You might be reading this post thinking “what in the world does growing up in Alaska have to do with lessons on personal finance?” Well, the answer is quite a bit actually. Alaska is a unique place to grow up. It’s big, it’s wild, and it will literally eat you alive if you’re not prepared. The winters are extreme, the cost of living high, and the challenges and dangers in abundance. Growing up in this environment taught me resilience, patience, preparedness, and frugality. Each of these traits has taught me valuable lessons on personal finance.
As I mentioned earlier, Alaska is a harsh place. I grew up in Anchorage where the shortest day of the year provides only about 5 hours of daylight. I’ve gone to school in sub-zero temperatures. I’ve had to sleep downstairs in my childhood home away from any windows in case a tree blew over on the house or a window blew out in the hurricane-force “Chinook” winds we’d often get in the wintertime. When you are subject to extremes of this nature so often, it becomes normal and you build a tolerance for it. This resilience spills over into other facets of your life, though, your finances included.
For me personally, this built-up resilience has pushed me through some of the most trying times of my life. Those periods of time where I was broke or struggling to pay down debt, put food on the table, and still work towards my goals. I always knew that if I just stuck with it and pushed through, no matter how painful, I’d emerge victorious on the other side. If you are currently struggling, stay strong! Stick to the plan and don’t give up.
If you’ve ever endured 9 months of an Alaskan winter, you know the true meaning of patience. The cold and dark wear on you and there’s very little you can do about it. You know summer will come eventually, but all you can do is wait and keep chugging along. The same is true in your mission to create wealth to use as a tool for building your ideal life. Unless you inherit a bunch of money, sell a company you started, or win the lottery, you are not likely to become a millionaire overnight. Rather, it’s year after year of saving, investing and being patient.
The stock market will fluctuate over time, and money will come and go in your life. You can’t let the financially trying times nor financially abundant times crash your course. If you’re barely getting by, keep working hard and keep pushing! If you have a windfall of cash, don’t change your lifestyle drastically. Take time to think about what it means and be patient. There’s too much you can’t control in life, but you can control your attitude and approach. Patience will forever be your best friend.
If you venture out into the wild in Alaska unprepared, you will easily succumb to all its might. Dangerous animals, harsh climates, and open expanses potentially hundreds of miles away from civilization means being prepared for the worst-case scenario is absolutely essential to survival.
The same holds true for your finances. If you lost your job, became permanently disabled, or had some major unexpected expense come up, you wouldn’t want a scenario like that to derail your financial ambitions or the progress you’ve made towards it. This is why we’re always stressing the importance of having an emergency fund. An emergency fund is financial-preparedness at its finest. By having at least 3-6 months of living expenses set aside, you’ll always have a high degree of confidence that you’ll have any extra cash you may need when you need it without having to prematurely take money out of retirement accounts, sell your prized possessions, or put yourself in debt.
It’s expensive to live in Alaska. The cold, dark winters mean enormous utility bills for much of the year, grocery items can cost as much as $2-$3 extra due to shipping costs, and the land mass is so huge, owning and operating a motor vehicle is a necessity. These higher costs are unavoidable if you live in Alaska, so you have to get creative in other ways with your daily expenses if you’re living on a tight budget and going to make ends meet. This is not a bad thing, though.
Frugality is an excellent skill to have and one of the main ingredients to building wealth. A frugal person spends money with the best value in mind. Meaning, they’re looking for the best bang for their buck. Sometimes this does mean spending more money up front, but the frugal person knows that by doing so, they’re ultimately saving money in the long run by not needing to repair or replace as often. This, in turn, frees up cash flow that can be put towards achieving financial goals.
As you can see, growing up in Alaska has a lot to offer in the way of personal finance lessons. Personally, I’ve admittedly had a hard life from a financial perspective. I ended up with a lot of student loans due to a lack of resources from my parents and made several poor financial decisions due to lack of knowledge. I’ve also experienced numerous periods where I’ve been broke and wondered where my next meal was going to come from. But, the lessons I learned growing up in Alaska helped me persevere and emerge on the other side. It’s amazing what just a little patience and resilience can help you accomplish in life.
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Chad Rixse grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, but has lived in the Seattle area since 2007. He majored in Spanish at the University of Washington where he honed his fluency in the language and discovered his passion for travel and connecting with other cultures. He’s a self-professed golf addict who can never seem to get his fill despite still struggling to break 100.