What ‘life on the road’ looks like for this coder-couple and their four kids
Martha, a self-taught engineer, is currently traveling the country, living out of her RV with her husband and kids. We caught up to talk home schooling, healthcare, and where they’re headed next.
“Can you hear me?” Martha says before anything else.
I can and I’m surprised. Our connection is crystal clear.
Martha is one of Starship’s software engineers. As I write this, she’s living out of an RV in a small town in North Dakota with her family. By the time this blog goes live, she’ll be in Utah. We’re talking on the phone as opposed to via video because I thought, given her location, the connection might be less-than-ideal. I was wrong. (Reasons remote work works #1,000?)!
Martha and the rest of the Sharpe family, which includes her husband Nat and their four little ones, stationed themselves in North Dakota a month ago. Prior to that, they’d been on the move for five months straight.
“Our first stop was Alabama,” she says. “Then in May we traveled 5,000 miles around the country. In June, we planted ourselves here. But we’ll be on our way again soon!” she tells me excitedly. “We’re headed to Utah next.”
Martha is a self-taught software engineer. Her husband, Nat, is also a software engineer, but by way of an intensive boot camp. They both started learning how to code while living in Atlanta.
“It took me about a year from start to finish to get certified,” Martha tells me.
“I started learning in 2019 and got my first job right as the pandemic hit. I have to say, my timing was very lucky.”
When I ask Martha how, after settling in Atlanta, she and Nat decided to take to the road, she says without skipping a beat: “Why not?”
Really, really remote
For Martha and Nat, the goal was always to work from home. Wherever home parks.
“It’s been a ride,” she says. “I was a bartender for a long time and a youth minister before that. Then, I became a stay-at-home mom as we started having kids. We had four in five years!”
This statistic would be impressive to most anyone, but seeing as I can barely take care of myself and my dog, I’m glad Martha can’t see that I’m slack-jawed on the other end of the line.
“And then of course having four kids on the road is definitely… interesting,” Martha laughs. “But this is the way we wanted it. After all, it’s sort of like what we say at Starship, how the future of work is changing. It is. It has.”
She’s right. The future of work has changed. And people like Martha are changing right along with it.
The school of life
Martha and Nat are alternately responsible for homeschooling duties. They take turns playing teacher, principal, and cafeteria worker (depending on the time of day) for their four little ones, who are all under the age of eight.
We’re bringing the kids up to be independent. And to lean into learning from life, as it were. So far, so good.
“It’s kind of like we have jobs, and then we have jobs,” she laughs. “Sometimes, I’m not totally sure which is which.”
“I’m sure it can be hard for the kids at times,” she says, “but also incredibly fun. The way we teach and the way they like to learn is really reliant on experience. We’re bringing them up to be independent. And to lean into learning from life, as it were. So far, so good.”
At one point in our call, Martha trails off to tell all four kids to ‘have fun and be careful out there’.
“The girls are following the boys,” she says to me, her voice strong again after covering the mouthpiece to yell out. “Because, as the girls like to say, the boys know how to have fun outside!’”
A new normal
The Sharpe family’s normal doesn’t look like most. That much is clear. From their home to their jobs, to the kids’ schooling, it’s anything but. Since they took to the road, the Sharpe’s approach to health care changed, too.
We opted for an HSA because it’s always been the cheaper option. We count on our account to pay for anything we need when we need it.
“We were sort of forced to adopt this mentality that ‘doctors are for emergencies’,” she tells me. “Which I know isn’t everyone’s take. And at one point, it wasn’t ours either. But since we aren’t stationary, we’ve had to adapt.”
“We’ve always had a high deductible health plan (HDHP),” Martha says, “and opted for an HSA because it’s always been the cheaper option. We count on our account to pay for anything we need when we need it.”
One of Martha’s young daughters tripped and hit her eye right before they left for their trip.
“Because the kids don’t have doctors they see regularly, off to Urgent Care we went. They got her set up with a fancy butterfly band-aid and sent us on our way. We paid with Starship.”
Martha and Nat’s goal is to always have their deductible amount built up in their HSA.
“We’re building back up to that amount right now, actually.”
Another game-changer for a family on the road? Tele-health, which became HSA eligible at the height of the pandemic.
‘Money saved is money made’
Because Martha and Nat usually use their HSA to spend when necessary, they’ve become keenly aware of how to make more money passively.
“Nat has always been interested in investing,” Martha says. “In our relationship, he’s definitely the one who has his sights set on the long-term.”
Martha admits that, even while working for a company like Starship, investing has always scared her a bit.
“It’s not intuitive to me,” she says. “So I’ve always avoided that piece of money-making.”
Now, Martha’s preferred method of investing is with Starship.
“I set my account up so that it’s on auto-invest,” she tells me, which allows her to have a set it and forget it mentality.
“Once my HSA hits a certain number, any funds above that automatically move over into investing. It’s really easy and I know I’m getting some nice tax benefits. Then I let Nat deal with our other investments,” Martha laughs.
The next spot on the map
“As long as we can keep working remotely, I think we’re going to keep moving around,” Martha tells me.
“Watching the kids learn from each other and their shared experiences has been such a treat.”
When I ask her where the Sharpe RV plans to head next, she tells me that they haven’t planned too far ahead.
“Which is funny,” she says, “because I’m actually thinking about where we’ll go for winter. We got caught in all those Texas storms last year. It was brutal for lots of reasons. After all, I still have to fill the water tank to take a shower! Being on the road is fun and all, but it’s about as unglamorous as it gets. Maybe this winter we’ll try Florida.”