Travel PT: All Work & No Play?

– By Whitney –

Sorry for the delay in posts on our Travel PT adventures — we’ve been busy! ūüėČ Planning on getting caught up to the present over the next few weeks.

Timeline: June 2015-March 2016

I’ve written a lot so far about the process of finding jobs & our experience at each job – but nothing yet about what else we’ve done over the last year outside of working. For our first 9 months as Travel PT’s, we worked in a few different areas in Southwest Virginia, the region where we are from originally but a couple hours from home. During this time, our main objective was to save money in order to buy a camper & truck to be able to move around the country easily while working as travelers. We also wanted to get a little experience not too far from home to make sure it was what we really wanted to do and be nearby for a little while to¬†go to weddings that were coming up. Even though we were just an hour or two from home, we took the opportunity to do and see a lot of things that we hadn’t before right in our “backyard.” As many of you may know when visitors come to your hometown, they tend to do and see¬†things that¬†have you find yourself saying “I haven’t even done that, and I’ve lived here all my life!” We really took advantage of our weekends and were able to do a lot. Here’s an overview of what we did outside of work during our first 9 months of Travel PT.

Family Time

One contributing factor as to why we didn’t set sail across the country right away was that my sister was getting married in September 2015. We had an offer to take 2 jobs that were “New Grad friendly” in Alaska right out of school, but it was going to be a 6 month contract that would’ve had us far, far away from June-December. We decided to pass on these jobs, so as the Maid of Honor I was able to be around to help with planning the wedding and of course attending the big day! Jared also had a commitment as a groomsman for his friend’s wedding in October, so we were able to be close-by for that as well. Besides these exciting events, there was also a tragedy that hit my family during this time. In June when I was just beginning work in Blacksburg, I received a terrible phone call from my mom one day while I was at work. My sweet, loving grandma,¬†“Nana”, had been found unconscious at home and had had a stroke. I was in shock, and fortunately because I was less than an¬†hour from home, I immediately told my boss I had to leave, got in my car, and got to the hospital. Because I was so close to home, I was able to be with my Nana and my family during these last few days and moments of her¬†life as we said goodbye to her in the hospital later that weekend. This was a very difficult time for me and my family, but I am thankful that I was so close to home for this. I can remember talking to my Nana the week or two before as I was starting my new job and making a 45 minute commute from Roanoke to Blacksburg before we moved to Dublin. Nana told me I could call her during my drive because she woke up early, and she encouraged me and wished me luck at my new job. I wish she was still here now to hear about all of our new adventures that have happened since then, and everything that our future holds ahead. She will be forever missed. In addition to being close to home for my Nana’s passing, we were also able to take several other weekend trips home to see family & friends for happier things like birthdays, baby showers, births of new babies, and holidays. There are certainly perks to being close to home, and this is something we will miss out on during our years ahead traveling to different parts of the country.

Exploring the Outdoors

Something that we have recently gotten into over the past couple years is hiking. Hiking is a great way to see nature and views you would not otherwise see unless you get there on foot! Living right in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are plenty of hikes and outdoorsy things to do in Southwest VA. We got to enjoy a few places where we had never been before, including:

  • Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, VA: Lots of beautiful hiking trails (also lakes & other activities- but we were there in winter and didn’t do those)
  • Mt. Rogers, Grayson/Smyth Counties, VA: Highest peak in Virginia & sight of many wild ponies
  • New River Trail, Grayson/Wythe/Pulaski Counties, VA: A long trail spanning several counties, more of a walk/stroll than a hike, but we did several different stretches of the trail throughout our time in the Dublin area (also would be great for biking- if I was any good at riding a bike! – something I definitely need to work on, ha)

Local Festivities

We enjoyed getting immersed in the local activities near where we were living, which was a mostly rural area. Some of the more simple things like finding new¬†farmer’s markets/farm stands, grocery stores, restaurants, country stores, gyms, and wineries¬†were fun for us living in a new area. We also found a nice pool with a water slide/park for the summer months in Dublin. It was at a place called Randolph Park which was a great outdoor venue with many recreational activities for kids & adults (basketball courts, soccer fields, hiking trails, picnic areas, etc.). We were really impressed by this b/c we don’t even have ones that nice in Roanoke. We also enjoyed going to the local minor league baseball games at the Pulaski Yankees stadium. We had some outings with our co-workers including¬†a couple¬†cookouts at a coworkers’ lake house at Claytor Lake, going out downtown in Jared’s old stomping grounds in Radford, and my first Paint Nite with my work ladies! We went to some local festivals including the Blacksburg Steppin’ Out festival with live music,¬†vendors & food, and¬†a pumpkin festival in Pulaski with food, pumpkin picking, pumpkin¬†launching¬†& a giant apple sling shot.

Out of Town Weekend

Aside from weekend trips home & day trips for hiking adventures, we decided to take a longer weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This is only 4 hours from home¬†(and 3hrs from where we were living at the time)¬†but we had never been there. Many of my co-workers in Chilhowie said that¬†Gatlinburg & nearby Pigeon Forge are where many¬†locals¬†go on vacation.¬†They described it like Myrtle¬†Beach in terms of the attractions — except in¬†the mountains & without the beach! There were definitely¬†a lot of touristy things like you would see in Myrtle such as restaurants, mini-golf, cheesy gift shops, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and an aquarium. We decided to stay at an AirBNB in¬†a¬†cabin in the woods during our¬†visit, a little ways away from the touristy area.¬†While we did do some of the touristy things, we were mostly excited about visiting the¬†nearby Great Smokey Mountain National Forest where we went on some beautiful hiking trails and scenic drives.

Overall we had a great experience exploring new parts of beautiful Southwest Virginia and nearby Tennessee. But after¬†9 months, we were ready to start our real traveling careers¬†and head out of the state. The adventures have only gotten better since then! ūüôā

The Importance of Asset Allocation

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed financial advisor, and the information in this article is not meant to be individualized financial advice. Everyone’s situation is different, so if you are unsure about what to do with your funds, please seek an advisor that can consider your own individual case and make recommendations to you.
When I first began reading about asset allocation for my investment accounts, I felt like I had just opened up Pandora’s Box. You can find endless articles and blog posts on the subject, but I feel that many of these over-complicate the issue. ¬†The truth is, asset allocation can be as simple or as hard as you choose to make it. Mutual funds that are focused on different fund classes are an option, but probably not the best one. The reason for this¬†is the additional fees associated with mutual funds that inevitably eat into your earnings. For this reason, I choose to diversify my portfolio among a variety of low cost index funds. For more on index funds, read this post¬†where I give some background.
Before I get too ahead of myself, let’s talk about why asset allocation is important. Asset allocation allows you to spread your risk out over multiple asset classes in order to decrease the possibility of catastrophic loss in any one class. The major asset classes include: equities (stocks), fixed income (bonds), and cash equivalents. I would also add real estate (REITs) and commodities (Gold, oil, silver, etc.) as separate classes even though they aren’t considered “traditional.” Within each of these large classes it is further broken down into many subsets, then many of those subsets are broken down into further subsets. This could get confusing and complicated if you are trying to micromanage every portion of your portfolio. But what can happen with improper asset allocation? In short, you can lose a lot of money, but this is best illustrated with examples.
First let’s look at an¬†extreme example of what can happen with little or no asset allocation to drive home the importance of diversification. Say you decide that you really like Apple products and choose to invest all of your retirement savings into Apple stock. Now jump forward to the year before you plan to retire. A new cell phone is made that completely blows the iPhone out of the water. Since most of Apple’s profits are from their phones, their stock price plummets, they are no longer profitable, and they go out of business. In this example, you lose most, if not all, of your retirement funds. This is not the most likely scenario, but you never know what the future holds. Where did you go wrong here? You put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. You were not at all diversified, and that led to significant loss.
Now let’s look at an example that is a little less extreme but that involves only investing in one asset class. In this scenario, you decide to use a low cost S&P 500 index fund, but you have very unfortunate timing. It’s January 2008 and you are very excited that you will be retiring in a year. Between January 2008 and January 2009, the US stock market dropped about 37%, which means that you only have 63% of your initial investments available for retirement when the day comes. Do you think this drop would drastically alter your retirement plans? Most likely. These investment mistakes can be financially devastating and should be avoided at all costs. In the first example, you were very risky with your asset allocation, only investing in one fund (Apple) in one subset of one asset class (US equities). In the second example, you had a little less risk because you were more diversified over the 500 biggest equities in the US (S&P 500 index fund), but still this is only one subset of one asset class.
No matter how well you diversify, you will always have some risk when investing and could always lose money, but proper asset allocation makes that less likely. Also remember that timing can play a huge role in return, so no matter your allocation, investing should be a long term plan.
Individual asset allocation should be a well thought out process with your goals in mind. Based on previous returns and volatility, it is possible to estimate what your returns will be; but, usually, with higher returns comes more risk. It is conventional wisdom that the more money you put into bonds and cash equivalents, the safer and less volatile your portfolio will be. This should be a strong consideration for you, because if you have so much risk in your portfolio that you are losing sleep due to worrying about how the market will perform, you need to make some adjustment. A good financial advisor can be a valuable asset in helping you to make your decisions, but there are a lot of online resources that can help you get started for free. I have recommended this book before, but I feel that it is very fitting in this situation as well: The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing¬†helped me significantly when I was starting out.¬†¬†Also¬†lazy index fund portfolios¬†is a very good resource if you choose to go that route.
Initially I decided that I was going to allocate my funds using the three fund portfolio because it was so simple, but later, after much reading and learning, decided that I would like to be exposed to more asset classes including REITs and commodities. My current allocation includes: Domestic stocks (value and growth), international stocks, emerging markets, bonds, precious metals, REITs, and energy. This is what I have chosen based on my goals, but this allocation may not be right for you.
After you choose your allocation and invest your money accordingly, it is inevitable that some classes will grow more quickly than others. This means that “rebalancing” will need to occur at regular intervals to keep you on track with your target asset allocation. Basically this¬†means moving your money around to achieve your target percentages once again. Usually once a year is sufficient for this, but some choose to rebalance more often.
How do you plan to allocate your assets? Are you comfortable with a lot of risk in your portfolio or are you more conservative? I hope that this information will help to get you started if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading!

Progress to Financial Independence- September 2016

September ended up being even worse than I had anticipated with regards to my financial situation. I knew that I would be missing out on two weeks of pay, from spending a week at home and then going on vacation. I also knew that I would only be¬†getting partial pay for another two weeks, due to only being able to work part time for our last two weeks in Massachusetts. What I didn’t anticipate was about $900 in truck and camper repairs which came out of nowhere during our drive back to VA from MA.

Apart from my financial goals, September was an amazing month. It was great being at home for a week to catch up with friends and family, and the free week in Jamaica was amazing. We got very spoiled being at the two all-inclusive resorts. In addition, our two weeks of part time work in Massachusetts allowed us to spend a ¬†three day weekend in Canada, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

At the end of September we started our new jobs in Fayetteville, NC, and we have been enjoying them so far. We found two outpatient jobs which is what we really wanted. The clinics where Whitney and I are working are only about 5 minutes away from each other, and we only have about a 10 minute commute to work which is convenient. The campground where we’re staying here is about half of the price we were paying in Massachusetts. We are also both making about an extra $40 per week which is nice.

As you can imagine, I was no where near my savings goal for the month of September, but due to the decreased cost of expenses and increased pay over the next few months, I’m hoping to make up some of that lost ground. I have also considered finding a part time job in the area, but I’m not sure how feasible that will be at this point. In addition, I’m working on a couple bank account bonuses right now, which should equate to a few hundred extra dollars this month.

Even with the  financial set-backs this month, I still made some progress overall and only dropped one month on my financial independence estimation timeline. The current projection based on my net worth and savings rate is August, 2020. Also, I now have enough invested that I could live comfortably for 8 years if I stopped working today.

October will be a good month. Not only financially, but also because it’s my birthday month!