Last week I started profiling Camren Von Davis, a fellow staff member at the Karmê Chöling Meditation Retreat Center in Vermont, who has developed an almost bill-free lifestyle.
Davis spends his life on the road, earning his living with a contract-driven and travel-heavy job producing music festivals like Bonnaroo.
He has no permanent home. Eight to nine months out of the year, Davis tours on the festival circuit, jumping from one show to the next. All of his lodging, food, and travel are paid for when he’s working on a show.
In the winter, festival season is over, and there’s not much work. That’s when Davis enjoys some time off, and either attends a meditation retreat or lives in whatever city strikes his fancy.
This lifestyle has allowed him to eliminate nearly all of his regular bills – save for his phone – cut his spending, and put away some impressive savings.
But this way of living means going against the norm. And that comes with its own set of challenges and benefits.
Letting Go Means Having More
In March 2013, after bouncing around between his friend’s two apartments in New York City, he went on tour and fully stepped into his current lifestyle for the first time.
“That’s when I went: ‘Now I don’t have an address’,” said Davis. His tactics worked, and he’s been living that way since.
Over the next year and a half, Davis started getting rid of most of his possessions, which had been sitting in storage in various cities and friends’ houses.
“I realized that all this stuff was taking up mental bandwidth,” said Davis. He visited a friend who was holding some of his stuff, and realized these things just weren’t worth keeping.
“Whatever the item was, say it was worth $500. [Opening up] that bandwidth in my brain was more valuable than $500 at that point.”
Now, almost everything he owns fits into two suitcases.
Without the typical bills, Davis was able to quickly improve his financial health. In 2013, he got completely out of credit card debt and easily saved $10,000.
He kept raising his savings goal, and in 2015, he was able to put away around $17,000.
Ultimately, he’s hoping to put $20,000 to $25,000 per year towards retirement at 66. Davis’ goal for this spring is to decide how and where he wants to move his money, in order to invest it.
Davis looks at his success not in terms of how much he’s making, but in terms of how much he’s saving.
“Sometimes I can save 50% of what I make. Other times its 20%. It all depends on how much overhead I have for that year,” said Davis.
Davis tries to be frugal in his day-to-day spending, as well. He keeps about $3,000 in his checking account as a safety measure. During the few months when he doesn’t have regular work, $3,000 is enough to maintain his lifestyle.
“The thing that makes me feel comfortable at the end of the year is not how much I made, it’s how much I put away.”
This year that’s not a worry for him, though. As a full-time volunteer at Karmê Chöling, he gets room and board but no payment. He’ll spend the winter and spring in the mountains before going on tour again. In a few months, he’ll start working on early festival work, while living and eating for free.
Constantly being on the road has unique challenges and benefits, of course.
Davis says it’s tricky stringing shows together. Sometimes he ends up with a gap where he has to pay for his own way for a few days.
Billing the event companies that are his employers takes a strong commitment to organization and following up. Sometimes it takes Davis three to six months to get payment from a show. And when companies want to mail him a check, it’s a big issue since he doesn’t know what his address will be one month down the road.
Taxes are extremely complicated, too. Davis says he always has to pay a few thousand dollars at the end of the year. Of course, he uses an accountant to do his taxes.
“It’s going to be a tricky year for someone else this year,” said Davis.
Still, Davis has been working in the industry for so long that most of his co-workers are now his close friends. Touring means spending time with them, usually in beautiful locations filled with people having a good time.
Being on the road makes doing his job easier, too. Music festival production is a small, tight-knit group. Often, many of the same people are touring around, and working on all the same shows together. So, instead of waiting for an email from a parking manager, Davis can just walk over to the person and get the information he needs.
“You actually get a lot of work done at other shows just by virtue of being at the show,” said Davis.
On the other hand, the idea of a romantic relationship doesn’t even occur to him, because it’s so far-fetched. Davis is gay and the operations side of festivals is a very heteronormative place.
“It’s a bit of sacrifice,” he admits.
Still, Davis loves living on the road.
On the road, Davis revels in being in a constant state of adaption and evaluation. He actually fears landing in any place for a long period of time, and the bills that come with that kind of life.
He’s a creature of habit, and does enjoy the “regularity” when he stays in one place for a while. But after a few months he always starts to feel a sense of inertia and complacency that makes him anxious to move forward again.
Davis’ lifestyle has completely changed his relationship with money in one big way: It’s allowed him to let go.
Something happened when he started getting rid of all of his possessions and eliminated the overhead. Owning things never made him feel like he could relax. But getting rid of them and not needing to spend money to live the life he wanted, did.
He doesn’t worry about having money anymore because he rarely pays for things. And the less he worries about having money, the more he can save.
You see, Davis used to make a lot more than he is now, spent it frivolously, and saved a lot less. He says he would spend money to prove to himself that he was valuable and successful.
“The less I was worried about having money, the easier it was to be frugal, because money didn’t become the thing I was identifying with as my value,” said Davis.
“When you identify money as your value, then the spending of it becomes the expression of that.
“I’m not identified with [money] so I can put it in this savings account. I am not identified with [money], so I am just going to pay off all that debt now because that debt feels like it’s encroaching. So, instead of purchasing to prove that [my debt is] not encroaching, I can just pay it off.”
Davis’ success really comes down to contentment. He’s learned what’s important to him and what he needs, which as it turns out, is quite different from what our culture tells us we need.
Davis says that when all the other parts of his life are fulfilled, the anxious spending urge is greatly lessened. Self-worth is no longer tied to what you own.
“It’s all about knowing what your style is and really trusting it. No one has ever said, live in the crazy way,” said Davis.
“No baby boomer has ever doled out that advice.”