What Mountains Can Teach You About Personal Finance

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My number one goal with Atypical finance is to help you get complete control of your money, and I regularly partner with companies that share that same vision. Some of the links in this post may be from our partners. Read my disclaimer for more info.

My family and I just got back from our yearly week-long trip to Colorado. We love going out to Colorado, partially for the amazing views and partially to visit our awesome family.

This year, we decided to take a ride from Grand Lake to Estes Park using Trail Ridge Road and it did not disappoint.

Literally some of the BEST views I’ve ever seen! It’s hard to capture how amazing the views are but here is a panoramic photo to give you an idea (click for a full-size image).

This particular curve where this was taken is called “Fairview.” Umm…talk about a mediocre name. Ha!

Preparation

Being from Chicago and close to sea level elevation, preparing ourselves and our 6-year-old and 9-year-old for high points in elevation always brings back memories of our trip up Pikes Peak a few years ago. We had quite the scare!

See, Pikes Peak is one of the highest mountains in the country at 14,114 feet.

And it is COLD up there! On the day we traveled to Pikes Peak a few years ago, the temperature in Denver was around 90º but only around 45º on the mountain.

We were in the little cafe at the top of the mountain paying for our lunch when my younger daughter (3 years old at the time) started feeling sick and getting lethargic. I remember looking over at her face and she could barely keep her eyes open.

Thinking she was overheating from the heat being on in the building, my wife took her to the side and started stripping her hoodie off her. The cashier quickly went to get one of several EMTs they have in the cafe.

In the midst of all of that, my older daughter (6 years old at the time), standing just behind me, passed out and fell on the floor, hitting her head lightly on the bottom of the cabinet.

The EMT, already on his way to check on my 3-year-old, was pretty much right there. He scooped my 6-year-old into his arms and rushed her off to the little triage room they have set up in the cafe. My wife followed.

They got both of them in there and gave them some water. The diagnosis?

Altitude Sickness

We had not been giving them enough water on the way up the mountain. Water greatly reduces the chances of getting altitude sickness. It was also their first time ever being up that high.

Luckily, they were both ok. My younger daughter bounced back pretty much right away after getting down the mountain. My older daughter was sick to her stomach and throwing up a little bit for the next 4 or 5 hours or so. After that, she was back to normal.

In between being worried sick and going over in my head how we should have prepared for that day, I was able to enjoy some nice views from the mountain. It was gorgeous!

Mountains and Personal Finance

The whole mountain experience reminded me of finances (yes…I’m a nerd).

Some of our debt can seem so mountainous that it feels insurmountable. The trail to Devil’s Head Lookout that we took last year was a family friendly hike and it was still very difficult to climb up, especially since we’re from Chicago.

And if you’re not preparing for the height of Pikes Peak—more than 4,000 feet above Devil’s Head Lookout—it can seem like you’re fighting a losing battle.

But mountains also have a ton of beauty (see photo above). And while I’m not going to call debt beautiful, there are some things that mountains can teach you about finances.

Let’s dive in!

Lesson 1: Drink Water (Plan for the Future)

Altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen in your blood due to the thinner air at high altitudes. Drinking water helps to oxygenate your blood, which can prevent altitude sickness.

This was the main problem for my kids. They had not been drinking water the whole time we were on our way up Pikes Peak (bad father moment). Because of this, they were lightheaded, weak, and sick to their stomachs.

Native Coloradans (and doctors) say that you should be drinking plenty of water for up to two weeks before actually ascending a mountain that high, especially if you are from a lower altitude city like I am.

In other words, you have to plan for the future.

You have to plan for the future with finances too. Unless, of course, you plan on working the rest of your life and can guarantee your health. 😉

Planning for your retirement while you are too young to retire is one of the smartest things you can do with your money. In fact, the younger you are the better.

I’m sure you’ve heard of compound interest. At its most basic level, compound interest lets you earn interest on the interest you’ve already earned. So if you invest $1,000, don’t touch it, and earn 8% interest, the first year you will have $1,080.

Now for the next year, that interest would build (or compound) upon itself, earning you interest on not just the original $1,000 but also the extra $80 you’ve already earned. Not even having to deposit anything, your total balance after 2 years at the same interest rate would be $1,166.40.

That would continue to snowball as time went on and that same $1,000 after 30 years compounded monthly is going to be worth $10,935.73!

That’s why it’s so important to start early when planning for the future. The more time you have, the more your interest will compound.

Now combine starting early with continuing to add to your investments and you’ll be more than set for retirement.

This strategy also works for saving up for a trip or big purchase or anything that takes planning and intention to save for. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

Lesson 2: Drink MORE water (Plan for Now)

To prevent altitude sickness, not only do you need to drink plenty of water in preparation, but you also have to keep drinking plenty of water as you reach the top of the mountain.

As I mentioned above, water helps to not only keep you hydrated but oxygenated as well. The higher you are, the faster the oxygenating effects of water will dissipate.

Then, you start to breathe heavily to compensate, and that’s where the symptoms of altitude sickness come from.

Sure, if you’ve already been drinking water you may not faint or throw up like my daughter did, but you’ll get one massive headache. Believe me…I write from experience on that one (yuck).

You have to keep planning for now.

With finances, planning for now includes creating a good budget and actually monitoring your finances. It can be extremely hard to have one without the other.

If you set yourself a great budget, there is no way to tell if you’re hitting your goals without keeping track of your finances.

Likewise, if you are keeping track of your finances but don’t have a budget, then how will you know if you’re on track?

You can’t hit a goal you haven’t set.

In order to budget well, you’ll want to take stock of what you’re purchasing each month.

If you’ve been keeping track of your finances, or can get a printout from your bank, you can take the past three to six months of expenses and average them out.

If you haven’t been keeping track of your finances then you can try and guesstimate and jot down that number for your budget.

Related: Use You Need a Budget to keep track of your finances like I do and get another free month after your 34-day free trial. Sign up here.

After you’ve set realistic numbers for each category, it’s time to put it to the test! Monitor your finances for the next month to see if you hit your goals.

If you did, then great! If not, keep monitoring another month to see if it’s consistent.

After the two month mark, make some changes if you need to.

Note: If you overspend to where more money is going out than coming in, definitely make some changes right away instead of waiting for the two month mark. You want to try and avoid two months of going into debt with your budget.

A Budgeting Secret

I’ll let you in on a secret, though. Budgeting is not something to set and forget.

You’re going to want to continually monitor your numbers, especially because what works for you now may not work for you in the future. If your budget stops aligning with who you are, make some changes.

Another reason to continually monitor is due to changing bill amounts. For example, you could have a certain amount set for utilities during the summer months and then need to make adjustments based on the temperature.

If it’s a hot summer, you’ll have the air conditioning on longer, which may inflate your bill. You can adjust and lower the budget for another category just for the summer months.

This same scenario can also go the opposite direction, which is kind of exciting!

It may be a cooler summer, which will give you a little bit more money to pay off debt or allow you to have a few more entertainment options. The important thing is to make sure you are monitoring your money.

As a bonus, planning for now will also keep you on track for planning ahead as well.

Lesson 3: You Can See EVERYTHING (Clarity and Inspiration)

Pikes Peak is so high that when you look out from the top, you can see the tops of other mountains. It. Is. Incredible.

As you come to the mountain, you see all of the mountains starting to surround you and get bigger. You’re overwhelmed with beauty. At this point, it’s impossible for pictures to capture the majesty. You can’t even describe it.

Then you get to the top. And you can see for miles. You can see everything.

At that height, you can even just barely start to see the curvature of the earth.

On a clear day, it gives you unparalleled clarity. It gives inspiration. America the Beautiful was even written up there!

If you put your mind to conquering one of your financial mountains, and you keep at it and keep pressing on, and then get to the top, suddenly all your mountains don’t seem so big.

It gives you clarity on what to do next, what to conquer next. And then you start the next one because you’ve already conquered one.

You keep going. You get inspired.

Even on the way up the mountain we would slow down or stop to admire the view. At these points, you can see where you’re going and where you’ve been.

With finances, in order to keep being inspired on your way up, take a short breather and stop to notice how far you’ve come already.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not at the top already. Look where you’ve come from and celebrate!

It doesn’t matter that you still have $10,000 of debt leftover. You’ve already plowed through $10,000 already!

This will provide clarity and inspiration. Then you keep conquering.

Lesson 4: Enjoy the View (Balance the Present and Future)

Being up on Pike’s Peak is an awesome experience. Even the lower mountains provide a view only surpassed in beauty by higher mountains.

While we were there, I tried taking pictures so I could share with friends and family (and social media!), but it just doesn’t work out. Even the best pictures from the best photographers I’ve seen online still can’t rival an in-person view.

There came a point where I was just like, “Ya know, I’m just going to stop trying to take pictures and stare.” I really needed to just enjoy the view.

I had to be in the moment instead of trying to capture the present moment to share in the future.

For finances, you can’t “capture it all” and save everything for the future.

There is no sense scrimping and scraping now to live like kings later. I’m a firm believer that there has to be a balance. It’s just as important to enjoy life now or you might be too stressed to even enjoy it later on.

Just like being on that mountain, you have to live in the moment instead of just planning for your future.

There are two main reasons why this is important.

First, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will even be here tomorrow. Why would you want to save everything for your retirement when you may not even get there?

Secondly, there is so much worth spending money on and doing now that will make your retirement life even better.

Things like experiences, hanging out with friends, or going to Disney World with your family. All of these add value to your life and will continue to add value for years to come.

It’s a Balance

Now, this is not to say that you should spend money willy-nilly on experiences and things to do now. That’s where the balance comes in. You have to enjoy your life now while saving for your future.

What I try and do is spend just enough money to keep me from going crazy from not spending money.

I’ve noticed if I go long periods of time without doing something for myself or family with my money, I will kind of go stir crazy. A lot of times, this leads to overspending and splurging.

I find if I allow myself an allowance to spend as I see fit, I will actually save more money in the long run.

This is the same reason why it’s so important to reward yourself as well. Spending a little saves you more than spending nothing and then splurging later. Give it a shot!

Keep Going!

Mountains are an incredible part of nature. They are gorgeous and majestic but can also be big and scary, especially if you’re trying to climb one.

The same can be said of finances. They affect almost every facet of our lives, and it can be scary to face our financial problems.

I want to encourage you to keep going! Just like the feeling you get when you finally conquer the mountain, it feels amazing to conquer a financial mountain as well.

Remember, plan for now and the future, and make sure you enjoy both now and later. Don’t forget, when you get to the top and conquer your mountain, it’ll all be clear.

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Hey! I'm Tim.

I’m an expert budgeter, author, and Certified Financial Coach. My mission is to not only teach you money principles, but to teach you how to mold them to fit who you are and build the life you want. I don’t like typical money advice. I’ve tried to fit into a mold by using typical money advice and I had less control of my money and went further into unnecessary debt. Now, I live to teach others how to break the mold in their own lives and find their version of financial freedom. Read more about me.

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