Skip to main content

Retirement Plan: Live Like Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s Books

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Jack Reacher Retirement Plan: A Simple Life on the Road

No utilities, no mortgage, no car payments: Sounds like a great retirement plan to me. But how much would it cost to have a lifestyle like this, and would it be a good retirement plan?

Who Is Jack Reacher?

Jack Reacher is a fictional character in Lee Child’s action novels about a former military policeman who wanders the country traveling with only the clothes on his back and his folding toothbrush. After years of being tied down in military life, he wants to wake up free to do what he wants every day. Jack Reacher checks into hotels with a fictitious name and becomes involved in adventures involving fighting crime and rescuing people.

Crime-fighting aside, Jack Reacher's life is a simple one; he is thrifty. He doesn’t own a home. He travels by Greyhound bus, hitchhiking, or simply walking. He buys cheap clothes and then throws them away after a few days. He likes to eat in diners and enjoys coffee. But how attainable is Reacher's life on the road?

This article will break down the costs of the Jack Reacher retirement plan, including:

  • Hotels
  • Food
  • Clothing
Lee Child, author of Jack Reacher books.  How much would a life of adventure on the road cost?

Lee Child, author of Jack Reacher books. How much would a life of adventure on the road cost?

Where Does Jack Reacher Get His Money?

Jack Reacher does have some sources of income. He has a retirement or severance package of some sort from the U.S. Army when he left the service at the rank of Major after 13 years of service. He once earned money digging pools in Florida—this helped him stay in shape as well. How much money would you need to earn to be able to stay in a hotel every night and wander the country on a Greyhound bus?

Would This Be a Good Retirement Plan?

  • Sell all of your stuff except the clothes on your back. No house, no car, no furniture, no pets.
  • Buy a folding toothbrush.
  • Buy a bus ticket and be on your way.
  • Stay at cheap hotels.
  • Eat at cheap diners and get free food at the hotel.
  • Throw away your dirty clothes and buy cheap new clothes to replace them.

How much would it cost to live like this? Let's look at a practical breakdown of Jack Reacher's lifestyle.

For $95 per night, Homewood Suites can be your home.

For $95 per night, Homewood Suites can be your home.

Hotel: $1500

There are some good options for extended stay hotels—these offer suites with a kitchen as well as a bedroom and bathroom.

  • Extended Stay America: $45 to $75 per night. Basic accommodations are available nationwide.
  • Homewood Suites: about $95 per night. This would be like a mini-vacation during your life on the road. Homewood Suites offer a basketball court and buffet dinner every night. You can get Hilton points for staying here as well.

This works out to a range of $1350 to $3000 per month for the hotel. This cost includes utilities as well since heat and electricity, and water are covered in your hotel bill. Jack usually picks pretty cheap hotels and sometimes stays with friends or sleeps on-site while working on one of his missions, so I would put his budget at the low end—let’s say $1500 per month.

Diner Food: $300

Assume one free meal from your hotel—breakfast. At Homewood Suites, you get a buffet dinner as well, which is worth about $10. Otherwise, you are on your own for food. The long-stay hotels provide kitchens with cooking utensils as well as a refrigerator, oven, microwave, and toaster. Making your own meals should be no problem.

But Jack is not much of a chef. He gravitates to diners and cheap restaurants. And he’s a big guy and needs to eat a lot to keep up his strength. You'd better plan for at least one big diner meal per day at $10 to supplement the free food from the hotel. That’s $300 per month for food.

Cheap Transportation: $200

Assume you don’t own a car. You won't have to pay for insurance, maintenance costs, registration fees, car payments, or gas expenses. If you want to go somewhere, you can walk—as Jack Reacher often does. You can take the hotel shuttle, take public transportation, or take a Greyhound bus. Some of these transportation options cost a bit of money. Let’s assume you’ll move to a new city every couple of weeks. Budget $200 per month for transportation expenses for bus tickets, etc.

You can find many clothing items for under $5 at most thrift stores.

You can find many clothing items for under $5 at most thrift stores.

Disposable Clothes: $300

Jack Reacher shops at thrift stores, military surplus stores, and the like for clothes. He wears the clothes for a few days and then throws them away. Jack believes in travelling light, only taking the clothes on his back and his folding toothbrush.

The good news is that you don’t need to pay for a laundromat or spend time washing, drying, and folding clothes. The bad news is that you need to buy clothes quite often. Let’s say you wear an outfit for three days and then throw it away and replace it. That’s 10 outfits per month.

Let’s assume you can find cheap pants for $15, a cheap shirt for $8, socks for $2, underwear for $2: that’s $27 per outfit or $270 per month for clothes. Occasionally, Jack buys special clothes for his missions, such as a watch cap, gloves, etc.

I would plan on using the laundry facility at the hotel and re-wearing the outfits at least a few times to reduce this expense. If I was planning to be in town for a while, I might get a few outfits. I might even take a suitcase—this would expand my wardrobe capability substantially without reducing my mobility much.

If you’re willing to carry a suitcase and do laundry, you could cut the clothes budget to $27 per month—or one new outfit per month. But Jack is not the laundry-doing type. So budget $300 per month for his cheap clothes plus a few extra items he may need.

Jack Reacher movie with Tom Cruise

Jack Reacher movie with Tom Cruise

How Much Would the Jack Reacher Retirement Plan Cost?

It would cost about $2300 per month to live on the road like Jack Reacher—carrying only the clothes on your back and your folding toothbrush, staying in cheap hotels, wearing cheap clothes a few times and throwing them away instead of dealing hauling clothes around.

If you plan to pay your way by picking up minimum wage work at $10 per hour as you go, it would take 230 hours of work per month, or about 55 hours per week, to live the thrifty Jack Reacher lifestyle. Yikes!

You’ll need at least some savings or a better source of income than minimum wage work to make this work as a retirement plan. If you sold all of your belongings (house, car, furniture, etc.) and made $27,600, you could live on the road like Jack Reacher for one year without working at all. Savings of $276,000 would get you 10 years of the Jack Reacher lifestyle. Better save up before you buy that Greyhound ticket and hit the road. . .

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on January 10, 2016:

Sorta Lived Like Jack, good point about sleeping on the bus. Jack would do that. I slept in my car when traveling to save money in my younger days. Having an unlimited bus ticket for 90 days would be really interesting- that would be a great way to live like Jack Reacher for a summer and try it out.

Sorta Lived Like Jack on January 08, 2016:

I traveled the U.S. by bus for a summer, and many roads are long, so you don't need a hotel - you sleep on the bus. Also, at least at one time, Greyhound sold passes that allowed a person unlimited travel within a 30-, 60-, or 90-day period of time, and that was a HUGE savings. And a person with Jack's skills would have no problem picking up work when he needed it.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on February 10, 2015:

Annuity Direct, I was surprised how expensive it would be to live on the road like Jack Reacher. It sounds pretty cheap until you start adding up all of the costs. Thanks for your comment!

Anne Morrison on February 10, 2015:

The Jack Reacher title got me interested but the breakdown is more interesting still. Looks like the nomad life isn't cheap at all.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on January 25, 2015:

Billybuc, the Jack Reacher books are easy to get hooked on! I found myself thinking about what it would be like to really live like that... Thanks for reading and commenting!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 25, 2015:

What a clever title. I just happen to be a huge Reacher fan. I've read them all and anxiously await the next. Anyway, love your creativity.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on September 28, 2014:

Taranwanderer, with the right skills and background, you could certainly pick up some money from handling bad guys like Jack Reacher. Being really big like Jack would also help with this aspect. But for this article, I only considered the expense side of the equation. I wonder if Jack Reacher will eventually retire from fighting with bad guys?

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on May 18, 2014:

Jodah, I was surprised- and slightly disappointed- to learn how much living on the road would actually cost!

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on May 18, 2014:

Very interesting hub, and well worked out. Living like Jack Reacher would be more expensive than a normal lifestyle here, unless he stayed in hostels, had a suitcase of clothes, ate at soup kitchens, and other charity meals, and walked or hitch hiked almost everywhere.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on April 01, 2014:

DrMark1961, great comment re: saving money on hotel cost. I went with an average of $50 per night- $20 would be a lot better! Jack Reacher sometimes gives cash to hotel staff to get a cheap room- I remember him doing that at least once. I should try that. Thanks for your comment!

Mark dos Anjos DVM from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 31, 2014:

Having travelled much of the US and Canada this way (when I was much younger than Reacher, I will admit), I think some of your estimates are a little off. The hotel, for instance, can be had for a lot more like $20 a night, if you offer cash to the receptionist. His ideas on trashing the clothes every few days does not make any sense though, and I like your advice about saving over $200 a month just by doing a little laundry.

Also, in one of his books (cannot remember title) his old C.O. gives him a house near West Point. He sells it a few books later, pockets the money and lives on that for several (10?) years.

Your hub is really interesting. Thanks.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on February 24, 2014:

richthesnitch, I do remember a discussion in one Jack Reacher book of washing clothes in a hotel room, although I can't remember whether it was Jack who was washing his clothes, or the female character who was washing her clothes. But he just discards his used, dirty clothes most of the time.

richthesnitch on February 24, 2014:

I thought Jack Reacher redonated his clothes, he did not throw them away. Also he washed his clothes in the Hotel's sink so he could get by wearing them for a week.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on February 11, 2014:

Efficient Admin, I would have trouble throwing away good clothes for convenience. If I were really going to hit the road with minimal possessions, I might pack a 1-man tent so I could avoid staying in a hotel every night. But I agree that this would be a hard way to live and probably looks more fun in books and movies than it would actually be in real life.

Michelle Dee from Charlotte, NC on February 11, 2014:

Great hub! Hotels are not cheap. Sometimes books and movies glamorize a lifestyle that would not work for most people. I think all that travelling from place to place, all the time, would be tiring after a while. I love your computation on how to shave $243 off the clothing budget!

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on June 09, 2013:

Marisa Wright, thank you for your comment. The character Jack Reacher does have a fixation with not getting tied down in any way- for him possessions represent being saddled with responsibilities that he doesn't want. After years of military life, including growing up as a military child, he wants total freedom, waking up every day with all his options open.

Of course, I wear clothes for years and years. Even when clothes are worn out, I reuse them for rags, etc. I would have a hard time actually living like Jack Reacher and throwing clothes away. I would manage to bring a suitcase to keep some clothes. I would also try to bring some small cooking appliances, maybe a hot plate and a few pans and plates to make my own food as well.

Of course I don't plan to fight bad guys like Jack Reacher, so I'll let him get away with a few quirks...

Kate Swanson from Sydney on June 09, 2013:

What an odd lifestyle to choose. It certainly wouldn't work in Australia or Europe, where even cheap hotel accommodation is far more expensive than ordinary lodgings.

Same goes for food - in most countries, eating out (even in cheap cafes) is more expensive than cooking for yourself, and it's possible to eat pretty well from the supermarket even if you can't cook (ready-made salads, cold cuts, cheeses, breads and cakes, fruit etc).

I can't see how throwing away clothes - even cheap second-hand ones - would ever work out cheaper than laundering. You can carry enough clothes in a decent backpack to live in, so it seems totally unnecessary.

In short, I suspect the character's lifestyle is a fictional device, designed to show how free and unconventional he is. I can't imagine any retiree affording it for long, unless they had a secure income - and I could imagine most people would tire of the make-do-and-mend nature of the lifestylel pretty quickly, anyway.

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on March 30, 2013:

Thanks, kidscrafts! Living in a hotel and eating in restaurants would be an easy way of life for retirement, and as you mentioned you could easily move to a new place whenever you wish.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on March 30, 2013:

I love this article! I had an uncle who sent me a joke about living in hotels instead of retirement homes; it was cheaper that way. I am pretty sure some people do it because you get your linen change on a regular basis and if you are tired of the view or the weather....just change place! Why not?