Hobbies – the path to an enriching retirement

I’ve written numerous times on the benefits of having hobbies both during your FI journey and after your retirement







This last weekend, I took 3 days to travel to central Virginia, just south of Shenandoah National Park, to backpack about 17 miles on the Appalachian Trail. As I’ve written before, I enjoy the trips and the comradery of hiking with a group of friends. In this case, we had a rough time – not so much with the terrain but with the weather. It was supposed to be highs in the mid-40s and a low around freezing. It turned into a high of 40 and a low of 21, and we has 20 mph wind gusts the last night. We all struggled, but in the end we all (seven of us) got our safely and had some good stories (and a good campfire the last night)

As I hiked, I often thought about how long I could continue this hobby in retirement. While I have met 80 year olds on the trail, I know that this is rare. I think the best I can hope for (with my numerous minor leg issues) is to go to 70.

It has long been said that someone should retire “to” something, instead of “from” something, if you want to have an enjoyable retirement. So what are you looking to retire to? Most folks talk about travel once they retire, but that will only occupy so much time, for a certain number of years. Then what?

For me, I’ve been working on the following hobbies:

  • Backpacking
  • Woodworking (including building a side business)
  • Handyman/Home Remodel/Habitat for Humanity (an interest I’ve had for 30+ years)
  • Travel (primarily in the US, but some European sites)
  • Military History

I’d also like to start working on some things that will keep my mind nimble

  • Crosswords
  • Learning another language
  • Learning a musical instrument

I can see myself being very busy in the years after I retire, and I work through these. Hopefully I won’t be bored. I know in reading a lot of FIRE blogs that people have ended up busier in retirement than when they were working. That’s my goal.

So what are you planning to do once you retire? What are you doing now in preparation for it?

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Mr. 39 Months

How is backpacking like personal finance?

“Backing” in the US started as a recreational pursuit primarily after World War II. While folks did camp out years before that, it was primarily car camping, or actual camping on your way to a new life (like the Oregon Trail, or the family in Grapes of Wrath). There was a wealth of excess equipment after the war, so it was easy to get some supplies, and with the post-war life came opportunity.

The standard for backpacking gear was best summed up by a series of books by Colin Fletcher, titled “The Complete Walker” (1968) in which he laid out and the equipment needed, and his opinion on what was necessary for each. The overall weight of this equipment could be 40-50 lbs + food. It was heavy, bulky, and you get hit it with a bazooka and still keep hiking. Kind of like our “work 45 years, put away 10%-15% and retire at 67” lifestyle.

In 1992, Ray Jardine, a mountain climber by trade and backpacker second, published “Beyond Backpacking: Guide to Lightweight Hiking.” In it, Ray exploded many of the ideas on what was necessary to go backpacking. Instead of an 8 lbs tent, he slept under a 1 lbs tarp, with his backpacking wife – even in sub-freezing temps. He got his base pack-weight down to less than 10 lbs + food/water! With this pack, he and his wife traversed the Pacific Rim trail, and the Appalachian Trail, each 2100+ miles and multiple months of hiking. They did 30+ mile days, in part because they had such light packs. The speed was impressive – like those who retire in less than 20 years because they live frugally and maximize their savings.

Ray concentrated on getting rid of all sorts of weight (he cut off straps from the pack and cut up maps so they only showed what he needed to know). Very similar to the “latte factor” folks who look to cut out many of the extravagancies of life. Yet his big contribution was in how he cut the big three heavyweight items – the pack, the tent, and the sleeping bag. By changing/making lighter weight items, he was able to dramatically cut weight (almost 20 lbs) from a typical 1970s/80’s backpacker.

In the FIRE world, our budgeting deals with three real heavyweights as well:

  1. Housing: Typically, the #1 cost for us. Be it homes or rent, this is the thing you need to look at in order to get your budget under control and reduced. That is why you see so many FIRE folks talk about downsizing, or living in sites much smaller than the average home. This is probably the best thing you can do in order to become financially independent.
  2. Transportation: Having multiple car loans, and purchasing top of the line cars every 3 years is a definite killer. While Mrs. 39 Months and I have had car loans for our vehicles, we have worked to pay them off early, and we have never bought a “luxury” automobile. Since paying off the last loan backin 2009, we have saved money in order to purchase our next one, and we have sufficient funds set aside to do that. While we tend to purchase new, we then drive the cars until the give out – literally. I have owned four cars in my life, counting my current one, and 2 of them I have had to have towed when they gave out. That was when I bought another one.
  3. Food: The third big heavyweight of money in most folks budget. In today’s world, I see an awful lot of people dining out, ordering in, or having someone else bring their groceries to them. While the convenience is nice, we tend to eat out only once a week (a treat for us on Friday) and cook the rest of our meals. I bring lunch to work, instead of going out, and Mrs. 39 Months makes breakfast for herself each morning, rather than getting it on the road. Our overall budget is rather large for two people in comparison to some FI folks ($400/month) but that is what makes us happy.

Note: I did not included taxes, which often ranks up there as well. While there are some tax strategies you can use to reduce this, I see this as primarily something you just have to “live with” and do what you can. It doesn’t count for me in terms of things you can have major impacts on.

I hope you are all working on your “top 3” and furthering your path towards FI.

Mr. 39 Months

The joys of reading

One of the things I am really enjoying about my goals this year is the one for me to read at least one book a month. I have rediscovered how much I really enjoy reading books. All manner of books (history, fiction, financial, etc.) I did this a lot as a kid and in my early adulthood (when Mrs. 39 Months and I first married, we didn’t have a TV, so we ended up reading a lot.

Every so often, you decide to take a weekend and just relax. As those who have read the blog before know, I am a bit of a “type A” personality (very goal focused, want to stay busy, can’t let a day go by without trying to get stuff done). Mrs. 39 Months believes it will be impossible for me to “kick back” and retire once we hit FI. She is probably right.

This morning, before we set off on our day, I was waiting for Mrs. 39 Months to get ready.  had the opportunity to watch TV, play games on the computer or read – and I chose to read. In this case, I was finishing Carl Richard’s book The One Page Financial Plan (book review to follow in a few days). I was able to finish it up (it’s a good read) while waiting, and I enjoyed it a lot. It will also give us something to talk about in our drives around today.

So don’t neglect to make some goals for the year that you will enjoy. Look for old hobbies you had earlier in life that you really enjoyed, and try and “re-discover” them. You will probably find the love is still there.


Mr. 39 Months

You Gotta Have Hobbies 6 – Backpacking the AT in Massachusetts

Sorry for the lack of posting, but I’ve been out backpacking for a week in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. For those who have followed me, you know that one of the hobbies I pursue is backpacking, especially the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern US. It’s a 2,100+ mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. Over the last 15 years, through a series of weekend (and a few week-long) trips, I’ve managed to hike about 876 miles of it. Still a lot to go!

My hope is to be able to get close to 1,000 miles when I retire in 2020, and then complete the rest of it. I’ve managed to get about 160 miles done in GA/NC, and the middle section from Northern VA to CT done. Still a lot to go.

The AT usually has campsites or shelters (3-sided log structures) a day’s hike distance from each other (8-14 miles). Each shelter has a “privy” (a pit toilet) a reasonably secure water supply, and tent/hammock sites. It’s a good way to determine travel distance for the day. Along the way, you can see some great views, interact with nature, and enjoy some great exercise. However, it’s not for the faint of heart or the out-of-shape. Often you are going up & down 1,000 ft. climbs, with 30+ pounds on your back, while walking in inclement weather. I often tell folks to take their normal “hike” distance, and cut in in half or 2/3’s to get how much they can backpack.

We headed up to Massachusetts Saturday, June 16th (me and 4 other friends). Took about 4 hours to get there, and another 2 hours to “stage” the cars, where we left 2 at the end, 1 in the middle (so we could resupply halfway through the trip) and then took 2 cars to the end. By about 2pm, we were on the trail, hiking to our first campsite.

For the next seven days, we hiked 7-12 miles a day, usually starting around 7am, and getting done between noon and 3pm (depending on how fast folks hiked). There were things to do and see on the way, and at some of the shelters, so overall it was a great time. In the end, we left the trail a day early (on Friday) because the next day’s hike would be over 3 mountains above the tree line (i.e. there was no protection) and the weather called for thunderstorms. I don’t do this to get hit by lightning, so we got off the trail.

A lot of fun. Still need to work on cutting more weight from my pack.

Mr. 39 Months.

You gotta have hobbies – sticking mouldings!

I continue to pursue my woodworking hobby, with emphasis on using hand-tools to do a lot of the work. In some ways it is slower than using power tools (ex: when doing repetitive cuts of the same dimension on a table saw). However, for most of the “one-off” items or joinery, the hand tool solution often is faster. It takes a long time to set up a machine to make a cut (initial setup, test cut, adjust, test cut again, adjust…..). When you are doing a few items with one task, it’s often quicker to just pull out a chisel, hand plane or saw, and do it.

It’s often more fun and more quiet as well. I can do this at 6am on a Saturday, or 10pm on a weeknight. I get the thrill of producing something by hand, and being able to see it in my home constantly. I urge everyone to pick up a couple of hobbies so they can improve their skills and gainfully occupy their time – instead of just sitting in front of the TV.

Most homes have mouldings in place. These are the pieces of wood around doors, edges, or places where two planes meet (between ceiling and walls, floor and walls, etc.  They are mostly used to reduce damage and wear at key points in the house which might suffer too many dings and hits. For some home styles, like Victorians, the moulding/trim was quite extensive.

The way these are made nowadays, for the most part, is by running the wood pieces through a powered machine called a shaper, or in some instances on a router table (a less-powered version of the shaper). You can often buy large lengths of specific trim pieces at Home Depot/Lowes, or get special trim pieces made by a lumberyard/specialty shop. This makes sense, because once you set the machine up, you can run large amounts over the time, and get economies of scale.

Before the age of powered equipment, the way this trim was produced was with a “sticking board” and moulding planes – wooden planes with profiles ground into them to cut the trim the way you wanted it. The joiner/woodworker would start at one end and run the plane down the length, taking off some of the wood and then go back. As he continued to run it down, the profile would take shape until eventually it reached the final version. Some wooden planes had a built in “depth stop” on the plane, a section of the plane which would prevent it from cutting any deeper once the final shape had been reached. After that, the trim would be cut to size and installed, just like it is today.

Well, I’ve recently built my sticking board (some straight lengths of wood with screws on the end to hold the wood trim pieces) and had built a cove moulding plane (the light brown item you see) and tried it out. It was a lot of fun, and some good exercise. While not really great cardio, it certainly forced me to do some walking in the shop.

I’m satisfied with the results. I intend to use it to build some frames for two posters I got on our vacation to the Redwoods and Crater Lake National Park. We’ll see what other things I can make with this setup in the future.

How have your hobbies gone?


Mr. 39 Months

Woodworking with a legend

Roy Underhill has been showing traditional woodworking on PBS for 37 years. He was a master carpenter and Woodwright for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia before he started. He has concentrated on traditional 18th/19th century tools and woodcraft, and has been a prime mover for the rebirth of hand-tool woodworking in America. Roy has a definite, almost manic style of presentation, both on TV and in person. Always a joker, He keeps it light while helping to explain the intricacies of using a 19th century tool to come up with accurate results.

About ten years ago, he opened up a school for woodworking, where folks can come and attend classes, see and use the tools (he has a host of them available if folks don’t have their own) and purchase tools to take home if they’d like (there is a separate store, owned by Ed Lebetkin, upstairs). The schools is in a store front in the quaint town of Pittsboro, NC.

I’ve taken classes there on hand tool use, and a special one on wooden molding planes. Last week I took a class with Will Myers and Roy at his school, where we built a great “portable” workbench. This one is based on a bench that Will found in the Moravian museum in North Carolina, which they believe is a design built around 1800. As most woodworkers know, a good bench is strong, sturdy and heavy, so it can withstand the pounding without moving or breaking. This one breaks down into six major parts, the heaviest of which is the 4” think workbench top (around 100 lbs.). It’s fairly portable, but sturdy when you set it up.

There is something really enjoyable about doing all the work by hand. Every cut is hand-sawn, every hole is hand-drilled, and every joint is cut out and fitted. By the end of five days, we were able to take home a workbench that was 85%-90% complete, including a great front vise. The remaining work that needed to be done is relatively easy (I’ve already gotten about half of it done over the last 2-3 days, in the evenings).

I would greatly recommend to anyone that if they have hobbies, don’t wait till you retire early. Take the opportunity to explore them now, if only to confirm it is something that you’d like to do for a long time.


What new skill would you like to try out?


Mr. 39 Months

Frugal Tip – Bad Movie Night with Friends

A lot of folks are looking for things to do for fun that aren’t going to cost them an arm and a leg.  The amount typical Americans currently spend on dining out and entertainment  is something much talked about in the FIRE community, and many folks discuss ways to reduce their entertainment/dining out costs dramatically.

For Mrs. 39 Months and I, we just had a pot luck dinner at our friends house (we brought desert, others brought sides, and the host had the main course). Total cost for us was less than $10, the most was probably $15 for the hosts for the ingredients for the main course.

For entertainment, we all gathered round the TV and watched a pair of really bad movies. For many folks who are old enough, they remember a TV show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000” where a group of characters would play a bad movie, and snipe at it from the side. It was incredibly funny, and stayed on the air for many years (I think they may be trying to recreate it now).

The original team has re-united and has started a series called “Riff Tracs” where they pretty much do the same thing, on special nights. You’ve got to go to a movie theater to see it, but its very funny. You can also see it online a little later (Netflix I believe).

For last night’s viewing, we watched the Rifftrax take off on “Plan 9 from Outer Space” – one of Tim Wood’s movies and often considered the worst movie ever made (It makes Sharknado look like high cinema). After that, we watched “Amazon Women on the Moon” a movie similar to “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “the Goove Tube” – takeoffs on early 80s television shows & commercials, rater R with some nudity and adult situations.

In the end, it was a lot of fun, and a pretty cheap night out. I’d recommend it.


Mr 39 Months


Ya Gotta Have Hobbies! Part 4

I’ve talked before about hobbies, especially in terms of finding things to do once you achieve FI. One of my major interests in woodworking.

Most hobbies or interests, no matter what, have some sort of professional/amateur show, where folks who are interested can gather, take classes, purchase materials, etc. Heck, even the FI community has Camp Mustache, Chataqua, etc. For me, there is a show that travels the country called “the woodworking show” that goes throughout the US. It has about 100 different vendors, runs about 30 different classes, and enables you to be around, talk with, and generally mingle with your woodworking “tribe.”

As you come onto floor. Look at all the vendors!

Vendor selling a wide variety of materials (sanding paper, hand tools, etc.)

Classroom on floor

Wife knitting, while her husband was out having the time of his life. This is how Mrs. 39 Months would pass the time, if she had come.

It was a lot of fun, and I encourage everyone to seek out these sort of events for their particular interest. You will be amazed at how much you learn, and how much fun you will have.


Mr. 39 Months