Becoming a digital nomad may seem like it flies in the face of conventions like financial planning, but the reality is quite the opposite: without a financial plan, your ability to be a digital nomad and to financially sustain the lifestyle will be highly compromised. Here’s how to create a financial plan to become a digital nomad – in broad and easily applicable terms.
When I was a financial planner, the first question I asked my clients was not about money or the return on their investments. It was about what they wanted to do with their lives. I contended (and continue to believe) that the first and most crucial part of financial planning is about engineering your finances to help you live the life of your dreams. If you want to become a digital nomad, this is the kind of advice I might give you.
But what follows below isn’t my advice. I enlisted Ellie Lott, who has been a digital nomad since 2017. With a previous career in financial planning (like me!), she initially funded her digital nomad lifestyle with content writing (also like me!), and now she combines her writing skills with her financial expertise to educate millennials about financial planning and making smart financial decisions on her website Young and the Invested.
Below is a step by step approach to creating a financial plan to become a digital nomad, as written by Ellie Lott.
The thought of trading your office cubicle to work remotely from sandy beaches is enticing. But, beyond the obvious perks, the digital nomad lifestyle is attractive to many because it provides a feeling of independence. If you’re thinking of exploring this lifestyle, you’ll be joining over 10 million Americans who agree.
However, you may need to get your finances in order first to sustain this lifestyle long-term. If you’re wondering how much you’ll need or if you’ll ever have enough to start, fret not. You can learn from my personal experience how to manage your finances to become a digital nomad.
What it Means to Be a Digital Nomad
Digital nomads work remotely, typically as freelancers or entrepreneurs, while they travel the world visiting different places for weeks or months at a time. Contrary to popular belief, not just website designers, creatives, and marketers can become digital nomads; anybody who works remotely can travel and live this way.
My Financial Journey to Becoming a Digital Nomad
I joined the ranks of becoming a digital nomad back in 2017, and I’ve never looked back. It took me a while before I could figure out how I was going to make a full-time income online. I did not become a digital nomad overnight. It took months of slaving at my computer for hours before I could build my portfolio and get my career up and running.
Despite the initial challenges I faced, it’s a decision that I do not regret. Now that I’m on my way to becoming a seasoned digital nomad, I feel better about my finances and career than I ever did in my previous job. Here’s why:
- I control my income
- I have multiple streams of income
- It gives me freedom
- I acquire new experiences along the way
As I began my journey, I measured productivity by the time spent at a desk rather than output. I later came to realize that my worldview was outdated. Achieving financial freedom became more important, and many roads could take me there; digital nomadism being one of them.
How To Create A Financial Plan To Become A Digital Nomad
Here’s what I learned about creating a financial plan to become a digital nomad:
Save Ahead of Time
As a globetrotter, you’ll need to pay for transportation, food, and lodging from the get-go, so it’s crucial to cushion your savings ahead of time. This can be achieved through a dedicated travel savings account. It helps you understand how much money you have at hand to fund your travel and how much you’ll need to meet your goal.
The exact amount you’ll want to save largely depends on your destination and employment situation. In my case, I always had enough in my account for a last-minute flight home. However, experts recommend saving at least six months’ worth of living expenses before you leave.
Diversify Your Income
Many digital nomads are freelancers, gig workers, and entrepreneurs. It helps to have multiple sources of income, as this gives you more security, especially as a newbie. Getting gigs lined up several months before you leave allows you to get used to the change of pace.
Nora’s Note: Indeed, I usually advise people to have the foundations of their digital nomad career established before taking to the road, since the learning curve to the travel lifestyle can be quite steep. Check out my Travel Lifestyle Guides to get a leg up on these challenges.
I have fond memories of how excited I was when I got my first check ($100) from Google AdSense and multiple affiliate programs that I’m part of. Renting out your current property or investing in stocks are other options worth exploring. If you chose the latter, do some research into the best stock picking service before you start. Remember to be cautious as it’s risky and is more suitable as a long-term strategy.
Create a Budget
For a while, the fear of running out of funds kept me from pursuing my dream to be a digital nomad. Yes, money emergencies come up. But, once I learned to budget and account for the unexpected, it got easier. Having a budget as a digital nomad is pivotal, since it helps you plan your expenses so that you don’t risk overspending.
There are two basic elements to creating a budget: what you earn and what you spend. First, you’ll need to estimate your monthly income. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, your income may fluctuate. You can calculate your average income for the last 12 months and work with this.
From there, deduct your living expenses. To do this, you can create three lists:
- Expenses before leaving home
- Monthly expenses
- Emergency money
Add in your retirement income and savings to your expenses, and you’ll find just how much you’re going to spend in a month.
Exact figures are difficult to determine, as expenses and income are highly dependent on your location’s cost of living and your revenue stream. I found that although living in Southeast Asia saved me money, there were more opportunities to network with clients in New York City. Therefore, it’s up to you to find the balance that works for you.
Figure Out Your Tax Situation
A lingering issue that remains for many would-be digital nomads is the complexity of the U.S. tax code. Especially if you are a remote worker for an employer, there may be tax implications to working on the road.
U.S. citizens need to know that regardless of location, income earned abroad is still taxable. However, the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) allows eligible taxpayers who are living and working abroad to exclude part of their income, up to certain limits. There are also tax treaties available between some countries.
Think About Your Banking Needs
When you’re traveling, you need a bank account that goes the distance. Believe me when I tell you foreign transactions and ATM withdrawal fees can seriously add up. Switching to a travel-friendly bank account can provide financial peace of mind and save you big bucks.
Fully digital banking solutions offer more flexibility and offer lower exchange fees.Charles Schwab, HSBC, Revolut, and Wise are some top players in the international banking sector.
How I Saved Over $2,000 Year in Banking Fees by Using Wise
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling With Money, With ATM & Banking Tips
Don’t Forget About Insurance! An Unexpected Emergency Can Derail Your Financial Plan and Lifestyle
When creating a financial plan to become a digital nomad, there isn’t a blueprint for everyone to follow. Although it may seem daunting, taking time to manage your money well is definitely worth the effort. It can help you sustain your new lifestyle and check more countries off your bucket list.
Thank you Ellie, for providing this financial template for becoming a digital nomad!
A Special Offer (from Nora)
Are you contemplating taking your work on the road and traveling long-term? For years, I have privately been offering consultations to my newsletter subscribers to help them to take this big step, and now I’m starting to go public with it. In my sessions with clients so far, we’ve covered things like:
- Setting up banking,
- Creating a remote freelance writing career,
- Getting free accommodation,
- Learning new languages,
- Traveling alone,
- Dealing with medical expenses,
- Remote career ideas and side-hustles,
- International cell phone and data plans,
- Luggage tips,
- How to get mail while abroad,
- Renewing credit cards from abroad,
- Safety tips,
- Passive income,
- Travel planning,
- Meeting people,
- Ensuring all your bases are covered for upcoming long-term trips (from phone plans to safety tips to carry-on packing hacks),
- Building a financial plan that incorporates full-time travel and early retirement,
- Selling everything to travel,
- Designing a blueprint for traveling while working remotely,
- Dealing with taxes and other pesky details while traveling long-term,
- ….and more.
Are you interested in hiring me to consult personally with you to ensure you’ve got all the bases covered in own long-term travel plans and dreams? Click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.