I Spent $11,000 On A Pilot License While In Debt (And I’d Do It Again)

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is it worth getting a pilot licenseI can hear the anti-debt crusaders charging in my direction already.

How dare you!

Everybody knows that spending money on anything other than the bare essentials of utter foolishness until you’re completely out of debt right? Extreme frugality is the only way to financial independence right?

Easy guys – I’m still with you. Just hear me out.

It was early 2010 when I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a pilot.

The dream was actually two generations old. My dad always wanted to learn how to fly, but for a variety of reasons, he didn’t ever get his license. I decided when I was young that I was going to be a pilot. It would be a few years before I got around to it however.

I’ve mentioned before that when Mrs. NB and I were married in 2009, we were deep in the red. I had financed a new vehicle, and we both had student loans and credit card debt totaling more than 40k.

I hated being in debt and vowed to pay it all off asap.

Things Don’t Always Go The Way You Think They Will

Early in 2010, we were having dinner with my in-laws when the topic of flying came up. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to do it and was thinking about signing up for ground school. Unexpectedly, my father in-law said: “I’ll do it with you, let’s sign up this week.”

And that was how it all started.

Thankfully, I was able to get rid of the truck, which was more than half of my debt at that time. We were steadily paying down the balance of our debt when I signed up for ground school.

The funny thing about flight school is that it’s not really an all-up-front cost like most colleges or courses. You don’t have to pay for a whole semester at once. Ground school was $500 at that time, and from that point forward I just paid for lessons as I took them..

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How Much Money Did My Private Pilot Licence Cost?

Where I’m from, there isn’t really a fixed cost to learn how to fly. How much it costs depends on how quickly a student learns. In Canada, you must have a minimum of 45 flight hours before you can take your test.. Most students however require closer to 60 hours be be competent.

There is a rental rate for the aircraft, and a separate rate for the instructor. The two together were around $150 per hour (this was in 2010 – it’s more expensive now).

A typical lesson lasted between 1 and 2.5 hours. You can see how this starts to add up fast.

For a time, I was taking a lesson every week. When money got tight, I cut back to one lesson every two to three weeks and at times, only one per month.

As with pretty much everything I do, I found myself to be statistically average. I took my flight test right around 60 hours earning myself a ‘Partial Pass’. I completed most of the maneuvers correctly but I failed the recovery of the spin stall. Luckily, with a partial pass I was able to go up with the examiner and demonstrate just that one maneuver again. Just like that I was a licensed pilot.

In the end, after I had passed my test the whole process including licensing and testing fees was just over $11,000.

Is a pilot license worth it

Was It Worth Getting A Pilot License?

In a word: Abso-friggen-lutely.

Have you ever been up in a small plane? There’s nothing like it. The view of the landscape from 3000 feet is breathtaking. The feeling that you can go absolutely anywhere (except maybe across international borders…I live about 30 kilometers from the USA) and do anything is so freeing. There simply isn’t anything else like it.

At the time, I was still in debt and slowly paying it off. Would it technically have been wiser for me to have waited a few years until our debt was clear to do my license? Certainly.

Here’s the thing though – I don’t believe that everything in life is that simple. Not everything can be measured in dollars and cents. I believe that in some situations, the best thing a person can do is pursue a dream, even if it’s not in line with conventional wisdom.

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Flying was something I had wanted to learn my entire life. If I had waited until after our first child was born to start flying, I probably never would have. I would have put it off for months, and then years telling myself that it’s not the responsible thing to do.

One day, I might have woken up and found myself not healthy enough to pass the medical and have to live with an unfulfilled dream.

For better or for worse, that’s just not how I roll. Life is meant to be lived. I don’t believe in throwing caution or common sense to the wind to chase after dreams, but sometimes it’s worth taking a bit of a risk to do something that really matters to you.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Question For You:

What Strange Financial Decision Have You Made That You Stand Behind?

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20 thoughts on “I Spent $11,000 On A Pilot License While In Debt (And I’d Do It Again)”

  1. I agree totally with the sentiment – The problem I know I had was that I was spending too much and on the wrong things. Also, I was living my life according to somebody else’s script, or what was “expected”.

    Glad to see somebody out there shunning convention and chasing joy 🙂

    • Thanks CJ! I really appreciate that. I feel like there’s almost a universal focus on frugality and minimalism in the PF space right now. Though I think both of those things are worthwhile, I always like to present a different perspective 🙂

  2. I agree, at a certain point you’ve got to let go of what makes sense and pursue something worthwhile.

    One of my dreams is to play golf with my dad at some top courses in the country. If the opportunity came up like yours did, I’d have a hard time saying no.

    Congrats on the pilot license and fulfilling a meaningful dream!

  3. Great post about spending on something that makes you happy. I’ve driven cross country four times. Each time it cost me about $1,000 in gas and hotels, but I wouldn’t take it back. I stopped a lot along the way and really enjoyed the experience.

    • Thanks for reading!

      That’s actually a long-term of mine. I want to drive across the USA and back to the West Coast through Canada. Someday…

  4. I agree! You only live once and I’d rather enjoy my life. That’s actually my entire reason for pursuing FI… to do the things I want to do in my life instead of being stuck at a job

    • Thanks for the comment Melanie! I thought I was alone with this sentiment in the PF community but people are generally agreeing with me. I’ll have to find another more controversial article to write 😀

  5. I loved this post, it’s so true in the world of PF we’re encouraged to give up and deprive, then when I do indulge in something that is important (to me anyway), I feel regret instead of enjoyment! Sometimes the experience is worth more in memories then getting out of debt a bit sooner. Thanks for the fresh perspective, keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for the comment Jessica 🙂

      I’ve never been a fan of extreme frugality. Rather, I like to take the time to decide what’s truly important to me and invest in those things. I value being debt-free but it’s just one part of the complicated puzzle that is life :).

    • Wow, thanks Toby! I did think for a while about going commercial, but I couldn’t make a career change at that time coupled with the cost of the training. Maybe someday I will get to fly the big birds like you!

  6. Although a car is a depreciating asset, I got a Tesla Model X and it has been quite a positive experience. I’d never spend a lot of $$$ on a regular gas car but I’ve always been one to get the newest technologies and this is a great way to experience it and support the mission to improve our environment. The car is like an iphone, constantly getting software updates, drives silently, instant torque and acceleration, drives itself on the highway with autopilot, and has a windshield that is my entire field of view and amazing to look at the sky and stars with.

    Yes, it will depreciate more than a rental property, but it is something that I do not regret at all.

    • Almost everything we buy in life is going to depreciate. If you can afford a Model X and have planned/budgeted for it, than why not? You’ve obviously worked really hard to get where you are. Congrats on an awesome car!

  7. Totally agree. Everything in moderation including frugality.
    The joy of a great activity gives meaning and worth to life. Then there is a reason to go to work, create passive streams of income.

  8. I got my pilot’s license while I was in high school. I had a part time job after school, and surprisingly had more disposable income at that point in my life than I did in college, or after college when I learned my debt was eating me alive.

    I wouldn’t change a thing either. It was a fantastic experience and I had some unbelievable fun for several years. Today, married and 4 kids later, I haven’t flown in probably close to 15 years. But you never know what the future holds.

    • Thanks for the comment LYW,

      I haven’t flown in close to 6 years now. It was a great experience but I too have several children (3) and I choose not to fly at this time in life. I can not afford to fly often and I’ve always felt hat small aircraft are not a hobby to be dabbled in. If I can’t fly once per week minimum, I’m not going to, it’s just not safe IMO.

      I’m not sure how it works where you are, but it’s a fairly simple process to get current again here in Canada. Once I went and updated my medical, it will amount to a full day of recertifying and I’ll be back at it.

  9. Good job. This is how money is supposed to be spent- on the things that bring us true value. I started my piolet licence a few years ago and never finished it. Your post has inspired me to start my lessons again!

    • Thank you Rohan, that means a lot. I love hearing that something I wrong has inspired! Let me know how it works out!

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