By Rob Shaul
(1) Being Debt Free
I was very poor in my late 20s and 30s. I’m talking a $100/month food budget and living in my office for several years – poor.
Every month for a decade was a stressful scramble to make payroll, pay rent, take care and business loan payments, child support, and put some food in the mini-fridge.
The first thing I did when I sold my first business and had some money in the bank was paying off all my debt.
Instantly, I felt free.
Spending to be debt free doesn’t come with a new shiny purchase or material good to stroke and admire. There’s nothing to drive around in to show off your financial freedom.
Budgeting and worrying about finances and spending doesn’t end. But the peace of mind that comes from knowing what little you do own is yours – not the bank’s – is priceless.
(2) Master’s Degree
I left the military and funded my own masters degree. I had a young family to support and overloaded credits so I could finish the 2-year Political Science masters degree program in two semesters. Tuition at the University of Wyoming, expenses, plus 9 months of lost income probably cost $60-70K total, and was worth every penny.
I was able to pick and choose most of my coursework and the focus of my research. It was an incredible, intellectual adventure, of my own making. The most fun I ever had at school.
And I’ve used the education itself and the writing, thinking and prioritizing skills I developed earning that degree in the businesses and careers I’ve had in the years since.
I’m itching to get another…
My eyesight was 20/300 or worse when I finally emptied my savings and got Lasik surgery at age 33. Without glasses or contacts, I was functionally blind. Stumbling around in my personal living space was about all I could do without risking incident.
The surgery took all of 10 minutes, cost $5,000, and three hours later, at dinner, I could see across the room. It was a miracle.
Home, car, body …. maintenance is super expensive and never comes with the giddy “new purchase” feeling we get buying stuff.
But, the only thing more expensive than maintenance costs is the replacement or major repair price tag that comes if you don’t spend on maintenance.
When it comes to the body, decline with age that is inevitable. Maintenance is how we slow this decline as best as possible – whether it be fitness, dental check ups, annual physicals, eye exams, whatever.
Every dollar spent on maintenance now is two dollars saved in the future.
(5) Career Change
Career changes are always expensive in dollars and humility in the short run, because it’s rare you can change careers and not start near or at the bottom.
But money aside, as someone on his third career and starting a 4th, I can honestly say few things in life are as invigorating as changing careers.
You’re forced to throw yourself in to the new field, and rapidly learn new information, skills, knowledge, and begin your toil towards craftsmanship.
Unlike starting a new hobby or sport, starting a new career carries consequences if you fail, or quit. It comes with urgency and weight.
It’s at once darkly scary, and deeply exhilarating.
I mean real estate here, specifically the inflated costs you pay to purchase or rent – to live near special places.
For me, “special” means outdoor recreation in close proximity.
Teton County, Wyoming, where I live, has some of the highest real estate costs in the nation. Tiny, one bedroom condos that start at $600K, 3 bedroom homes at $1 million plus, and a bedroom rental in a shared house at $800/month plus utilities.
But no place I’ve found in America offers the same level of year-round, high level, mountain-based recreation in such close proximity. World class trout fishing, alpine climbing, hiking, backpacking, hunting, resort and backcountry skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, ski mountaineering … all within a 30 minute drive, or less.
If you don’t live close to something you love to do, you don’t do it that much. Those recreational activities you love end up compressed into high stakes, once per year, week-long, skiing, fishing, or hunting trips followed by 51 weeks of dreaming and longing until you can do it again next year.
Living close to the stuff you love makes those activities part of your everyday life. I love to hunt and fish and backcountry ski and hike and backpack. I can do all of this from my back door … and so I do it often.
But there’s a steep cost to this proximity. Real estate in mountain towns like Jackson or any beach town is spendy. Costs are greatly inflated by 2nd home owners – some of whom in Jackson own multi-million dollar homes which they visit for 2 weeks a year – and others who make their money remotely and thus don’t need to scrap together local wages to pay the rent or mortgage.
But … life isn’t fair, and we only have so much time on this earth. If you love to hunt or fish or hike or ski or surf … I believe it’s worth the high financial cost to live in a place where you can do it often.
Proximity is worth a lot of money.
Worth the vet bills, the constant mess, the walks when you don’t feel like it, finding someone to dog sit while you’re gone and cleaning up the dog shit in the yard.
The best hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, training, camping, backcountry skiing or simply going-for-a-drive buddy I’ve ever had as been a dog.
They are so generous with their kindness and frendship it’s impossible not to take them for granted.
Expensive in emotional toil, frustration, stress, and money.
But nothing and nobody will bring you the pure, unfiltered joy and happiness kids will bring. No partner, wife, husband, sibling, best friend, job, activity or accolade will even come close.
Social media, TV dramas and movies all highlight the big “kid” events … first steps, first word, first day of kindergarten, sporting events, vacations, graduation, marriage, etc.
What media can’t illustrate are the everyday, magical moments like when your 18-month-year-old daughter farts and laughs hysterically, 5-year old son smack talks you playing backyard soccer, or 28-year-old son invites you to dinner just to bullshit and share time together.
You will be so desperately in love with your kids it hurts. So vulnerable to their safety and well-being you’ll cry just imagining what could harm them.
What’s on your list of “Life” Things worth every Penny?
Share in the comments below….