Talking Money with Desert Dweller

We love talking about money with other people. We’ve learned from our money conversations that no matter how unique we are, we can always learn something new about money and about life from other people. And just listening to others tell their money stories helps to support them in reaching their personal finance goals.

We’ve gotten so much out of our money conversations that we decided to start an interview series with our personal finance community. Rather than focusing only on income and investing we’re very interested in the emotional side of personal finance. And we’re thrilled to share stories from some of our friends.

Everyone, meet our very close buddy Desert Dweller! She is a 27 year old woman living in the Phoenix, Arizona area. We are inspired by her and we hope you will also find something encouraging in her money story…


1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from your parents or grandparents?

I grew up in an upper middle class community in Arizona. As far as I knew, my family never struggled with money, although things were a bit tighter when I was a kid, since my mom stayed home with my brother and I until I was about 11.

We went on lots of camping trips, vacations to visit family, and even had a boat and a trailer at one point. My brother and I did multiple club sports and also did private music lessons at various points.

My parents helped me set up my first savings account when I was in 5th grade, to help me manage a whopping $100 I earned from a babysitting gig. They also gave my brother and I a small allowance throughout our childhood to help us learn to manage our own money and save up for things. I remember begrudgingly handing over my allowance to pay for my cell phone bill every month!

In general, my family is very responsible with money and set a good example for me that saving is important. And that it’s ok to splurge on nice things that bring you joy and that you’ll use forever, rather than trendy, expensive stuff that will go in the trash a few years from now. While that sometimes frustrated me as a kid, these days I am so grateful to have grown up in that environment. 

My family has been really helpful whenever I have questions about taxes, retirement accounts or anything money related.

2. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?

I have been very lucky to not have much experience with debt. I stayed in-state for college and received a full tuition scholarship. My family was able to cover the rest of my college expenses fully as well. I did a program that got me a bachelor’s and a masters in 4 years — a great value!

I got my first credit card in college, too, and got in the habit of paying it off every pay period (twice per month). I now have 3 credit cards and am proud to say that I’ve never once paid interest!

I was able to save up and buy my car in cash, so I don’t have a car payment either. It took a long time to save $20k+ for the used Subaru I wanted, but it’s nice to not have to worry about that extra bill each month.

3. What’s your investing style?

I have a brokerage account, a Roth IRA, two more IRAs with 401k rollovers from previous jobs, and an Inherited IRA that my grandfather left me when he passed.

My current job does not have a 401k, so instead I invest money in my brokerage account each month, and I’m hoping the company will add a 401k as we grow! I also max out my Roth IRA every year.

Currently my portfolio is mostly ETFs. I am working on adjusting my portfolio so that it is majority US ETFs with a smaller proportion of international ETFs, and also some muni bonds. My investment portfolio is sitting at about $235k right now. With my other savings, my net worth is around $250k.

4. Do the FIRE and financial independence concepts appeal to you?

FIRE and financial independence appeal to me big time. Right now financial independence is a priority — I want to make sure I have a good nest egg in the works and enough savings to cover myself in case of an emergency (and I do!). The retiring early part is more up in the air right now. I definitely don’t want to work until I’m 65, but I’m not sure what I would do if I retired earlier than that. 

These days I am very over the full-time rat race and would love to take a gap year at some point between jobs! Being financially independent and understanding my expenses puts me in a position to make that a reality eventually.

5. What kind of work for pay do you do? And how do you feel about your current job(s)?

Currently I work full-time in the marketing department for a tech startup, making $71k. On the side, I also coach a few group fitness classes each week. 

My full-time job is remote and is run by millennials who value work life balance and give me a lot of freedom to work hours that work best for me. I am paid well and have gotten great raises in the 1.5 years I’ve worked there so far, which has helped me move toward my financial goals faster. The environment is really chill and I feel that my expertise and contribution to the team is valued.

Teaching group fitness has always been a huge passion for me, and though I make very little money doing it, I really enjoy helping others learn about their bodies, and I always leave the classes in a happy, energized mood. And it’s a good activity to get me out of the house and talking to people after being cooped up in front of the computer all day!

6. Do you have other or different work related goals for the future?

At this point, I enjoy what I’m doing and would like to see where the next few years at my current company take me. As long as the compensation matches the level of work that I’m doing, I feel valued and I enjoy the work, I’ll stay. 

At this point the only thing on my mind after working with my current company is a gap year. I often dream of spending an entire year traveling and staying off of screens to be more present and see the world.

7. Do you rent or own right now? Do you have any plans to do something different for your housing?

I have rented and had roommates for the past 5 years, and plan to rent and live solo when I move. Having roommates is so great for the money side of things, and has helped me reach a lot of my goals, but I am ready to have my own space! Paying more in rent (more than double) to live alone is worth it to me, at least for a year. I know what I can afford and should be able to find a nice place within my budget.

Since I’m not sure where I want to settle down, there’s no plan to buy anytime soon. I also wouldn’t be able to afford a nice house by myself anyway.

8. Does your location have an impact on your money? Do you plan to stay in your current location forever?

I currently live in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I grew up here and have never lived more than 30 minutes away from my childhood home. Phoenix is cheaper than other large metro areas, so I’ve been able to live a relatively frugal lifestyle. It’s a great area with lots to do!

I am planning to make a change and move out of state. During the depths of Covid-19 quarantine, I realized that I didn’t know why I was still in Arizona, and decided to figure out where I wanted to go instead.

Since I work remotely I can keep my job and go anywhere! That freedom is really exciting to me, so I figured that I might as well make the move while I’m still working for this company.

9. How does being single impact your money?

I’m currently single and not actively dating, but it is important to me that future partners generally have good money habits and that their values are similar to mine. If someone is very lax with their money, spends frivolously and isn’t saving for retirement, that’s a bit of a red flag for me.

10. Do you have people you can talk openly with about money (not including us)? How does talking about money impact your confidence and progress?

I have a few family members and one friend I can talk to about money. It’s helpful to talk with my friend, because she is my age and we can discuss the ins and outs of managing money as young working professionals and encourage each other to go after promotions or raises in our jobs (she works in the marketing realm as well). 

I like talking with my family about money because they have been in the investing game longer and have good advice for me when it comes to retirement planning and building out my portfolio. Different family members have taken different approaches (and all of them are doing very well), so it has been cool to see the different paths I could take and hear varying perspectives.

Talking about money regularly makes me feel much more confident in my future, and it’s nice to be able to share my progress and milestones with others. I hate that talking about money is so taboo in our society! I would tell everyone everything if it didn’t make me seem like a weirdo 🙂

11. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life?

I really enjoy setting savings goals for myself and watching my balance increase every pay period.

In the short term, I am saving up to eventually move to another state. I gave myself one year to plan and save $10k to help cover moving expenses and the deposit on a new apartment.

I also have a travel fund that I boost with a few hundred dollars a month so I can go on some fun trips around the US and in South America this year and next.

In the long term, I hope to retire early, or at least ensure that I have enough money saved to live comfortably as I get older.

Sometimes I feel like the world is crumbling down around us and that my millennial peers and I won’t have the same lives in retirement as older generations. So having money makes me feel more secure.

12. How do you feel about money at this point in your life?

In general, I feel good about money and my current financial situation. I feel that I have a good handle on all of my expenses, and understand how to make my money work for me. I enjoy planning for my financial future!  I have never lived in a scarcity mindset when it comes to money, and I am very grateful for that. 

To me, money is a useful tool that allows me to do the things I want to do. I like the mantra “you can afford anything, but not everything.

13. What kinds of activities do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?

I love to be outdoors. Camping, hiking, swimming, walking around new cities — anything that gets me outside! When done right, I can do those things very cheaply.

For example, in the fall of 2020 I went on a weeklong camping road trip around southwestern New Mexico and northwest Texas. After using some credit card rewards to offset about $200 of expenses, I only paid $234 out of pocket for my entire trip, including gas, food, campground fees and national park entrance fees. Pretty solid!

14. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?

I am looking forward to moving to a new state and getting a change of scenery. I have been feeling a bit “stuck” for a while and I think moving will force me to put myself out there and experience new things. 

I’m also looking forward to doing some travel now that I’m vaccinated and the world is opening up. I’ve been saving some airline points that need to be put to good use!

That’s it for now from Desert Dweller. Please note that we are respecting her decision to remain anonymous. And she is/we are all looking forward to your comments!

8 comments

      • Agreed! It’s impressive to hear her talk about her investing efforts in detail because we didn’t have all of that figured out until much later personally. But it’s even more exciting to hear how she’s embracing change with her idea to move to a new location. Go Desert Dweller!!

        Like

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! Your journey sounds similar to mine… growing up in a financially stable household, avoiding debt through scholarships and developing good saving habits early on. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities in life that allowed me to “retire” in my late 30s.

    It’s good to hear that you aren’t racing to retire early. Looking back, I sometimes wish I had put less emphasis on growing my net worth and given myself permission to take that gap year or pursue a career out of passion rather than security. If I had retired at 40 or 41 instead of 39, it really wouldn’t have made any difference. Of course, now I am free to pursue any venture or adventure I’d like and being financially independent takes the stress out of trying different things. Wishing you a happiness on path to FI!

    Gillian

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey thanks for this awesome comment Gillian! Here’s a reply from Desert Dweller…

      “I think it’s important to find balance between living life while also saving for the future. I know I’ll regret it if I don’t make memories now and sock away all my money for another day. You’re totally right that a year or two doesn’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of things!”

      Like

  2. Really enjoying this interview series! It’s so interesting to read about the different experiences and relationships with money. What a great story from Desert Dweller and to be so financially savvy at 27! Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Geeks, thanks for the comment. Here is a reply from the Desert Dweller, “I’m pretty proud of myself, to be honest! People in my age group run the gamut when it comes to financial literacy and I’m glad I fall on the “savvy” end of the spectrum! I’m also extremely grateful for my privileged upbringing that allowed me to enter adult life with no debt. That certainly helped a ton. Thanks for reading!”

      Liked by 1 person

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