Once Alex Davis and Ryan Gleason found a way to live rent-free, there was no turning back.
“Ryan was recovering from burnout, and our living expenses in the U.S. kept increasing,” says Alex. “So we put in our two-week notices and bought one-way tickets to the small city of Cuenca in Ecuador.” The couple decided that moving out of the United States would be the best way to achieve their financial independence goals while also maintaining a decent quality of life.
The cost of living in America is a hot topic right now, as inflation, supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine all contribute to rising household expenses. 75% of middle-income Americans say their income is falling behind cost-of-living increases, and only 16% believe they’ll be financially better off a year from now, according to a survey published this summer by Primerica, a financial services company.
Alex and Ryan say they had seen enough. After two years of traveling around South America rent-free, the couple settled down in Medellin, Colombia to raise their family. They make it all work on just $1,350 a month. Getting to this point took some planning, but the couple say living abroad is a financial solution other Americans might want to consider.
Here’s how they did it.
There Can Be Profitable Opportunities Abroad
After working in engineering and sales for eight years — including two years based in Shanghai — the couple had increased their household income, saved their bonuses, and lived frugally. The couple also started a website as a side hustle in 2017 as health coaches, as they had a passion for fitness and healthy eating. The lifestyle soon became unsustainable when Ryan’s sales job began taking its toll.
“He drove all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and was on the road constantly,” says Alex. “He had to drive thousands of miles weekly to cover his territories.” Ryan began to experience health issues such as bizarre allergies, vertigo, and deep fatigue. Blood work revealed he had the testosterone levels of a 60-year-old at the age of 28. The couple realized their lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.
Alex and Ryan also longed to live abroad again. They had $40,000 in liquid savings at this time, so they decided to take a gap year of sorts: they downgraded their cost of living, quit their jobs, bought one-way tickets to South America, and decided to focus on growing their blog for a year to see what would happen. Since they were living on savings, which they would pull from each month, the clock was ticking.
Luckily, the cost of living was lower in South America. In 2018, the couple lived in three different cities: Cuenca, Ecuador (rent $500/month), Bariloche, Argentina (rent $750/month), and Cusco, Peru (rent $600/month). They also visited San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. The earnings from their blog were $12,000 in 2018, mainly from coaching with Beachbody, a fitness and nutrition platform, and a few engineering consulting calls on the side.
With their now much-lower monthly budget, Alex and Ryan realized they were closer to breaking even than they thought, but needed some sort of expense hack to tie it all together.
How to Never Pay Rent Again
Alex and Ryan realized that once their money ran out, they would have to return to corporate America. While traveling in Peru, they met another couple who shared they had been traveling for years on an annual budget of just $10,000.
The secret? Pet-sitting.
Pet-sitting is when you temporarily take care of another person’s pet for a given time frame, and it’s a bigger industry than you might think. You’re usually compensated in one of two ways: you either get paid a daily rate, or you pet-sit for free in exchange for accommodations. Services like Trusted Housesitters offer opportunities to pet-sit and house-sit both domestically and internationally.
“Every time we would go to a new country, we had to go through this brutal one-week process of looking for places to live,” says Alex. “This couple said that when you house and pet sit, you go into an established and well-loved home and watch their pets in comfort.”
By the time the couple landed in Medellin, Colombia, they had signed up for Trusted Housesitters, filled out their profile, and booked their first pet sit. Through pet sitting, they no longer had to pay for rent, wi-fi, or other living costs — just their food.
In 2019, the couple lived in Medellin, Colombia; Playa Coronado, Panama; Samara, Costa Rica; and San Miguel de Allende. They pet-sat in every country and never paid rent again. Earnings from their blog grew to $31,000 from coaching with Beachbody and a few engineering consulting calls.
Side hustles can create financial independence. If you like pets or want free accommodations, house and pet sitting are options to save on paying for housing, and can even be an income stream.
Settling Back Down Is Always an Option
“By March 2020, we were tired of constantly traveling,” says Alex. “We talked about settling down, and the place we kept coming back to was Medellin, Colombia. We booked a flight back to Colombia and saw 14 apartments within two days of landing.”
The apartment the couple purchased was in the area of their first pet sit in Medellin. They paid 650,000,000 Colombian pesos ($157,000 at the time) for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the heart of the entertainment district in Medellin, a location the couple chose in case they wanted to rent the property out later.
The purchase of their property meant Alex was granted a Permanent Residency Visa, and Ryan was granted a Dependent Visa. Alex has no restriction on her Visa, while Ryan’s Visa limits him from accepting local work in Colombia, which isn’t a problem since their services and blog are operated remotely. The strategy of gaining immediate citizenship in another country by purchasing real estate is known as a Golden Visa, and many countries offer it, though the minimum required investment varies widely.
The income from the blog has grown every year, now consistently generating $8,000 to $10,000 a month, mainly through a mix of online coaching and running ads via Mediavine, a service that offers affiliate marketing and sponsorships for bloggers.
How They Live on $1,350/Month
The cost of living in Colombia is much lower, which means the couple doesn’t have to earn the same as what they did while living in the United States. They have Colombian National Insurance that costs $29 a month (for both of them). They also pay for private insurance through Sura, which costs $69 a month. The plan includes health insurance, home insurance, and dental care.
“The healthcare in Colombia is first class,” says Alex. “I’ve never experienced anything bad with the system. Every doctor is on WhatsApp, which is convenient. It was nice to text my obstetrician, gynecologist, and primary physician questions. My out-of-pocket expenses for having a baby in Colombia, which included a C-section and having our baby in the NICU, was $150. I charged it to my credit card.”
Here is a breakdown of their expenses each month for two adults and a baby:
- Health Insurance: $100 (baby is free for now)
- Car insurance: $115
- Apartment HOA: $120
- Utilities: $125
- WiFi: $20
- Baby diapers and wipes: $40
- Weekly house cleaner: $65
- Monthly gardener for maintenance: $35
- Part-time, shared nanny (16 hours a week): $150
- Groceries: $100
- Restaurants: $400 (for “two dinners and two lunches, weekly”)
- Gas: $35
- Copays for doctor’s appointments: $16 (two appointments each month)
- Ryan’s soccer league: $25 (two games each week)
Total monthly expenses: $1,350
Alex and Ryan return to the United States occasionally to visit family, but they’ve settled in Medellin, Colombia, as their home. While away from Colombia, they rent their apartment on Airbnb and their car through a private car rental service. Since their apartment is in the heart of the entertainment district, they’re able to charge a premium, renting the property for as much as $3,000 a month and car for as much as $65 a day while they’re away. They project $20,000 this year in rental and vehicle income, and their blog’s projected earnings are $100,000 this year.
“We plan to live in Colombia permanently,” says Alex. “We live just as fully as we would in the U.S. We have a car, go to restaurants, and have a nanny to help with our baby. We could live cheaper, but we’re living well for less than in the U.S. And we even make money when we go back to the U.S.”
When it comes to deciding upon your financial freedom goals, the couple say location independence is something Americans should realize is a viable option.
“If you’ve never considered living in another country to save money, you should. We are building financial independence and living a better quality of life.”