I’d rather play soccer at the park with my kids than drive a Lexus.
I’d rather eat homemade rice and beans for supper than go to the fanciest restaurant in town.
I’d rather take a nap in our backyard hammock than go to Disney World.
The key? I want to do all of those things without money stress and without job stress seeping away at the edges.
That’s my financial goal. I want to be able to do those ordinary things without worrying about work or about money or about any of those stressors. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and do whatever I wish to do without worrying about the professional or financial ramifications of it.
If I took the leap right now, I could do that for a while. I could simply stop writing and live for a number of years without any financial or professional concern whatsoever. However, I would eventually hit a wall and my retirement would consist of Social Security and a small amount of remaining retirement savings. I would have to live incredibly lean for the rest of my life, and it wouldn’t take much of a bump in the road for me to have to be right back in the workforce. That’s the result of twelve years of careful financial choices.
That’s not where I want to be, though, and the road ahead is still a long one.
I want to never set an alarm unless it’s to wake up early to do something awesome like watch an early morning meteor shower or spy on the transit of Venus.
I want to never have to worry about having writer’s block and how it might affect my family’s finances.
I want to be able to take on big projects because they excite me, not because of whether they’ll make financial sense. For example, I’d love to be much more involved in the management of a few local charities that I already have done a small amount of volunteering for, but time restrictions make that essentially impossible.
I want to do all of those things while knowing that my children’s future is secure and my wife’s future is secure.
The type of financial success I want doesn’t end with a huge house with a wonderfully landscaped yard and an expensive European car in the driveway. Those things might be beautiful, but I do not want them for myself. If someone gave me those things, I would sell them, bank the money, and buy something more modest.
The type of financial success I want is to do the things I enjoy doing now on a slightly bigger scale, without the worry of finances or professional needs interfering with that at all. I want minimal stress in my life.
This is the vision of my future that drives me.
This is the vision of my future that nudges me to buy the store brand dish soap.
This is the vision of my future that convinces me to wait for a book I really want to read by adding myself to the waiting list at the library rather than just hitting the bookstore.
This is the vision of my future that causes me to make a bunch of meals in advance so that we’re not tempted to eat out on a busy weeknight.
This is the vision of my future that has me sitting up at 11 o’clock taking notes out of a personal finance book so I can write a better article next week.
I know perfectly well that my vision of the future is a realistic one. I’ve run the numbers – I know very well that this vision is reachable if I make smart moves, and it might even get here a little early if I get a little lucky.
There are a few catches, though.
The world isn’t going to hand me this vision of the future on a silver platter. I’m going to have to work for it. I’m going to have to constantly choose to head for that vision. I’m going to have to say no to a lot of short term temptations to get there.
You have to be content with most of the ordinary aspects of your life. If you’re not happy with the people around you or the things you can do on relatively simple means in your free time, then this isn’t a path to happiness. In other words, if you’d rather live in a mansion than have regular lazy afternoons to read a book (or whatever your hobby might be), that’s perfectly fine, but you’re going to want to set different goals for yourself. I’m content with this nice and relatively small house we live in, for example; I personally wouldn’t find joy in living in a much larger house.
You have to be able to distinguish between what actually matters to you and what really doesn’t matter, and then be willing to cut those things that don’t matter down to the barest essentials. Name brand versus store brand products are a great example here. When it comes to things like hand soap in the bathroom, I care about one thing: does it get my hands clean? The least expensive soap option goes next to the bathroom sink, regardless of what’s on the label. When it comes to things like laundry soap, I care about one thing: does it get my clothes clean? I go for the cheapest option that gets my clothes clean (a powdered mix of equal amounts borax, washing soda, and soap flakes, with one teaspoon of that mix per load). If something really doesn’t matter to you in terms of your quality of life, then let it truly not matter. Cut it down to the barest minimum.
The entire world tries to trick you into wanting things, so you have to learn to ignore the noise. Many, many aspects of modern life try to nudge you toward wanting things that you don’t actually want. Advertisements are the obvious part, but they’re only one piece. That kind of nudging happens in the news articles you read, the things your friends talk about, the product placement in your favorite television shows. All of it works together to imply that your life will somehow quickly be better if you simply bought things that you don’t currently have. The reality is that there are very few things you can buy that will have a genuine and lasting positive impact on your life. Almost everything you buy just gives you a short burst of happiness and… that’s it. You can get a short burst of happiness just running barefoot through the grass or playing a game of fetch with a friendly dog. You don’t have to spend money to fulfill short term wants – all they’ll give you is a little burst of happiness, and you can find those happiness bursts for free.
You have to drop some of the expensive things you might want. In a perfect world, I’d have a wonderful house out in the country on a bunch of acres of wooded land. There’s part of me that quite wants that type of idyllic place to live. The question is, what do I want more? Do I want that piece of land with a house on it with all of the needed utilities there? Or do I want to have that kind of freedom I described above several years earlier? I’ve chosen the second option over the first, and I’m fully okay with that.
Those five things alone become a pretty powerful filter. Many, many people are unwilling or unable to do those things, and because of it, they find themselves stuck in a paycheck to paycheck loop, daydreaming about a future where they don’t have work stress and money stress bearing down on them, hoping that their ship will come in, and working solely for the weekend without aiming for anything more.
Don’t let yourself get caught in that loop. Figure out the small handful of things that really matter to you in life, cut the rest down to the bone, hold on tight to the most powerful plans that you have, and drop all of those other daydreams. If you do that, then you start heading directly toward that dream. You break out of that endless paycheck to paycheck cycle. Best of all, you don’t give up anything that you truly care about.
In the end, I’d rather read a book than live in a mansion, and I’m doing everything I can to head in that direction.
What’s your direction?