In an essay at Outside magazine, Gloria Liu explores a phenomenon that hits close to home for herself: Young, outdoorsy types tend to be terrible with money. Liu, now in her late 30s, uses herself as Exhibit A, but she notes that many of her friends also fit the description. In her 20s, after ditching a nice-paying job in financial services, she embraced what she calls the "dirtbag lifestyle." She'd survive on wages operating chairlifts in a ski town, for example, before moving on to the next town. She'd save just enough cash—her "f--- you money"—to move along on a whim. Saving any more would violate the aesthetic, and Liu describes what she calls a "toxic" one-two punch of the lifestyle. "You believe that money and happiness are at odds, so you feel no incentive to save or invest," she writes. "But you’re caught in the cycle of desiring the same nice gear and epic experiences as your friends. All the while, you don’t track what’s coming in or going out."
It wasn't until Liu was in her 30s, on the cusp of middle age and dead broke, that the reality of this lifestyle began to sink in, and her view of money shifted. "The irony" of the attitude she and others embraced in their 20s is that it "sabotages our ability to attain what most of us actually want: freedom," she writes. "Not just the freedom to ski on a Wednesday if it snows ten inches, but freedom to make life choices like changing careers or moving across the country." The essay explores her new embrace of concepts of the FIRE movement, short for Financial Independence, Retire Early. And she also acknowledges something she has "dreaded" to admit: Recently, she accepted money from her parents to buy a home. "When I was young, I was afraid that buying a home would trap me, that it would anchor me to a place or a job or even a person. But today I felt more free, not less." Read the full essay. (Read more Longform stories.)