A couple years ago I went on my first multi-day hiking trip. I felt surprisingly nervous for someone who has done many wild, strenuous day hikes. This was different though. I wasn’t going to be back at my vehicle for a fresh jacket or extra water at the end of the day. I had to carry everything I needed to sustain myself, and I needed to get that list correct.
I asked an friend who had done multiple month+ hikes for advice. What should I bring?!
He gave me an amazing starter list, then gave me an incredible bonus piece of advice:
“Pack for your biggest fear”
The key though: you only get one!
It’s easy to have many fears when you’re out in the woods for that long. Bear attacks. Inability to dry off. Freezing to death. Running out of water. Getting lost.
They’re all important concerns, and there’s a base amount of gear you need for each one. However, you can’t take each fear TOO seriously or it’ll ruin your trip.
If you try to carry an extra litre of water “just in case”, but also pack 3 rain jackets and a spare tent, you’re going to walk in misery. Your bag will be so heavy that it will ruin your whole trip and you may as well not go on the adventure at all.
Adventure is about reasonably preparing as best you can, then trusting you’ll figure the rest out.
He told me to sit with my thoughts and decide for myself what my biggest fear was, then pack a little extra against JUST that one. Everyone’s fear will be different; I had to discover mine.
I thought about it for a day, and realized my biggest fear was running out of food or feeling starving the whole time.
Sure, no one likes feeling hungry. I definitely get “hangry” and become a less pleasant version of myself. My fear of hunger is deeper than that however. It goes back to unpleasant times in my childhood and genuinely triggers anxiety in me.
I knew that it was illogical in some ways.
Many things could kill me much quicker than lack of food. Prioritizing water or warmth made WAY more logical sense. When I sat with my thoughts though, I knew without a doubt hunger was my main fear.
My friend didn’t try to talk me out of it or tell me to choose a different, more logical fear. It was always about picking MY fear because feeling safe in that aspect would allow me to enjoy the entire trip more.
So, I packed one extra dehydrated dinner for each night “just in case”. This added a few extra pounds to my pack, so I understood clearly why I could only pander to one fear.
And guess what? It worked!
Most days I did not even eat the extra food. So, did I resent bringing it? Heck no! I felt so safe and content hiking out on my last day knowing I could comfortably spend a full extra day in the woods and still feel full.
It was fantastic advice.
What the heck does this have to do with money though?!? This is a finance blog!
I’ve been thinking about my finances lately, and realized that his advice works for MANY areas of life.
If you asked me what my biggest financial fear is, I would be able to answer without question:
“Losing everything I have”
It was a massive contributor to my fear & hesitation to quit my stable career even when I was miserable there.
Again, I know the childhood trauma that caused this. I can understand why I feel that way, but understanding it doesn’t quiet the fear.
The crazy part however?
I haven’t done ANYTHING to really make myself feel better on that front.
I have a long list of financial goals: pay off my student loans, pay off the house early, invest enough that we’re set up for an earlier retirement.
I actively work towards all of those!
I prioritize putting extra on my student loan because I hate having that financial shackle.
We invest money because it’s well known that compound interest is what will make you rich given enough time. My future retired self will thank me!
Mathematically, it DOES makes more sense to pay off debt that is charging interest or invest money than it does to have cash sitting in an emergency fund. We’ve made incredible financial progress in the last few years, but we purposely live almost paycheck to paycheck without cash in the bank. Any extras quickly get sent to either debt or investments!
You’re “supposed” to make financial moves that will help you the most in the long run! I’m a numbers girl, and it’s hard to turn that side off.
I even tell myself that if shit hit the fan I have a low interest line of credit that I could use!
However, living paycheck to paycheck always makes me feel a bit uneasy. It’s like I’m close to some dangerous cliff and cannot totally settle my brain.
It’s tempting to want to spread out your financial contributions, make the best decisions, and maximize everything.
You know what else feels good though? Security. Being true to yourself. Taking steps to quiet something that does not feel right to you.
I think back to that hiking advice. Focusing on my fear of hunger was not the logical choice. I could last way longer without food that I could without water.
Yet, for ME, packing extra food WAS the right choice.
Perhaps financial decisions aren’t so different.
Heck, it’s called personal finance, not perfect finance.
I read an incredible financial book a few months back called The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. It explores WHY we do what we do with money, and I strongly recommend reading it.
He said something that struck me. He was discussing that his financial goal isn’t chasing the highest return or living luxuriously. His goal is freedom. He stated:
“We own our house without a mortgage, which is the worst financial decision we’ve ever made but the best money decision we’ve ever made…Any rational advisor would recommend taking advantage of cheap money and investing extra savings into higher-return assets like stocks. But our goal isn’t to be coldly rational; just psychologically reasonable”
He went on to discuss that sometimes you need to choose between being happy or being “right”.
I LOVED that sentiment.
I’ve made some financial decisions in the past that were illogical, yet to this day I’ve had no regrets.
I’ve also made financially “correct” decisions that I’ve occasionally resented.
So, what does all this mean for my financial goals right now?
I think it’s time I pack for my biggest fear!
Building my “attitude fund”:
Rather than calling it an emergency fund, I’m going to name it my attitude fund.
If I’m honest with myself I do not like living paycheck to paycheck. Even with access to a line of credit, I feel exposed and uncomfortable.
Having cash savings will comfort me and change my attitude. Therefore, it’s named my attitude fund!
Until I build up a few months expenses in cash I’m going to make minimum payments on my student loans and only contribute enough to investments for us to get our employer match.
Honestly, backing off on those goals causes some guilt in me. I understand that mathematically it’s the wrong choice.
Sometimes you need to be happy rather than “right” though!
It’s like the hiking advice: if you work on too many fears at once then you’ll be weighed down and struggle to get anywhere. Pick one. Even if it’s the illogical one. Pick the one that settles YOU.
My advice to you:
Sit with yourself for awhile. Decide on and write down your biggest financial fear, then create a plan that leads to more confidence in that area.
It doesn’t need to make mathematical sense.
It doesn’t need to be logical.
You honestly probably already know what your fear is. Respect it!
Pack for your biggest fear so you can enjoy the trip of life.
Thanks for reading!