What Do Flying a Glider & Personal Finance Have In Common? Everything.

My husband has been interested in going for a ride in a glider for over 13 years. Seeing a potential opportunity during our honeymoon peaked his interest and, unfortunately [or fortunately], it’s been on his bucket list ever since*. 

Well, he finally managed to scratch it off the list this past weekend when he, our goddaughter and I drove a 1/2-hour out of the city for a chance at the experience. And we were lucky too because, based on the current weather forecast, I think this was the last truly beautiful weekend for us this year. 

We arrived at the Winnipeg Gliding Club well before our designated arrival time of 11:00am, which gave us a chance to speak with club members and get a sense of what the experience would be like. The club members were welcoming, gracious and easy going. The atmosphere was casual, similar to the feeling you get when you join friends at their no frills cabin at the lake. We felt right at home. You know, the "kick your feet up and relax" kind of feeling. 

What was palpable inside the clubhouse once we got to speaking with some members was that for gliding enthusiasts, being in the air and “riding the thermals” offers a feeling of freedom and independence that is difficult to match with both feet on terra firma. Part of the discussion included viewing this YouTube video one of the club members shot in an attempt to offer a taste of what is possible at altitude. Gliders often stay aloft for hours on end and get to see the world in a way few of us ever get to experience. All we could think was "Wow!".

Despite a few delays and our need to grab some lunch beforehand, all three of us managed to fly that day. We had our goddaughter go first [making sure she was game to do so beforehand - I am not the evil godmother!] to make sure she would not miss the experience. She gave a big thumbs up once back on the ground and we followed suit quickly thereafter. 

We each had a good experience on our “discovery flight”. Once we were up to 2,000 feet** and the pilot released the tow rope, it was very much what I expected: a mix of the great visibility, altitude and quiet you experience on a hot air balloon ride, along with the maneuverability a plane’s fuselage and wings offer. We were able to bank hard, come to a near stall, pick up speed by dipping down, slow down by pointing up slightly; overall, we had a lot of control and it was relatively easy to relax and just enjoy the ride. 

So why would gliding make me think of personal finance?

...and ultimately about how the rules relate to Financial Independence?

While I was gliding over the prairies, my pilot spoke with me about both the glider’s capabilities and how the goal of each flight is to extend the experience for as long as possible. You have to pay for the tow up to altitude, but once that tow rope is released, it all depends on the meteorological conditions (aka weather), the local topography and the pilot’s expertise in using these variables to his/her advantage. A pilot needs to balance a love of aerial acrobatics with the need to seek out “thermals”, the hot air that enables the glider to ascend and make up altitude that is naturally lost during flight. 

I couldn’t help but make some connections between this experience and how I think about money:

  • Gliders are light and nimble. They have to be because they are self-powered. Extra weight makes it difficult to soar and in PF, debt and all other regular payment obligations is that extra weight.
  • Before you can really soar though, being light weight is not enough. You need to build up altitude, a cushion between you and a zero balance. You can’t constantly be looking down if where you want to go is up. 
  • Once you have enough altitude, or the minimum requirement in savings that keeps you from focusing on how critically low your funds are, you can look for opportunities for more. 
  • Finding thermals helps you reach new heights, somewhat akin to riding the waves of the market, knowing that the general direction over time is up. Altitude compounds, making it ever easier to go higher and higher.
  • Once you have benefitted from enough lift, you can decide to pay yourself a little treat, go for a spin and take in the sights. The amount of lift you go after all depends on how much you personally tend to spend when you wander off. Once you have spent what you chose to give up, it’s time to get back on track and not only recover what you’ve spent, but look for more.
  • When you reach high-enough altitude, you stop thinking about the ground, knowing that you have, and will maintain, enough distance between you and the ground that you can just sit back and enjoy the experience. That is the feeling of financial independence. This is the feeling a person having reached FI is trying to convey when they talk about it. It isn't a rush, more like sweet and lasting contentment.
  • The point above notwithstanding, there is only so much altitude you can use. You know what your needs are and there’s no point to soaring to such heights that you don’t end up being able to “use it all”. Once you have “enough”, more will not add to the experience. In fact, too much accumulation makes you feel you'll be wasting the effort to get there because you just can't use it all.

You could say the bottom line is that if you goof off with nothing but acrobatics and don’t pay attention to saving up your altitude (emergency and retirement savings), your gliding experience will be intense and intensely short, requiring repeated expensive towing services to get you back up to where you need to be to fly. However, if you balance your “goof off periods” with keeping an eye out for more lift opportunities, you are more likely to not only stay in the air for hours, but to provide yourself with many more opportunities for great experiences to last a lifetime and less stress and, amazingly enough, less effort.

What type of glider pilot are you? Are you looking for a tow? Are you finding thermals? Are you enjoying the view? Tell us about it.

*He chose not to go during our honeymoon because we had chosen to scuba dive during this particular vacation and, due to pressure differentials, you can’t fly and dive within a 24-hour period. Let’s just say it can be hazardous to your health.

**We were only cleared for 2,000 and not 3,000 feet of towing due to the unexpected presence of fighter jets in the area, which is extremely rare for us to experience. They were working drills in airspace that is usually completely devoid of traffic. It ended up being fine though because the short flights ensured that we could all have a go at this exciting activity and we ended up getting a 3 for the price of 2 deal because of the shortened experience (which appealed to my frugal nature). Given we don’t know what a “real, full-length gliding experience” is, we could hardly be disappointed.