Smart Money Podcast: Nerdy Travel Tips, and Budgeting for a Non-Traditional Life

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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode starts with a discussion about avoiding costly travel mistakes as we head into summer travel plans.

Then we pivot to this week’s money question from a listener who left us a voicemail about budgeting for a non-traditional lifestyle:

“Hi. I’ve never called a podcast before, but I discovered yours several months ago and have been kind of obsessed with it. I only have a couple friends that I feel like I could talk about money with, and so it’s nice that your regular conversation about it. But anyway, my question is I’m a gay man, I’m 40, and I’ve really been dragging my feet and having a hard time planning for retirement because I feel like a lot of the planning templates and questionnaires are really heteronormative.

And then I find it hard to make forward momentum planning because things like big costs, paying for weddings or having children, or maybe even having a spouse, none of these are particularly pertinent. And when I think about just a life that’s secure and safe and financially strong for myself and perhaps someone else in my life at certain times in my life, it’s really hard to plan around that with the questions that I feel like are usually directed to me by financial advisors. So I don’t know, maybe that’s just me or not, but I wonder if there are resources for queer people with less conventional lifestyles but still want financial security for their future. And if you have any recommendations, that would be awesome. Thank you so much. Bye.”

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Episode transcript

Sean Pyles: Summer travel season is officially here and things are expensive out there. But, listener, we’ve got your back. This episode we’re talking about how U.S. travelers are responding to inflation and how you can save some money on travel, too. Welcome to NerdWallet Smart Money podcast, where you send us your money questions and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I’m Sean Pyles.

Liz Weston: And I’m Liz Weston. Friendly reminder that we’d love to answer your money questions, whether it’s about budgeting or getting ready for student loan payments to start back up.

Sean Pyles: You can leave us a voicemail or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected].

Liz Weston: This episode we’ll be joined by Gabe S. Dunn, host of the podcast “Bad With Money,” to talk about what financial planning looks like for queer people and those living non-traditional lives. But before that, let’s talk about summer travel. Do you have any trips booked, Sean?

Sean Pyles: Yeah. I’m heading out to Michigan for my twin sister’s wedding in August, and I’m so excited for that.

Sean Pyles: But let me tell you, the flights out there cost a lot more than I was expecting, so that was not so fun, but it will be worth it. So what about you, Liz?

Liz Weston: Got a few little trips planned, mostly road trips. We’re not planning to fly again until the fall.

Sean Pyles: Hopefully, flights will be a little bit less expensive.

Liz Weston: Well, I’ve actually already snapped up a couple deals. I got the chops. But right now just trying to get a decently priced fare for the summer is a real trial.

Sean Pyles: It’s really difficult. NerdWallet recently did a survey about summer travel and it found that Americans with summer vacation plans that involve a flight and/or a hotel stay expect to spend around $3,300 on average, and that’s a lot of money.

Liz Weston: And inflation is keeping some people from traveling at all. The survey showed that of the people who aren’t planning to take a vacation that requires a hotel or flight this summer, 23% said they’re not going because travel has gotten too expensive.

Sean Pyles: That’s all to say if a vacation is out of reach this year or if your vacation is draining your budget, you’ve got plenty of company.

Liz Weston: So let’s talk about a few ways to cover summer travel and make it more affordable, starting with just how to pay for trips. Eighty-five percent of the summer travelers in our survey said they plan to use a credit card to pay for these travel expenses. And if you have multiple credit cards, you can use them in a way that will maximize points and minimize fees. Look, for example, for bonus categories. Some cards give double or triple points at restaurants, for example. And you can sign up for email newsletters from your card issuer or regularly check your account for those special offers. If you’re going overseas, make sure that you’re using a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Sean Pyles: Also, work to get the most out of points that you’ve already earned. That might mean transferring to partner airlines or hotels if your points are worth more there. That does require a bit of homework, but it can really pay off. Also, think about booking through your rewards portal. That might help your points go further, and you might also earn bonus points.

Liz Weston: And if people aren’t familiar with the phrase “rewards portal,” that’s a place where you can book flights and hotels with your rewards points, and it’s run by the credit card company. So it’s not a third-party travel site, it’s the credit card travel site. However, a word of warning, I’ve had bad experiences using rewards portals to book flights. When something goes wrong, the airline and the issuers start blaming each other rather than fixing the problem. I don’t know if that’s universal, but I’ve heard other people have that issue. So I’m a big fan of actually moving the points from the credit card issuer to the hotel or the airline and then booking from there.

Sean Pyles: If you’re thinking about taking out a new travel credit card this year, now might be a good time to do that. Booking summer travel and spending money while on vacations can be an easy way to earn a signup bonus, and those can typically run $3,000 to $4,000. So it can take a bit of effort to hit that point. But, also, make a plan to pay off whatever you charge on your travel credit cards because these are notorious for having sky-high interest rates. And no, that is not a travel pun. Paying interest on your summer travel can quickly wipe out the benefit that you get from earning points.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And also keep in mind that you’ve got about a four-month lead time for the points to be credited to your account. So you won’t be able to use these points for summer travel, but maybe you could apply them to a fall or a winter getaway.

Sean Pyles: I also want to talk about buy now, pay later loans as an option to pay for travel. I’ve said on this podcast before that I’m not a big fan of buy now, pay later products. I think that they can lead to overspending on things that aren’t really necessities. But the thing is, people are going to use them to fund their summer travel regardless of what I say on this podcast. So let’s talk about how to do it responsibly.

I think buy now, pay later might make sense if you have summer travel plans that you really can’t miss, like maybe a family reunion or something else that’s really important, but you simply can’t afford to cover it right now. It can also be a good way to fund vacations if you don’t have a credit card or if you don’t think you’ll be able to pay off your credit card balance by the statement date and you want to avoid interest since buy now, pay later loans typically don’t have interest and the payments are broken up over several months.

Liz Weston: And this is more of a tip for next year, but look at your spending retroactively to see how much your vacation costs in total. You can use that as a guide to help you save for next year. And then you can set up recurring transfers to a high yield savings account that’s dedicated to travel. You know how much we love those savings buckets.

Sean Pyles: Yes, we do. Now let’s talk about how to save money on your summer travel, however you fund it. So in that survey that we mentioned at the beginning, it found that of those who are traveling this summer, more than 90% said that they’re taking steps to save money, which isn’t a huge shocker considering inflation right now.

Liz Weston: So the survey showed that a big chunk of travelers are choosing hotels and resorts based on price rather than the amenities the lodging offered. So maybe consider taking advantage of free night certificates if your credit card offers them. We’re burning up a couple of those this summer because they were expiring. Booking with points can help you avoid resort fees and other add-ons, so that’s another way to save money.

Sean Pyles: Another chunk of travelers are taking a page out of your book, Liz, and they’re driving instead of flying this year. And that is in part because gas prices are down by about 30% from their 2022 peak.

Liz Weston: So Sean, how are you saving on travel this summer?

Sean Pyles: Well, for flights, I try to book on off days for air travel. So I’ll take a trip that’s maybe Wednesday to Tuesday, so I’m not flying on Friday or Sunday, which can be the most expensive days to travel. What about you?

Liz Weston: Well, I’m a recent convert to Costco Travel, which has saved us a bunch on car rentals. One of my colleagues recommended checking that out when I was complaining about how expensive car rental prices had been. Also, Google Flights has become just a really important part of my travel planning because you can see when the flights are cheaper. They give you several months’ worth of dates to choose from. So if you have some flexibility, you can really hone in on the savings that way.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. I find that at this point, it’s similar to Hopper, which is an app that tracks prices of flights, but the interface of Google Flights tends to be easier for me to navigate than Hopper.

Liz Weston: I’m also, as I mentioned, a huge fan of hotel branded cards because they have those free night certificates, and I have companion passes on two airlines also thanks to their co-branded credit cards. And finally, I’m always looking for extra fees that inflate costs. Airbnb is notorious for those. Sam Kemmis has written about this several times. But so are hotels. They add resort fees, parking. So I try to look at the entire price of the lodging rather than get sucked in by-

Sean Pyles: The room rate. Yeah.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And one final tip, airfares during the last two weeks of August might be more affordable than the rest of the summer, and that’s basically because kids are going back to school and families are moving on with their lives. So that’s a little bit of a lull in vacation travel that you might be able to take advantage of.

Sean Pyles: All right. Well, before we move on, listener, we have a favor to ask you. At Smart Money, we’re always working to improve the show so that it actually helps you make your money and your life better. So we are running a survey to get some feedback. You can find a link to it in this episode’s description. We really appreciate you taking the time to fill it out. Thanks in advance.

Liz Weston: All right. Let’s get on to our conversation with Gabe Dunn.

Sean Pyles: This episode’s Money Question comes from a listener’s voicemail. Here it is.

Listener: Hi. I’ve never called a podcast before, but I discovered yours several months ago and have been kind of obsessed with it. I only have a couple friends that I feel like I could talk about money with, and so it’s nice that your regular conversation about it. But anyway, my question is I’m a gay man, I’m 40, and I’ve really been dragging my feet and having a hard time planning for retirement because I feel like a lot of the planning templates and questionnaires are really heteronormative.

And then I find it hard to make forward momentum planning because things like big costs, paying for weddings or having children, or maybe even having a spouse, none of these are particularly pertinent. And when I think about just a life that’s secure and safe and financially strong for myself and perhaps someone else in my life at certain times in my life, it’s really hard to plan around that with the questions that I feel like are usually directed to me by financial advisors. So I don’t know, maybe that’s just me or not, but I wonder if there are resources for queer people with less conventional lifestyles but still want financial security for their future. And if you have any recommendations, that would be awesome. Thank you so much. Bye.

Sean Pyles: To help us answer our listener’s question on this episode of the podcast, we are joined by Gabe S. Dunn, host of the podcast “Bad With Money With Gabe Dunn.” Welcome to Smart Money, Gabe.

Gabe S. Dunn: Hello. Thank you for having me.

Sean Pyles: So good to talk with you. I’m excited to answer our listener’s question with your help. And there’s a lot going on in our listener’s question, a lot that I can relate to, especially around feeling like some of the traditional life checklist stuff maybe doesn’t apply to me as a queer person, but yet we all must plan our financial lives to get what we want from our money. So to start, I’d like to hear your thoughts on what it means to plan your finances as a queer person or someone living a “non-traditional life.”

Gabe S. Dunn: An alternative lifestyle, if you will.

Gabe S. Dunn: Yeah. I mean, when I first started my show, it was very clear that the people that were giving financial advice were, I’ve found, truly, deeply traditional and a lot of them deeply Christian in the sense that it was like, “You’re going to get married. You’re going to have 2.5 kids. You want a house in the suburbs. You want to be able to make contributions to your church.” These were all very assumed. And I think people also had the wrong idea about retirement, which this listener is calling in about, where they would think retirement happens after you’ve worked for the same company for 50 years. They give you a watch, you retire. Also, most people had the wrong idea about what saving for retirement meant. They didn’t realize, and I didn’t realize, that what you’re actually doing when you save for retirement is investing for retirement.

So there’s things that you just don’t talk about unless, if you do want to live a “traditional” 2.5-kids-in-a-house life as a queer person, you may need to do IVF. You may need to focus on the spending tied to adoption. You may need to figure out, if you’re in a domestic partnership and you don’t really want to get traditionally married, how is that going to look when you purchase a home? But so yeah, there’s just a lot of stuff that isn’t geared towards you. Especially I was taking in advertisements for retirement, and ads for retirement show older white couples with gray hair, and they’re golfing, or they’re on a beach, or they’re playing with their grandkids. And for gay couples, that might not be what they want, other than the beach, we all want to go to the beach. But it seems completely out of reach and completely alienating.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And to your point around being bombarded with all these ideas of what a traditional financial life and retirement looks like, there’s a lot of media and it’s all around straight people traditionally. So we, as queer people, don’t have similar templates to be like, “OK, I am going to be that straight older couple walking hand in hand on the beach.” So that can be a challenge because we don’t have models, and that has a lot to do with things like the AIDS crisis and us not having a long history of people being out visibly. So it’s hard to have role models in this way. And it can be tough for a lot of people who want some guidance in that way, but that also can create a lot of freedom and opportunity. Because we live “less traditional ways,” we can create our own traditions and our own ideas of what we want our financial lives to be, and I find that empowering.

Gabe S. Dunn: Definitely. I think the lack of role models is really true, Sean. I think it’s the life expectancy of trans people in particular is not as high. You were right about the AIDS crisis wiping out an entire elder generation. And also, I don’t know, it’s funny to hear traditional life versus nontraditional life because I think it implies that one is more accepted, which I guess it is, and there is more available about that, but you’re right in that there is an empowerment and a freedom to stopping and going, “What do I actually want? Do I want to own a property? Do I want to be able to stay in an area where I have my community around me? Do I prioritize friendships where maybe a friend and I will go in on a house together? Do I want to have the ability to be able to live near things that are queer or places that my child might feel more accepted, places that are safe?”

I mean, my parents are in Florida right now, and I would not go visit them. So there’s a lot of factors for queer people in terms of where they want to spend their money. I mean, even as a trans person paying for hormones, paying for top surgery, having those medical things in my future that might not be applicable to other people. And also, retirement does not mean you stop working. One thing that was really helpful to me was learning that retirement just means you don’t have to do work to survive. So all it means is that you’re invested in stuff that will grow and you can take advantage of that kind of thing.

I know a lot of queer people are pretty shy about asking for stuff, considering just listening to my podcast, the way that people won’t do voice memos but will write in because they’re scared of their own voices or whatever, but they don’t want to go talk to HR and ask these questions. They don’t want to be a bother because they feel like their job security is precarious because we did, up until recently, have the ability to fire queer people for whatever reason, which was basically their queerness. And especially for trans people, I think that’s still a problem. So you don’t want to rock the boat. So they don’t ask about employee matching. They don’t ask about options for things.

Sean Pyles: To your point around the importance of security, and that’s something that our listener mentioned in their question as well, is that I think given that we, as queer people, are a marginalized group, and there are so many facets within the LGBTQ+ community that have their own different vulnerabilities, just shoring up your financial security can be really challenging because queer people tend to make less money and to be in more precarious situations in general and tend to have higher rates of poverty. But to the extent that people have the ability to do this, saving more money does give folks that greater sense of security, building up that emergency fund. These things that we talk about all the time are even more important for people who are marginalized in any way like that.

Gabe S. Dunn: Not to be so bleak, but it’s like, “Do I need money to get the hell out of Dodge?” It feels like we’re getting so much more visibility, and then also these steps are going backwards. So I can totally see why stability feels very untouchable at this point.

Sean Pyles: That doesn’t mean that you can’t do nothing, right? There are steps that you can take, and it’s more important that you are really intentional with your money and your financial plan so that you aren’t as vulnerable to attacks.

Gabe S. Dunn: Yeah. There’s a lot of resources out there now. I mean, when I started my show, it was a very limited group. I started in 2016. And one thing that I’ve seen as I’ve continued to do my show is a huge growth in financial planning, like podcasts or books or websites for specific groups. I mean, I had a Black woman on my show who said that she has a Facebook group where there’s 70,000 Black women talking about money-

Gabe S. Dunn: … on there.

Liz Weston: Oh, that’s great.

Gabe S. Dunn: And there’s the Queer Money Podcast. I’ve spoken to on my show River Nice, who’s a trans financial planner, Stephanie Lee, who does Frequently Taxed Questions. I mean, Tiffany Aliche, Patrice Washington. There’s been such a huge influx of different marginalized people giving really specific advice for different groups, which has been incredible. And I started my show saying, “My goal is to never have a cis straight white man on.” And we only did it once. And the rest of the time I was searching, searching, searching. And now I’m inundated. I don’t have to search, which is a really big difference, which I think allows for people like this listener to just Google and have endless options now.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And, Liz, I know that you have a ton of great connections at financial planning organizations. Can you maybe list a couple places that our listener could look into if they’re trying to find something like a financial planner, specifically?

Liz Weston: The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, it’s, represents probably some of the cream of the crop of financial planners. They’re fiduciary, which means they put your interest first. They’re fee only. They have various ways of charging. I was just at their conference in San Diego, and it’s more diverse than I’ve ever seen, which is so great to see. More people are focusing on the queer community, and they’re either queer themselves or they’re really well-versed. I was at a previous conference where there was an estate planning attorney who was developing an estate plan for a family of five adults. And if you know how hard it is to do an estate plan for two people with all the permutations of who dies first and who dies second, try it with five. And the whole audience of financial planners, you could just see them go tilt. It’s like, “How do we do this?” But these-

Gabe S. Dunn: Are you talking about, it was a polycule?

Liz Weston: Yeah. It was a poly family, and they had kids-

Liz Weston: … and they were five adults, so they were trying to figure all of this out. And it was like that was just part of her life, and that’s what she focuses on. She’s in the Bay Area. So it’s not surprising.

Sean Pyles: That’s awesome.

Liz Weston: Yeah. So, NAPFA’s a great resource. XY Planning has a bunch of planners that specialize in queer finances. And then if you’re just starting out, it might be a little hard to afford a fee-only planner because they can be kind of expensive. So accredited financial counselors, accredited financial coaches, that’s another route to look into.

Gabe S. Dunn: There’s also books. I mean, you can just buy books or rent books. I use the Libby app to get library books, and there’s tons of stuff available like “Broke Millennial” or Tori Dunlap’s book “Financial Feminist,” or “Get Good with Money,” which is also by Tiffany Aliche, who, if you can’t tell, I’m obsessed with. There was also a really incredible study that Queer Money Podcast did that looked into the specifics of the queer community and what financial stuff is affecting them. And my hope was that something like that could be used to create legislation or could be used to make changes in how people view how alone they are in certain aspects of their financial stuff. So I think if you Google that, you can find their latest study that they did.

Sean Pyles: Another book that I would love people to check out is called “Finance for the People” by this author Paco de Leon. We had them on Smart Money Podcast.

Gabe S. Dunn: Yes. “Finance for the People.”

Sean Pyles: Yeah. That was one of the best personal finance books that I’ve read in a long time. Really actionable advice. So I suggest folks check that out.

Liz Weston: So I’m interested, Gabe, how you taught yourself about money, what your journey was.

Gabe S. Dunn: Well, I was like a queer dating, queer influencer-ish person because I got my start on BuzzFeed or, well, on Thought Catalog and then on BuzzFeed. That’s a throwback for the millennials. A real throwback. And so a place approached me. Panoply approached me, saying, “We want to do a show with you.” And I was like, “I actually want to do a show about money.” Because everyone had been saying, “Oh, it’s so brave the way you talk about queerness.” And I was like, “I don’t care about that. My big secret is that I have no money and I cry all the time about it.”

And it also was this thing where, and I know this is a silly thing to realize at 25, but I didn’t realize people had rich parents. So I was like, “I don’t work hard enough. Everyone works harder than me. That’s why I don’t have anything.” And then I slowly started to realize that people weren’t paying rent, and that was a big revelation for me. And so I was like, “OK. I want to start this podcast.” And people were like, “What? You’ve never talked about money ever in your work ever, but sure, OK.” And so it just started with me asking really obvious questions. I mean, the episode four, I think we have Sallie Krawcheck from Ellevest on, and my first question to her is, “What is a stock?”

Gabe S. Dunn: And that’s a woman who, she’s answering really intense questions all the time, and my question was, “So what’s in them? And what are they? And what website do you go to get one?” and just stuff that I think people pretend that they know.

Gabe Dunn: I was like, “I’m willing to look like a fool. Fine.”

Sean Pyles: Yeah. But going back to feeling liberated, that can be a really empowering moment too, where you just lay it all out. And it gets rid of so much shame when you can say, “Hey, I straight up don’t know this. Can you please help me?” And so many other people have those questions too.

Gabe S. Dunn: It’s really scary and vulnerable, but a huge thing for me is just going, “I don’t understand what you mean.” So when I’m interviewing someone, that’s the start of all this money stuff. And how I started getting better at it is I would go, “I’m so sorry. Can you repeat yourself. Or, can you say that a different way?” If someone’s like, “Does that make sense?” I’ll be like, “It does not.” And I started with my accountant. I started asking, “Can I record this?” Because I would record it on my phone. Because it’s easy in the moment to go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and then I would go home and I would listen back to the conversation and I would be like, “No. I said yes, but I don’t actually know what that means.”

Liz Weston: That is so cool. People will recommend that if you’re going to the doctor and you’ve got a serious illness and you’re trying to get questions answered to either have somebody there or to record it so you can listen. I never thought of doing that for money. That’s really brilliant.

Gabe S. Dunn: I mean, it’s mostly just because I’m like, “I’m not taking in this information.” And I also had to realize with money stuff is that you’re not bothering anyone. Because you think, “Well, I don’t want to go to my bank and be like, ‘Is this the right account for me?'” But what else are those people doing? You see them. They’re just sitting there when you go in to get your rent. I say, “Get my rent.” What’s it called? Cashier’s check. Because my old landlord stopped trusting me because my checks would bounce. But yeah, you’re in there and you see those people. It’s like, they’re there to ask about stuff.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. That also speaks to how there are so many opportunities that people don’t get because they don’t know what questions to ask because they don’t simply have enough context or information to ask that question. Or-

Gabe S. Dunn: You can say.

Sean Pyles: … to your point earlier, they feel scared about asking these questions.

Gabe S. Dunn: You can say, “I don’t really know what the right questions are.”

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And if people are working in that space, they’ll be happy to help you.

Liz Weston: Well, and if they make you feel like an idiot, you need to find somebody else.

Gabe S. Dunn: That’s the thing.

Liz Weston: That’s something else, that people have that shame-

Liz Weston: … about not knowing. And there are people out there, unfortunately, in the finance world that will use jargon, will use very confusing explanations that don’t really clarify anything. And if you feel like you’re not getting what you need, you can ask somebody else. You can take your business elsewhere. And you should.

Sean Pyles: I find that the more jargon someone uses, the more I feel like they probably don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re just being a jerk. Or if you can explain something really plainly, then that’s how we know that you are competent in this information.

Gabe S. Dunn: Well, here’s what’s scary is confrontation, right? So people don’t want to fire someone. But a really big reframing for me was to think these people work for you. So it sucks. I’ve definitely done it, where I had to say to an accountant, “I’m actually going to be leaving and going to a different accountant.” And it is weird and it’s a little uncomfortable, but I just think I need to go to someone who can explain. You don’t have to give an explanation. In my head, I was like, “I have to go to someone who can explain stuff a little more plainly.” So I switched over to a different accountant. Now, is this current accountant a little bit too blunt?

Gabe S. Dunn: Maybe, but I have to just have a bit of a thick skin. But I would get scared of, “I don’t want my accountant to be mad at me.”

Liz Weston: Oh, why would your accountant be mad at you?

Gabe S. Dunn: I don’t know. When I was buying a house, which is now a total disaster, but anyway, when I was buying, I’m having a lovely little divorce, but I-

Gabe S. Dunn: … was going through, I was like, “OK, here’s the paperwork,” or whatever, and I don’t know, I was like, “Maybe I gave him the wrong thing.” It’s like my own mental illness where I’m like, “He’s going to be mad. I gave him the wrong paper and he’s going to be pissed.” And it’s like, “Nobody’s pissed at you. It’s fine.” And you just give them the right paper. But we’re all scared.

Sean Pyles: I know. Well, one-

Gabe S. Dunn: I went to change my name at the courts, and I brought everything in triplicate, and I got turned away at the DMV at one point and had to come back because it’s just based on if people decide they like trans people that day, and there’s just so much … It’s funny, this book, “$2 a Day” by Kathryn Edin, and I don’t know if you’ve read it, but there’s parts of it where she’s talking about how marginalized people and poor people are so much more able to ask questions and be vulnerable because they’re just so used to saying such vulnerable stuff to financial people all the time. They’re there at welfare answering these questions that are really invasive. They’re at the DMV being like, “I am changing my gender marker. Now this DMV person is thinking about my genitals.” You’re doing this stuff that is so flaying yourself open in these ways that probably straight cis people don’t have to, or white people don’t have to, or people of a certain economic class don’t have to. So actually, if you’re listening to this, you do have a superpower, which is you can just ask stuff.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. Well, another thing I want to talk about related to our listener’s question is around discovering your financial goals when they aren’t “traditional.” And something that stood out to me in the listener’s question is that they know what they don’t want. They don’t really want to have the traditional wedding or kids and all of that, which I think can be a really great place to start when you don’t really know what you do want is just list out the things that aren’t for you and that’ll make it apparent what is maybe right for you. Like, maybe our listener wants to go on more vacations or really get that retirement fund beefed up. How do you guys think about setting goals like this when you aren’t really following a traditional path?

Gabe S. Dunn: I think that’s amazing. I think it’s so freeing. I think if you want to sit down and write down what you want to do in the future, I think that not having those traditional borders is awesome. Yeah. You can be like, “I really want to visit an Asian country.” That’s one of my goals. I’ve never been to any Asian country, and I really want to visit an Asian country. So I’m like, “That’s on my list.” Right?

What does it look like for you to be retired? What kind of area would you want to live in? You have a lot more freedom because, and it’s not selfish, but you can focus on yourself. Or you can go, “How much do I want to be able to contribute to certain places? Do I want to be able to afford to be a patron at a theater?” That’s another thing of mine. Or certain things like that. What do I actually want? I think you have a lot more space to write that stuff down and really think about it. One thing that popped into my head is familial pressure, where I think there’s a thing of, “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you have kids? Why don’t you get married?” So if you can just shake that off and be like, “OK, no, here’s the list of what I actually want to do, and no one can be mad at me for being 50 and drinking a Mai Tai on a beach.” You know what I mean? Leave me alone.

Sean Pyles: Right. And even going back to the binary of traditional or non-traditional, all of that stuff is made up. It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just being reinforced because someone thinks that that’s what you should be doing.

Gabe S. Dunn: Well, it’s the “American dream,” which to me, the American dream is like now I’m in Tokyo and I’m a patron of the arts.

Liz Weston: Well, I wanted to throw in that you don’t have to be queer to not be traditional.

Liz Weston: There’s a lot of people that don’t have kids. There’s a lot of people who aren’t married. There are a lot of people who are solo aging, so maybe they’re married, but they don’t have kids, so they can’t rely on their kids. And there’s a whole bunch of issues related with that. So yeah, it’s like figure out what you want and how to get to your goals, not what you think somebody else wants for you, I guess.

Gabe S. Dunn: Solo aging? What is that?

Liz Weston: Oh, it’s a thing with older couples or older people, single people, because they don’t necessarily have kids that they can rely on to take care of them, look after them, make sure that they’re-

Liz Weston: … not being taken advantage of. It can start in the fifties and sixties where you realize, “Well, maybe I can’t rely on my kid,” or maybe, “I don’t have kids, but who’s going to take care of me when I get older?” So that’s about that.

Sean Pyles: Robots. We need more robots.

Liz Weston: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Gabe S. Dunn: I mean, you’ve hopefully saved money on college and stuff, so you’re able to do that. I have an aunt who doesn’t have children who I deeply love and will absolutely take care of. There’s other options.

Liz Weston: Yes, definitely. And just having that big community of friends. It doesn’t have to be family.

Gabe S. Dunn: Exactly. Chosen family. You get those people’s kids to take care of you.

Sean Pyles: Or you have the five-way polycule life plan, like we mentioned earlier.

Gabe S. Dunn: The polycule. And the youngest person in the polycule-

Liz Weston: There you go. Yes.

Gabe S. Dunn: … has to take care of everyone else.

Sean Pyles: Well, Gabe, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Do you have any final thoughts around our listener’s question or advice for anyone in general who’s trying to figure out what they want from their money in a less “traditional” way?

Gabe S. Dunn: I think that because you’re foregoing some traditional stuff, you will have extra money for other areas of life. So instead of being scared, I think sitting down and thinking about what you actually do want and what that might cost. And also looking at contingencies like, what if this happens? What if you get sick or something like that, or your goals change, or you want to do a different job? Or whatever it is. There is a lot of freedom. And sometimes that can be really scary, like when you go to a restaurant that has a fixed whatever versus you’re at The Cheesecake Factory and there’s so many things.

But also at The Cheesecake Factory, you can get a lot of stuff that you want and mix and match. So I get feeling very overwhelmed, but I think more and more people will be similar to you in the future, whether that’s bad because … Whether people feel more able to say that they want non-traditional lives, and so they feel more comfortable saying that versus like they did maybe in the ’70s, or whether it’s because the cost of living is so high that people are like, “Eh, you know what? I’m just going to take care of myself.” But either way, you probably won’t be that alone for that much longer.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you again. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Gabe S. Dunn: Oh, thank you for having me. This was lovely.

Sean Pyles: And that’s all we have for this episode. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected]. Also visit to get more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate, and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast. This episode was produced by Liz Weston and myself with help from Tess Vigeland and Rosalie Murphy. Rosalie and Kaely Monahan mixed our audio. And a big thank you to the thoughtful folks on the NerdWallet copy desk for all their help.

Liz Weston: Here’s our brief disclaimer: We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

Sean Pyles: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.

By Anisa