Laying a Path from Here to There

I’m afraid of drifting through life – of letting time pass without accomplishing anything.  Sometimes I feel like we’re drifting financially while we’re in graduate school because we don’t have several major monetary objectives toward which we are working.  While I think goal-setting has been a bit overblown and doesn’t necessarily work well for everyone, I believe we all need to have a vision for our lives and to take steps to realize those visions.

 

If you have one or more visions for what you want your life to be like, consider whether or not you are making any progress toward realizing that vision.  If you aren’t and would like to be, there are three simple (but perhaps difficult!) exercises you can go through to encourage yourself toward your vision.  This process can be applied to many areas of life – spirituality, family, health, career – but I’ll give some financial examples (not from our life).

 

 

1)  Where do you want to be?

 

When you ask yourself where do you want to be, I’m necessarily saying that you have to imagine yourself 50 years in the future and write down which beach you want to be lying on!  Perhaps a comfortable retirement is one vision you have in your life and that’s a fine one to make sure you’re working toward.  But there are other wonderful financial practices that create wealth and comfort that are also near-term applicable.  One step on the road to wealth would be to live within your means.  Two more are to save every month – perhaps for some big purchase like a house or vacation – or pay off debt.  A more nebulous vision may even be to feel less stressed about money.  The answers to this question will be very personal to you, but try to make them as specific as you can to motivate you.  If you are setting a specific goal, try to put a time frame on accomplishing it.

 

Example A: I want to tithe to my church and other charitable organizations.  I was to worship God by passing the generosity He has shown me on to others.

 

Example B: My wife and I want to start our family and feel secure that we’ll reasonably be able to afford our baby’s first two years.  We want a $20,000 savings fund for possible birth expenses and to prepare to spend an additional $1,000 per month on childcare.

 

 

2)  Where are you now?

 

You can’t create a plan without an honest assessment of where you stand.  For some people, the assessment will be of their savings – if starting a new goal, maybe the savings check is quick as it is $0!  Tracking your income and spending closely is another way to assess your monthly flow of money, if that is important for your goal.

 

Example A: I throw a few dollars in the offering plate when it is passed each week, and I sometimes respond to solicitations for donations.  I estimate that I give about $40 per month to my church and $200 per year to other causes, which less than 2% of my income.

 

Example B: We have $10,000 in an HSA that we don’t anticipate using and could easily cut $500 from our monthly budget, but it isn’t obvious where the next $500 will come from.

 

 

 

3)  How do you get from here to there?

 

The fun part about this step is that there are so many different ways for you to realize your vision or goal!  For a simple savings goal, you could set up an automatic transfer to a savings account for the amount you need to save each month to reach your goal by your target date.  Goals that involve dedicating new money somewhere will necessitate a cut in spending or an increase in earning, and there are so many options for accomplishing both!  If your vision is quite vast, you might need to establish several paths with short- and long-term objectives.

 

Example A: Next month, I will give 3% to my church and increase my donation by an additional 1% each month.  I’ll accommodate this changes over the next few months by slowly cutting my grocery budget by shopping at different stores, packing a lunch for work nine out of ten days, not buying any new clothes.  When my lease is up in three months, I’ll start sharing an apartment with someone in my small group, which will free up the remaining 5% at least.  I’ll set up automatic withdrawals so that 8% goes to my church and 2% goes to a savings account for future charitable donations.

 

Example B: We’ll focus on finding the additional $1,000 in our budget first, as that will prepare us for the childcare as well as get us on track for saving the additional $10,000.  We’ll implement the easy $500 in budget changes next month, then find additional savings as fast as we can.  We will also find side hustles that will be sustainable after the birth of our child to make up the rest of the $1,000/month.  Everything we save or earn beyond our current budget will be put toward savings for the baby.  We should be financially prepared to conceive in 10-15 months.

 

What financial visions do you have for your life?  Do you have a path laid out?  Which is the most difficult step for you? 

 

photo from wilhelmja

 

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24 Responses to "Laying a Path from Here to There"

  1. A little tongue in cheek (but not really) – one of my goals in life are to make enough money to travel business class on every one of my trips. How do I make that happen? I don’t really have a concrete step-by-step path, but we’d need to make a good living, keep looking for travel deals, and make traveling a priority for ourselves. Oh, and stay healthy enough to go places.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Is Travel The New Way to “Keep Up With The Jonses”?

    1. Emily says:

      I like the specificity of this vision! It’s a lot more motivating to say “I want to be wealthy enough to travel business class every time” than to just say “I want to be wealthy.” Are you going to accomplish this by directly paying for tickets or by racking up rewards with one airline?

  2. one of my goals in life IS to make… oooops. heh.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Is Travel The New Way to “Keep Up With The Jonses”?

  3. renee says:

    J and I made a list of everything we’d probably want/need in the next 5 years that cost over $500 – but it excluded paying off low-interest loans and saving for a house (since we see those more as “investments”). So the list included: a) massively increasing the emergency savings, b) high-interest student loans, c) a second car, d) a really nice trip, e) an iMac (we currently have old computers and no tv), f) a vitamix, g)visit-family-yearly travel, h) a nicer mattress (we have J’s from MS), i)…. and the list went on with about 20 items. Our jaw dropped to see how much it added up to!!! So we made three lists: 1) luxury (i.e., a $12k car), 2) middle class ($8k car), and 3) reasonably frugal ($4k car) – then prioritized the items.

    Anyway – we have no idea if we’ll both be start-up engineers or missionaries in the next few years, so it’s very hard to dream past 5 years. But at least now we know *exactly* what we’ll be giving up or gaining, depending on our career choices.

    1. Emily says:

      Very interesting approach to planning your purchases. Are you putting all of them off until you know more about your career paths?

      1. renee says:

        Well, we don’t know how much we’ll be able to contribute towards this list monthly yet. But we ordered them from most important/desired to least. So obviously the savings and loans need to be in good order before we’ll be free to do something “alternative” with our careers. At that point, our income will determine how quickly we get through the rest of the list, so right – we can’t get an iMac or save for a big vacay or whatever until the first two are in perfect order. This does make clear to us, though, that settling for a cheaper computer would significantly move up the timeline of when we can take a big trip. So it’s easy to see the tradeoffs like this.

        1. Emily says:

          Very organized, I like it! Being debt-free (or functionally close enough) and having savings will definitely free you up in terms of career choices. Kyle gave me a very stark tradeoff recently: Chicago trip or DSLR. 🙂

  4. Leigh says:

    I definitely am with you on being afraid of drifting through life.

    My overall financial goal is to set up my finances such that I don’t really need to worry about money, to the point that I could retire completely in my 30s if I so chose. To counter that, my overall career goal is to build a fulfilling career that I enjoy and would choose to not leave, despite having the financial capability to do so. (I particularly like how those two complement each other like that :D)

    For me, setting financial and career goals is somewhat easy, but setting personal goals is harder. I am single. I don’t know if I want children. But, I do know that my immediate answer to the question “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” is “In my current city.” So I guess that is a good start!
    Leigh recently posted..Sleeveless shirts: the answer to spring and summer

    1. Emily says:

      I think it’s the opposite for me – there is so much uncertainty in my career trajectory (I can ONLY see to my graduation, no further) that personal visions come much more easily. I am much more excited about applying what I suggested in this post to my spiritual life and health practices than to our financial situation. (Do I want to teach my future hypothetical children that daily exercise is important? Then I guess I should get off my butt!)

      I think your complementary financial and career goals are awesome. If you do get married, though, are you willing to change that vision or will you only marry someone who is on board?

      1. Leigh says:

        I think it’s interesting that you have all these personal visions, while I have very few 🙂

        I have no idea how my future visions would change when/if I do meet someone I want to marry. At this point, I’m mostly going along the path that saving good money and enjoying my career now opens up options for later. For example, if I save enough money such that I’m financially independent in my early 30s, that could make it easy for me or my spouse to stay home with children if we so chose or maybe both of us! Who knows.

        It’s quite likely that my visions would change. Whether or not I want children could be dependent on the person I’m in a relationship with or my hesitation could be because of the fact that I have yet to have a happy, serious relationship.
        Leigh recently posted..Sleeveless shirts: the answer to spring and summer

        1. Emily says:

          I guess what you’re striving for now is really flexibility and enjoyment – and many men I’m sure would be attracted to that life set-up!

          I’ve always wanted kids in a theoretical way but so far not in a visceral way. I’m hoping this “biological clock” I’ve heard so much about will kick in around when we’re financially and career-wise ready for a baby. I think being married helps bring that general desire into focus. I like the idea of creating something that is 50/50 me and Kyle. So yeah, maybe you’ll feel a bit more excited about kids in the right relationship.

          1. Leigh says:

            Hahaha, good luck with that biological clock! From family anecdotes, I think I have quite a few more years before that would kick in it if it will 🙂

            I think it’s interesting that you want them theoretically, but not necessarily viscerally. Some people I know with PhDs said that they had no desire to have kids until a year or two after their PhDs.
            Leigh recently posted..Personal finance is…personal.

  5. I’m personally not too worried about drifting. There was a time where I was very focused on my goals, and everything else went my the wayside. I later abandoned that goal when it was no longer a good fit for me and I was left without much to my name but experiences that were no longer useful.
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    1. Emily says:

      That’s why I was a little hesitant to use the word goals in this post but rather opted for vision. I think goals can be a way that we work toward realizing our visions, but like you said accomplishing a goal that doesn’t fit with an overall (perhaps non-articulated) vision doesn’t really do anything positive.

  6. The real problem comes when you have budgeted away your budget and there is nothing else to trim down. 🙁 ( I’m in that position right now).
    Dannielle @ Odd Cents recently posted..Comment on Living La Vida Frugal: The Hair Edition by Kim

    1. Emily says:

      I totally sympathize as that is where we find ourselves as well. That’s why I tried to throw into the examples some alternate strategies to “spend less” – in example A she gets creative by changing one of her big fixed expenses and in example B he decides earning more is a component of meeting their needs. If we need to find more money at this point (and yeah, we sorta do) my “get creative” solutions could be moving – we are considering downsizing to a 1BR apartment – or (get ready for this) contributing less to our IRAs. Crazy, I know.

  7. Emily too says:

    My goals have changed in the past year because, unfortunately, we’re facing a temporary situation that involves larger cost than income increases in the next year (long distance research = renting two places, as much travel in between as we can afford, and some equipment costs). This is the first time since college that I haven’t had enough extra income to have savings goals, beyond continuing our current levels of retirement and charity contributions, and that’s pretty demoralizing for me. Weirdly, after a couple months of working to plan it all out, I’m now more concerned about my anxiety levels around money than I am about watching every penny to come up with the maximum surplus. I’m still working on seeking grants and “side hustles,” and of course having frugal habits, but we don’t currently have any financial goals we can act on other than getting through the next year without dipping into savings. Ideally, we want to save to visit Europe and the west coast before we have kids, but I don’t know if we will make progress toward those for a while. It’s so depressing!

    On the bright side, 1) I’ve saved enough to cover this and next summer’s basic cost of living, and managed to get two small research grants and an extra teaching opportunity, which helps a lot and makes me think perhaps I’m just being pessimistic, and 2) we’re finally moving to mainly joint finances with smaller personal allowances, which is actually going to make things a lot simpler.

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle and I are thinking forward to the possibility that we’ll be living apart in a year’s time – it is stressful to untangle lives, money, and possessions that you’ve striven so hard to mingle! I have also at times been more concerned about my anxiety about money than how our money is moving – now is one of those times. I think when there’s absolutely nothing I can do to further any financial visions I just turn my attention to other visions.

      Congratulations on your new funding and pooling!

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  12. eemusings says:

    Drifting isn’t something I really worry about. I’m always thinking ahead and looking to the future. It’s more a worry about how can we meet my goals of buying a house, having a family and travelling on what we make, and do we want to chase higher incomes at the cost of certain things?
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    1. Emily says:

      We think about that balance, too – start-ups vs. industry jobs, consulting vs. work-at-home…

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