What’s Next?

One of the biggest themes running through The Simple Dollar is the drive to get one’s financial house in order – eliminate that high-interest debt, learn how to live cheaper, build an emergency fund, and focus on spending less than you earn. Once that becomes a standard of your life, though, it is inevitable that you will eventually reach a point where your finances are under control. Your high interest debt is gone. Your saving habits are such that you are accumulating money in the bank.

And you’re left wondering what’s next?

I dealt with this question in my own life in late 2007 and early 2008. What was next for me was changing careers and doing something I had always dreamed of doing – writing for a living, and doing it with enough flexibility that I could spend tons of time with my family, particularly with my children while they were young. That was my dream. Before that, writing for a living and having such huge schedule flexibility was a seemingly inaccessible dream.

So I did that. I had good enough spending habits (and no big debts breathing down my neck) that I could afford the steep pay cut that went with quitting my full-time work. I walked away from the office on March 15, 2008, and I haven’t really looked back.

What’s next for me now? What big dreams am I pursuing today? Right now, my focus is on enjoying my children’s youth and improving as a writer. I read voraciously and write voraciously – The Simple Dollar is only a portion of what I write in a given day. (I’m a big believer that the only way one can become good at something is by doing it a lot and admiring and studying the work of people who do it well.) I block off huge chunks of the day to spend it with my family, too – every evening is an adventure of reading books, exploring nature, playing in the park, asking questions, trying new foods, and so on.

As my children grow older, what do I want then? As my skills grow as a writer, I fully intend to branch out publicly into other topics. I also intend to travel with them quite a bit so they can see the world (meaning we’ll go to different places and go off the beaten path), and I would genuinely like to have a house in the country, with a big barn in the back and the tools to do a bit of small-scale farming, with some chickens and a huge vegetable garden.

What’s next for you? Most likely, it’s something different than what I want for my future. I know the people around me have a lot of interesting plans. One of my close friends wants to spend his time building houses. Another friend wants to start a winery.

Whatever your dream is, it likely has a lot in common with what’s next for me:

What’s next seems almost like a mirage right now. It feels unreal, something that you really can’t attain from where you’re at right now, mostly because you see all of the obstacles in the way.

What I find is that many people just simply accept that their vision is unreachable, so they settle into a steady day-in day-out life, doing the same old thing over and over. They let their spending fill up their income and abandon the dreams of anything else, secure in the small comfort of a nice car and a few escapes.

If you choose that route, what’s next will just be more of the same. For some, that’s the right answer – for me, it’s not.

What’s next will require quite a bit of money in the bank. If nothing else, a major life change demands a healthy emergency fund – cash to get you through the transition. Most of the time, the dream requires some serious pocket money.

That means saving. It means spending as little as you can and putting the rest away into some sort of investment. It often means being fairly aggressive with your investments.

What’s next will require some sacrifice and difficult choices right now. This summer, our family’s vacation will be a camping trip to a state park. We drove our previous car almost into the ground, to the point where there were so many necessary repairs coming up that we were afraid to drive it very far.

What’s next for you? What are you doing to get there?

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