I was born in a small ski town to young ski-bum parents who knew how to ski and scrounge up paychecks when needed. For a single person, this life is financially quite plausible. One usually works service industry jobs just hard enough to pay for rent, food, ski gear, and an unlimited ski pass to the local resort. After those “needs” are met, a ski-bum working more than that is really just overachieving and should be chasing more powder days. Or at least that’s how my parents viewed it at first.
The difficult lessons of young parenthood would hit them hard and carry over consequences long into my upbringing. With poor concepts of financial literacy, they saved but spent more and, unfortunately, lost our house in the 2008 recession. After a messy divorce, a torn ACL, and a declared bankruptcy, my father was homeless. He lived in a camper on his old truck for almost a year before getting back on his feet. Luckily, my mom’s father kept her afloat, and she married a great man who kept a roof over our heads. Needless to say: from a young age, I recognized what does not work and started getting ideas as to what I could do differently with my financial future.
I have always been a devout worshiper of our local library, devouring books and blogs that pertained to whatever ideas were piquing my interest at the time. At the end of eighth grade, I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache and the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement. I read every post on his blog—sometimes two or three times—and rushed to share it with my friends.
One buddy of mine got hooked as well, and soon, we were committed to the cause. We biked to school to save gas, learned to cook to stop eating out as much, and kept track of our cash flow. I was working part-time jobs babysitting, dog walking, and spending hours with a knife in my hand as a prep cook. I saw each dollar as an opportunity, so I saved them—almost every single one. But I also knew I wasn’t making my dollars work for me. I wanted to start investing, but neither of my parents had set up a college savings account for me, let alone any kind of retirement investing account. So, I did the research and pleaded with my mom to help me set one up, and at 16 with $500, I bought my first share of AAPL. From then on, I was hooked.
When kids my age were tracking Instagram likes and Facebook posts, I was tracking my ticker prices and reading about the next IPO drops. I wasn’t ever one of those stock guru kids that catches a unicorn and makes $100,000, but it felt good to stay in the green and save what I made. I still had tons of fun, played three sports, and partied more than I should’ve. But I sacrificed a lot in high school.
However, the hardest decision was where I was headed for undergrad. I was a good student and was told I deserved an Ivy League education. I got into a couple of them, but I was far from overjoyed as neither school was going to help me significantly. I had done the math, and I knew I was going to owe over $150,000 in student loans with no one to help me pay it off. On the other hand, I could go to my state school, where I had a full ride. The only problem was everyone was telling me that the people in the town were terrible, the weather was awful, and that I was deserving of “more.” Despite all that, I stuck with my gut and have since been the better for it.
Driving across the state to move into my tiny dorm room, I drove into that small college town on a beautiful sunny day. There were rumors that this town was notorious for having consistent winds that never seemed to drop below 30 mph. But I found out that this rumor, as well as all the rest, was pretty much nonsense. Instead of seeing disaster, I trained myself to see opportunity.
Like most everyone else there, I was living on a tight budget, but I thrived on that budget, loving each chance to develop skills and lifestyles that supported me emotionally and financially. Freshman year, I sold homemade soup and kombucha out of my dorm room. When the dining hall actually had a good meal, I would squirrel it away in Tupperware. In the subsequent years, I lived with a bunch of guys in one house. In return for my cooking and cleaning, the rest of the guys always bought the food. I even partied on a budget, always having a batch of homemade wine bubbling in a closet I called my “fermentation station.”
I biked everywhere, once even in a blizzard to make it to my Organic Chemistry final on time. I started my own business caring for people with intellectual disabilities and usually managed to save more than 70% of my paychecks. But the investing never stopped, and I was always ready to buy on every significant dip in the market. When people would ask me if I got burnt out, I never really gave them the answer they were hoping for. Sure I got tired, but the saving, investing, and budgeting were energizing. I found satisfaction in stock charts and bliss in the balance sheets.
As I head into this next chapter of my MS1 year, I am both excited and nervous. Excited for the learning and wisdom but nervous for the sheer amount of information. Excited for the interactions with patients but nervous for the possibility of falling short. Excited for the financial opportunities and possible freedoms my MD will afford me but nervous for the seemingly inevitable amount of student loan debt I was able to avoid from my undergrad.
I learned a lot from my upbringing—many lessons on how to live well and sometimes how not to. I learned from my peers and my parents, from books and blogs, mentors and coaches. I know I’ve got a decent financial foundation, and I have built lifestyle practices that keep me healthy while saving money.
However, the biggest factor is not the lifestyle choices, but how those choices make me feel. If I could sum it all up thus far, my success has been built on my perception. When I saved up my meager paychecks in high school or biked the miles to class, I always tried to frame these experiences as wholly positive ones. Now, that framing has become close to second nature. Saving and investing shouldn’t be seen as taking away from your present self but rather giving an opportunity to your future self.