Dirtbag Retirement Planning

Hi Steph!
You’re seriously my favorite female climber. You embody kindness, adventure, risk, joy, and understanding. You’re incredibly wise, I love this whole site you have up!

So I have a question. What’s your theory/thoughts/practices on retirement planning? I know finances is a personal question. But I’m trying to live simply in order for me to fully enjoy this life while I have it. I’m 24, 1 year out of college, working a lowkey job in the outdoor industry with an environmental education nonprofit. So I’m not making a ton of money. But this job invigorates me. Allows me to know people that inspire me. And allows me to keep climbing as much as I can. A lifestyle I want to keep up forever! Should I not even worry about this question for a few more years?

I’m okay with living with little, only necessities, I don’t need a ton of money to be happy. I do have some school debt, not a massive amount, definitely less than average. I like to think that things will work out on their own and I shouldn’t worry about my debt at this moment. But I don’t want to be irresponsible either. Anyways. I’m learning how to budget and what that should look like.

For long term future, I wonder what people in this kind of lifestyle do for retirement planning. It doesn’t seem like a lot of us have a ton of money or even care for it. Are people thinking about what they’ll do after they’re 65?

My friends grandma has to crash with all her kids because she has zero savings. And it just worries me, I want to be independent and not depending/intruding on others.

Hi Becca,
Thanks for writing to me! When I was 24 and living the dirtbag lifestyle I noticed that most of the other women I knew had a similar level of concern about the future. I think it’s totally normal, and I applaud your thoughtfulness about finances–I agree with you, being able to be independent and avoid being a burden on others is very important. It’s also important to be happy and living a healthy life. I do think it’s pretty common for people to live above their means, and I think that’s the single biggest mistake people make.

As climbers and outdoorspeople we learn the difference between necessities and luxuries, and we appreciate minimalism. People have different approaches to finances. For me, money is really about freedom and security more than it’s about pieces of paper or the things you can get with them, and there is a balance. I learned early on that I personally feel very uncomfortable and unhappy if I am in debt or have recurring expenses that could limit my freedom, or if I feel like I might not be able to take care of myself financially. I also learned that most things I really value don’t cost much money. When I was about your age, just out of school, my fixed expenses were health insurance and car insurance for the car I was living in. I also spent money on gas, food, car repairs, occasional clothing (thrift store), climbing gear (used), resoles, dog food/vet, calling cards (pre cell phone days) and postcard stamps. I opened a Roth IRA because I earned less than $10,000/year and this is pretty much who Roths are for. It was important to me to follow my dreams, but I also had a lot of anxiety about the thought of being in my 60s and still living in the Oldsmobile (though it seems like a lot of people in their 60s have a dream of living in RVs and traveling!).

My best advice to you is to work on paying off your debt, spend as little money as possible (look seriously at what you are spending on even basic things like cell phones and groceries, and focus on how you can get those numbers as low as possible). Keep in mind that if you choose to live as a free agent, rather than working for the government or at a job with benefits, you will always have to take care of yourself because no one is going to give you a pension or a matching 401K plan: you’re on your own. Set yourself a goal of saving $1000 so you can open a Roth IRA at Vanguard.com–you are so young that if you can just get the IRA started and then get into the habit of adding as much as you’re able to over the years, it will compound into a pretty significant amount of money by the time you’re 65. And play with this idea: could you find a way to put $5000 in a Roth every year? If so, starting at age 25, you could have almost $1.5 million when you’re 65, tax free!, which seems crazy. That might be an unattainable goal right now, but often when we set a goal we somehow find ourselves reaching it.

Climbers are very good at being cheap, it’s one of our best skills! You’d be surprised at how many people live a very high-cost lifestyle and have little to no savings and also a large amount of debt. If you can live simply and focus on saving habits, you’ll also be surprised at how you’ll be able to build yourself a savings cushion over the years so you can take care of yourself and not have worries about losing your independence. This approach isn’t exciting or glamorous like winning the lottery or getting a high salary job, and it doesn’t happen fast, but if you keep plugging away at it, living simply and saving money will get you there in the end. It also keeps you focused on the things that matter like experiences and beautiful places versus things that don’t matter so much.

Just try to find that balance between freedom and security 🙂

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