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.