This is a very, very frequently asked question, so I think it'd be best to make it its own separate post. First and foremost, I live a selfish life. I don't have any responsibility for anyone except myself. I don't even have any animals that I take care of. I've paid off all my student loans several years ago, don't have a car payment and don't have any credit card debt. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. Everyone does a thru-hike differently, this is how I chose to hike and manage my finances.
HOW DO YOU HAVE ALL THIS MONEY TO DO ALL OF THESE FUN THINGS?
This is literally the #1 misconception about most people over the interwebs. First of all, I don't do all of these "fun things." I only did a fun thing for 6 months, and everything prior and after that, I was just like any other person, doing fun things on the weekend. Remember, social media and what we choose to share isn't our real life, for the most part. Usually, when I'm posting a photo, I'm not actually doing the thing that it shows. I feel like most people should know this by now. Maybe sometimes when I was actually on the PCT and I had service, but for the most part, it's not. Also, I really, really like photos that look nice and aren't blurry. So yes, I only choose to post the photos that I think look nice and have good lighting. I don't share any of my photos that seem mediocre to me. You best bet I will never be posting a blurry photo, those all get deleted. Honestly, all of these "fun things" you see are a recent thing for me. I only started getting deeper into outdoor things maybe like 3 years ago. And second, I don't have all this money. I made the decision to do a thru-hike and saved extra for the things I wanted to do after, that's really it.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR WORK?
Well currently, nothing. Remember that time I quit my job to do this big hike? Since I've gotten home, I've been trying to sell stuff, babysit, and saying yes to any photo job. Before that, I was nannying. You know, I'm like pushing 31 years old, I've never had a salary job. I've never had health benefits, a dental/vision plan or a 401k. I have no idea what that is like. What is like to be the normal 9-5 person? I desperately want to know.
HOW DO YOU SAVE UP FOR THRU-HIKE?
You work, a lot. And you say yes to any other side incoming cash flow. You say yes to cleaning houses, walking dogs, selling stuff, babysitting. And then you save, a lot. I set up an automatic transfer $150 every other week from every paycheck to my savings 1.5 years prior to my start date. I also started living the frugal, stingy life. I stopped going out to eat, I stopped buying things unless it was advancing my hiking life, I clipped coupons, I returned items that I was unsatisfied with, I stopped covering the check for friends when we went out, I brought snacks with me instead of being forced to buy food if I got hungry and was on the run, and ultimately, I stopped tithing. I felt like everything leading up to my trip was very selfish, it was all for myself. I had money, but I was saving it for this big thing I was planning for. I was stingy about gas money, I was stingy about a dollar, I was that stingy friend.
SHOULD YOU MAKE A GO FUND ME/ASK FOR A SPONSORSHIP OR FREE GEAR?
Short answer, no. Unless you're hiking for a cause or donating the funds. It's like asking someone to donate to your vacation to Hawaii fund. You see, thru-hiking is a vacation that you voluntarily choose to do. It might not necessarily be relaxing on a beach sipping margs, but it's most definitely a vacation. It's a privilege. Thru-hikers deserve no entitlement. Please don't join the mass of hikers who enter into towns feeling entitled that all civilization bow down and serve their hiker needs, speak disrespectfully, are incredibly loud/obnoxious, trash hotel rooms, disregard closure signs, and don't clean up their garbage. Free gear, that's a tough one. I never received any free gear on my first hike. I bought everything with my own money, and I didn't want to feel biased to any brand. This year was a little different. As I became more involved in the thru-hiking community, I wanted to support my friends from various organizations/brands. I took on a few items that I felt would be good for me to use this year. If you can do your best to not accept any free gear unless you fully support that brand, it'll take you light years without feeling any obligations/bias in the long run.
HOW MUCH DOES A THRU-HIKE COST?
As they all say, it really depends. Do you want to skip showers/laundry, not get rooms in town, eat a bunch of mashies every night, pick and choose your town food or do you want the luxury of town amenities or do you want to spend time/money on making your own meals at home for each resupply, etc? Google tells me you can spend anywhere between $2k-8k, with $5k being about pretty average. I say find what is important to you and what will give you the motivation to make it to the end. Some people don't care about showers/laundry, and that's awesome, they don't spend any time in town and are able to get in and out fast. For myself, I didn't need to shower/laundry at every stop but at around every 12 days, it was nice. And I'm talking about a proper wash, not just dipping my stuff/body into a bucket. I also wanted to be able to say yes to town food that I was craving. Real food was necessary for me after a long stretch. Also, after the midpoint, I started just getting rooms for myself, aka diva status. I really hated sharing a room with other hikers, especially if it was more than like 3. I liked to be clean and organized and not have other gross people (and their stuff) around when I just wanted to rest.
So I don't exactly have any specific numbers for how much I spent, but I can do some guestimates. Pre-hike, I spent probably around $1k on food prep and my boxes (which mostly was a waste, honestly). I also had to pay for a lot of logistical things like paying friends (as a thank you) to store my car/belonging, health care stuff and paying for my whole rent even though I had moved out early. This was probably close to another $1k. I went back and looked at my beginning numbers and when I got off, it looks like I spent around $3,265 for the four months that I was out. This includes all food, postage, gear, rooms and bills. That's actually not too bad at all, and I thought I was living pretty cushy. I mean if you think about it, I'm not paying over a thousand every month for rent anymore. I canceled all my gym/Comcast/Netflix/car insurance monthly bills, so my main bill was just cell phone and credit card at that point. This year, it looks like I spent around $1080 for the eight weeks I was gone. However, I was still paying rent, Netflix and car insurance. I didn't really cancel anything because I wasn't gone that long. So Google was pretty accurate, I spent just around $5k for my entire thru-hike. Not too bad.
I do recommend that you save for more cushion though. You don't want running out of money to take you off trail, that would be really sad because it's something you could've avoided. You want to have enough cushion for emergencies, flights, health stuff, and especially, for when you get back home. You may or may not get a job right away, and you'll need money to hold you over until you do. I made sure I had saved enough for traveling because that was my plan for after my hike. I also made sure to have enough for mountaineering since I knew I was going to take courses the following year.
WHAT'S THE MORAL OF THE STORY HERE?
You have to live frugal and choose your priorities. I don't think finances will ever get in the way of something that you really want to do. You may have to live stingy and be a hermit for a season, but it'll be worth it all in the end. However, I don't have much advice for people who don't work full-time jobs because you need to have a consistent income for awhile before you have enough to save. I'm not saying you need to make tons of money, but it's all about prioritizing your expenses and making things work. Say yes to the things that will take you further and no the useless temporary things in life.
Thanks to Google Images for all the pictures in this post.