Investments

I’ve been doing a lot of shopping lately. It’s a big deal for me, because I don’t like shopping much and I don’t do it often. Usually I find it hard to justify purchases. “Do I really need this?” “How often am I going to even use it?” “Where will I put it?” These are the thoughts that go through my head.

But it was clear to me that I would need a tent for this trip. And a sleeping bag that didn’t weigh 30 pounds. And so on. The good news for my sanity is that most of the things I’ve purchased so far feel like investments, because this trip won’t be the only time I use them. I’ll be doing a full packing list post at some point, as that sort of thing appeals to people like me, but for now I wanted to give you an idea of what I’ve been blowing all that carefully saved cash on, as well as what I decided against getting for this particular trip.

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INVESTMENTS

Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack, $140 at tombihn.com – This specific bag was highly recommended by Tynan, and the company has popped up several times when I’ve been looking for bags and backpacks. I haven’t had a decent backpack in years, and felt that I would need one on an almost daily basis for this trip. Here’s hoping the bag lives up to it’s reputation.

REI Passage 2 Tent, $160 at REI – My biggest desire in a tent was simplicity. I wanted something that would be quick and easy for me to set up, and take up little space both in the car and at the campsite. In a perfect world I would also get something that could be fully set up without stakes, as tent stakes are at the heart of most of my past camping frustrations. But maybe having a brand new bag of steaks and a proper mallet will solve that.

Matching Tent Footprint, $24 at REI – I considered whether this one was worth it, but Rob wisely pointed out that it’s the kind of thing you’d rather regret spending money on that regret not having when you need it.

Marmot Trestles 30 Sleeping Bag Long, $109 at REI – I think I must have tried out 10 different sleeping bags while I was at REI, and in the end I concluded that I don’t have a lot of opinions about sleeping bags. I’ve never used a mummy style before, so I’m hoping I don’t spend all my time claustrophobically kicking into the sides.

Platypus Softbottle Water Bottle, $8 at REI – This is more of an investment in my Bug Out Bag, but it seemed like it might be helpful on my trip, especially on long hikes.

Gorillapod Camera Tripod, $20 anywhere – I’ve thought about getting one of these since the first time I saw one many years ago. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it in my life after the trip, but I thought it would be helpful if not vital if I ever want to take a picture of myself at some fantastic location.

Rockforge Camp Axe, $19 at Home Depot I’ve only had to set up a campsite by myself once before, when I was volunteering at Mt. Rainer Park for the weekend. One of the perks of volunteering is that I got to stay in a secluded campground meant for volunteers and staff. They said there would be free fire wood, so I didn’t bother to pick some up on the way in. What I didn’t realize was that the free firewood was in gigantic logs. I had no way to break up the logs, and I ended up scrounging around the base of the woodpile looking for scrap bits that I could use to start a fire. I have no intention of ever doing that again. Plus a small axe just seems like a good thing to have around in life. You never know when something will need chopping.

Rubber Mallet, $5 at Home Depot – As previously mentioned, I shall not be defeated by tent stakes. Also this seems generally useful, see above RE: Axe.

Five Gallon Bucket with Lid, $4 at Home Depot – I figure a bucket is a combination kitchen sink and washing machine. I’m sure I’ll find many other uses for it. After all, it’s a bucket.

Canon Powershot, $150 at B&H – I felt like it was time to upgrade my camera, but I wasn’t interested in spending $1000. I did a little research, but quickly determined I’m not enough of a photographer to care about most of the differences I was comparing. The Powershot was recommended by a friend and fit my price point.

Merrell Siren Sport Shoes, $90 at REI – I spent at least 20 minutes putting on different hiking shoes at REI, but I ending up buying the first pair I tried on.

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NOT THIS TIME AROUND

Travel pillow – I was a little worried that a normal pillow would be a bulky nuisance, but considering the price of the travel pillows and the likelihood of ever using it again, I’m going to stick with one of the regular old pillows I have in the apartment.

Camp stove – I lucked out on this one. My folks have a small butane stove that they’re letting me borrow.

InstafireThis stuff seems pretty cool, but so does becoming adept at starting campfires by myself.

Cooler – I already own a small, 9 quart cooler. The plan is to use the cooler more as general food storage and only occasionally bother with ice. It’s not much, and it’s possible I’ll want something bigger as I go. But a bigger cooler is something I am positive I can and will find at stores all across the country this summer, so I’m waiting until I know I need it to upgrade.

The Money You Save is the Hardest to Spend

I’ve always been a saver. Ever since I was a little girl and would get a birthday card with some cash in it from a grandparent or aunt, the money went straight into my savings account. That’s just what I thought one did with money: put it in the bank. I was also fortunate to be immune to a lot of the most common and expensive vices. I never smoked or did drugs, I hate coffee, clothes shopping annoys me, and I don’t like the taste of alcohol. There wasn’t a lot to spend my money on. So I saved.

My miserly ways came in handy in college, where I managed to pay for more than half of my education through my own funds (the other half was from college funds set up by my parents and grandparents). But once I got out of college, the money was gone. I was lucky to have no debt, but I also had no cash. I found work, started following frugality blogs, and began to save again.

When I made the decision three years ago to go on this trip, I knew I’d want a good buffer of savings. I needed enough for the trip, plus a buffer for potential unemployment (I didn’t know at the time if taking the trip would mean quitting my job). So I threw together some numbers, and came up with an initial goal: $18,000. The first $8,000 would go in an emergency fund to be used if I lost my job, and the rest was my trip budget. I don’t know if $10,000 was a realistic budget, and I won’t know until after the trip is over. But it was a goal.

I set up an automatic withdrawal to a high-yield savings account at a different bank. The point was to make this money hard get at and therefore hard to spend. Funding for my trip would be one-way. I lived my life, I went to work, I stopped eating fast food, and before long the fund was growing. I tried out the goal function in Mint to see how much I had to keep putting in each month in order to get to my goal on time. My income kept going up, and my expenses kept going down. As it got easier and easier to put money aside, I raised the goal. And that’s when I started to worry.

My trip fund was becoming a very real and very large sum of money. Could I really waste it all on some idiotic dream of driving around the country? I still hadn’t told anyone about my plans. It wasn’t too late to back down. If I didn’t go, I’d get to keep all of my lovely savings.

But for what?

Savings in junior high and high school was one thing, I had college in my future. But what did I have now? A house? A car? I didn’t want either of those. So what was I saving for? I still couldn’t shake the feeling that spending it would be reckless. It was so much money. It took me so many hours of work to earn it, and so many frugal changes in my lifestyle not to spend it.

So I made a deal with myself. It was an idea the man who would later become my financial advisor gave me: Spend it either way. I didn’t have to go on a road trip if I didn’t feel like it. That was fine. But I didn’t get to keep the money. If I didn’t use it to drive around the United States, I’d have to buy a trip to Europe, or get an over-priced car. I’d have to get rid of it somehow. One way or another, that money would be gone by the end of 2013. I wasn’t allowed to keep it.

Once I got rid of the possibility of saving my savings, I stopped worrying about money for my trip. I no longer thought about how much it would cost, and only about what I could do and see. I upped the automatic withdrawal from my checking account and forgot about it. Money wasn’t the point anymore. And there’s no use in holding on to something pointless.

And now here I am. The emergency fund is well padded and my road trip account is well past my initial guess. There’s no way I’ll be able to spend it all on the drive. Since I told myself if I didn’t go on the trip I still had to spend ALL the money, it’s now cheaper just to do it. I managed to make taking an extended trip around the country appeal to my sense of frugality.

More importantly, I’m starting to learn that the point of saving money is to spend it all later. And for me, that’s the hardest part.