Year 29: A Triumphant Disaster

Tomorrow marks the first day of December and the beginning of the ten day countdown to my birthday. I’m normally not that fixated on my own birthday — after all, it is just another day — but this one feels different. December 10th represents the conclusion of my 29th year of life and the commencement of my 30th.

I know, I still have a whole year before I hit thirty, but this year feels significant…like I need to accomplish some goals, change some things, and become a better person than I was for the last 365 days. Year 29 was really an interesting mix. I finished a two year process of paying off a pretty huge amount of of debt, and it feels amazing. However, I also realized just how much money (and therefore time and freedom) I wasted during that time. I completed my downsizing campaign that I started after my divorce in an attempt to live more simply, but it made me almost sick thinking about how much money I squandered away on meaningless possessions. I started gunning for, and eventually succeeded in obtaining, a significant job promotion and hefty raise with my company. BUT I had to leave a lot of family and friends that I love dearly and move 2000 miles across the country. I fell head over heels for a girl and we had some grand adventures, but I made the same relationship error that I’ve made several times now, and that relationship is no more.

So now you see the reason for the title. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground this year; things were either amazing or kinda shitty. I’ve been asking myself the same question for the last couple weeks: How do I make my 30th year of life better, happier, more productive, and more beneficial to people in my life? I don’t know if there’s a simple answer or a list of steps to complete that would accomplish those four things, but I’ve compiled a list of personal decisions and determinations for my next year of life that I think are going to help. None of them are earth-shatteringly genius or revolutionary, but I feel confident and right when I read the list.

  • Spend time every day exercising and meditating. I do this most days, but with my schedule, I don’t really have an excuse for skipping a day.
  • Take the entire first thirty days of my year to focus on personal growth more intensely. That includes journaling about the last year, listening to podcasts, and reading.
  • Take “living simply” to a whole new level. I thought I was living minimally because I’m socking away 75% of my income into savings, but I actually still have quite a bit of padding in the “fun area” of my budget. I can do better, and it’ll be 100% worth it when I’m hanging out with Dave in my Port Townsend cottage!
  • Look before I leap. I’m a pretty impulsive person in almost everything I do…relationships, financial matters, etc. Sometimes it works out great, but other times I get burned. I am going to get better at slowing down, thinking things through, and doing my due diligence.
  • Reach $50k in savings by December 10, 2017. I am already well on my way there, but hitting this goal is going to require living very minimally and probably picking up some sort of side hustle. This amount of money should be enough to buy my property AND build most of foundation/shell of my little house.
  • Find a way to give back to people I know and people I don’t. I have no clue what this looks like, although I’m hoping I can think of some ideas during month one. I kind of hate that the one goal about helping others is so nebulous, but I’m going to work on that.

So there you have it: my plans for year thirty. No trips planned, although I have enough airline miles for a free trip up to WA to climb with my brother. No grand adventures laid out, although I’m sure some will come along here and there. This year is about preparation, as boring as that might sound. Part of me is terrified to take time from my (relative) youth and focus on responsible things, but I can’t rid myself of my conviction that living debt-free, mortgage-free, and baggage-free near my brother and close to the mountains and sea will be worth this short time of focus.

Now that the serious stuff is concluded, let’s talk briefly about Sir Dave, Adventure Cat. He’s nearly doubled in size since I got him, and he’s only gotten more cuddly, hilarious, devious, and crazy. He now has his own Instagram (I don’t have one, just him), and below are a few pictures of what you’re missing out on if you neglect to follow him @da_daily_dave.

Sir Dave, Barista Cat

Sir Dave, Barista Cat

Downtown San Jose is a big place for a little kitty.

Downtown San Jose is a big place for a little kitty.

The four phases of Dave's car rides.

The four phases of Dave’s car rides.

Hanging out on a rainy Sunday.

Hanging out on a rainy Sunday.

He's trying his best to do the hind-leg-walking thing.

He’s trying his best to do the hind-leg-walking thing.

I’m just saying…who wouldn’t want to see a new picture (or two or three) of that guy every day?

Cheers!

The F word, the B word, and the C word

Calm down Mom, I haven’t quite stooped to that level of vulgarity in public discourse. I’m talking about Frugality, Budgets, and Cost. What the hell do those three terms have to do with a blog that is supposedly focused on climbing? Well, it’s simple. The length of time before I am permanently relocated to the mountainous Pacific Northwest with a paid-for little mountain cottage on a paid-for chunk of land and a debt free lifestyle is inversely proportional to my discipline in understanding and adhering to those three concepts.

Part of my mind is constantly screaming “You’re young and strong now! Climb and travel and adventure while you can and worry about fiscal responsibility later!” However, the logical part of my brain – thankfully the majority – is smart enough to know that if I play my cards right for the next 2-3 years, I can remain debt free and be financially set for the rest of my life. I can live my life with no mortgage, no car payment, no credit card debt, and a monthly cost of living that I can easily support with a part-time job.

Maybe that doesn’t appeal to you, and perhaps you are more on board with the “live now and worry about paying for it later” philosophy. That’s fine, and I’m not saying that your way is  wrong…but I am currently debt free and on my way to living my dream life, and I love it. If that idea appeals to you, read on!

Frugality

Let me throw a disclaimer out there: I have not mastered living frugally, not by a long shot. I like craft beer and good coffee, and if you happened to read my last blog post, you know I spent an ungodly amount of money on a really sick mountain bike in recent history. Frugality doesn’t have to mean living like a hermit and not having any fun, and I think it should mean something different to everyone! For me, it means cutting back on unnecessary expenditures within reason. I’ve learned that if I live as frugally as I possibly can:

  • I don’t live a physically healthy life
  • I don’t live an emotionally healthy life
  • I get depressed
  • My splurge-o-meter gets all pent up until it explodes and I go on a reckless spending spree

Maybe those bullet points mean I’m weak or undisciplined, but I know from practical experience that they’re true. So how does one live frugally but reasonably?

Budgets

You do it with a budget! Here’s the thing about budgets – they suck. I wasn’t raised with any kind of financial education, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I just got on the budget train about two years ago (at the ripe old age of 26). Transitioning from spending more than I earned every month to drastically less than I earned was HARD. Some months saw a major regression in the form of me deleting the budget file on my Mac halfway through the month and yelling “fuck it, I’ll start being responsible in (insert any month)!” During the two years and four months it took me to pay off $35k of post-divorce debt, I know for a fact that I blew my budget more often than not. Spending money is fun!

Some of the gear stash, stored per my OCD tendencies.

Gear and Beer not only rhyme and provide endless entertainment; they’re also expensive.

But you know what? Just having a monthly budget made me conscious of my frivolous spending, and I still paid off all that debt. The willingness to try, fail, adjust, and try again is the important thing. Make a basic spreadsheet with categories for your anticipated monthly spending, and track every cent you spend on a daily basis. Be ambitious with your spending limits – it’s amazing how little you actually need to make it through a month and still maintain a great standard of living!

Cost

So, you’ve embraced the idea of a frugal lifestyle? Great! You have a budget in place and you’re determined to stick to it? Wonderful! However, vital to truly living frugally and indispensable to creating an effective budget is understanding the truth of cost. It’s simple really (and maybe even stupid to someone with a better financial education), but my concept of cost inspired a sense of positive desperation in me. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m debt free and on track to have well over $10k in savings by the end of 2016.

It goes like this. Let’s assume you take home $150 a day from your job after taxes. It’s a Monday-Friday gig, so you take home $750 per week, $39k per year. I didn’t go to college, but I think that’s a fairly respectable post-tax income for your average college grad. Now let’s say you want to buy a new car to replace your aging junkmobile…it runs fine, but your coworkers are giving you crap for driving that rust bucket. For easy math, let’s say you save up and pay for a $20k vehicle. One way of looking at it is that you got a shiny new car! Another way is that you just condemned yourself to roughly six more months of slaving away at that job that you bitch about on your always-too-short weekends. That $150 bar tab from a crazy night on the town? Another day in the office. That $1500 tropical vacation because January was cold and dreary and you deserved some time away? Another two weeks at your desk.

I'd much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

I’d much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

That’s half of the equation. The other half is what I call the Twice What It Seems formula. This might not make sense to anyone else, and that’s okay. It works wonders for me. You wake up on a Sunday morning with no plans and a bit of a hangover, and suddenly brunch seems like a good idea…brunch with a mimosa! Hair of the dog, right? Here’s where the formula comes into play. That $25 you’re about to spend on brunch is actually $50. You’re about to go from positive $25 in your checking account to a negative potential $25 in your savings account. The amount is still $25, but it’s a $50 swing based on your decision to spend or save.

Now. Does that actually make sense? Empirically speaking, I’m actually a very intelligent person, yet no matter how much I think about it, I still have no idea. I do know that the idea of the formula literally doubles the consequence of each potential purchase I make, and that has been a very good thing for me. If it’s actually a bunch of nonsense, please don’t tell me. It would be a blow to both my pride and my financial future.

Happy savings!

 

3 Months Later

My blog seems to have lost its way over the last year or so. I started posting some of my journal entries, training records, and climbing plans/goals two and a half years ago with my mind firmly focused on alpine climbing. I had several clearly defined goals to achieve before I turned thirty (only 402 days now, that’s terrifying), and I had a plan in place to reach those goals.

Climbing in March 2015 when the stoke was high.

Climbing Canadian ice in March 2015 when the stoke was high.

Everything went great at first. I trained hard for ten months after my divorce was finalized in February of 2014. In September, I went shopping for airline tickets. Christmas and New Years were spent smashing and crashing my way up ice climbs in Wyoming and Montana on an eight day climbing blitz with my friend Olin. Two months later, I flew to Europe and spent over two weeks on world class ice and mixed lines in Kandersteg, Switzerland. I flew home with swollen knuckles and a thirst for more adrenaline, and drove up to climb Canadian ice three days later. And then…well, I’m not sure what happened then. I crashed and burned one relationship after another, lost one of the people I loved most in this world to cancer, started drinking way too much, bought a guitar, and started playing and writing songs obsessively. All the while, my climbing gear sat in bins and hung on the wall gathering dust.

Now I’m out in California for work, and that gear is still packed neatly away in my room. It’s created a strange dichotomy in my heart: I still feel like a climber, and a pretty good one at that. However, a person is what they do. Having a lot of expensive gear and memories and pictures of routes climbed and adventures undertaken does not make someone a climber. It makes them a has-been and perhaps a wanna-be.

Just typing those words makes me feel ashamed and guilty somehow. I haven’t renounced climbing and sold all my gear, and I don’t just sit on the couch drinking beer and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (usually). I still get a thrill in my heart and chills up and down my spine thinking about slamming my Nomics into hero ice, racing ropeless up a steep snow couloir, or delicately picking my way up a thin, delaminated mixed pitch of ice and rock in the mountains. I know the stoke will return someday – and maybe someday soon – but for now it’s dormant, hidden, unreachable. I’m trying to learn to be okay with the roller coaster ride that is my relationship with hard climbing. I’ve given up trying to understand it, but maybe I can learn to accept it.

So that brings up the obvious question: if I haven’t been climbing, what HAVE I been doing out here in California? Since the last update three months ago, there have really only been three things occupying my mind and taking up my time (besides work of course).

First, I have been constantly fixated on planning and saving for land and a little cottage in Port Townsend, WA. I had a bit of a financial setback with an unplanned bill for $3000, but I am still debt-free and adding to my savings account every month. I should have well over $10k in savings by the end of the year. I intend to purchase land in late spring, so I’ve been online A LOT looking at different properties. And finally, my friend finished the 3D modeling for my house design, so now I just need to turn it over to a Port Townsend-based architect who is familiar with local zoning and building codes so he/she can convert it to building plans.

A screenshot of the finalized house plan. The large ground-level opening on the invisible wall is a flip-up garage door that I am really excited about!

A screenshot of the finalized house plan. The large ground-level opening on the invisible wall is a flip-up garage door that I am really excited about!

Second, I’ve turned to mountain biking to get my adrenaline fix. The trails around Santa Cruz, Scott’s Valley, and Los Gatos are world class for both hill climbing and hardcore downhill riding. That’s the other reason I’m going to be quite a bit shy of my original goal to have $20k in savings by December 31st – I invested a significant amount of cash into a bike that can handle this kind of terrain. I’ve never spent that kind of money on a single piece of gear, but I have no regrets. Dropping off cliffs, hitting big tabletop jumps, and blasting through rock gardens is FUN! Mountain biking has also helped me meet some really great friends, and I was starting to get pretty lonely out here by myself.

Taking a break with Donovon on some random train bridge while riding in Santa Cruz.

Taking a break with Donovon on some random train bridge while riding in Santa Cruz.

Post-ride with Lance (center) and other Jimmy (right), two of my best friends out here.

Post-ride with Lance (center) and other Jimmy (right), two of my best friends out here.

I think Specialized should use this photo for an ad.

I think Specialized should use this photo for an ad.

Finally, I did something I thought I would never do. I adopted an eight week old kitten and named him Dave. He’s actually sitting on my shoulder watching me type this, and he’s been an all-around amazing little buddy. I think I’m going to update the house plans to have a catwalk go along one wall from the loft to the big picture window on the far wall (not visible in the house photo because I took that wall out to see inside).

Sir Dave, Adventure Cat (that's his full name)

Sir Dave, Adventure Cat (that’s his full name)

I think he was trying to help with the laundry.

I think he was trying to help with the laundry.

He likes to hang out up there and watch me make coffee or work on the computer.

He likes to hang out up there and watch me make coffee or work on the computer.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I have no big adventure or traveling plans made for the future, but I’ll try to post before another three months go by. Cheers!