Life as a Digital Nomad: Shop Smart, Cook Smart and Save Smart

By: Steffani Cameron

You can’t give yourself a raise, but you can save your money. Learn more about what it takes to become a digital nomad.

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To Be a Digital Nomad, You Need to Do the Math

Shame is a crushing side effect of debt. When surrounded by people seeming to spend with abandon, it’s hard not to feel like you’re failing to adult right. But often, it’s just that you’re overlooking the math.

Debt can be overcome, I promise. Maybe you think, “But how? I make too little to pay things off!” You’d be surprised.

When I decided to confront my debt, I thought my low income meant I was doomed, but a friend who survived bankruptcy and restructured his debt said he wanted to take me grocery shopping. How he looked at food was an education. It changed my life.

You eat three to five times a day and you buy beverages, too. That adds up. Simple math.
If you want to be a digital nomad, you need to change your life in your kitchen and the grocery store. When you focus on what you spend on food, you’ll be amazed how much you save in a year. Literally thousands of dollars. Thousands!

Make your coffee.

Debt is math. You gotta do the math, starting with coffee (and tea!)

A pound of coffee makes about 80 eight-ounce cups (or 40 big mugs). Just 12 pounds of coffee a year makes a daily mug (or two) of coffee. Even if you splurge on coffee with the fancy $15-a-pound java, that’s $180-240 annually for beans. But blow $3 to $5 a serving daily for café coffee means spending between $1,100 and $1,800 a year.

Start saving by investing in gadgets like a French press, Italian moka pot, Chemex, or Aeropress, or a combination thereof, if it means you’ll enjoy home-brewed coffee more. Pod machines aren’t cheap, nor is the coffee they use. You’ll spend 3-4 times more per pod cup than self-brewed. (A 50-pack of Nespresso pods on Amazon is $35; or 70 cents a cup versus self-brewed gourmet $15/lb coffee at 18 cents per cup. Score beans on sale for $10 a pound, and it’s down to 12 cents a cup!)

Cook at home.

Cooking is the most valuable life skill you have. Brunching with friends might have you forking over $13 for great bacon, hash, eggs, and toast, plus coffee at three bucks. Even as a digital nomad you can make brekkie at home with quality ingredients and you might spend $5, including coffee. Without even putting on pants, that’s a savings of $11 on one meal!

Rethinking meals helps too, like making casseroles rather than stand-alone ingredients. Instead of using a whole chicken breast for a meal portion, slice it for pasta sauce or soup, and you’ll get two to four portions from that single breast or steak.

Rehydrating beans is a huge saver and a great meat substitute. You’ll usually spend $1-3 for a 28-ounce can of beans (about two cups cooked). Meanwhile, a pound of dried beans sets you back about $1.50. Rehydrate them by soaking overnight and simmering them while binge-watching shows or cleaning. One pound yields six cups cooked. (Tip: Cook two to four pounds at once and put two cups, plus the liquid, into small freezer bags, lay them flat, freeze them, and they’ll keep for several months.) Fact is, it costs as much as six times more to buy canned beans than to rehydrate them.

Canned beans are a “convenience” food. Convenience foods, like pre-grated cheese, deli meats, foil-wrapped baking potatoes, cost as much as 300 percent to 400 percent more than doing it yourself.

Convenience foods are a lie, telling you you’re saving time. But the time it saves costs you hard-earned money. You can’t give yourself a raise, but you can save your money.

One convenience food worth buying? Rotisserie chickens in stores! They’re one of the few meals that might save you time and money. Instead of buying deli chicken, get a rotisserie chicken to slice up for salads and sandwiches for the next four days. But don’t buy the side dishes, because that’s where you lose cash!

Buy on sale.

What kills budgets is buying foods you crave. Instead, get organized. Sign up for your local supermarket flyer emails. They’re sent the day before sales start. Look for foods you like or need, then make a list. Pork shoulder’s on sale? Make pulled pork and freeze half for another time!

(Tip: Make use of your freezer to pack away extra servings, well-labelled, and put them on a list on the freezer door so you always know, at a glance, what’s in there at the end of your paycheck or when you’re at home sick.)

Make a menu of batch meals you can prepare with sale items. One of my favorite budget-beaters is chickpea-spinach curry. If freezer spinach is on sale, I’ll rehydrate beans, use on-sale spinach, and make enough for at least 6 to 8 meals for maybe 75 cents a serving!

Learn to make meals you love. Use YouTube and food bloggers for tips and tricks and ask your social network for recipes and guidance.

Save smart with NBKCLearn more

Canned beans are a “convenience” food. Convenience foods, like pre-grated cheese, deli meats, foil-wrapped baking potatoes, cost as much as 300 percent to 400 percent more than doing it yourself.

It's never

It’s easy to visit great cafés and think, “Oh, the chicken-avocado sandwich is just $11.” But if my spinach-chickpea curry is 75 cents a serving, well, that’s nearly 15 meals, isn’t it? Then there’s $3-5 for a soft drink, or more for booze.

Think about it. If you could just save money now, say, $2 per meal, three times a day, for a year, that’s $2,190 annually. That’s making coffee instead of buying it. That’s using half a chicken breast instead of a whole one. That’s rehydrating beans.

Now imagine saving $3 a meal ($3,276 annually) or $4 per meal ($4,380 per year), which is easily done in a household or even for people who live alone. That’s just $12 difference a day.

Convenience food like takeout, or delivery two or three times weekly, at $20 a pop, equals $2,000 to $3,000 a year too.

Buying gadgets like an electric griddle or an Instant Pot might help you cook at home more often, which means that your $150 gadget can pay for itself in three weeks. Few areas of your life can affect your bank balance more dramatically than what, where, and how you’re eating. Want to become a digital nomad? Want to pay off debt? It starts in your kitchen.

Steffani Cameron has been writing and travelling as a digital nomad for over three years. Follow her journey at 

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