Updated on 09.16.14

Personal Finance and the Bucket List

Trent Hamm

The BucketA while back, I watched part of the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie The Bucket List. In it (if you didn’t already know), the two main characters, older gentlemen, come up with a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket” – and proceed to do most of them, even though many of them really push their physical and mental limits.

It was a cute movie with a pretty thoughtful premise – the idea of the “bucket list” itself. Like a million other viewers of the movie, I was anxious to make my own “bucket list” – and so I did. Here it is, for all of you to read.

Spend more than a week in a rural part of France.
Spend more than a week in a rural part of Italy.
Drink a bottle of 1982 Latour, Pauillac wine with my wife and some friends.
Run for a significant political office.
Write the novel I have inside me – and get it published.
Visit Petra.
Run a marathon.
Do a three week gastronomic tour of America, a la Feasting on Asphalt.
Dance with my wife and with my daughter on a special evening.

Those were the nine I wrote down, anyway. Some may seem silly to you, but those are all things I want to do before I pass away.

We all have “bucket lists” of some sort, but for most of us, these things remain just a list of dreams, likely to be unfulfilled. It’s fun to think about them and make lists of these things, but for many of us, such things often lay in the realm of dreams. Take my list, for example. Does it seem sensible or frugal to drink a $2,200 bottle of wine (yes, the 1982 Latour, Pauillac goes for that much)? Do such things really matter in the greater context of our lives?

Experiences are something that’s easy to overlook in the cut and dried world of personal finance. Tight budgets and careful saving rarely leave room for powerful and life-altering experiences, so we tend to tuck them away, intending to do them someday.

When we look back on our lives, however, it is the experiences that we remember. We don’t think fondly about that iPod we bought in 2003; we think about the night we danced in the backyard with our spouse under the moonlight. We don’t recall all of the things we fritter our money away on, but we remember the big moments, those experiences that changed our lives.

In the end, a “bucket list” is merely a list of experiences we wish to have, and just like any other dream for the future, there’s no reason to not start planning now for your own bucket list – experiences that cap your own fulfilling life. Here are six steps that will take you from where you are now to grabbing ahold of your bucket list.

6 Steps to Achieve Your Bucket List

1. Give some consideration to your “bucket list” – the list of great experiences you’d like to have before you die

This is actually quite fun. While I constructed mine, I just kept a few pages in my pocket notebook devoted to it. I’d add ideas as they came to me and scribble off other ones after some reflection, and after some time with some very nice daydreams, I came to the list above.

The process itself was very valuable. It provided a big prod for me to spend some time thinking about the experiences I dream of having in my life. Along the way, I brainstormed a lot of things, spent some time deeply reflecting on dreams I once had (and maybe don’t have any more), and realized that most of the things on my bucket list are things I want to share with my wife and my children. Great reflections, indeed.

2. Identify one (or perhaps two) items from that list that seem the most reachable

Obviously, your “bucket list” is not something you’re going to be able to just start running through, like a checklist (that’s the humorous part of the movie, actually – they run through many of those items like a person might run through a grocery list). Instead, just pick out one or perhaps two of the items to focus on right now – leave the rest for a later time.

For me, I decided to focus on writing the novel and going on a gastronomic tour of America. Both of these seem possible in the next few years. The wine one was also tempting, but honestly, I’d like to do something with that with my children and their spouses in about twenty five years. I might consider saving up and purchasing the bottle at some point, but I’ll hold it for the right moment.

3. Flesh them out into full-fledged long term goals

So, now we have two items off our “bucket list” that we’re intending to do. Now what? The next step is to flesh those goals out into something tangible and specific. Specify exactly what that bucket list item is and figure out when your target for getting it done is.

I’ll take my goal of writing the novel as an example. I’d like to be able to accomplish that in five years and I think it’s a reasonable timeframe. So I’ll spell it out clearly – I want to write and publish a strong novel in five years’ time. That’s a very clear goal now, not just something vague on my bucket list.

4. Start developing short term goals and microgoals that build a road to that item

Now that it’s a clear long-term goal, I need to figure out the little steps to get there. The first step is to get my fiction writing chops in gear, and that simply means writing more fiction. To get in gear, I’ve decided to commit to writing a short story a week, polishing up another one each week, and then sharing them with my wife, who is my best critic for writing, and others, too.

These little baby steps are just the push I need to start moving forward with this. They not only will tangibly improve my skill at writing fiction, but it will also force me to expose my fiction writing to others, which is actually the hardest part for me. Eventually, when I start writing fiction that clicks, I’ll start by entering some short story competitions, but for now, my microgoals are mainly there to keep me writing fiction.

5. Make those little steps a priority

Now we have these little goals in mind, but it’s easy to just leave them on the table and forget about them. There’s a lot of other things going on in my life – why not just leave that little goal on the table this week and forget about it? Why not do something really fun instead, or do something that will eventually earn me some income in other areas?

The real trick here is to keep how much you want that big dream in your mind. By sitting down and working on a short story or editing one, I’m taking a little step towards that big dream in my mind. Simply setting aside an hour or two a week to focus on this – and maybe a few lazy hours in the evening when everyone else is asleep – will make that goal come ever closer to reality.

6. Rinse and repeat

Once you’ve got the basic steps down, it’s a matter of doing it over and over again – making those little steps a natural part of your routine. Maybe it’s setting $20 a week aside for some sort of big, momentous goal. Maybe it’s a little task you need to accomplish. Whatever it is, make a steady effort to do it over and over again until it becomes completely natural.

Before you know it, you’ll be happily marking something off your bucket list – and you’ll have a life-altering experience to savor for the rest of your years.

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  1. Katie says:

    They’ve done blind taste tests and found that people most enjoy the wines they are accustomed to. That people who frequently drink wines under $50 a bottle will enjoy wines in that price range far more than more expensive wines. When given vastly more expensive wines to try they don’t rate them any higher, and often choose the cheaper wine as the “higher quality.”
    So in other words, lists that include “expensive wine to taste before I die” really just means “experience a level of wealth to which throwing away $X on a bottle of wine isn’t a big deal.” Which is a goal in itself. ;)

  2. Sharon says:

    I’m using my 101 Things to do in 1001 Days as a mini-bucket list. Things I want to accomplish not only before something happens, but that I can accomplish in the next few years.

  3. I suspect that your bucket list will change over time. Your list looks more like a “before I turn 50” list. Either way, good thing to have fun goals like that.

  4. Carrie says:

    Thanks for posting this! I love the idea of making a bucket list. It reminds us that we have a limited time on this earth and we need to make the most of it. Good luck on your goals! We share some common ones, by the way. I’m a writer and food fanatic (and lapsed distance runner) too!

  5. writer dad says:

    I have a running list that I started about a year ago. Every time I think of a new one, I add it. Standing back and looking at the list will tell you a lot about who you are.

  6. Andy says:

    If you are interested in rural Italy, search podere della vigna in google. There are a few apartments available outside of Vicchio, Italy. I stayed in Vigna during an archaeological project and it was amazing. Vigna, is big, so Le Selve may have smaller apartments, I’m not sure.

  7. Kevin says:

    I loved “Feasting on Asphalt”. Thought it was a really cool idea.

    Good luck with your list. I’m going to write mine down today instead of just keeping it in my head.

  8. almost there says:

    In 1991 I got promoted to my highest navy enlisted rank. My wife bought a bottle of Dom Pérignon to celebrate. It was over $100 at the time. We took the anticipatory drink and didn’t like it and poured the rest down the sink. But after having Mario Lanza champagne at our wedding and being cold duck types we were just to down to earth for the expensive palate. The expensive hooch isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

  9. jim says:

    What do you consider a significant office? I think any public service office is pretty cool.

  10. paula d. says:

    I’m on the verge of achieving one of the biggest items on my list, sending my kid to college and it’s a really great feeling.

    Now I get to start on the next item, to re-focus on my creative self, and how I make a viable business from it!

  11. No Debt Plan says:

    We saw that movie a few weeks ago. Very interesting, and we wanted to make our lists as well. Still haven’t done it yet.

  12. “Start developing short term goals and microgoals that build a road to that item.”

    The act of not doing something until we are forced to do it is as human as eating. It is in our DNA genetic makeup. The only way we act is when we are forced, but setting aside little goals that are on the road to the bigger is goal is the key. You trick your mind and your body into developing a habit that you never knew you could. Very key…

  13. James says:

    Nice bucket pic – is that your famous homemade detergent? :-)

    I saw “The Bucket List” last week and got a big kick out of it! My friends and I made our own lists as we started the movie.

  14. Thea says:

    I’d like to suggest the Castellina in Chianti region of Tuscany. There are several agritourismos there and the views are amazing!

  15. I was wondering that too, Jim! Trent?

  16. Lisa says:

    When my partner and I went to London last year — an item on his ‘bucket list’ for more than 2 decades — we came across a once in a lifetime opportunity*. Because we’d planned well to have the cash to take advantage of such an event, we were able to do it.

    *It was a chance to see Sir Ian McKellan as King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Straford on Avon. The sidetrip and tickets cost almost as much as a week’s lodging in London, but was absolutely worth it.

  17. Steve says:

    I made my list a few years ago, before the movie came out. Just making the list and posting it publicly to my livejournal was enough to get started – my wife saw it and said “You really want to see Macchu Picchu? Let’s plan a trip there next summer!”

    * See Macchu Picchu – done
    * Climb some relatively tall mountain, i.e. one that takes multiple days to scale
    * Skydive
    * Become a millionaire, then a multi-millionaire
    * Contribute to the gene pool
    * Visit every continent
    * Make a lasting impression somehow
    * Complete a triathlon (olympic level or higher)

  18. I think a “Bucket List” also is a nice reality check for those of us who get caught up in personal finance matters — it is easy to focus on the micro level of saving money, but money is only a means to an end… having an idea of what you would *really* like to experience, and then focusing on those goals, can not only give an added value to personal finance on frugality, but also help make those more expensive ideas a reality.

    To me, all of this frugality and smart financial management and what not is only a means to achieve my own personal bucket list…

  19. Laura says:

    I think the bucket list is a fabulous idea. Many of the dissatisfied people I have come across in the world are not the ones who have failed to realize their dreams, but rather the ones who haven’t spent enough time and energy dreaming!

    “Live in rural France and learn French” (even though I had to drop it in Grade 11 as it was bringing down my whole GPA – I was TERRIBLE at it) was top of my list, and I managed to do both.

    As a bonus I met my Burgundian born husband during that year and we now have three completely bilingual Franco-Canadian daughters (“contributed to the gene pool” – done!), speak French all the time as a family, live in rural Burgundy amongst the vineyards, have four vacation rentals and work at giving many other wonderful people the same fabulous experience I had. I blog about it all at http://www.grapejournal.blogspot.com

    Daring to dream – it makes all the difference!

    Off to fine tune my bucket list a little further…still haven’t written that novel yet…

  20. deepali says:

    Petra is on my bucket list too!

    I like that the list is short. Mine is like 300 items. Maybe I need some focus.

  21. BonzoGal says:

    To the folks who are saying that “expensive wine isn’t worth it”, note that Trent listed a very specific wine. He didn’t say “Drink a $3000 bottle of vino”, he listed a wine he knows that respected experts have said “This is something amazing.”

    I like both cheaper wines and some expensive ones- if you’re lucky (like I am), you can get to a shop where the workers can recommend both types depending on what you want to spend. I will say, though, that while a $10 bottle can be quite good, it can’t match most $60 wines for some of the more subtle tastes. (YMMV! It depends on if you are a wine-head or just like a little vino once in a while. It’s up to what you LOVE- for example, I don’t love cars and can’t tell the difference between most of ’em, but others can and do, so there ya go.)

  22. Jesse says:

    At the first poster: I can definitely tell a difference between a $8 bottle of wine we commonly get and an $18 bottle of wine we also get fairly often. On the other hand Ive had a fair amount of more expensive ones….and I still prefer my Francis Ford Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon (the $18 bottle) over any of them. :)

  23. Chelsey says:

    I made a list of 101 things to do in 1001 days last week. It was a blast to come up with the list. I made a separate blog to chart my progress. If anyone’s interested, check out http://chelseys101.wordpress.com.

  24. Debbie M says:

    You might want to look into National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/), which happens every November. It’s a great way to jump-start a novel plus you get lots of support.

    I did it, taking off Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (I think) for the month to give myself more time, and I did achieve the goal of 50,000 words. I learned that I am extremely terrible at writing novels! And I got to find that out in a single month which involved hanging out in coffee shops with friends, etc.

    In preparation for the month, I tried to come up with some ideas and read some books on writing. My favorite was by Lawrence Block (probably Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, but it sounds like his other one, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers, is similar). No Plot, No Problem was also quite fun.

  25. Annette Berlin says:

    I’d also like to visit Petra one day. And, given the fact that I only live two hours away, I don’t have any excuses. Maybe I’ll see you there sometime!

  26. scatterhaiku says:

    i like that it’s noted that what we remember are the experiences, as opposed to the stuff. it’s easy to get caught up, thinking about stuff, wanting it, watching out for the next great new piece of it.

    and the great thing about experiences, as pointed out, is that you can start on them today. some are clearly expensive, but others are almost, if not completely, free, and just as meaningful.

  27. Silverbolt says:

    Trent: Your articles just keep getting better and better. Glad you quit your office job!

  28. I honestly think the easiest thing on your list (aside from the dancing) is to run a marathon. It’s one of the cheapest things too. If I can do it – anyone can do it. I recommend “Four Months to a Four-Hour Marathon” by D. Kuehls. Love this post – I often lie awake regretting all the things I haven’t done and the pressure of not living life to its fullest. I guess that’s what comes from having a grandmother whose daily mantra is, “Life is not a dress rehearsal!”

  29. berra says:

    I have got your email for some time now – I save them and read when I have the time. And I always is amazed – your write great stuff!

    it is a pleasure to read you; keep going!

    greetings from Finland

  30. Shoji says:


    If you are going to write a short story every week, you should consider starting another blog. Maybe “The Simple Short Story”? I, for one, would be interested in reading it.

    It wouldn’t have to be much work either. One post a week and you could have lots of feedback. After all, you’re going to be writing them either way. Plus, when you pitch your fiction book in five years you can say “My short story blog attracts X people each month”.

    It sounds like a win-win to me.

  31. guinness416 says:

    I have a similar list but consider them medium-term things I want to do, or short-term should the opportunity arise. I haven’t seen the film but “before I die” seems setting the bar a bit low, no? Especially for such achievable items (well, except maybe the book and the local politics). These are all young-person things! I’d hate to think of you at 80 never having gone to Italy.

  32. Karen says:

    I had a short Bucket List and did all before I hit the big 4-0 (skydive, ride in a glider and hot air ballon)!! I now am making out a new list – tops on my list is seeing the Grand Canyon and walking on the glass sidewalk over it.

  33. Lee Hall says:

    Bucket lists are a great idea. But we could look at them in a different light. Once you have your bucket list down, search for any commonalities. Sometimes, these occurrences will become trigger points for what you may want to do on a more permanent basis instead of what you are doing now. -Cheaplee

  34. Alyson says:

    I was going to comment on the wine thing too – isn’t it funny that so many people are commenting on THAT specific item?

    Anywho, this post reminded me of a conversation I had with the guy at a wine store (Does he count as a sommelier? have a different fancypants name?). He had a tasting and was trying to get my husband and I to buy whatever it was that we were tasting. Now, we pretty much have a $10 rule – if it’s less than $10, has a cool name and a catchy label, we’ll buy it. We’re not big winos and admit to not being able to taste the chocolate and the essence of blackberry or whatever. I told that to this guy and he agreed with me, except on my price point (too cheap, obviously). And told a story, which I will attempt to quickly paraphrase here. Wine guy has a rich friend with quite the wine collection – numerous bottles for which he paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Wine and Rich (oohh, country band name) were sitting around drinking and wine said to rich – when are you going to drink the $$$$$ wine?? Long story short, rich opened one of the bottles – crap – another -crap and ended up throwing out a couple thousand dollars worth of wine. The point being – sometimes it’s better to be cheap!

    Seriously though, who knows how the wine was stored since it was bottled? Who knows if it’s real – because counterfeit wine is possible. So, think before you spend and if you spend – may it knock your socks off! And let me know so I can get myself an Hermes Kelly Bag, which will certainly last longer than the bottle of wine and is, therefore, justified.

  35. Meg says:

    Wow, I think I must be way too old to keep reading this blog, which is, I suppose, why it has begun to seem like a duty.

  36. Red says:

    Thanks for this post, specifically the advice to “Make those little steps a priority.”

    As a direct result of reading this I signed up for an open mic I would probably have missed, just because work is busy.

    Work is always busy, comedy is important to me and I need to make it a priority.

  37. Wow! I realized that I need to come up with a few more items for my bucket list as I just survived #1.

    Visit Disneyland with my 4 and 2 year-old by myself for a week. I really did it!

  38. Sandy says:

    If you want to stay in a rural part of France for a week or more (or just a weekend ), check out gitesdefrance.com . A gites is usually a farmhouse of some kind, or older home with older residents who have space to rent for the night, a weekend, or a week or a month. Both times we lived in France, we utilized this wonderful service. While poor grad students, my husband, our daughter and I stayed in a “1 Corncob” a number of times. On a 2 year corporate relocation to France, we stayed at more “3 or 4 corncob” (as opposed to 3 star) places. But they are always quaint, charming, and there is usually a happy dog on the premises, happy to keep the kids occupied. Last year, we stayed at a 3 corncob for 7 days in Provence. Picnics were the overwhelming majority of our meals, as the markets in France have everything you need for an amazing meal. Maybe even the bottle of wine you desire can be had for a lesser amount there!

  39. Lynne says:

    I don’t have a “bucket list” per se, but I do keep a list of yearly goals, and what I don’t do bumps to the following year. I loved the movie, but have had my lists for a number of years. My brother-in-law’s wife wrote such a list before her death, and they did darned near all of them before she passed! Aside from traveling the world, I’d really like to visit all 50 states & territories of the USA. Then all the Canadian provinces, then…..in other words I like to travel, have no $$$ at this time to do so, but I can still keep it as a goal. My simpler more immediate ones are things like: attend 2 local parades, visit 2 or more museums, go to art galleries, go wine tasting, ride a train, go to a movie by myself, and many others. These are more easily accomplished and enrich my life in many ways. I didn’t mention my family, because they are woven throughout my daily life and usually are with me on my various pursuits.

  40. Dylan says:

    I’ve got a way for you to knock off three from your list in one week – run the Medoc Marathon. It takes place every September in Pauillac just outside of Bordeaux. There are 20 or so wine tastings throughout including a stop at Chateau Latour (ok they probably aren’t tasting the ’82 – but you can come back the next day and get a bottle). I’m running it this September.

  41. Liz says:

    I haven’t got as far as a bucket list yet, but there is one thing I like to do and intend to repeat at regular intervals, and that is to have family holidays. Now my son’s on his mid-teens I probably don’t have too many left, but we have all enjoyed the ones we’ve had. Two years ago, as I sat by a lazy French river at the beginning of a holiday I nearly had to cancel on doctors orders, I read this article by Libby Purves, a well-known British journalist. Her son had committed suicide the month before and she found the courage to write this: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/libby_purves/article692210.ece
    She’s right, the free time we get to spend with the people we love is the best, the very best life has to offer.

    We go camping in France every year, we all love it and don’t want to do anything else. They have fantastic campsites of every kind.

  42. susan says:

    How can you, a writer, characterize as a “cute movie”? Surely you can do better than that.

  43. Elizabeth says:

    I actually started a blog after seeing the movie. The blog and my list of goals are here: http://thetravellingadventurer.wordpress.com/my-100-life-goals/

  44. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    You should be able to do most of that stuff in the next three years, Trent. You’ve got office different vacations in there, one per year should be easy, two per year is feasible. The wine you could do tomorrow if you really wanted to. Yeah, it’s a $2000 bottle of wine, but if you’re willing to drop $2000 on it *ever* then tomorrow’s as good as any other time. You could start training for the marathon *right now* and run it in 2010 no problem. The dancing is a gimme, you’ll get it by default on your daughter’s wedding day. That only leaves the novel, which seems something that shouldn’t be too hard to get started on, as you’re already a writer, and the political office, which is probably the most challenging one here.

    What are you going to add to your list in 2012 when this one’s done?

  45. Tall Bill says:

    Well put Tyler.

    Keep on Keeping up Trent.

    You’re an inspiration for many of us.

    When will the do it yourself cooking website launch??

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