Guest Post by Eat the Financial Elephant // The Weight of Your Decisions

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.


Grand Canyon, Arizona

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.

Backpacking Denali National Park, Alaska

Backpacking Denali National Park, Alaska

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.

Shelter on Mt Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington state

Shelter on Mt Shuksan, North Cascades, Washington state

Beyond Necessities

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.

Summit shot3

Summit of Orizaba, Mexico

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.]

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34 replies »

  1. Wonderful post! I never thought of each item we own as something to weigh us down but it totally makes sense. Right now, our biggest “weight” is our car lease. When I was car-shopping a few years ago, there weren’t any used cars to be found in our area that were both in good shape as well as listed at a good price. Being just out of college, fairly broke and still financial novices, Mr. FI and I decided leasing was the way to go because the down payment was minimal, as were the monthly payments. Now that we’ve come to understand what a terrible idea that was, we’re looking forward to getting out from under this “weight” by the end of this year and speeding up our journey towards FI. :)

    • Don’t best yourself up about the car lease. We all have to make some mistakes, or we’d never learn! You know you guys are still crushing it. 😊

    • Mistakes are part of the process. We had an exercise with a mountaineering school I took a few years ago where at the end of an outing we all emptied out our packs and discussed what type of pack we used, what we used and carried, how we packed, etc. It was a very interesting exercise to sew what more experienced climbers were doing and learn from others’ mistakes. Still, we unfortunately learn best through our own mistakes.

  2. Great post, and I love the idea of looking at it as a backpacking analogy. My first backpacking trip was about as you described, and my pack was close to 90 lbs, for a 5 day trip with my Grandad. Needless to say we pared that down pretty quickly on subsequent trips.
    We try to shed “weight” as often as possible. We know our biggest burdens and have plans in place to get rid of them, or accept them, and focus our attention on other areas. For instance, Mrs. SSC has a car loan, GASP!!! However, when we filled out all the paperwork, instead of paying for it outright, we were offered 0% interest on the life of the loan. Why would we not take the loan and keep our money making more for us in another account. Daycare is another HUGE weight, costing more than the mortgage. I can’t wait to get that off our back, but until then, it’s a necessary cost – so we accept it and don’t stress over it.

    • We were the same way — super heavy packs at first, and under 10 pounds each now, plus food. Your car loan sounds like it makes sense, and daycare is clearly necessary — love that you aren’t stressing over those!

  3. Great post, for 2 reasons.
    1- camping and living outdoors. The pictures you show and the passion I see in the text makes me wants to give it a try… TO be added to my goals list I would say.
    2- what do we carry that slows down our journey to FIRE? Good question.

    We have 2 cars. I could take the bike to the trainstation and then off to work. This would take 1h35 one way trip. with the car it varies between 40-60 minutes. Is that luxury? Good news: the car was paid cash.

    On the psoitive side: we decided to “ristrict” our personal spending to a certain amoount, thus saving a little more each month.

    • Thanks Amber.

      One of the fun things about writing the blog is going through all of our old pics and reliving those memories. Unfortunately, with trying to maintain anonymity, many of our best pics are excluded (or are climbing “butt shots” which we don’t care to share and you don’t want to see!)

      I agree that it is an interesting thought exercise. I like to look at it in 2 phases. What is dead weight and how fast can you get rid of that. Then what do you really want and what is the most efficient way to carry it.

  4. Hello Mr. EE! Yes, there’s something very special about carrying everything you own and need on your back. It can go from being overwhelmingly spirit crushing (heavy pack), to freeing and empowering (light pack!).

    I’ve experienced both! The spirit crushing version was on 2 backpacking school trips I went on as a teenager, which (without sounding too dramatic), really scarred me from camping. I carried packs heavier than my body weight, which really sapped the fun out of everything. That was the main thing I didn’t enjoy – that and mosquitos!

    The empowering light way is how I travel now, whether it’s backpacking in the wilderness or travelling for work. I think I’m even a bit *too* finicky about weight, and eliminating weight. But like you, I’ve applied the lessons learned from backpacking to how I live my everyday life. It’s still a work in progress to live lighter, but something that I’m consciously striving towards. Especially since my goal is to live a slow-travel lifestyle once we retire.

    Thanks for the nice post and the reminder to get out-there already. :)

  5. That’s an interesting perspective. I often think about how to get our message out to teens as that is the time to get started on FI. Think about the effects compounding has (good or bad) with decisions made that young. Unfortunately, most of us are or were “lost in the wilderness” at that stage in life. How many people who like yourself were scarred at that early age just give up, on the wilderness or the idea of financial freedom.

    Kudos to you for getting back out there and best of luck on your slow traveling lifestyle in retirement. Sounds awesome!

  6. My wife and I have gotten rid of a LOT of dead weight over the past year or so, and we are continuing to do so. It’s true, the things that we feel like we NEED very often only burden us with additional baggage, and we ultimately carry those burdens in one way or another.

    I like the connection with backpacking. As an avid hiker (and future “true” backpacker), getting rid of the dead weight will keep getting more and more important. :)

    • Good for you being willing to cut the dead weight. I’ve recently been reading Greg McKeown who writes about the “endowment effect” which refers to how we value something more once we own it. (One that I’m currently struggling with is my massive collection of music CDs that I haven’t listened to in years, but can’t seem to sell, give, pitch or whatever you would even do with them.) It is hard to let go of something that you already have for whatever reason.

      • I definitely understand that. If your city has a used bookstore, or otherwise just a second-hand store, they might buy them from you if they are still in good shape. They may only give you store credit, but that might work out if they have something else that you need.

      • Ha! It’s not easy. Remember my post about selling all of my Nikon stuff and downsizing my photo equipment? Yep, that was the first step. I’ve reduced the weight of my equipment down from several pounds to maybe a pound with that change. Mirrorless cameras are small, light and extremely high quality. Best of all worlds, I say. :)

    • Yeah, I just looked into that.

      The funny thing when you think about it is it’s hard to part with an old CD that you paid $15-20 for only $2. However, if looking at it the other way, would I buy the CD today for $2. No way. I haven’t bought a CD for years. It’s an odd phenomenon that I had never thought about before but is a real challenge to lightening our loads.

      • Completely understand – I went through the same thought process when I was getting rid of some of my older stuff. But typical of selling your stuff, you’ll never get anywhere near what you put into it, so I just had to forget about what I paid and instead focus on the fact that I’m not using all that stuff anyway. I have already gotten the value that I paid out of it, so selling it now is only money in the bank that I can use for other value to my life.

        Easier said than done, for sure…but remember, you’re just selling “stuff”, not memories. :)

        Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. Great guest post. I have gotten rid of a lot of dead weight over the past year or two. Such as hacking away at student loans and selling my car when I moved to the big city. Dead weight can also be relationships, or doing things you thought you enjoyed but really don’t. I plan on spending a lot of this Saturday outside, I hope the weather is nice!

  8. This was so true in my recent trip to Europe. We brought 4 guidebooks. While they didn’t take up much space, good gracious did they add a lot of weight to my backpack.
    Now I have to find the little things that are weighing down my financial goals. Like Mrs. FI, I still lease one car and have a car payment for the other. Clearing one or two of those payments would free up so much cash. Think of all the cash!… oh the cash.

    • Mr and Mrs EE have been virtuous on the car front, but we’re not without our past sins. We once financed 100% of a new car (albeit an economical compact) and most recently paid cash, but on a brand new car (we were set on a subaru, and they hold their value so well we thought it made sense to buy new and get the warranty). So don’t stress — you’re doing everything else right!

  9. As odd as it sounds in this day and age I have never had a car loan in my life. (Mrs. EE had a $5,000 loan for her very first vehicle, and never another). We would love to become a one car household and lighten that load even a bit more, but if you can even just flip that cycle and buy your cars with cash and save all of those financing expenses, you’ll be amazed how much money it saves over time. Good Luck!

  10. Nice guest post!
    I think our biggest change so far was the move from a V6 engine to a Toyota Prius!
    Won’t get back except maybe when I have to much cash to buy a Tesla Model S ;)