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 friends the Whisky Runners!! They are 36 and 38 years old and they live in Seattle, Washington. For this post we’ll call him Whisky Runner 1 (WR1), and we’ll call her Whisky Runner 2 (WR2). We are inspired by them and we know you’ll find something encouraging in their money stories…
1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from family?
WR1: My parents spent money freely but intentionally and carefully. As a family of seven, we were very fortunate to never want for anything. That being said, we never had the newest or top of the line gadgets. My dad taught me the value of saving early and often. He insisted that I save 50% of money earned from a paper route into CD’s and a savings account (when those vehicles actually accumulated interest!). The paper route savings became my spending money when I moved away for college.
WR2: My parents had the right ideas about saving for the future (college and retirement). But due to poor execution, poor health, and bad luck, I basically learned what not to do in terms of investment choices and debt accumulation. Money is a source of tension between my parents because they have very different spending habits, so that also made me realize how important it is to be on the same page with your partner in terms of financial (and other) values.
2. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?
WR1: My parents diligently saved money for my college tuition. Through their immense generosity, I didn’t accumulate any student loan debts. My first real debt was for a brand new motorcycle, which was a mistake. As a novice, I dropped the bike on its side a couple of times and the resale value really suffered. I ultimately sold the motorcycle for a significant loss. At the time of sale the title company required payment in full before releasing the title that would be signed over to the buyer. Not having enough cash on hand, I needed to ask my parents for money to give to the bank in order to release the title to complete the sale. It was a frustrating and somewhat embarrassing experience trying to sell something that I was still making payments on.
WR2: I had $43K in student loans from my Bachelors and Masters degrees. I don’t regret my schooling, but I wish I had learned more about what that would mean for me down the line. I was always told it was “good debt,” but good or bad you still have to pay it back. My work is in nonprofits, and it took me 11 years to pay back my loans (with much encouragement from AOC to get it done in the last 3 years!). Also, witnessing my parents’ ongoing financial struggles with debt has really made me wary of it, so I hope to be strategic (and lucky) enough to never be that far under again.
3. What’s your investing style?
WR1: I chase low fees and low expenses through diversified index funds. I used to invest in individual stocks but the research, monitoring, and obsession with ticker symbols wasn’t sustainable. At this point I want us to be invested in the fewest amount of diversified index funds as possible. My overall allocation goal is for us to be at 70% US stocks, 20% international stocks, and 10% cash/bonds.
WR2: Set it and forget it. I’m not particularly interested in the details of investments so I’m glad WR1 works on that piece.
4. Do the FIRE and financial independence concepts appeal to you?
Both: YES. We’re both drawn to the idea of being able to spend our time how we please, and not being stuck in the 9-5 grind until we’re 65. Neither of us are wedded to our work, although we generally enjoy what we do. We would like to spend more time running/hiking/backpacking in new places, and not be limited to the weekends. We’d like to slow travel in a number of different places around the world. But all of this requires time and resources that we don’t have yet, so we need to hit FIRE first. It could be traditional FIRE, Slow FIRE, or Barista FIRE – we haven’t fully nailed down our approach, but want to see where the next few years take us.
5. What kind of work for pay do you do?
WR1: For the past 10 years I worked at a corporate law firm as a paralegal. While many cases had been professionally rewarding, I wasn’t feeling the spark of personal connection or fulfillment. I just recently accepted a new job at a nonprofit law firm that focuses on environmental justice. Instead of feeling like there’s not enough money or volunteer hours to donate, I’m making it my full time job to take action on matters that have a deeper personal meaning. Even better, my salary actually increased with the job change.
WR2: My full time work is at a nonprofit, and I’ve been in this field for 14 years. I like my team a lot, and enjoy my work well enough. However, the pay isn’t amazing, although some of the other benefits are good (great health care, some flexibility in my schedule, and parking downtown). Because I’ve been doing my current job for over 10 years I can put more mental energy into my side hustle, which is working at a very small whiskey distillery. I love working on this passion project and it’s been really exciting to learn a completely new skillset that’s a mix of physical work, science, and artistry to create a delicious product. Currently, I’m paid hourly and I average a few hours a week with a full weekend each month. I would love to turn my side hustle into a new career someday, but for now I’m content to continue to learn as much as I can and have some fun while doing it.
6. Do you rent or own right now? Do you plan to change your housing situation in the future?
Both: We’ve been renting the same one bedroom apartment for 10 years in a HCOL area. Our total annual rent has gone up $600/month compared to what we paid 10 years ago, but it has been the same for the past two years, so it’s not too bad. Keeping a manageable rent is largely due to living in an old building that has tons of charm but few amenities. We would consider home ownership in a different area, if we felt it was right. However, neither of us is particularly handy or interested in the challenges of home ownership. We also like the idea of flexibility in renting if we would want to travel more in the future. However, we’ve wanted a yard or bigger space since the pandemic hit! With both of us working from home, and WR1’s raise, we briefly considered getting a slightly bigger apartment but ultimately decided against it. We’d rather save that $$ for FIRE.
7. Does your location have an impact on your money? Do you plan to stay in your current location forever?
Both: Location is very important to us! We absolutely love it here. We’re avid trail runners/hikers and really enjoy year-round access to outdoor activities. To say nothing of just being near two mountain ranges and the ocean. We also love the mild climate in Seattle. We moved here from the Midwest so we know what we’re missing. But because of how expensive it is to live here, home ownership in Seattle is out of reach for us, especially in our current neighborhood (which we love). We’ll likely stay here while we’re still working, and after retirement we’ll probably move somewhere more affordable. But the Pacific Northwest feels like home to us, no question.
8. How does money impact your relationship? Which accounts or finances have you combined, or not combined and why?
WR1: Finances are so often a source of stress between couples. Fortunately, there’s no financial tension between us at all. This lack of stress is mostly due to not owning a house, being child-free, and our privileged position of having enough money to live on and also save comfortably. Plus, we have similar goals and habits when it comes to money. We are working on being more intentional when it comes to financial discussions and planning. We both have a tendency to engage the “auto-pilot” through life events. By keeping an open dialogue, I believe that we’ll grow closer and stay true to our goals.
WR2: As a woman, I have this independent streak of wanting to control my own money. I don’t want to have just one joint checking account, and I don’t want to be fully dependent on WR1. When I saw how much WR1 was putting in his retirement accounts, I used to make jokes that he would get to retire but I’d be working until I was 85. He’d look a bit confused and say, “but it’s OUR retirement money, not just mine.” It’s taken some time, but I’ve finally relaxed into thinking of us as a financial team. And because of his excellent saving habits, and our combined finances, I was able to finish paying off my student loans so we could focus on saving for retirement. As for the details, we each have our own checking and savings account, as well as a joint savings that we dub “Fun Money” for travel and such. Thankfully, WR1 is much more interested in the details of the investment side of things. That’s not really my jam, so I contribute to our marriage in other ways. I love that we appreciate each other’s strengths and what we each bring to the table.
9. Do you have people you can talk openly with about money? How does talking about money impact your confidence and progress?
Both: Discussions with a few friends who are also interested in personal finance, have really helped us define our goals. Before that, we were just doing the things that everyone else did without really examining the efficacy and if they were the right choice for us (spoiler, they weren’t). We still have loads to learn, but our goals seem attainable now.
10. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life?
Both: Now that the student loans are paid off and we’re debt-free, we’re focused on maxing out our contributions to our Roth IRA’s and 403b’s, as well as stashing away as much as possible in our brokerage account. We are aggressively investing in low-cost index funds within those various accounts. We have a dream of retiring in the next 15 years or so. However, we still allow ourselves a bit of fun with occasional travel and bottles of good whisky, just in case we get hit by a bus tomorrow, you know?
11. How do you feel about money at this point in your life?
WR1: I feel like now for the first time we are really making progress. With the help of our friends and mentors we’ve been setting both short-term and long-term goals. I think we are consistently meeting or exceeding these established goals. We are incredibly fortunate to be in a position where income is increasing and expenses are staying relatively constant.
WR2: I feel pretty lucky and privileged that we’ve had the opportunities and luck that we’ve had thus far. We are not squandering what we have, and I finally feel comfortable with our emergency fund to cover 3-6 months. While it feels like our generation won’t ever get a massive leg up, we’re doing pretty well (knock on wood).
12. What kinds of activities do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?
Both: Our whisky interest is an expensive hobby, no question, especially since we particularly enjoy higher quality whiskies. But we drink it at home and rarely go out to bars, so it could be worse. We might be rationalizing it, but whatever, that’s our splurge. We also spend a lot of time running/hiking/backpacking. We also like to travel to races and make a vacation out of it (like a race in Scotland for example). It also means we make big outdoor gear purchases periodically, but high quality gear lasts a long time so we feel it’s worth it. Plus, spending time in the woods on the weekends keeps us from spending money elsewhere.
WR1: I love reading and used to buy a lot of new and used books. In the past few years I’ve switched to exclusively using the public library system and neighborhood Little Free Libraries instead.
WR2: Over the years I’ve also used a coach for my running as I’m a bit more into it than WR1. However, I view it as an investment in my body because it promotes healthy and safe training at ultra distances, so I think it’s worth it.
13. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?
WR1: I’m starting a brand new job! This opportunity will make it my full time job to be actively involved with matters of environmental and social justice.
WR2: I’m continuing to learn more about whisky making, and developing great new skills and experiences along the way.
Both: Our upcoming Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim adventure in the Grand Canyon! Remarkably, neither of us has ever been there so hiking/running all the way from one rim of the canyon to the other (and back!) with our friends is going to be such a fun and challenging experience in a beautiful place.
UPDATE!! THEY DID IT!!!
That’s it for now from the Whisky Runners! Please note that we are respecting their decision to remain anonymous. And we are all looking forward to your comments!!
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