Case Study #15: The Scavenger Life — Freedom first, then Financial Independence

Jay and Ryanne

“I can’t believe that I got a college education just so I could end up selling old shoes on the internet.”

Over the past five years of writing this blog – thru the comments, reader meet-ups and the Chautauquas – I’ve had the opportunity to get to know jlcollinsnh readers pretty well. While not universal, there is a typical path that most are following.

It looks a bit like this:

Working — eliminating any debt — aggressively saving — investing — F-you Money — (Freedom!) — Financial Independence — doing what ever the hell you want

But, of course, this isn’t the only path. Especially if we realize freedom is the goal and money is only a tool. You don’t need a million dollars to have the freedom to do nothing, although it doesn’t hurt. You need the right mindset.

Time out for some definitions, and these are not universal but what I mean when I use the terms:

F-you Money: Enough money that you can go without working for some period of time. Enough to embolden you to make more aggressive choices. But not enough to never have to work for money again.

Financial Independence (FI): Having enough money invested that using the 4% rule you can comfortably pay all your bills. Enough to never have to work for money again.

Today I want to introduce you to Ryanne and Jay. Their path kinda looks like this:

Work — work? — screw this! — freelance — plus alternative business eBay — plus alternative business Real Estate — still hard work, but… — (Freedom!) — travel when we want — save — invest — accumulate F-you money – reach FI – do what ever the hell you want — oh, wait, we already are…

Ryanne and Jay produce the weekly podcast ScavengerLife, about quitting their jobs, moving to the country, making a living on eBay by living off the waste of the United States.

Using their eBay profits from the last six years, they have fixed up two houses, one for living, one for…

1airbnb farmhouse rental

…their Airbnb rental:­

They also document how they run their Airbnb business at ShampooAndBooze.

They’ve just purchased their third house, soon to be another Airbnb rental­ all from selling weird, unique stuff to strangers on the internet.

I met them a few weeks back when I noticed a flow of traffic coming here from their site.

Checking it out I found they had referenced my F-you Money post in one of their podcasts. I listened to the entire thing and was immediately captivated. Not just by their cool and engaging story, but also by their cool and engaging way of telling it.

I listened to a few more. Then I called and left them a voicemail.

I said, Thanks for the link and mention on your podcast. While I have zero personal interest in starting an eBay business or investing in Real Estate (been there, done that) I still loved listening to you guys talk about your experience.

Then they called back and said, We love your stuff too even though we are not (yet) investing in stock index funds.

Then I’m all like, You guys should do a guest post for me.

Then they’re all like, We should interview you on our Podcast. (which we did and is coming)

Then I’m all like, Wow that was great fun but while you were asking me questions I kept thinking about all the questions I wanted to ask you guys! Too bad I don’t have a Podcast.

Then they’re all like, Well we have one and we can record, edit and host it on ours.

Then I’m all like, That’s great and then I can link to it when I put up your guest post. It will be my first ever Podcast where I get to ask the questions!

And then, here we are.

And here it is:

My Podcast interview with Ryanne and Jay

So you can either listen first and then read what they wrote for us below. Or read first and then listen to what other tidbits I teased out of them.

Scavenger Life Guest Post

by Ryanne and Jay


Who are we? We’re arty tech nerds.

We’ve lived and worked in Boston, NYC and SF. At first we had full-time jobs, both in television production, but then worked freelance for about four years. We made good money and could have made a lot more in the future.

We decided to get out at 26 and 32.


I grew up with parents who were independent workers.

My mom is an artist, craftsperson. My dad is a carpenter, contractor. They never had office jobs my whole life. My siblings and I were always toted around to craft-shows and house painting jobs.

This helped inform our decisions to become very independent. We also had a buffer of saved money from our office jobs, that helped a bit.


We wanted our time because I learned that I couldn’t work full-time for someone else.

I looked over at the guy in his 50s doing what I did. He was happy enough, but I couldn’t see that for myself.

Though we loved freelancing because of the freedom of our time, we hated the stress and struggle of hustling for work. Usually we’d take on too many jobs because we were always worried work would dry up.

4tech job



Living in urban areas, we realized that our most expensive cost was rent (and that was 2005­-2007 in NYC and SF, it’s gotten much worse since then).

For one year, we bartered with a friend who owned an apartment in an intentional community. We lived there for one year in exchange for DIY fixing up the apartment­ painting, replacing windows, redoing the kitchen.

In that same year, we met our friends, Mikey and Wendy (The Good Life Lab), who quit their NYC jobs and moved to a tiny town in New Mexico. They showed us that they could buy property for cheap and own their time.

Their money went a lot farther in a rural area.


This made a lot of sense to us so we decided to move to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and bought a foreclosure for $70k in cash.

Probably put in another $100k to add an extra building and do a total renovation. Mountains in our backyard. A river just a short walk away. Surrounded by trees. A National Park and National Forest on either side of our valley.

11930197683_4452cbf0d7_bThis is where I’ll probably die.


We bought our house in 2009 after the economy crashed.

There were a bunch of foreclosures in our area (sadly, still are), and we were unable to get a loan at the time, being first time home buyers and not having “reliable income” as freelancers. Luckily, we had both saved about $35k each from our former full time jobs, the exact amount we needed to buy this house.

It kind of worked out perfectly.

Cashing out all our savings was not intentional, but became a blessing in disguise. It helped propel our future real estate purchases because we had full equity in our primary property with no debt.


Too good to be true?

The rub is that there are few decent jobs in rural areas. Most of it is low paying. So property is cheap because there’s no way to make money. It’s mainly retirees with savings and local families that have survived here for generations.

And weird people like us who travel for work and sell stuff on the internet.


The beauty of rural America is that it’s possible for young people to buy property and build businesses in an affordable way.

As I write this, we have just purchased our third house, to be another vacation rental. I never would have imagined that this would be possible in Boston, NYC or SF, because frankly, it’s not possible there.

My brother lives in Manhattan, my sister in Boston. They’ll never be able to afford property there. I keep trying to convince them to move to our tiny, rural county. They laugh at us.


I know some folks really push for renting because of the costs of home ownership, but we wanted a home base. A place where we could keep our stuff and travel whenever we wanted.

I’ve done the numbers and we still pay way in less in property taxes/insurance than we would in rent.

Do we miss the hustle and bustle of a city? Sure. But when we crave some culture, we just take a trip to the city, eat a good meal, walk the streets, go home before the traffic and headaches. Or we’ll rent a city apartment on Airbnb for a week. All the fun of the city and none of the hassle.


We still do some freelance work in our traditional career of video production. We’re lucky in that these clients send us to jobs all around the world.

We do live in a tiny rural town, but in the last year we have traveled to Colombia, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, New York and San Francisco. We do more traveling than most of our friends who have office jobs in the city because we have the luxury to leave whenever we want.




Being an art nerd from a working class family, my partner, Ryanne, knew we could figure it out. First, we‘re very frugal. It feels like we live in luxury, but really we ignore all the stuff that would suck our money. New cars, fancy clothes, etc.


We like to live off the waste of this country. Thrift store clothes. No car payments. Scratch and dent grocery outlets. We grow veggies in the backyard. Craigslist and estate sales furnish our houses. We never pay retail and we find the most amazing things that people are getting rid of.


Ryanne saw that we could scavenge incredible items for cheap from thrift stores and sell them on eBay. No big mystery, but she showed that we could do it big and make incredible money. We treated our online selling like a business, put in the hours, and suddenly felt rich.


My mom and I started dabbling on eBay in 1999.

A friend of mine in college was obsessed with buying and selling Ninja Turtles online (I know, not the greatest investment). And I started selling some vintage film cameras, LPs and stereo equipment on eBay for extra cash. My mom started selling antiques and china.

Then, when I met Jay and moved from Boston to NYC, I sold a bunch of my clothes and art supplies. It was just always a way to clean stuff out and make some extra cash.


Trunk full of Treasure


The United States is so full of stuff, abundance, and waste that there’s just treasure lying around everywhere. Thrift stores, auctions, flea markets, yard sales. Hell, some folks just go to Target and buy the clearance items and resell those online for a profit. The US is bleeding treasure. It’s like finding $50 bills just lying on the ground.


When the economy crashed, we had been primarily making videos for NonProfits in DC. This work dried up at that time.

We happened to be shopping at our local thrift store in 2008, when I spotted a vintage 1980s Members Only jacket and thought ‘Some hipster in Brooklyn would totally buy that’. So we put a bunch of vintage clothes, which are pennies and in massive quantity here, on eBay.

Lo and behold, a hipster in Brooklyn actually did buy that jacket and our eBay business was born.


We also realized we could buy property using our eBay profits. Now we own an Airbnb rental (come stay! and are now renovating a second house for another vacation rental. We realized we loved renovating houses and providing hospitality. It’s fun.


We are total gluttons for punishment when it comes to houses.

We bought our house and did a total gut, added a second building for eBay storage and an office. That took 2 years and every penny we made at that time (plus blood, sweat and tears of course).

We finished in January 2011, took a short breath, then bought an 1850s solid brick farmhouse in September 2011 for renovation and eventual Airbnb rental.

This was a much more ambitious project, it took 3.5 years and every penny we made in that time as well. We started renting in February 2015 and it’s been so successful (profitable and fun!), that, again, we took a short breath and bought another house a couple weeks ago.

5keys to new rental house

Keys to still another house


Yes, we’re making good money but that’s not the best part.

We wake up with no alarm clocks.

Seriously this is my favorite aspect of this life. I wake up and it’s always Saturday. No one tells us what to do each day. Our online store keeps selling no matter what we’re doing. People are renting our farmhouse.

This means we can follow our interests day to day while keeping on eye “Business” on our phones.

Make no mistake: we work hard but it doesn’t feel like work. Plus, we take a couple big trips every year. We’ve gone to live in Amsterdam the past couple years for 3­-4 weeks at a time. We just book an Airbnb apartment and set up a new temporary home while exploring a city we love.


I have to disagree with Jay that this doesn’t feel like work. It’s just a different kind of work than an office or a ‘grin and bear it’ freelance client.

The level of stress is much lower and the rewards of running your own business are so much greater than working for others. Hard to quantify, but sometimes when we’re traveling and working for clients, I can’t wait to get home to our much less stressful work.

Cleaning the farmhouse for renters and shipping eBay items to customers can make you tired, but there is a zen to these things that you just can’t get at an office.


It’s true that video clients still hire us and fly us around the world. But we now have the F-­You money to pick and choose the jobs we want. As Jim says, F-­You money gives you leverage.

Employers/clients know this and it makes us even more valuable.

I think we often get hired because we bring a calm to our work that rarely exists in environments where workers feel trapped and stressed. We’re there because we want to be, not because we have to be.


Obviously, we choose the jobs where we get to go to cool places! This year includes Dublin, Seattle, New Orleans and San Francisco (twice!). Not a bad side gig.


I know many here throw their money into index funds and bank on the dividends for their early retirement. That’s sounds awesome. If we have even more extra money one day, maybe we’ll try it.

For now, we’re investing all our profits locally in the community. Makes us feel safer that we can see our money at work. We’ve even thought about buying a commercial building on Main Street to help revitalize an area sucked dry of business by the Walmart on the edge of town.

It’s an open playbook. We’re making it up as we go along.


Right, that’s the next big step after getting our rentals going, to try to improve the area for the people renting our places and visiting the area.

We feel that rural America has a lot to offer young people struggling to make it in the cities. It’s like the wild west, ripe for experimentation and success.

Forget paying $3000+ a month for an apartment in the city. Pay a fraction of that and buy a house with land and start a business.


Yeah, maybe others might come join us. We have programmer friends who could code from anywhere. They just need an internet connection and coffee. Who knows.


I hope so.


jlcollinsnh Notes:

I love this story! So many cool concepts from it jumped out at me:

“…money went a lot farther in a rural area.”

“…when we crave some culture, we just take a trip to the city, eat a good meal, walk the streets…rent a city apartment on Airbnb for a week. All the fun…none of the hassle.”

“We do more traveling than most…because we have the luxury to leave whenever we want.”

“…we live in luxury, but…ignore all the stuff that would suck our money. New cars, fancy clothes…”

“We like to live off the waste of this country.”

“The US is bleeding treasure. It’s like finding $50 bills just lying on the ground.”

“…my favorite aspect of this life. I wake up and it’s always Saturday.”

“Make no mistake: We work hard but it doesn’t feel like work.”

“Cleaning the farmhouse for renters…shipping eBay items…there is a zen to these things…”

“…we often get hired because we bring a calm to our work…”

“…rural America has a lot to offer young people struggling to make it in the cities. It’s like the wild west, ripe for experimentation and success.”

If freedom is the goal, you can start way before you are financially independent. Thanks, Jay and Ryanne, for showing us your way!

Do you have questions for Ryanne and Jay I didn’t think to ask? Ask away in the comments below!

Addendum I:

My first ever Podcast where I get to ask the questions! My Podcast interview with Ryanne and Jay

Addendum II:

Want to check out their eBay store? Ryanne’s Valley Vintage

Addendum III:

Here is Jay’s Podcast interview of me:  How scavengers can achieve financial independence


Past Post Update, January 20, 2016:

Last October I did a post on:

Todd just added two cool new features:

  • Stock Wars: A tool that allows you to compare the performance of two stocks and/or funds.
  • Quizzes: I took both. I’m a “goat” in the first and a “coyote” in the second. You can do better. I dare ya!

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Important Resources

  • Talent Stacker is a resource that I learned about through my work with Jonathan and Brad at ChooseFI, and first heard about Salesforce as a career option in an episode where they featured Bradley Rice on the Podcast. In that episode, Bradley shared how he reached FI quickly thanks to his huge paychecks and discipline in keeping his expenses low. Jonathan teamed up with Bradley to build Talent Stacker, and they have helped more than 1,000 students from all walks of life complete the program and land jobs like clockwork, earning double or even triple their old salaries using a Salesforce certification to break into a no-code tech career.
  • Credit Cards are like chain saws. Incredibly useful. Incredibly dangerous. Resolve to pay in full each month and never carry a balance. Do that and they can be great tools. Here are some of the very best for travel hacking, cash back and small business rewards.
  • Empower is a free tool to manage and evaluate your investments. With great visuals you can track your net worth, asset allocation, and portfolio performance, including costs. At a glance you'll see what's working and what you might want to change. Here's my full review.
  • Betterment is my recommendation for hands-off investors who prefer a DIFM (Do It For Me) approach. It is also a great tool for reaching short-term savings goals. Here is my Betterment Review
  • NewRetirement offers cool tools to help guide you in answering the question: Do I have enough money to retire? And getting started is free. Sign up and you will be offered two paths into their retirement planner. I was also on their podcast and you can check that out here:Video version, Podcast version.
  • Tuft & Needle (T&N) helps me sleep at night. They are a very cool company with a great product. Here’s my review of what we are currently sleeping on: Our Walnut Frame and Mint Mattress.


  1. Fervent Finance says

    Awesome story! Who takes care of the Airbnb when you’re out of town? I’m currently living in Manhattan. While I share an apartment with roommates which helps cut down on rent and utilities, it’s still pretty expensive. My next plan is to try for some geographic arbitrage and make NYC money in a rural area. Wish me luck.

    • Jay Dedman says

      We’ve developed a network of trusted people in our area. We have one friend who takes care of our rental while we travel. While we’re gone, he gets 20% of the profit in return for cleaning, checking in guests, and being on call for any problems. We still handle bookings on our phone wherever we are. We’ll be in Amsterdam and just WhatsApp with him to coordinate in real time.

      If you can imagine living outside a big urban area, geographic arbitrage can be one of the biggest ways to increase wealth. There were two problems to solve for us: how to make money + how to feel connected to the “world” as we knew it. Jim does a good job explaining how we solved these problems for us.

      In 2004, we were paying $1300 for a one bedroom apartment on 147th/Amsterdam (good deal!). We now pay about $1500/month total for the loan on our two income generating rentals.

  2. SavvyFinancialLatina says

    Great inspirational story! I have dreams of exciting the rat race. It’s just not worth it. My challenge is that the work is not inspirational and I work with people who are either idiots in suits making decision or grumpy because they hate their lives.

    • Jay Dedman says

      That’s exactly how we felt. No matter how much we were paid, it wasn’t worth the soul crushing in a job we hated. That being said, some people actually like their jobs! We just realized we had to find out own way.

  3. Kevin says

    I really enjoyed both this write up and the podcast.

    I generally prefer to read things rather than listen to them, but Jim… you have a talent for investigative journalism and I got to hear the radio-ready voice that some of the former Chatauqua attendees had mentioned. It is a good format for you.

    Ryanne and Jay… I had stumbled across your site about six weeks ago and have been reading and listening to quite a number of your recent podcasts. Your “answer to only yourself” business approach, obvious chemistry as a couple, and the nuts and bolts of your business are all fun to hear about, but this was great for getting to know you better without the benefit of the first 200 episodes.

    I am one of Jim’s readers who is starting to ask the “enough” question, and your approach has some really cool traits in that situation.

    1)It seems very autonomous

    2) There is a treasure hunting aspect that seems fun

    3) It seems completely scalable as needs dictate… at least if you are looking for something in the range of 10-60k, and probably much more if you wanted to start automating and delegating your processes.

    When the 4% rule seems scary, an extra 15-20k per year seems really attractive.

    I think for me, the ability to specify the shipment time with Amazon FBA outweighs the ability to make huge scores on funky collectibles on ebay, but I have a bit more of the engineer in me than the poet. 🙂

    In any case you guys are cool people and your story was a great addition to the blog and a bit different from the everyday finance stuff while on the same theme.

    Thanks for sharing what you do.

    • Jay Dedman says

      I really like folks who are committed and disciplined enough to pump all their cash into index funds, 401ks, and IRAs. We hope to one day have the extra cash to do it. You guys inspire us. As James said, we just are on a different route to the same place.

      If you love scavenging, then it doesn’t feel like work. It’s more like a hobby that pays serious money. Selling on Amazon FBA is definitely cool and extremely scalable. Just depends on the kinds of items you want to be dealing with. For the most part, Amazon is for the new stuff , and eBay is for the vintage, weird stuff.

  4. EconoWiser says

    And I’m all like I love my Great Uncle J.!

    Thank you so much for doing this podcast. Super inspirational couple.

    And I totally agree: you have a radio voice AND you ask the best questions.

    I’m voting for jlcollinsnh podcasts!

  5. Nikki T. says

    Absolutely loved this podcast! I admire the fearless approach to life that these two have. I had to be FI before I found that kind of courage. I also like that they seem to have an immunity to the rampant materialism that imprisons many to the 9-to-5 drudgery. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be FI to achieve some freedom.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Exactly Nikki!

      And that’s what drew me to them.

      As for their “immunity to the rampant materialism” I wonder if having so much stuff pass thru their hands on the way to eBay buyers has the effect of taking the shine off owning it?

      At one point Ryanne did say they tend to furnish their own home with the things that are slightly damaged and less salable.

      I should have asked!

      • Dollar Flipper says

        I can talk about this from my point of view.

        Absolutely. Every time I see something out there in the real world, I think “why the hell would I pay that much! I’ve seen that in the thrift store for so much cheaper!” My favorite example is a Chaps dress shirt that I have. I bought this pre-eBay days. Now, it’s a higher end Chaps shirt, but I wouldn’t buy one to re-sell unless it was given to me brand new with the tags! It’s just not worth it.

        It’s also helped me appreciate true value. Something that would be repaired instead of thrown out. Those are the kinds of things that I don’t mind spending money on!


  6. Mrs Dollar Notes says

    This summed up the whole post for me “If freedom is the goal, you can start way before you are financially independent”. It sounds like Ryanne and Jay have found their way to freedom although not in the traditional sense of FI. We have saved F-you money for a year now in order to be able to move permanently to the other side of the world. As our moving date is getting closer, it is cool to see how money can truly give you choices.

  7. Judy says

    Congratulations on your first podcast, Jim. It was my first podcast too. I figured if one old dog could learn to produce a podcast, another old dog could learn to listen to one. 🙂

  8. Jeremiah says

    I’m pretty sure one of the items on their ebay sight is from my hometown of Strasburg, Virginia! Small world. I’ve been dreaming of an airbnb rental here in Montana. More motivation to do it! Thanks guys and I look forward to hearing both podcasts!

    • Jay Dedman says

      We’re in the Shenandoah Valley so Strasburg is right over the mountain. If you live in a place where people come to vacation, an Airbnb rental is an awesome idea.

  9. Dollar Flipper says

    I’ve been a scavenger life listener and jlcollins reader for years now. I love both!

    I do a small version where any income I get from eBay is used to maintain/improve my home. This let’s me save 50% of our regular job income!


  10. Brian says

    I love their attitude towards work, i.e. working hard/ and smart, and that what they do is something they enjoy. They also dictate their own schedule, and dictate who they feel like working for. So they are free in many ways a typical pre FI worker is not.

    It’s inspirational to see that you can be the master of your own destiny not only in terms of making sound financial decisions (which are sort of boring when done right), but also recognizing that now is the time to start living the way you want to (that is what excites me).

    There is FI, which we are working toward, but in the mean time why not be free now?! Why not set the stage for that eventuality?

    I’d also be curious to see what sort of video work they do.

  11. Michael says

    Great Podcast.
    I truly enjoyed it and can not believe I actually sat in one place over an hour and listen to the whole thing. Thank you
    Where can I see the podcast of you interviewing Jim?

  12. Diane C says

    I love their approach and always wanted to find an alternate path to FI. My stumbling block was health insurance. Just curious since it’s not mentioned here. Is it covered in the podcast? (Happy to report I did get to FIRE eventually, but a lot later than I would have liked.)

    • Jay Dedman says

      Good question. Because of the recent Affordable Care Act, we were able to find good, cheap insurance as was promised. We have both dental and medical. Just go to and plug in your info.

  13. Jenny says

    Interesting read. Especially because I currently work in Luray! 🙂 Was the business on Main Street ever opened?

    • Jay Dedman says

      The business isn’t open yet, but it’s in the works. Do you work at the National Park? (This is Jay from the interview)

      • Jenny says

        I actually work for Valley Health in the fitness center. Though we’re moving towards the end of the month to Williamsburg ????

        • Jay Dedman says

          Cool. Sorry to see you leave town. Luray needs as many forward thinking people as we can get. (Say hi to Ben at the gym for us!)

          • Jenny says

            Lol! I will! And I agree with the forward thinking comment. I moved here about 15 months ago from southern Florida (relationship stuff), and oh my! What a difference. But Williamsburg should offer much more opportunity. Plus, it’s closer to the water. ????

  14. Maura says

    Hi JL,

    I see there haven’t been any recent case studies, so perhaps you have closed that chapter of your book — but if you resume case studies at some point, would you consider doing one that covers a person at the beginning of their financial journey, or someone who is trying to set themselves up to be in a good position financially for the first time? I have read your case studies and they are super helpful but all seem to start with people who have robust savings/investments that they are trying to make…robuster. It would be great to see a case study that includes things like student loans and smaller savings accounts. Thank you!


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