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 buddy Bookish Biker! She’s a 50 year old woman living in the Pacific Northwest. 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?
We were always comfortable middle class growing up, but we didn’t live extravagantly either. We almost never ate at restaurants, we only traveled to see family, and my parents always tracked their spending in a binder that was stored where any of us could look at it.
One of my formative experiences was in high school when I bought something dumb with my own money, a breath freshening spray. My mom was so annoyed at my frivolous spending that she took away my lunch money allowance and told me if I had the money to buy silly gadgets, I could instead use that money to buy school lunch or pack food from home. That was the most expensive breath spray ever! But it taught me that just because I had money I shouldn’t spend thoughtlessly, and that I wasn’t going to be subsidized indefinitely. Funny how having to use my OWN money for lunch suddenly made me more interested in bringing it from home!
2. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?
I’ve never had terrible debt and feel really fortunate. Even so, I was in my late 30s before I was fully out of any kind of debt (I was a renter until my early 40s). Here’s my breakdown of my experience with what usually gets us in debt:
Education: I was very lucky. My parents paid for most of my college expenses up front, and I went through school before they got super expensive. I worked two jobs every summer to come up with my expected tuition contribution, and to save up all my spending money for the year. I finished college owing my parents $10k and paid it back in a few years. When I went to grad school 8 years later, I chose a program that let me keep working full-time so I could pay for much of it as I went along. I graduated in 2004 owing $17k in student loans and paid that off in about 6 years.
Cars: I’ve never had a new car. I keep cars until I total them, and I’m on my 3rd car ever right now. I got my first car for $1,800 at age 27 in 1998. When I bought my second car in 2006, it cost $6k and I felt embarrassed that I was 35 and didn’t have that much money on hand – but I didn’t, so I took out a loan and paid it off pretty quickly. When I totaled that car in 2014, I went without a car for almost a year, and then bought my third car in 2015 for $6,300 and paid for it with a personal check. As far as cars go, I’d like to have something bigger and fancier someday, but I also have absolutely no interest in a car payment! More seriously, I’m really weighing what my next someday-car will be, possibly electric but almost certainly at least hybrid.
Credit card: I never got in too deep. I carried a balance of perhaps as much as $6,000 at some times in my life, and I certainly spent many years where I didn’t pay the card off in full. Now I’m good at paying off my card every month, and I’ve had a lot of success in using sign-up bonuses to pick up air miles.
Housing: I lived on my own a couple times, but for the most part I had roommates until I was 35! I was ready to live on my own a while before I actually did, but my rent was cheap, the location was good, and I liked my housemates, so I stayed in that shared living situation until I moved out of the area for a few years. When I was ready to buy I got very lucky with my timing. I bought while prices were reasonable so my monthly commitment is 23% of my take-home pay. Still, I look forward to the time when my house is paid off.
3. What’s your investing style?
Right now I’m pretty aggressive. My retirement money is 15% bonds, 85% broad market index mostly VTSAX, or as close to it as I can get. I have 1/3 of my taxable savings in a conservative money market account (this is the true emergency fund), and the other 2/3 is in VTSAX (this is the bridge to 59 ½ and/or take a year off fund). Now that I’m 50 and am less than 10 years from retirement, it’s probably time to be a little more conservative, perhaps 25% in bonds. I didn’t lose any sleep at all in the crashes and dips that we’ve had, so I know I can tolerate the risk, but I also know I don’t have as long a recovery window now. I haven’t made any decisions here yet.
4. Do the FIRE and financial independence concepts appeal to you?
Yes, very much. I was fortunate to read “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez when I was in my mid-20s, and it was formative. I really grabbed onto the concept that we are trading life energy for money, and that I should be thoughtful about not getting in over my head if I could help it. I’ve had a 6-9 month emergency fund saved for years, and it really gives me a lot of peace knowing that I’d be totally fine for quite a while if my job went away.
5. What kind of work for pay do you do? Do you have other or different work related goals for the future?
I work for a technology company in a client-facing semi-technical role. I’m a knowledge worker for sure, and have to use my communication and interpersonal skills every day. My company is a good one to work for, and I like my teammates and the clients I interact with. I’m just tired of working and my company doesn’t do sabbaticals.
My best bet is to negotiate a very graceful departure, and then hope they’d hire me back (or that I’d find something equally good later). It would also be nice if I could do something that felt important or meaningful, but I’ve spent my adult life wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up, and I kind of suspect I’m not going to find an answer! I think that’s true for many of us!
6. Do you rent or own? Do you have any plans to change your housing situation in the future?
I own my home and was paying aggressively ahead on the mortgage for a while. I changed my money approach and have been saving my extra funds toward early retirement, but I did shave 9 years off my loan with my prepayments. I still have 12 ½ years left to pay, and I’m sure at some point close to the end I’ll crack and pay it off early. I don’t have plans to change my housing situation. My house is pretty well set for aging in place. It’s possible I’ll change my living situation at some point, but that will come by surprise!
7. Does your location have an impact on your money? Do you plan to stay in your current location forever?
I love where I live! The Pacific Northwest is home for me and I am not joking when I say I hope to die in my house many many years from now. A number of my friends are talking about moving out of the city when they retire, so that could be a factor in my later years. I might be tempted to follow them, but only if they all wind up in the same place, which seems pretty unlikely!
I don’t know if my location has an impact on my money. I was fortunate to buy my house at a dip in the market, which means my mortgage is fairly low and leaves me room for spending and saving that I wouldn’t have if I bought at today’s prices. Most of my friends like to spend time outdoors and socialize at potlucks like I do, so that surely has a great impact on my money.
8. How does being single impact your money?
I’m single, and while I envy the power of a two-income household, I know that having a partner could mean being with someone with different money goals and spending styles, or with debt or obligations from previous life events. I’d probably also spend a lot more on impulse dinners out together! On the other hand, I might feel more able to take a year off work if I had a partner who could keep money coming in, but I know that there is no guarantee that a partner would want me to do that, or they might want to take a year off themselves! My main feeling about being a single earner is that I am really proud I’ve been so successful on my own.
9. Do you have people you can talk openly with about money (not including us)? How does talking about money impact your confidence and progress?
Yes – I talk about money with my siblings. I was a big advocate for them to start saving for retirement early, and it’s great to know they’re going to be in good shape down the road. I also talk about money with my best friend. I talk about it to a lesser extent with a couple of local friends, but we’re in different life situations so it’s a little harder to talk openly. I once had a really interesting conversation with a local group of women friends where we all shared our salaries, just to get that out in the open. Talking about money gives me confidence that I am making good choices, and also helps remind me that there are lots of different ways to live and that my way isn’t the only way!
10. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life?
I truly, deeply, want to take a chunk of time off of work. It’s too soon for me to truly retire, but I’d love to take a year off and have a practice retirement. I don’t know what I’d do with the time, but I think it would be really interesting to explore that. Taking a work break is constantly on my mind. Aside from that my goals are to keep saving money to let me retire earlier than 59 ½. I haven’t figured out what I’d need to do in order to feel like it’s okay to take a work break sooner than retirement.
11. How do you feel about money at this point in your life?
I am in a good place with money – I make enough, I save enough, I’m okay with my spending, I know what my values are and try to spend in alignment with them. I make a good income and I’m very proud of that fact, but I also feel a little tied to my employer out of a (likely baseless) fear that I wouldn’t make the same elsewhere.
12. What kinds of activities do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?
I can be totally happy lying on my couch reading a library book or working on a crossword puzzle. Fortunately I have friends who are outdoorsy, and I’m socially motivated, so I do a fair amount of hiking, bicycling, and kayaking, with the occasional camping trip thrown in. Over the years I’ve spent money on gear for these activities, and I feel like I’ve got what I need at this point.
I like seeing live music occasionally and also enjoy going to plays. Before the pandemic I had season tickets to a local theater company, and arranged to go the same night as some other people I know which usually meant we’d meet up for dinner ahead of time.
I certainly enjoy eating at our great restaurants, but I also cook and am happy to make a big batch of something and then eat leftovers, which keeps my expenses down.
I like to travel and my credit card/mileage accumulation comes in handy then. I would like to do some slow travel in the future. Too much time on the move is fatiguing and I feel ready to go home after about 3 weeks but I suspect if I were moving from place to place more slowly I’d be happy to explore longer.
13. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?
I try really hard to enjoy the present so I don’t wish my life away anticipating retirement and having all the free time I could desire. I manage to have a lot of fun and feel really grateful for my life. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have any regrets if something happened to me (as long as it’s quick and painless 😊 ). But I sure am looking forward to at least 30 more years of good times and adventures!
That’s it for now from Bookish Biker. Please note that we are respecting her decision to remain anonymous. And she is/we are all looking forward to your comments!
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