember this town, remember when we did this. Love, Mom

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