This story is part of CNBC Make It's Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
For a long time, Amber and Jaylyn Bush frequently moved to wherever Jaylyn, a Marine, was stationed. But after about eight years, they were ready for a change.
"We didn't know how long we would be living in base housing and in homes that would never be ours," Amber, 30, tells CNBC Make It. "I wanted to have something that was ours that we'd be able to take with us no matter where he got stationed."
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Having grown up in a military family, Amber was used to living a nomadic lifestyle. She saw getting an RV as a way to be able to own their home while having the freedom to easily relocate to whichever Marine base Jaylyn was assigned to.
"It was always a dream of hers," says Jaylyn, 28. "Living simpler and living a more minimal life and getting rid of the things that we didn't really need."
But initially, Jaylyn wasn't convinced. The point that sold him: How much money they could save.
"Instead of $2,600 a month going into a home that we would never own, that $2,600 a month instead went towards a truck payment, RV payment, our RV site spot where we stayed, and then the rest would go to saving," Amber says.
They started saving, and in November 2019, they bought their first RV for $26,000 with a $10,000 down payment.
Now, the couple earns around $93,000 a year and travels the country in their RV with their 1-year-old daughter, Journey, and their dog, Louie. Jaylyn receives a pension from being medically discharged from the Marines, while Amber works remotely as a project analyst for a tech company.
Road to RV living
The couple met in high school when Amber's family moved to Virginia. In 2012, after they had both graduated — Amber in 2010 and Jaylyn in 2011 — they started dating, eventually getting married in 2013.
Neither of the Bushes decided to go to college, although Amber attended a few classes on and off. "My family pretty much told me that if I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in, it was a waste of time," she says.
Instead of college, Amber became a nanny for a military officer, while Jaylyn joined the Marines and served as a weapons instructor at Camp Pendleton in San Onofre, California. Joining the military wasn't his initial plan, but he says it was a way for him to take care of himself and Amber.
The couple struggled at first. They lived with family members for 10 months until they were able to afford their own apartment.
"We were eating on the floor because we had no furniture," Amber remembers. "We were sleeping on a hot air mattress because we had no money to buy a mattress."
When they moved into their first RV in November 2019, they were faced with a new set of challenges. "We had never even stayed in an RV before. We were terrified to even dump the tank or hold the RV with the truck," Amber says. "It was all new territory for us."
But they got the hang of it. In January 2021, the couple sold their first RV and upgraded to a larger one, which cost $58,000, including a $10,000 cash down payment using the proceeds from the sale.
One of the biggest upsides of living in an RV: The freedom to see the country without disrupting their daughter's environment too much, Amber and Jaylyn say.
Additionally, Amber says she was recently diagnosed with OCD, so tiny living gives her less space to worry about keeping organized.
How they spend their money
Here's how Amber and Jaylyn spent their money in June 2022.
- Discretionary: $3,460 for expenses including travel, sightseeing, clothes, the hardware store and gym pass
- Food: $2,868 for groceries and dining out
- Transportation: $1,766 for their truck payment and gas
- RV sites and parking: $1,694
- Investments: $1,186 paid into a shared savings account, a savings account for their daughter, an IRA and crypto investments
- RV loan payment: $678
- Insurance: $296 for car, renters, home and phone insurance
- Utilities: $71 for Wi-Fi, heat and propane
- Phone: $95
- Subscriptions: $68 for the chiropractor, cloud storage and their website domain
The couple also says they've spent around $20,000 on repairs and maintenance since 2020.
"Five months into traveling and we've had a flat tire, we've blown an axle," Amber says. Recently, they had to repair the air conditioning in the front of their RV after it was ripped out when they tried to drive under a bridge that was too low.
Having insurance has been key. Towing their RV after it broke down would've cost nearly $3,300, but with insurance, they only had to pay the $500 deductible.
Additionally, Amber and Jaylyn currently have about $4,200 in credit card debt, which they are working to pay down. Combined, they have a couple of credit cards, including an American Express Platinum card, the annual fee for which is waived for military families.
As for savings, couple has about $11,200 in a joint savings account and $4,000 in a savings account for Journey.
Plans for the future
Going forward, Jaylyn plans to work on his photography. He initially picked it up as a hobby, but now wants to go to school in order to sharpen his skills and make himself more competitive.
Amber says she's made around $400 from her blog, "Amber in Wanderland," and hopes to build it into a higher source of income in the future.
Overall, though, the couple doesn't plan on leaving RV life any time soon.
"Five to 10 years from now, I see myself still traveling," Amber says. "I'm so used to living a nomadic lifestyle from being brought up in a military family that I actually enjoy living on the road since I have my home with me."
"No matter your race, your walk of life, where you are financially and things like that, just make a plan and you can live the life you want to live," says Jaylyn.
They want to encourage their daughter to chase her dreams, whatever those may be.
"I hope to pass on to Journey the fact that she can pursue anything that she wants to do," Amber says. "Whatever dream that she has, she can make it a reality through hard work and dedication."
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