greetings, pals. last week, we had the distinct pleasure of guest posting over at eat the financial elephant, the family whose early retirement goal they’ve dubbed “dirtbag millionaires.” and today, mr. elephant eater is here with a guest post of his own, as well as the first capitalization ever to appear here on our next life. this is big, folks. literally. bigger letters.
if you haven’t already, check out the elephant eaters’ fab early retirement blog, and follow them on twitter. we’ll be back friday with another post here. and if their post inspires you to get out there into the wilderness, check out our primer on camping, with lots of helpful hints. now, take it away mr. elephant eater!
The Weight of Your Decisions
We started on our path to early retirement with very little knowledge of personal finance, investing or retirement planning. Our early retirement ideas grew out of a simple concept that popped into my head one day, that of the “Dirtbag Millionaire.” We would embrace the ideals of “dirtbags” who live for today in pursuit of their passions in the outdoor world. We would work our professional jobs for a while, saving most of our income allowing us to live like “millionaires” compared to the other “dirtbags.”
We were very close to pulling the trigger in the spring of 2012. I would quit my job. Mrs. EE would take a dream job with a company in the climbing/skiing industry located in the mountain west. Her job would provide some financial security as we figured things out. It also gave us an immediate support system of people who shared our interests. Then as fate would have it, we found out we would be having a baby (HUGE surprise) the same week her job offer became final.
We figured that we should have a real plan and desired a bit more security and stability now that we were responsible for our daughter. I would keep my job. We would stay put near our families. We dove deeply into the world of personal finance, investing and retirement planning.
Even as we have learned many technical finance issues, our “dirtbag” roots continue to be very influential in the way we live our lives and develop our future plans. Today we would like to share one example.
Backpacking and Life
We developed our love of the outdoors through backpacking. The first time either of us ever slept in a tent more than a few feet from our cars was a 4-day trip in the Grand Canyon. Not a bad place to start.
If you have never taken a backpacking trip, I would highly recommend it. We love the solitude you get by being willing to get just a few miles away from a trailhead, out in the wilderness. However, even if you hate it, I promise you will quickly learn a valuable lesson just by packing your bag and hoisting it onto your back.
Every Thing You Carry Has Weight
When planning our first trip, we did our research and developed a packing list. Being inexperienced, many things were tossed into our packs. Lighter, matches, map, compass (even though we weren’t sure how to use it and would be on a clearly marked trail with no option to turn off), headlamp, lanterns, glow sticks (were we camping or putting on a rave?), tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads (better to take 2 to be more comfortable), meals, snacks including an extra freezer bag of trail mix (a brick of peanuts and raisins isn’t THAT heavy), pots, plate, bowl, fork, spoon, knife, water (way too much water), extra shoes for camp, playing cards, radio, books (yes that is plural for a 4-day trip), first-aid kit (with enough supplies to perform minor surgery if needed), camera, extra batteries, more extra batteries (this place is beautiful, you never know), and a full rain suit (to hike in the desert, WTF?).
If you’ve ever backpacked, you get the idea. If not, I’ll clue you in. As soon as you hoist that pack over your shoulders, you realize that every ounce counts. Every decision you make regarding what goes into that pack is felt with every step. What seems like a luxury when packing at home immediately becomes a burden as soon as you hit the trailhead. This provides a great analogy to life and personal finance.
What Are You Carrying?
Many people put no thought into the items that they are carrying with them every single day. When you don’t actually have to hoist them up onto your back, it is easy to forget that each item has weight.
Many people decide to finance a college education. After all an education is valuable so it’s worth it, right? Let’s compare that to water in the backpack. Water is also important, essential actually. But that doesn’t mean we want to strap a couple of gallons on our pack to weigh us down when we are just at the trailhead.
Could we carry just a liter and then a purification system that weighs just a few ounces? Likewise, can we get an education in the most efficient way, at the very least not financing expensive dorms and meal plans, getting car loans and running up credit card debt living above our means before we’re even making any real money?
Shelter is necessary whether in the wilderness or in civilization. Having to carry it on your back makes you really consider how much shelter you want.
The 10+ lb massive tent looks pretty sweet in the sporting good store and it may be a great choice if setting it up a few feet from the car with the family. However, when carrying my shelter I choose a minimalist tent that weighs about 4 pounds. A big tent is simply not worth the weight.
Likewise, the big house in a fancy neighborhood may be luxury for those with the highest incomes. For most people, a decision like this will be an anchor on both their time and money as is required to pay and care for all that goes with it.
These same analogies can be applied to all of the “necessities” in life. When thinking about what you “need,” realize that each decision you make carries weight. You WILL feel the impact with every step you take.
In life, we all seek pleasure and gratification. We want to be entertained. Sometimes there is more in life than what an item costs, or if backpacking, what it weighs. However, all too often we make choices without thinking about what we really want and the best way to get it.
In my pack, you will always find a treat (our favorite is a Snickers bar or some Twizzlers) to reward us for getting through that last few miles or finish a hard climb. I also require my a.m. coffee wherever I may be. It is worth the weight. Likewise, even in early retirement, we always will find a way to keep hobbies like travel and skiing in our lives, despite the costs associated.
What we need to think about is whether there is a more efficient way to carry the items that we want. We could carry a book, a camera, a radio and a phone in our pack, each adding weight and taking space. We could much more efficiently use one device that weighs a few ounces. How can you apply this concept of efficiency to your daily life with things like car purchases, phone and T.V. plans, insurance, etc?
We also need to eliminate “luxuries” that are really dead weight. For years, we thought it was wise to pay someone to manage our investments. “It saved us so much time and effort to not have to learn to do it ourselves.” In reality, that decision weighed us down heavily with huge costs while actually hurting performance. It was kind of like carrying the rain suit and extra couple pounds of trail mix down and back up the Grand Canyon.
Get Out There!
I think this post is plenty long and I’ve made my point. Go start packing your backpacks and get out into the wilderness this weekend. Hopefully, like us you’ll develop a passion for the outdoors that will make you happier, healthier and make you appreciate the beauty of the world we live in. Or maybe you’ll hate it, but at least you’ll have a new perspective on life after literally carrying all of your possessions on your back for a few days.
What items are weighing you down? What is the biggest dead weight that you’ve been able to drop to speed up your path to financial freedom? Where have you found ways to be more efficient, allowing you to carry luxury items without adding much weight? What items are you going to carry, no matter what they weigh? “Weigh in” below.
[ed note: all photos featured in this post are by eat the financial elephant. all other photos on the site are by our next life.]
Want extra Our Next Life content? Get the e-newsletter!
Subscribe to get our bimonthly newsletter with tons of top secret info we'll never share here on the blog. It's like a whole extra post or two a month!