I Don’t Stress About Money. Here’s Why.
It’s been close to three months since my last post. This is far longer than I would have liked, but instead of writing I traveled, planned a wedding and got married (he’s now officially Mr. G&G!), and kicked off the school year with teaching, guiding wilderness trips, dorm parenting, and coaching. I guess I’ll cut myself some slack. Sometimes we need to focus on other things in life than saving money and the environment, but it keeps me at ease to know I have my savings plan and lifestyle in place so I can step away for a while without veering off track or losing sight of my (now) 8-year goal to F.I.R.E.
When people ask why I got into F.I.R.E, they are surprised by my response. It isn’t because I never want to work again. I like the feeling of up waking up early with a purpose, accomplishing physical and mental tasks, and kicking back at the end of the day with a sense of pride. So why do I focus so much energy on retirement if my end goal is not to ‘retire?’
Simple answer: Reduce stress. Anxiety. Worry. I’m not talking about butterflies before public speaking or jitters during an exam. I’m referring to the type of stress that is toxic.
An exaggeration, you think? Chronic toxic stress impacts relationships, affects physical and mental health, and can even decrease your lifespan. The most prevalent stressor?
In a recent poll, the American Psychological Association found that 75% of adults reported moderate to high levels of stress in the last 30 days. Unsurprisingly, money is the most common stressor in our country. The accumulated burdens of financial hardship send stress chemicals to the brain, which begins to exist in a prolonged and heightened state of fight, flight, or freeze. These natural stress responses helped our ancestors escape saber tooth tigers, but our brains have not evolved to cope with a constant wash of stress chemicals. In this way, stress becomes toxic and if chronic, is linked to widely known health impacts.
For most of my life* I have been fortunate to have a roof over my head, warm meals, and access to education and healthcare. Like many lower-middle class families, we felt the burdens of debt, uncertainties of self/un-employment, and lack of a safety net. My parents argued about money and worked endless hours to make ends meet. Though many factors were at play, money stress ultimately led to their divorce, which led to greater insecurity and more stress. If a white picket fence is the American Dream, this is the American Reality.
“If a white picket fence is the American Dream, this is the American Reality.”
You may see why I want a safety net - not millions of dollars, but the financial and emotional security of knowing I’m prepared for the longterm. I’ve actually built my entire life around this proverbial net. I have full-time employment on a campus that provides housing, food, and healthcare. I can save 70% of my income! It’s all taken care of, like a working socialist system! From an onlooker’s view, the pendulum could not have swung farther from my New England roots built around self-reliance.
But wait, not so fast. More important than building this financial security blanket is that I am always challenging myself to learn and practice new things. My daily work with high school students tests my patience, confidence, and resolve, thereby strengthening my resilience and sense of purpose. If it all evaporates tomorrow, I can support myself for several years, and am well equipped to problem-solve should I face said adversity. You know, in case there’s a flood.
I’m not looking to ‘go big’ the way most personal finance gurus fear-monger people into believing they need $5 million to “survive the flood.” Suze Orman’s soap box performance is flawed across the board. At the very least, she is not helping to reduce money stress in our country. Here are the facts:
Using Personal Capital’s retirement calculator, which assumes an average market performance over the past 100 years of 7%, a safe withdrawal rate of 4%, and runs over 5000 hypotheticals, I will land in comfortable retirement in less than a decade with forecast confidence of 95%. Boom. And again, I’m not going to quit making money, but I’m going to have the flexibility to work on my own terms. FIRE: The New American Dream.
Unlike most of America, I’m not looking to go big, in fact, I’m creatively applying ways to become smaller in my footprint and expenses. I’m looking toward a future of building relationships, raising a family, and treading lighter on the earth. Oh, and I’m ultimately not stressing about money.
*There was a time I lived in a van, foraged for food, and could not afford health care, but my early twenties were full of adventure.