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Trek to Retirement

Anika Hedstrom  |  May 22, 2018

IN LATE MARCH, I set out into the backcountry of central Oregon with eight other women, all on snowshoes or cross-country skis. We traversed more than 22 miles in the heart of the Oregon Cascades, breaking trail and staying in huts. The terrain was steep, the visibility was poor, the snow was deep and there was a stiff wind.

What does this have to do with investing? The trek was reminiscent in three ways:

Feeling inferior. I was among incredibly fit and experienced outdoors women. This was my first trip of this kind. The others were triathletes, competitive cyclists and expert mountaineers. If we were a sports team, I’d have been keeping the bench warm.

I suspect I saw myself as more amateur than my companions did. I can’t tell you how many competent, educated and bright women I meet who are reluctant to acknowledge all that they’ve done for their financial future or voice the insightful questions they have. They downplay their knowledge because they aren’t “experts.”

One of the best things about investing is that it doesn’t require expertise to begin. In fact, the quote of “80% of success is showing up” couldn’t be truer. Just getting started, by putting your money to work in the market, can be one of the best decisions you make. From there, you can always improve and adjust your portfolio, as you learn and grow along the way.

Constraints work. Our Oregon Cascades adventure was a last-minute trip, so I didn’t have time to do a ton of research or prep beforehand. This worked in my favor. I could only concentrate on what gear to pack, food to bring and the correct mapping software to download. I couldn’t overthink it.

The same approach can be helpful with investing. You can easily get sucked into the latest articles on bitcoin, the “next Amazon,” why you ought to buy gold and how to invest in today’s economy. But in all likelihood, you’ll fare far better if you stick with the essentials—a handful of mutual funds that give you broad diversification at low cost.

Start small. A few hours into the trek, we lost some gear and our physical map. The visibility was poor and it was snowing hard. An hour of backtracking failed to locate our lost items. Our 25-pound backpacks became heavier and our pace slower. We became concerned we wouldn’t make it to the first hut in eight hours, let alone by dark.

The experience gave new meaning to putting one foot—or snowshoe—in front of another. Our success depended on this simple approach.

Retirement can seem like an incredibly daunting and distant goal. There may be a house that needs work, daycare and education costs that seem to go nowhere but up, and aging parents to comfort and care for. There will be days when getting out of bed and dressing yourself seem like an accomplishment. And they are. Every action you take, every decision you make, toward your long-term goals are a step in the right direction, no matter what your pace. Remember, you’re human.

Taking action builds momentum. Before you know it, your regular savings toward retirement will compound and grow. Your eight-hour trek will seem like six hours. Conditions will improve and the wind will be at your back—and all that was made possible by taking those initial steps.

Anika Hedstrom’s previous blogs include Simple but Not EasyBetting on Me and Along Came Sheila. Anika is a financial planner with Vista Capital Partners in Portland, Oregon. The views expressed here are her own and not those of her employer. Follow Anika on Twitter @AnikaHedstrom.

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