6 Formative Moments that Taught Me the Value of Money

I’m a nomad, who three years ago sold her house, later quit her job, and is currently traveling the world… in vehement rejection of everything she’s “supposed” to be doing. 

And I want to tell YOU, and anyone who looks at me (or my social media) in AWE of my rebellious and fearless escape…

I’m not a superhero. I’m an average woman, WHO DID AN UNAVERAGE THING. 

And you know why I need to say that? Because I’m not especially lucky, not a genius or savant, not freakishly brave nor especially privileged — nor have I been given a trust fund, inheritance, lottery winnings, OR sold a company — I am a person who made choices. 

And I see money and time differently than most folks, a result of some pivotal and formative experiences in my life that have changed how I feel about money, myself, the world, and my role in it. (If any of them resonate with you, leave a comment!)

2007: My first professional job and my first ever budget

When I got my first professional job after graduating college, as they say, “sh*t got real.” My starting salary at the news station was $33,000 a year including two weeks of vacation a year and benefits — approximately $16 an hour before taxes. I went out and bought a new professional wardrobe, a brand new car, and moved out of my parents’ house into a one-bedroom apartment near my work. It didn’t take me long to realize I could not afford these decisions. 

Out on my own and out from under the wing of my parents, I was spending faster than I was earning. Trial by fire, I learned how to budget, and I was forced to make decisions like choosing a baked potato and a can of chili from the grocery store ($1.30) for dinner over a to-go sandwich from the deli ($6-$7) during breaks at work. I regretted the $400 monthly payment on the new car (and expensive insurance policy for a 21-year-old driver) and considered the $1,500 I could’ve saved per year by leasing the $675-a-month apartment instead of the bigger $750. I had never even considered those trickle effects earlier. I didn’t want to, but I had to get a second part-time job working mornings to stay afloat.

In 2009, I got in a car accident and totaled that shiny, brand new car. After insurance paid me out, I decided to take a “step down” and go with a more affordable model. I NEEDED a little more wiggle room in my budget, and this was the quickest way to find it — even if, by appearances, I was “going backwards.” The car accident had humbled me, after all. 

The Toyota Corolla I bought in 2009 was $4-5K cheaper than my other model, and it was *still* brand new — but hey, baby steps. I kept the Corolla a few years, then “upgraded.” 

2014: Measuring success in all the wrong places, and moving from materialism to minimalism

As you may have well anticipated, I developed a habit of trading in my cars every few years, just as I was getting close to paying them off (a great way to keep people in the hamster wheel of debt, right?!) — so of course, 2014 would be no different! On an impulse, I traded in my Toyota Camry Hybrid for an Infiniti G37 convertible, which I proceeded to show off on Facebook and at work. My commute was 37 miles each way, the vehicle needed premium gas, and my loan payment and insurance payment was high. I was spending $800 a month on auto-related costs. $800 a month!!

And it wasn’t just the car. It was clothing and shoes. It was home furnishings. Every spare dollar of disposable income was spent on appearances — the only way I knew to tangibly prove that I was successful and happy and where I was supposed to be

At the time, a boyfriend criticized my vehicle choice. “You should be making $80K to be able to afford that thing!” and of course, my salary was nowhere close. It took much convincing, but in one year (right before I was — OMG — due for new tires costing $400 each), I traded in that hard-top convertible for a much more affordable car (a used Honda Civic). My auto-related expenses were cut in half. I put the $400 I was saving into a vacation fund. 

A month after that boyfriend and I broke up, in 2016, I took my savings and traveled to Costa Rica on a shoestring, my first *fully* solo international trip. I was learning that affordable international travel was possible, and directly related to my spending choices at home. That trip to Costa Rica also showed me that I could not only TRAVEL SOLO, but that I LOVED IT. I bided my time on how I would up the ante. 

2017: My layoff, living out of a backpack, and downsizing into a casita for four months

A lot happened to me in 2017. In early 2016, I had landed my dream job, and received a significant pay bump. Finally, after 10 years in the workforce, I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck anymore. I could save towards a kitchen remodel! The following year, I got a brand new kitchen, but I nearly drained my emergency fund. It was ok, because my bonus would soon replenish it! — I thought — only I was laid off instead

Instead of taking the “responsible” next step (AKA stereotypical) of immediately looking for another job, I sat in my free time. I took up some hobbies, like choir and long-distance hiking. I traveled domestically to see friends and family. And then I booked a one-way ticket to Madrid.
The next four weeks, I lived out of a 40L backpack, washed my own clothes in the hotel sink, Couchsurfed and met incredible people, explored amazing places, and survived and thrived with MUCH LESS. When I returned home and saw my house, cabinets and closets full of belongings, I questioned the choices I had made — especially because I was now faced with the financial insecurity of unemployment, dwindling savings, and a number of bills. I vowed to fix my financial situation. 

After returning from Europe, I made a radical decision to rent out my house during the Arizona tourist season from Christmas to Easter. I moved into a 430-square-foot furnished studio casita while families on vacation moved in and out of my house, slept in my bed, and cooked in my kitchen. But it didn’t take long for the rental income to replenish my emergency fund, and the few suitcases of items I took to the casita were more than enough for me. 

There was no get-rich-quick, there was only this formula: make more money than you spend, spend less than you make, or a combination of both — and I began to work both levers. I sought out ways to drastically cut my spending while increasing my income. I educated myself in financial literacy, and the money I accumulated was saved and invested. My radical decisions had radical results. 

2018: My dad’s dashed retirement plans and untimely death

My dad worked for the same company for 38 years as an insurance agent. He worked from 9 to 5pm every day, and to my memory, only took off a full week of vacation twice per year. He did not officially retire until he was 74. My parents had planned to retire in Florida, but instead, they moved to Kansas to be near my brother’s family once Dad was diagnosed with atypical Parkinson’s. My mom needed the extra hands and help. He died suddenly at 76

While the details may be different, this is a tale as old as time — aging adult wants to provide for his family, delays retirement plans to secure the most social security, the most savings, the highest pension — the most comfortable cushion he or she can to last through old age — but aging adult never gets to enjoy the fruits of many years of labor. 

As one of his children, while I appreciate how my dad provided for me, it breaks my heart that his dreams and desires never came true. And if he were to still be here and I could ask him: “Would you trade a few years of extra salary and extra social security to spend those years with Mom in leisure and enjoyment?” — we all would want him to say yes. 

When people say “time is money”… the truth is, money is time. What would you pay to have hours or years of your life (or a loved one’s) back? I started traveling more and more, spending every spare vacation week abroad, and I felt like I was honoring my dad, in a way. 

When people say “time is money”… the truth is, money is time. What would you pay to have hours or years of your life (or a loved one’s) back?

2020: Liquidating 98% of my belongings and choosing the nomad life

When I decided in 2020 that I was going to become a nomad, travel full-time, and sell my house, the reality of my 35 years of spending and collecting hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. I saw everything in my house under a different light — now faced with the decision whether to keep this or that, sell it, donate it, or throw it away — I was finally looking at each item with a level of thoughtfulness and intentionality I hadn’t possessed the first time around.

And that was painful. Clothing I had never (or barely) worn, cookware that had never seen the inside of an oven, exercise equipment I was going to use every day (but didn’t), DVDs and books that hadn’t been touched more than once or twice… I felt shame at my carelessness and waste

Tens of thousands of dollars that could’ve bought my freedom were instead “invested” in material things that sat at the back of my closet and cupboards — only it was no investment at all, but self-indulgent waste. The only thing I could do was put blinders on and deal with the task at hand — cleaning house. And that I did: 40 days after my house was listed, I was driving away into the sunset

I’ve never been the same since that summer. Now, every purchase I make is evaluated and weighed, because I understand — every purchase is a trade off for something else money can buy that may be more valuable and meaningful. 

2021: Quitting my job and coming to terms with spending instead of earning

When I became unemployed-by-choice, transitioning from an earner to a spender was a tough pill to swallow. 

Seeing the debits not being replenished by a bi-weekly paycheck went against everything I had been told and taught about money… especially after working so hard in the ~5 years prior to improve my finances!

Now, over a year and a half later, I’m not totally without anxiety: while I have started to earn money through my various part-time or entrepreneurial endeavors, currently, more money flows out than in. But overall, that doesn’t (really) bother me for a variety of reasons:

  • When I semi-retired, I set a smart (but realistic) budget, and month-over-month, I’m spending within my budget. 
  • I’ve removed the emotions out of money. I coldly weigh the math of compounding and withdrawal rate, and I ignore the “ouch” of cash flow. I know my invested money is still working for me behind the scenes. 
  • There are tons of ways to make more money. It’s up to me where and how I spend my time, and I’m currently not interested in trading my time for instant gratification. I’m betting on myself (and that my time and energy investments now will pay off later). 
  • I am conscientious, crafty, methodical, resourceful, intelligent, and motivated. And every time sh*t has gotten real, I’ve figured it out and came out on top. This next time, if there is a next time, will be no different!

I’m certain there were many more moments (and more will come) in my financial journey. Read more of my realizations and experiences.

If you’re interested in more detail about the steps I took to prepare for my sabbatical/”great resignation,” pick up my eBook. According to one reader/reviewer, “The experiences outlined in the book hit on so many of the motivations and fears I had when deciding whether to make the change. It was like she could read my mind! It provides a pragmatic approach for taking a sabbatical, including the author’s personal budgeting, but it goes beyond just the tactical — diving into the emotions (namely fear and angst for me!) involved in making such a big change.”

Reader: were there any “aha” moments you’d like to share when it came to your personal relationship with money and material things? Please leave a comment.

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4 thoughts on “6 Formative Moments that Taught Me the Value of Money

  1. This has me thinking about the various influences in my life around money and pivot points when I’ve made changes. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome, Karin! Our relationship to and choices with money are so personal, and it’s often pretty taboo to talk about them. I hear often that a different perspective can really help others!

  2. I can definitely relate! Budgeting with that first job is no joke… I was so worried about running out of money. My salary was decent, especially for someone with no prior experience in my field, but it was a struggle sometimes to make sure I was saving enough and not going over budget. I do miss the sub-thousand dollar rent… those were the days!

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