Updated on 12.16.11

Beginning Frugality with the End in Mind

Trent Hamm

One of the most empowering things I do on a regular basis is to create a detailed sketch of what I want my life to be like in five years or so, and then I repeat this exercise with periods further down the road (ten years and twenty years and then when I’m about 70). I usually do this in detail every few months or so.

I try to create optimistic (but not unrealistically optimistic) pictures of the future. I don’t paint pictures of myself as a rich person or as some sort of perfect citizen. Instead, I focus on where I’d actually like things to be based on where things are now and where they’re heading.

A five year picture, for example, sees three intellectually curious and healthy children. It sees me having written a handful of novels. It sees us living in a more rural area than we live right now. It sees me in a bit better physical shape.

That picture is filled with a lot of details, and it’s in those details that I see what’s actually really important to me. This is the life that I want to lead.

Yet, what I notice when I paint these pictures of the future is that they involve very few things that actually involve spending money.

Intellectually curious and healthy children are in large part a result of invested time, as are the novels and the improved fitness. Moving into the country probably won’t cost us much money on the whole.

Simply put, the things I want out of my life don’t involve spending money. The things I genuinely label as important in my life moving forward aren’t related to spending money.

What they do involve, however, is time (and energy). Time is really the magic ingredient in making these things happen. My children need time. My spouse needs time. My health needs time.

The more money I spend, the more time I have to spend working. I have to have the income to cover what I’m spending, so if I’m spending a lot, I’m going to be spending more and more of my time earning money.

The more time and energy I spend working, the less time and energy I have to spend making that picture come true. The elements of the life I want are realistic and achievable, but only if I have time and energy to devote to them.

So, how do I minimize the time and energy I devote to work? The answer is simple: frugality.

If I simply don’t spend my money on unimportant things, I can afford to take on less demanding work that gives me more space to work on my other life goals. I don’t have that pressurized job at the office – in fact, I left that in 2008.

Spend some time thinking about what your goals are. Create that detailed picture of what you want your life to look like in five years. Ask yourself what you really need to achieve those goals. I’m willing to bet that time and energy are more vital ingredients than money is.

Then, each time you consider spending money on something important, ask yourself if it’s holding you in a place where you don’t have time or energy to pursue your goals in life.

Money isn’t everything.

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  1. Steven says:

    Looking back at the plans that you made for yourself 5 years ago…are you where you thought you’d be? How are you progressing? It’s nice to dream, but dreams don’t get you anywhere. If you want to get in better shape, you can’t just *want* it, you have to work. Are you working? Or just thinking about it? Your health is a recurring theme here on the blog, but I wonder if you’re doing anything about it? Or enough to make a difference?

    When will you be in a place to make a move on the “dreamhouse” in the country? Or will it always be a dream because you’re just not quite ready yet?

    Risk versus reward. You don’t prepare just to prepare some more. You have to take action. Pull the trigger Trent. Tell me what you’re doing, not what you’re thinking about doing.

  2. kc says:

    How much, after an entire 3 months have passed, does your 5 year vision change? Perhaps you’re overdoing it a bit – an annual review would suffice, no?

  3. moom says:

    Every few months?

  4. lurker carl says:

    I see a huge disconnect with moving to that dream house in the countryside not requiring money. In my universe, that is impossible until the dream becomes a nightmare.

    When we mapped out our future, we didn’t need to review the plans often because we were living them. We set goals, mapped out how to achieve them and took the actions necessary for success. We altered things as life interfered, some goals came quicker than expected and some goals morphed or were abandoned as unexpected events changed our intended course. Births and deaths, good health and sickness, excellent fortune and bad luck, wise decisions and foolishness. All in all, we are where we intended to be – just not following the original path we charted and not exactly where we expected to land. But we wouldn’t change it for anything.

  5. LEE says:

    Thanks for this post Trent, this is something my family have done for the first time. We have always planned but in a very nebulous way before without really stating our objectives.
    ie retire somewhere warm and sunny –ok, where?
    Pay down our bills –ok how?
    we are now adressing these and other issues. so again thank you .
    Ps where do the critics of your posts come from !
    there are some very negative people out there who must have too much time on their hands or something!

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