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How Sara Penny Found Freedom Through Hiking and Financial Planning

On a recent episode of the “Health and Wealth” podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sara Penny, an avid adventurer and hiker, and her brother, my coworker Kurt Elmhorst. Sara’s story is an inspiring tale of financial planning, debt management, and the pursuit of passions. Here’s how she transformed her life at 58, proving that you don’t need a fortune to retire but rather a well-thought-out plan and a commitment to your dreams.

Sara Penny was the head test administrator at Florida Southern College until she decided to retire at 58 in 2022.

Her journey into the world of hiking began years earlier in Scotland, where she spent two years living close to the end of the West Highland Way. Watching thru-hikers finish their long treks sparked something in her. Sarah realized that the joy and fulfillment these hikers experienced were something she wanted to be part of her life, not just something she observed.

At 58, Sara faced a significant decision: stay in her job for another 5-7 years to save more for retirement or take a leap of faith and retire early to enjoy her passions while she was still young. She chose the latter, prioritizing her happiness and the pursuit of her interests over accumulating more savings. This decision wasn’t made lightly; it required meticulous planning and a commitment to financial discipline.

Sara’s journey wasn’t just about retiring early; it was about retiring smart.

To make her dream a reality, she had to bring all her expenses down to near zero. She meticulously planned her finances, ensuring she had zero debt by the time she retired. Sara paid off all her cars and her house, and her three children were grown and financially independent. By reducing her expenses to the bare minimum, she created a financial cushion that allowed her to live comfortably without the need for a steady income.

Once she realized she could maintain a monthly surplus, Sara knew she didn’t need to work any longer. This surplus provided her with the freedom to explore the world and pursue her new passion for hiking.

Sara’s adventure began with educational classes and hiking groups.

She quickly became immersed in the hiking community and decided to tackle the Florida Trail. Over just three months, she fell in love with the outdoors and set her sights on new goals and hikes. Her determination and enthusiasm grew with every step she took.

Sara didn’t stop at the Florida Trail. She expanded her horizons, hiking in Spain and Iceland. In 2023, she took on one of the most popular and challenging trails in the US: the Appalachian Trail. Starting in April 2023, she spent six months hiking north, fully embracing the freedom and adventure she had longed for.

Sara’s story teaches us several important lessons about retirement, financial planning, and the pursuit of passions:

1. **Prioritize Your Goals:**

Sarah knew that saving for retirement wasn’t just about money; it was about creating a lifestyle that allowed her to pursue her passions.

2. **Manage Your Debts:**

By paying off her debts, Sara ensured that she could live comfortably without needing a large income. This gave her the financial freedom to retire early and pursue her interests.

3. **Plan Meticulously:**

Sarah’s success wasn’t due to luck; it was due to careful planning and financial discipline. She budgeted, saved, and planned every step of her journey.

4. **Embrace Your Passions:**

Retirement doesn’t have to be about slowing down. For Sara, it was about finding new adventures and embracing the activities she loved.

5. **Community is Key:**

Joining hiking groups and educational classes helped Sarah stay motivated and connected with like-minded individuals.

Sara Penny’s journey from a college administrator to an avid hiker is a testament to the power of financial planning and the pursuit of passions.

By prioritizing her goals, managing her debts, and planning meticulously, she achieved a fulfilling and adventurous retirement. Her story is an inspiration to anyone looking to retire early and live a life full of passion and adventure. So, if you’re dreaming of a similar journey, remember that with the right financial plan and a commitment to your goals, anything is possible.

July 2024

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments or strategies may be appropriate for you, consult your advisor prior to investing. 

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