Leaky Bucket Economics

By Ethan Maurice | November 16, 2016

People often ask me how I afford to travel so much. Where do I find the time? How do I make enough money?

It's all actually quite simple. I think anyone could replicate what I do. I did my best to explain in "GO." my guide to cheap, unconventional travel, but I want to elaborate on one of the most important, yet often overlooked concepts I live by that allow such freedom. I call it leaky bucket economics.

I literally think of my personal finances as a leaky bucket. Each one of us has a bucket. The money we earn flows into our bucket. The money we spend leaks out. If someone makes $30,000 in a year and is able to save $20,000, they've got one well-patched bucket. In contrast, if someone makes $100,000 a year and spends it all, their bucket has no bottom.

The goal of leaky bucket economics is simple: to patch our inevitably leaky buckets as best as we can. Without money flowing in, we want our buckets to be able to last months, years even, before running empty. Think of it as a sort of financial miles per gallon. On our journey through life, we should strive for a personal finance system with the efficiency of a Prius, not a F-350 Super Duty.

Such a strife to patch our leaky buckets isn't about savings or retirement, though. It's about something even more important than money. In the end, leaky bucket economics is shockingly not about money at all, but something infinitely more valuable, something truly limited, our most sacred resource:


When we spend money, we're not really spending dollars, but rather time we invested in exchange for those dollars. What's really leaking from our buckets isn't money, but the time we've surrendered in exchange for it. Money is merely the middle man, a store of value built up through time spent. Patching our buckets isn't important because we value our money, it's important because we value our time.

Understanding this makes eliminating expenses suddenly relevant. Patching our buckets is no longer about finances. Nor is it about attempting to get back moments past. Patching our buckets is about earning the freedom to spend the present and future however we want—a freedom we've been taught to exclusively earn through pouring into our buckets but is much easier to attain through patching them.

To patch our buckets is to remove ourselves from the economic hamster wheel. It is about earning our freedom today, tomorrow, and the rest of our lives.

And what do I mean by freedom? Well, my financial bucket's been patched pretty damn well for the past three years. And as a result, I've had the time to do all sorts of incredible things. To pedal a bicycle across the United States. To backpack the John Muir Trail. To spend a spring in the Caribbean paradise of Playa del Carmen, Mexico and a summer living on the Big Island of Hawaii. To turn two-day drives into ten-day road trips. To take months off of work every year. To read for an hour each day. To write this article. To think about why I'm here and how I want to spend my time.

My bucket is patched so well because I make an effort to avoid paying rent. I have mercilessly cut out reoccurring expenses and bills. Until six months ago, I'd never owned a car. Outside of groceries and books, I rarely buy things. I'm actually more focused on getting rid of stuff than accumulating it. It all might sound a bit extreme, but as a result, I have an extreme amount of time and freedom.

Leaky bucket economics isn't about travel, though. It's about earning the freedom to spend our time however we want to. I choose to travel, read, and write with that time, but we each can choose to do whatever we want with it.

To drive it home, here's a short clip from an interview with José Mujica, Uruguay's President from 2010 to 2015. Known as “The World's Humblest President,” he donated over 90% of his salary to charity and worked to send a message of warning to his country and the world—a message about time, money, and consumerism.

Patch your bucket. Take back your freedom.


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