Clean Dirtbaggery

As I’ve been on the road this year, the constant question, whether candidly spoken or tactfully unspoken, is this: “How do you do it? Like, financially?” I don’t have a trust fund that I live off of, The North Face hasn’t yet chosen to bring me onto their athlete team (ha!), and I certainly haven’t “made it rich” from any minimum wage or bleeding heart job that I’ve had. I’m just your average Joe[ette]. My dear friend Jacqui has been picking my brain recently about financial matters and suggested I write about it. I thought that’d be fun, so here it is!

Taking a year off, career dirtbagging, climbing a lot – whatever you want to call it, there are so many ways it can be done. Being amongst all the fellow dirtbags in Chaltén made me very aware of this: if you want to climb, and you need to take two weeks off – or two years off – to do it, you can make it happen. Work seasonally, work remotely, save up and quit, try to make climbing pay, pinch every penny: it’s all possible. May passion never be squelched by money.

So I’m not the only dirtbag out there, and I’m certainly no where near the shrewdest of them. I don’t eat exclusively rice and beans, I don’t have holes in [every pair of] my pants, and I make sure to shower at least once a week. However, I have learned from one of the best of them, and her name is Mom. I’m lucky enough to have a mother that raised me solidly in the ways of simple living and complicated saving. This style – my style – of dirtbaggery is what I like to call “Clean Dirtbaggery,” and what follows is a bit of a beginners guide for those interested.

I, personally, have always been a saver. I’ve never had a job that paid super well, but I have always been able to put money in the bank each month. If you’re a saver, you’re a saver: you don’t need a 10-step guide on how to pinch your pennies with suggestions to buy one less latte a week and check your car insurance statement for needless charges. And if you’re a spender, well then, in my opinion, you’re a spender. A 10-step guide probably won’t help, because really, it’s not that hard. Separate your needs from your wants and just don’t spend as much.

And yes, my friend: that’s probably a “want.”

So in lieu of a 10-step guide, and at the risk of giving away my secrets, I thought I’d share some little schemes that have helped me out in life and specifically this year. If you know me well, you know I have a little grin on my face as I write about this, because I freakin’ love this stuff. I love resourcefulness, I love saving, I love free stuff, and most of all, I love the game that can be made out of all of it. So here are a few tips (or schemes, if you will) that might hopefully inspire some strategic saving and in turn, free you up to live more.

eBay: eBay used to intimidate me a lot; I thought it’d require me to pay a monthly fee or make elaborate listings or join some sort of club that would demand the donation of my first born. Not true: eBay was surprisingly easy to learn. It all started with my 50-something friend Neil, a Seattle Public Schools employee (and now dear friend) who, while I was working at a middle school this last year, transported me back to my bike each day after I rode the short bus home with a student. Neil goes by Prince Weasel online, and dubbed me Princess Swiper for my shrewd wheeling-and-dealing ways. He’s an antique dealer and an eBay extraordinaire, and he took joy in sharing his psyche and answering all of my questions on our daily 10-minute car rides. My dad gave me some castoffs from his old record collection, my mom donated her heirloom china, and I was off and running! In the last year, I’ve made over $1000 on eBay, selling old gear and clothing that I no longer use, items my friends are throwing away, things I find on the side of the road… Almost anything is a candidate for making money on eBay.

Credit cards sign-ups: Here’s how it goes: you apply for a few credit cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses, meet the minimum spending requirements (usually through what’s called “manufactured spending”), get 50,000 miles for free, and all of a sudden you’re on some beautiful granite ridgeline in Patagonia and you didn’t spend a dime to get there. I might be overlooking a few details, but that’s basically the gist. Playing the credit card game also used to intimidate me a lot – it can be complicated, and it’s stressful throwing around thousands of dollars that you don’t have. However, once I learned that a free flight to Argentina was a few credit card sign-ups and easy shenanigans away, I decided to give it a shot. All details aside, if you have good credit and are organized enough, you’ll never pay for a plane ticket again, and you’ll actually build credit doing so.

Peer-lending: My friend Simon turned me onto peer-lending years ago, and I think it’s incredible stuff. Also a bit intimidating on the front end (I’m noticing a theme here…) but if you have a bit of cash to invest (like even less than $1000), this is a pretty awesome way to make 10-15% on your money. Basically, you give small amounts of money to people with generally bad credit at a lower interest rate than they would ever receive from a bank, and they pay you back in 3-5 years. Filters on the online platforms are helpful to narrow down your borrowers to a statistics-generated set that ensures you’re maximizing profit and minimizing risk. It’s a pretty killer idea too, because it takes power and money away from large bank corporations and gives people a hand in getting out of debt.

Don’t buy bars at full price: If you eat a lot of bars (i.e. Clif Bars, Larabars, ProBars – you know, convenient calories in a pocket-sized package), you know that they can get rather spendy. I flat out refuse to by bars at retail price; I just can’t justify it, and I think I’d rather eat soggy balled up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches straight out of my pocket. The solution to this for me has been Grocery Outlet: you can usually find bars, of many varieties, for about 50 cents each. And that’s nothing compared to the deals that I’ve found at Deals Only in Bellingham, so I know there’s local stores that offer even better prices.

Pick up pennies! If you bend over 100 times, not only do you have $1, but you also have a tighter butt. Now go buy yourself some ice cream!

Ultimately, I believe that these strategies (maybe with the exception of credit card scheming) help to make the world go ‘round a bit better. In general, it’s about taking care of what we have (our bodies, our stuff, our world), not acquiring that which we don’t need, and finding alternatives to throwing things away. Reduce, reuse, and THEN recycle. It’s the same values that keep me making cards and envelopes out of magazines, sewing patches on the knees of my pants before buying new ones, washing and reusing baggies, and drinking water from a tap instead of sugary juice from a bottle that will soon be trashed (or at the very least costs energy to make and now recycle). And thankfully, at the same time, it’s these same values that keep the pennies in my pocket and help me continue living the life I want to live.

So for now, thanks in part to clean dirtbaggery, I’ll keep climbing!

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