Updated on 09.16.14

Painting a Specific Future

Trent Hamm

And Figuring Out How to Get There

A few weeks ago, my wife and children and I spent the weekend visiting several members of her extended family. On the final morning of the visit, I sat around the kitchen table with my wife’s grandfather and uncle and the conversation turned to the future. Her uncle turned to me and said, “What do you think you’ll be doing in five years?”

I didn’t really have an answer.

Sure, I have lots of long term goals of all kinds. My wife and I want a house in the country, of course, as I’ve mentioned many times. I’d like to get a novel published, one that I’ve been working on for a long time. Financial independence is a big goal, of course. I know, in broad strokes, what my life will look like in five years, barring anything I can’t predict.

But when I look back to the goals I’ve been successful with in life, they’ve been very, very specific in nature. If I set a goal of not spending any frivolous money for a month, I can achieve that goal because it’s clear to me what I need to do to get there.

On the other hand, with the less tangible big dreams in my future, I find myself a little more aimless. I have a hard time tying those big dreams to actions I can take today, so I’ll sometimes forget about them.

The challenge for me is this: I know where I want to be in five years, but the road to get there is sometimes covered in fog. I don’t have a good grasp on the things I need to be doing along the way – other than generic things like spending less than I make – in order to reach those goals.

On the way home, her uncle’s comment stirred me into action. I want to set a few very specific and clear goals for the future, along with very concrete paths on how to get there. Doing this lets me know what I need to be doing all the time to reach the things I want.

So, without further ado, here’s where I want to be in five years. I’ve set up three very specific goals, along with the path to reach each one.

Goal #1: Total Debt Freedom

That means paying off our entire mortgage, which has a balance around $165,000, as well as all other remaining debts. In five years. Including remaining student loans and auto loans, that adds up to about $190,000.

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

Each month between now and October 31, 2014 (when my five years are up), I would need to knock an average of $3,200 off of my total debt balance. That’s an incredibly high number, one that pushes me to really bear down on our situation. In the first few months, I simply won’t be able to reasonably apply that much towards the total balance.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

The biggest thing I can do to support that goal is to make the $3,200 a month goal as reasonable as I possibly can. This means coming up with additional ways to earn income. Thus, each month, I need to develop a new potential avenue for income related to The Simple Dollar and my other endeavors. Preferably, these take the form of passive income – I can invest a substantial packet of time once and then enjoy the fruits of that labor over time. This would mean designing more “downloadables,” perhaps creating a few self-published books that are collections of posts organized in a logical fashion, and other such avenues.

Goal #2: Learn a New Language

By “learn a new language,” I intend to learn enough so that I can engage in an intelligent conversation with a native speaker of said language on pretty much any topic, and I’d be successful if I were to visit the countryside of a nation where everyone only spoke that language and no English to help me out. This is something I intend to do with my family in the future.

I’m not entirely sure which language, but I’ve narrowed it down to four options: German, French, Italian, and Norwegian. French and Norwegian are slightly in the lead.

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

The goals for making this work are much more specific. Each weekday, I could spend an hour in language training using a tool like Rosetta Stone until I’m familiar with many of the words of the language and can hammer through basic conversation. Once I’m there, I would just continue to immerse myself in the language, listening to radio in that language as I worked and so on.

I’ve had a lot of success with short-term immersion in other languages in the past, but I never subjected myself to continued practice of the language.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

I live near a university, so one option would be to enroll as a part time student and take classes in my language of choice. This would enable me to gain some additional practice in actually speaking the language.

To put it simply, the best way for me to learn is to seek out every opportunity I can to immerse myself. The best way to start, though, is in my home.

Goal #3: Get a Novel Published

Right now, I spend maybe a few hours a week working on fiction, usually turning out a short story in that timeframe or editing/polishing an older one. I completed a novel several years ago, but when I look at it now, I deeply dislike it.

I actually enjoy writing fiction quite a lot, perhaps more than the essay-style writing I do on The Simple Dollar. I can purely focus on story and character rather than passing along information directly.

So why not take advantage of my situation and see if I can get my feet wet in the fiction world?

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

Each month, I need to finish five short stories. By finish, I mean write a first draft, let it sit for a month or so, re-read it and polish it, and perhaps repeat the “let it sit and polish it” routine a few times. From there, I’ll pass the stories to my wife and let her choose the best one, then I’ll attempt to publish that one (and perhaps put the others out there on my personal site).

Once I feel much more adept at fiction (wait… does anyone really feel adept at writing? I still feel like an amateur and I’ve written millions of words over the past several years.), I’ll begin to tackle a novel that’s been forming in my head for a very long time. I’ll start that at roughly the two year mark.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

I should talk directly with the people I know in the publishing industry (thanks to my personal finance books) and see where they point me. I also need to put substantial effort into getting my good stories published so that I’m noticed in the fiction world.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. Where do you want to be in five years? Can you pick out three specific goals that you want to achieve? From there, can you break those goals down into specific pieces that you can start working on now?

Setting goals have helped me get to my current station in life. There’s no reason why they won’t help me keep climbing the mountains to my dreams.

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  1. Meg says:

    I vote Norwegian, then you can translate this knitting pattern I have and I can set the goal of knitting a sweater ;)

  2. Joanna says:

    I’d vote for French only b/c I view language as a means to an end (though a beautiful one). The end is communicating with new people and the world has more French speakers than Norwegian speakers. Also, it’s a challenge to maintain fluidity in a non-native language. You’ll need all the avenues you can find. I believe that it will be easier to find music, literature, people to talk to, etc. in French. However, your goal in learning a new language might not be the same as mine, so good luck with whatever you choose. Language acquisition is an incredibly difficult process but it is SO rewarding! You’ll love it. It’ll probably make your English better as well since you’ll begin re-learning / thinking about things like prepositions and conjunctions. French probably has more to offer than Norwegian in this area just due to the number of English words that come from French. Just my thoughts. Enjoy!

  3. Ollie Hicks says:

    French is way the easiest language out of what you listed. Plus regular US CDs of ‘Friends’ have French audio – will improve your vocab and comprehension massively! (If you can tolerate ‘Friends’…)

  4. Ollie Hicks says:

    Oops,no they don’t. Lots of CDs out there that do, though.

  5. Chelsea says:

    I have no problem thinking of three big goals for the next five years: Get my husband finished with his PhD, get him a good job, and have a baby. Breaking them down into specific goals is hard, especially since I only have a supporting role in two of them. Mostly it’s just about doing a good job keeping my job because although my husband gets a salary and tuition waver, I’m the “breadwinner” and provide our insurance. I’m also picking up the slack around the house so my husband can concentrate on his studies, RA and TA work, writing papers, and applying for fellowships.

  6. Georgia S says:

    Reading “I know where I want to be in five years, but the road to get there is sometimes covered in fog,” made me think of an E.L. Doctorow quotation that I like: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

    Not sure if it’s best to try to achieve goals as though you’re driving through the fog, but the man has a point.

  7. steve says:

    You may want to consider learning French & Spanish at the same time. More people worldwide speak Spanish than French by about a 3 to 1 ratio. That would greatly increase the likelihood of finding a common language with someone when you do your worldwide tour promoting your book. Just a thought.
    I’ve also heard that the languages are pretty similar so that should help.

  8. Kris says:

    I learned French in childhood through French Immersion schooling (yay Canada!)and found Spanish easy to acquire from there.
    I wish you luck with your goals and I love the way you have laid them out so methodically. I’m going to spend some time this weekend doing the same.

  9. Dena Bugel-Shunra says:

    I highly recommend LiveMocha as a resource for language learning. It’s free (a good price) and pairs learners from one language with learners from another. So you might coach someone who wants to learn English, and your Norwegian (or whatever) coach would coach you.

    I have no affiliation, other than the fact that it’s been very helpful with my Dutch studies (I’m a linguist by profession – a translator – but not of Dutch. LiveMocha got me to the point where I could participate in conversations this summer.)

  10. Joan says:

    My husband and I plan to have our four remaining credit cards paid off in 5 years. (Actually, closer to 4.)

    We have recently paid off our only car – and it’s a 2003, so we expect to still be driving it and nothing else in five years.

    We also have paid off all other loans – student loans and a minor loan we’d taken out to repair our cracked bathtub.

    And, in the past few years, we have paid off five smaller credit card accounts.

    So right now, we have “bills” (like utilities), those four remaining credit cards (which remain completely unused, as they have been for the five years we’ve been married) and our mortgage. We’re not too concerned about the mortgage YET – this is most likely our “forever” home and the payments are very manageable. Once the CC debt is paid off in four years, though, we will certainly revisit how we feel about that loan.

    We also have a goal number in mind for our 401(k)s in five years and our daughter’s college savings account (529 plan) in five years. We are not looking to pay her way, but since our retirement plans are strong and our debt is coming down, we’d like to be able to offer some amount. She contributes as well; she’s 9 now and in fourth grade.

    So that’s about it in five years on the finance track.

    By then, I also hope to have my family scrapbooks caught up (my personal goal) and – the big one? – we plan that once our CCs are paid off, I might be able to work a part-time job and quit my FT!!! My dream is to be a stay-at-home wife and mom by the time my daughter is in high school.

    I’ll be reading along with you, Trent, to see how you’re doing. I love the support your posts provide!

  11. I think this is a great post. If it doesn’t make the reader think about the next five years then you need to check their pulse. It reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to start but just haven’t. Things come up, but that’s not an excuse. I’d bet if I put it down on paper, in writer it will get started. Just for you I’m going to do that now. Thank you.

  12. 3 goals? Trent, I have HUNDREDS of goals…okay, 115…but who’s counting!?

    My long-term priorities include finishing my Bachelor Degree in Environmental Science. I am 2 years from completing it, currently enrolled in classes and working towards success.

    Next would be to eliminate as much debt as I possibly can between now & the end of my classes. My only debt is my car loan and a relatively small balance on my credit card. I will have the car paid off in less than a year with standard payments but intend to knock it out quicker than that.

    After I finish school I am hoping to join the Peace Corps and do volunteer work relevent to my degree in Central or South America for 2 years.

    That is how I see my life panning out for at least the next 4-5 years, IF everything goes as planned. The other 112 goals are simply things I want to see, do, experience.

    Great post, I like that you’ve laid the foundation to accomplishing your goals, with concrete steps to actually complete them. I think that is the hardest part of accomplishing anything; figuring out HOW!

  13. Peggy says:

    I write novels, too — have completed seven, only the last two of which were actually competent. I’m hoping the one I’m working on now will be good enough to submit to agents/editors when it’s done.

    I only mention that as a preface to this observation: Everyone’s path to writing is different, but I found that writing short stories and writing novels require significantly different skill sets (though there is some overlap). Writing short stories really didn’t help me learn to write novels.

    If that’s helping you, then by all means, keep at it! But if not, maybe you could spend the next two years drafting one or more different novels and learning how that structure works before starting the one you REALLY want to write.

    Just a suggestion, for whatever it may be worth. Good luck, in any event!

  14. valletta says:

    As a linguistics major in college, thought I’d give a few tips :)

    Go for French! Up to 40% of the vocabulary of English comes from Old French, therefore Latin. (Not structure, just vocab)
    If you can read French you should be able to read Spanish and Italian. Pronunciation, altogether different animal but they also structure language similarly.
    Find a group (or start one) where everyone must speak French and only French.
    Start speaking French to one of your children, called “une personne, une langue” in linguistics circles. You’ll both learn at the same time, doing regular day to day activities.
    Watch television in your target language.
    That’s how many immigrants to America learn. My grandmother (from Spain) used to watch soaps:) My grandfather? Wrestling! He never did learn English…

    As Charles V once said “I speak French to men, Italian to women, Spanish to God and German to my horse” :)

  15. Yelena says:

    Wow, these are pretty big goals, even for a 5-year term. It’s great to see that learning another language is at the top of your list. If it helps at all, consider checking Meetup.com for foreign language groups in your area (and if there are none, start one).

    I really can’t think of 5-year goals. Things have been changing way too rapidly in my life (in the last 5 years we moved about 6 times, owned 2 houses, had a baby, had major career changes, etc, etc).

    So we (my husband and I) now set our 1-year goals instead. Even though these goals are short-term, they move us closer to our HUGE goal of paying off all our debt.

  16. KJ says:

    One of the ways to think about goals that will build positive change is to ensure that they are SMART:

  17. I think most of us have multiple goals, and then we get into the multi-tasking rut where we acheive none of them completely. Personally, I think it’s best to work on one or two goals at time, and do it with a laser like focus.

    Divide and conquer! If you can lick the money issue first–if that issue/component/goal is ever truly licked–it can free up time for all of the others. It might be worth putting other goals on the back burner until this is taking care of.

    I think the mistake we make is shooting for too many goals at once. Noble in principle, but just not entirely practical, not for most people.

  18. leigh says:

    my goals are to get a “real job” (i’m a postdoc scientist to get the requisite experience, it is not a “real job”), get rid of student loans, not sure about the third…

    five years could be a short time or a long time, depending on the goal.

  19. Lindsay says:

    In 5 years my plan is:
    1) Be debt free! Plan to pay off $12000 credit cards, $6000 on car, and $42000 on house. Done with our plan by Feb 2011!!! Just paid off $2700 in debt today!!!
    2) have a baby and stay home with them! Plan see #1 and save from 2011 on till we feel we have enough saved $, then try for baby. (I am all into being prepared!)
    3)Finish BSN in nurse! Plan enrolled in classes now, finish is Dec 2011!!!
    4)Learn to relax – still working on this one!

  20. Erin says:

    As a Norwegian I am now very curious about why you want to learn Norwegian! I am guessing you might have some Norwegian ancestry? Norwegian is definitely not particularly useful – it is small, all Norwegians speak English, there are few native speakers in the US to practice with – but I totally understand learning a language just because you want to. I speak Italian and so far has done little to help me in a work environment, but I love knowing it and of course using it when I go to Italy. And I am currently learning American Sign Language (I currently live and work in the US) because I am fascinated with the language. Please let us know what you decide!

  21. Erin says:

    … and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help! Either with the decision itself, or with the language itself, if you do decide to learn Norwegian. Lykke til!

  22. Thought-provoking post. In five years, I hope to be debt-free (credit cards and car, which will be done long before five years from now), and well on our way to paying off our mortgage before our 30-year term is up. I also would like to be a work-at-home mom by then (I suppose that’s two goals, considering we don’t have children yet!). I also would like to save about $50K by then, too, which I think might be doable.

  23. q says:

    I truly believe having the goals clearly defined is the best.

    The one thing that seems to scare me out of goals is actually accomplishing them. What then? More goals? Is it never-ending? I think one goal eventually would be something perpetual – i.e., work with kids 5 days a week, re-build cars, feed the homeless.

    For the record, my 3:

    1) Buy a house in another country
    2) 100k in CASH in the bank
    3) Complete a “trip” around the world…From San Francisco Bay and back…

    #3 I’ve had as a goal for a long time, and it is by far the hardest to me due to logistics…only over the last two years have things started to come together with accomplishing that goal, since a much smaller goal is going to two countries a year. In effect I complete the goal, but the point of the goal is an “around the world consecutively” trip.

    Good luck to everyone!

  24. Trent I think you hit on a key that most people don’t even realize–you need to have a plan. That is the main reason why most people don’t reach their goals, they either don’t have a plan or they don’t know what they want to achieve.

    When I got serious about my finances it was the first thing I had to do to get them in order–decide where I wanted to be and how I would get there.

  25. Heather says:

    Hi Trent,

    Great post. Right now my goals and plans ride on one single goal: finishing my thesis. Most days thinking beyond the “get degree, get a job” is overwhelming, but this post has given me something to think about.

    On your language goal: I’m going to chime in with everyone else in support of learning French. I’m Canadian and while not fluent in the language, am more than passingly familiar with it. I also spent a summer living and working in Norway.

    You commented: “….I’d be successful if I were to visit the countryside of a nation where everyone only spoke that language and no English to help me out.”

    That would be impossible in Norway unless you went to some very very remote, very very tiny village. Erin is right – everyone speaks English in addition to Norwegian :) Unless you have lived in the country for years, no one would expect you to speak Norwegian, and would switch to English as soon as they heard your accent.

    There will be more teaching resources for French, more opportunities to practise, more places to visit where speaking French would be a necessity.

    Whichever language you choose I wish you luck and enjoyment in learning it!

  26. anca says:

    i loved this post of yours! i understand your desire to learn Norwegian, i also wanted to learn Swedish but i gave up because everyone knows English there. this is a big challenge i have: most people in this world are fluent in English – me too. i read and use English more often than my mother tongue that i got to know English better than Romanian! i try to practice German and French more often because they are spoken a lot in Europe- and you reminded me of this goal.

    other goals i have is to finish my education, increase my emergency fund and have a company of my own one day- in robotics.

  27. Amanda says:

    Trent, try submitting your short stories for publication in magazines. This at least will get you to focus on what genre you’re best at. You’ll see what editors think, or if you’re just getting standard, xeroxed rejection slips (meaning that your stories need more work). People that publish non-fiction can give you general advice, but there is little cross-over in the industry (fiction & non-fiction)…though I’m sure the non-fiction publishers will love to act like they’re the best source of info…it’s just what we do! ;) It’s time to start developing/working within a market to get your stories ready for what readers want to read. This is the biggest problem in fiction/publishing today…editors are totally disconnected from what readers want to read (i.e. what they think is quality isn’t generally what the public enjoys), yet they know great storytelling when they see it & they will buy it. Some houses are better than others at this. I would do your own research directly in bookstores (talk to indy bookstore owners maybe…not used bookstores, btw.) Also, see if you can isolate some authors that are similar to what you’re writing or what you would like to write & get their bookscan numbers…your publisher may come in handy here. Librarians are also an excellent source of info. on what people actually like to read. Their buying sense is incredibilly honed & they’re usually very up on trens & love to share info. Good luck!

  28. guinness416 says:

    It’s pretty rough coming to this site the last few days and seeing those awful teeth ads on the top right every time. Not sure anyone else cares, but I think they’re horrible. Anyway ….

    They always say we overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in five years. I like the notion of asking “what am I doing this month to advance this goal”.

    French is definitely on the “easy” end of languages to learn for most of us, just because of how much of it is around, but I’m learning quite a minority language in Bengali (and keep up with my home language of Irish too). It would be very tough without having my husband and his family to practice with and bounce questions off, just reading ain’t the same. Not sure how you’d go about getting conversational practice in Norwegian in Iowa (?) but you never know.

  29. MANDOLIN says:

    Hi Trent

    I speak french….living in Quebec province (I immigrated here from the states)…it is easy to practice. If you ever want to chat me up for a lesson I could give introductory lessons via webcam inexpensively we could prehaps even barter. You just have to give me a shout…and know that my french is french canadian not european. Which means that I prounce vowels differently and slang is a different ball game here. There are some french people who think it is not great sounding french but personally I think quebec french is more practical for Americans. It is much less expensive to take a visit and practice here. Networking is also easier having a command of french. Every conference I have gone to since learning to speak fluently a couple of people speak french and they seem to congregate together no matter which country they come from. Its nice.

    My four big goals : Purchasing a condo or house, starting my business successfully and out of the red (which means maintaining part time work for a while), writing my first books (a non-fiction and fiction book which are already started), and losing the last 10 lbs of the 45 I gained while pregnant.

  30. Cookie says:

    I’m suprised that most of the comments are about your goal of learning a new language. Did everyone miss the part above about paying of 190k in debt in 5 years? $3200 a month in debt repayment. I’d like to hear more about how you expect to consistently make that for the next 60 months on top of your current income. I hope you can achieve it, but I’m wondering how reasonable that is.

  31. Cookie (30)–I wondered the same thing, but most web posts that contain a number of variables do seem to wander down one specific path that may not be central to the main point, but anyway…

    Here’s my guess on the popularity of the language detour: in addition to being a goal, learning a foreign language is also a diversion, which is kind of fun. There’s certainly work and dedication required to get there, but not nearly as much as would be the case with paying off $190,000 in debt over five years. Learning a foreign language seems downright doable compared to that!

  32. Shevy says:

    That’s a huge debt repayment in a very short time frame. You admit it will be hard to achieve the $3,200 per month in the short term. How will you deal with it if you find you’re falling behind?

    And I found it interesting that you were the one who made me aware of LiveMocha, but you didn’t mention it when you talked about learning a foreign language. They have huge resources and lots of native speakers (all free and available whenever you are) for at least 3 out of the 4 languages you listed. I’m not sure how much Norwegian material they have, although they’ve recently added Finnish lessons.

  33. Lou says:

    Hi Trent,

    You should read Your Mortgage: and how to pay it off in five years (by someone who did it in three) by Anita Bell. It’s great motivation and a great read. Interestingly, she also wanted to be a novelist and initially couldn’t get published. She wrote a series of personal finance books and then was able to get published as a childrens author.

  34. JonFrance says:

    I vote for French :-)

    In addition to all the reasons Joanna listed, it’s also easier to learn in the US because all region 1 DVDs have a French track on them. Also you’ve said before that you’d like to spend time living in rural France when you retire; that is not realistic unless you speak French (or are willing to compromise your plans by staying in Paris or a touristy area).

    Norwegians are not used to foreginers learning their language and expect to speak English; they also tend speak English better than Frenchmen or Germans because a lot of their American TV programmes are only subtitled, whereas in the larger countries they are dubbed.

    I don’t recommend learning French and Spanish at the same time, as you can get them confused, and your progress isn’t as tangible. Better to learn one, and then use that knowledge to make learning the other easier.

  35. reulte says:

    Oh my gosh – in 5 years, I’ll be retired from my current job! In that summer I plan on taking my boy (who’ll be 12) on a road trip of American Culture – from 1500 BCE to early 1900’s, from Washington DC to San Francisco and NOT bounded by the school year. Of course, there are other goals such as increase physical exercise (I’m a desk jockey), building a freelance editing clientele, building a summer home, developing fluency in my Spanish and French, learning Latin (Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur*) but the Road Trip is THE goal.

    On learning another language, I would suggest no more than an hour daily practice. Some days, your head fills up in 1/2 hour and that extra 30 minutes gains you nothing. I would also suggest that you begin reading children’s books in the foreign language to your kids (this doesn’t count as you studying). They should be easy to find or request at your local library. Don’t expect your children to start talking to you in French (or whatever language you choose) unless you’re talking to them in French. I speak a bit of French and Spanish at work and have had housekeepers who spoke Spanish and French since my boy was two. They proclaimed his childish fluency but no matter how much I spoke to my boy, he’d always say “No! Momma speak English” until just this past year. Maybe he was just telling me how bad my accent is :-) .

    *Everything sounds more profound in Latin.

  36. angela says:

    This was a great motivational post. One of the things I have learned from classes I have taken is writing things down and posting them in an area well traveled in your house is the best way to keep these things in your mind. Setting goals and tweeking them over time is the best way to keep them attainable. I have a goal to pay off all of my CC’s in a certain amount of time…you have now motivated me to keep moving on all of my debt after the CC’s are over.

  37. Debbie M says:

    It’s always good to learn a useful language. Languages most useful to me are Spanish (because I live in the southwestern US) and American Sign Language (because it’s a language you can use when spoken language isn’t appropriate such as when it’s too loud to hear, too quiet to talk, or you can see but not hear such as on the other side of a window). French is also useful because people are always sticking untranslated French in books (well, old books, anyway).

    However, some languages are just more fun to learn and to speak. I’ve learned a little ASL, Latin, Hebrew, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. The most fun to learn was ASL because it’s fun to try to guess where the signs came from. The easiest for me was German and I also think it’s fun to learn because of all the compound words. (The word for glove could be translated as handshoe, for example). The most fun to try to speak with an authentic is accent is (I know I’m supposed to say French) Italian.

    On a different note, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming up.

  38. Kate says:

    Thanks for giving me the nudge to think about where I want to be in five years.

  39. Eden Jaeger says:

    I don’t mean this as a criticism, only something to consider. But it seems to me that the three goals you’ve named are competing with one another, all seeking your most valuable, and irreplaceable, resource- time.

    Maybe you need to prioritize the three and specify which 1 or 2 you are willing to sacrifice in the interest of completing the first?

    I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here. I suspect I struggle with the same issue for myself. I often get motivated, make lots of goals, but apparently don’t consider that they will all be draining my time and maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

  40. Chad Oliver says:

    Hey, just a little bit of advice about language learning. I haven’t read all the comments (there’s lots, and I’m meant to be studying), but I hope these help:

    -Don’t do a university course. They’re a waste of time, because you usually have one teacher and lots of students – in my experience, the teacher spends the hour telling you what to ddo, then you do it for homework. Assuming you’re motivated, you can do without the cost (in time and money) of the course quite fine.
    -French, all the way. I’m doing it, so of course you want to do it! :-)
    -the foreign service institute puts out language learning resources, and since they’re a government entity, (almost) all the audio recordings and transcripts etc are public domain. the website [http://www.fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php] hosts these files legally – get them and use them. They’re a really good resource. I can’t see one for Norwegian, but there is one for French, and Spanish.
    -For learning vocab, I have two resources: the first is anki [http://ichi2.net/anki/], and the second is the shkoota project [http://shtooka.net/en/]. I don’t have time to explain them, but check out the websites – they’re both invaluable resources!

    Chad Oliver

  41. Sue says:

    I did the math on the debt repayment part of the goals, and it works out to $3166/month over 5 years. However, you have to take into account the interest that will be accumulating while you chip away at it. Right now on my mortgage, half of each payment I make gets eaten up by interest! So not sure if $3200/month is realistic when you take the interest into account.

  42. Janette says:

    I am not sure why any US citizen at this point would take on a different language than Spanish- since that is where the money will be in the next 15 years:>)
    As a monolinguist – living within a family of multilinguists…
    My five year goals:
    Finish this job (retire sort of)
    Take two or three years off encouraging dh with his wood working.
    Serve in some mission/ Peace corps capasity
    Enjoy the grandbaby

  43. Walter Daniels says:

    Learning Spanish will be easier from English, because of the Latin roots. French also has the same roots, but is trying to keep out any “American” crossovers.
    For the writing, you can self publish, short stories, or even novels and charge for PDF versions. That would be an especially good option for collected columns. People familiar with them, would be inclined to pay for them, more so than non subscribers. Most IM experts advise to have “free give aways,” which you already do with the columns. Combining them into chapters, and tying them together would give them more value. I can’t advise on price, but wish you luck.

  44. Tordr says:

    I would say learn Norwegian, but I am biased as it is my mother tongue, on the other hand you do not need to know Norwegian when you are a tourist in Norway as everyone speaks English quite well.

    On the other hand the French are well known to not understand English.

    A quote from a friend (none-Scandinavian): “Ask a Norwegian/Dane/Swede if he speaks English and he will say “A little” and then continue to speak fluently in English. Ask a south-European if he speaks English and he will say “A little” and it really is a _little_ English.

  45. Megan says:

    Goal #1: Debt-freedom with the exception of a student loan and a mortgage.

    Goa #2: Start a family.

    Goal #3: Re-learn Spanish.

    Goal #4: Be living in Colorado.

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