We love talking about money with other people! No matter how unique we are, we can always learn something new about money and about life from other people. And listening to other people 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 our Talking Money interview series. Rather than focusing only on income and investing we’re interested in the emotional side of personal finance. And we’re thrilled to share stories from some of our friends.
Everyone, meet Triangle Hiker! She’s a 36 year old woman living in the Triangle area of North Carolina. She’s hiking along on her own personal trail towards financial independence, with her little senior doggy along for the ride. We are inspired by her and we know you’ll find something encouraging in her money story…
1. What were your childhood money experiences? Did you learn useful money lessons from your family?
I grew up with enough food; a house to live, sleep, and play in; and modest discretionary spending (literally access to cash for lunch money). My parents prioritized our education, saved, and were able to cover private high school and some college costs. I learned that you pay for what you value. I was exposed to what I consider to be sexist decision-making and practices about money, earning, and running a household. By that I mean that my dad seemed to make unilateral decisions, though my mom was very active in knowing and making sure we had what we all needed. I don’t recall them talking about money much, but when they did it was more me seeing my mom asking for something for the family and my dad saying no.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really examine these beliefs and how they impacted me until later in life. I used to think a lot of my own value came from being a provider in my first marriage and was not very comfortable talking about money and sharing expenses and decisions in our relationship. Thankfully I have learned how to talk about money more since then even though it is uncomfortable.
Another key part of my childhood is that I grew up around people with a variety of careers, incomes, and social economic classes – upper middle class to working class poor. I think that helped me see that money was important and that it wasn’t a given. And I was aware that I grew up with a lot of privilege by comparison to others who did not have enough.
2. What kinds of experiences have you had with debt?
I was raised to believe debt was bad, the only exception was a mortgage. I am grateful I overcame that belief to make my own decisions when I started managing my own finances as a young adult because in my case, I needed student loans to avoid consumer debt. Specifically in graduate school, I realized that subsidized federal loans were amazing loans, and that I could manage them responsibly. I had about $15,000 worth of debt for 5 years of graduate school, and it was worth it. Now that I know some facts about average student loan debt I realize how amazing and privileged this is.
In my 20s, I had a car loan of under $8,000. In 2015, I bought a house a year after graduating with about $10,000 down payment and a $110,000 mortgage. When I sold that house 2 years later, I paid off my student loan and car loan in full. I currently have a $200,000+ mortgage and no other debt.
3. What’s your investing style, and what kinds of accounts do you have?
I set it and forget it! I have a few different Vanguard domestic equity funds for my retirement, 457b (which I love!), and brokerage account. My portfolio is not very diversified in the sense that I keep no international stocks or bonds, or other investment types like REITs. I keep 6 months of cash as an emergency fund. I’m questioning whether or not to diversify further and buy some international stock equity funds now.
I have a PMS (Personal Money Statement) — thanks to Ali and Alison!!! In my PMS, I decided and wrote out how I’ll make money decisions, including changes to my portfolio. All that’s to say, in my PMS I decided I won’t make major changes to my investing portfolio for at least 6 months. So after a few more months, I may add international stocks.
4. Do any of the FIRE and financial independence concepts appeal to you?
Yes! FIRE will always have a special place in my heart because I felt like I finally understood many basic finance and personal finance concepts because of everything I learned about FIRE by reading “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and then over a year of reading and re-reading blog posts from Mr. Money Mustache and Mad Fientist. My blog following has diversified substantially since then and I follow bloggers and Instagrammers who are women, queer women, and women of color now!
My goal is financial independence. When I started learning, I would use the compound interest calculators to understand the math, but then I grew in my confidence and used different FI blog calculators to mock up multiple scenarios. In some scenarios I work, work, work until I can retire; in others, I retire soon and model how much supplementary income I would need. Right now if I retire I would need to replace my income, without withdrawing from stock market investments. In other words I’m Coast FI now, so I can’t make withdrawals and still maintain the portfolio growth needed to secure my future. Any investing now is about shaving off the years for retirement! I love AOC’s calculator and learned a ton from reading their blog and using their tools, like the simplified calculator, over the last 6 months!
5. What kind of work for pay do you do? Do you have different work goals for the future?
I work as a researcher at a public university. I am lucky to have interesting work with collaborative, caring colleagues. I often feel itchy for new challenges and better pay. I am very close to vesting (5 years at this university), which makes me cautious about any changes. In future, I would like to pivot to another type of work, which may be going into business for myself, another job, work abroad, or a new social entrepreneurial venture. I would like to work part-time because I’m Coast FIRE, but there aren’t many part-time jobs with benefits in my interest and skills. I would like freedom from W-2 employment on my path to financial independence!
6. Do you rent or own your home? Do you plan to change your housing situation in the future?
I own right now. I am especially grateful for this house during the pandemic as I have space for a home office, a housemate, hosting outdoor social events, and still have my own space. I would like to house-hack further and am closer to a good plan for adding a short-term room rental.
I am open to changing my housing in the future. I have a lot of past emotional attachment to this house, but now I see it more like money, a tool.t may be helpful to hold onto and may be better to sell at some point. I could imagine renting, owning, or co-operative living in the future. I imagine if I sold the house I would further reduce my house costs and have profits to use for living expenses or social entrepreneurial ventures.
7. Does your location have an impact on your money? Do you plan to stay in your current location forever?
I live in the triangle area of North Carolina. It seems to have lots of job postings, especially in the area of research and academics. I have a lot of privilege and resources. I like living in this area and I enjoy lots of fun, free outdoor activities every season!
My sense of this area is that the cost of living is increasing from housing being unaffordable.. We are a right-to-work state (not union friendly) and one of 12 states that have not legislated for Medicaid expansion. We have lots of room to grow in terms of public policy that supports everyone’s health.
Right now I feel settled in this area. I do not plan to stay in my current location forever, but it feels more like home than any other place I have lived in because of the community I now have and just where I am in my life.
I would love to slow travel domestically and internationally for many years if money and health allow, but I think emotionally this area would still be considered homebase. I think I would go 100% nomad if I slow traveled, as in I wouldn’t keep a personal residence in the US.
8. How does money impact your relationship?
I met my girlfriend on the FIRE Dating website! We have similar mindsets about money, early retirement, travel, and modest living. We have different ways of diversifying our portfolios and have different paths toward financial independence. We don’t live together yet but have started talking about how we would share household expenses in the future.
I am divorced, and I had many financial regrets with that marriage. For my current relationship, my girlfriend and I have talked about doing a prenuptial agreement before we marry. Our assets, portfolio, and approach are different enough that we would likely each benefit from some separation, and also I do not want to be in a position where the state dictates how we want to handle our finances together or apart. I anticipate that doing a prenuptial agreement together will be one piece of a larger financial picture we draw together.
9. Do you have people you can talk openly with about money (not including us)? How does talking about money impact your confidence?
I talk somewhat openly with a couple of friends about money and investing goals. I am not nearly as open as I could be about my goal to leave W-2 work and to seek financial independence. In contrast to when I first learned about FIRE by reading, it is refreshing to get out of my head and discuss with others. I love that my partner and I have the same mindset.
Looking back, I imagine if I had been even more open about my finances with my ex-spouse or my friends at that time, I would have had more confidence and made healthier decisions for myself. And it’s amazing how many “mistakes” I can make and still have a very aggressive financial independence trajectory. Some of my “mistakes” include: I’ve relocated to be with a partner and took a job that was a pay cut considering the new location’s cost of living; I’ve left a university job prior to vesting and lost all the employer contributions without even realizing that would happen; I bought my first house with little money left in my bank account to renovate; I had little understanding of basic budgeting well into my 20s.
10. What are your personal money goals at this point in your life?
I have aggressive goals to fund my brokerage and 457b, an account that maxes at $19,500 (separate from 403b/401k maxes) and is accessible without any penalty upon leaving my employer. I anticipate I will have sufficient funds in my 65+ retirement accounts when I’m 65+ years old (e.g. Coast FIRE!), so I am prioritizing account types that I see as good for pre-65 years old like the brokerage and 457b. If I get a jump in salary in future, it may make sense for me to make more pre-tax contributions to help reduce my tax burden. I have enough money knowledge now to know that if my situation changes I should reassess my approach and consider making changes and talk to friends about it!
11. How do you feel about money at this point in your life?
I see money as a useful tool in my life. Reading and learning about personal finance has helped me move from fear and incompetence to more secure, reasonable decision-making. I have some strong critiques of capitalism, so money can make me feel yucky! However, I believe it’s okay to acquire wealth to be financially independent. My goal is still modest living and contributing to society by how I live my life, so I let go of some of my capitalist guilt.
12. What kinds of activities do you love? How do your favorite activities impact your spending?
I have a great community that I love spending time with. We hike, walk, and share meals. I adopted a senior dog in the pandemic and do my best to take him with me everywhere!
My favorite activities are low cost. I love buying treats and drinks that I wouldn’t otherwise make myself. I love traveling and indulging in the local eats. My mom always used to say I was a cheap date, but my food tastes have definitely gotten more expensive!
13. Last question – what are you most excited about right now?
My girlfriend and I are getting more serious and getting to know each other’s people!
That’s it for now from Triangle Hiker! This exercise helped her see how much progress she has made both emotionally and financially since childhood and since her first marriage, so thank you for reading her story. We’re looking forward to your comments!!
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