Updated on 04.17.09

What’s Next?

Trent Hamm

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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  1. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    What’s next for me is learning how to travel frugally with a 13 month old when we move to Australia in 7 weeks.

    I think we’ll have our hands full with just that!

  2. SJ says:

    I think establishing the “what’s next” early is a better policy.

    Then you have a goal beyond not being in debt lol…

    I don’t know what mine are, I want to travel (for sure!!) and have impact on the world… but beyond that I’m not sure what I want right now.

  3. Joe says:

    It looks like you’ve got it down pat right now, but my advice would be to never forget that “being daddy is priority number one”. You have learned at a young age that the time you spend with family is priceless, and not to be wasted. To see the direction that your life has taken through this blog, I’m sure the “what’s next?” question that you ask of yourself will without a doubt take you down the right path.

  4. Ryan Loos says:

    I like the focus on family. No matter “what’s next” my family will always be the first priority.

  5. Cambo says:

    Hey Baker

    Welcome to Australia – I’m sure you’ll find the country and ppl wonderful

  6. Barb says:

    Trent – a couple of weeks ago you suggested camping for a honeymoon… “Consider going camping. Camping? In a tent? On a honeymoon? Absolutely. I’m speaking from experience here.” but now you categorize a summer camping trip with your wife and kids as something else …”will require some sacrifice and difficult choices right now. This summer, our family’s vacation will be a camping trip to a state park.”

  7. When you reach the proverbial goals horizon– there is always another horizon within view and it is time to set new goals . . .

  8. “What’s Next” is a beautiful and necessary question. As you indicated, getting out of debt, building an Emergency Fund, and generally behaving with money is a key step for those not already on board.

    I know from my experience that doing that first has allowed me to even ask the “what’s next” question AND it start to have an exciting and fulfulling answer.

    But once that’s in place… we need (and can) start to chase our passions. You are a fine example Trent and I appreciate the motivation you demonstrate via your work.

    I am curious… what are your other writing outlets? I’d love to read more of your current work.


  9. Ann McD says:

    I’ve been a nurse for just shy of 30 years, almost all of it in an ICU setting. I wouldn’t call myself burnt out but lately things just haven’t felt right. There are so many things, so much stuff that gets in the way of the care I want to give. Recently, I was bathing a very sick lady on a ventilator. She looked me in the eye and mouthed “Thank you, this is the best bath I’ve had.” It made me tear up- such a small thing for me, such a big thing for her. It pushed me to think about what I find important in this profession- and I applied for a job in hospice two days later. It’s a little frightening, creeping out of my safty zone, but I think that’s my “what’s next.”

  10. Dave says:

    I really need to think of my ‘What Next?’ personally, pretty soon here. I’ve just started a new job which pays much better than my old one, I am working a regular schedule now, and by the end of the summer – barring any unseen emergencies – I will be able to eliminate all of my debt and have a relatively healthy emergency fund.

    I have a number of things that I want to do, but still being in school means I should probably just devote more time to studying and the like. Still, I want to start up a side business of some kind while I’m still very young to get me some business experience and help develop my interpersonal and management skills.

    I think in the next week or so I’ll be putting together a list of ‘What Next?’ options I could consider. :p

  11. Adam says:

    I’ve never really wondered ‘what’s next’ for me. I have always known that the ultimate goal is to stop working.

    I save my pennies, stay out of debt and invest everything that I can. I work on investing to build a passive cash flow that continues to flow forever. Once I reach that crossover point where I don’t have to work for a living, maybe then I’ll ask ‘now what?’

  12. Yo Prinzel says:

    It’s interesting to think that what’s “now” was once “what’s next.” It really makes you understand how doable your goals are–especially if you have your finances in order. Great post and really gives something to think about!

  13. ScottC says:

    “Trent – a couple of weeks ago you suggested camping for a honeymoon… “Consider going camping. Camping? In a tent? On a honeymoon? Absolutely. I’m speaking from experience here.” but now you categorize a summer camping trip with your wife and kids as something else …”will require some sacrifice and difficult choices right now. This summer, our family’s vacation will be a camping trip to a state park.”
    Barb @ 4:30 pm April 22nd, 2009 (comment #6)”

    I think its ok to see this kind of discrepancy on a blog. The problem is we get used to reading the blog as if it all comes from one person who we start to feel we know over time. Secondly, it is quite easy to read the blog as a recipe for how to lead one’s life. From these perspectives, contradicting advice (either piece of which could stand on its own) becomes an issue either because it appears to point out a fallacy in the author or because it is impossible to follow contradictory advice in our own lives.

    Let each article stand on its own if you find it contradictory to previous advice and decide for yourself how to live. Pointing out discrepancies of this nature isn’t likely to make Trent change his life (the Trent you know is his public face, no matter how intimate the blog seems), and it isn’t really constructive in any other way.

    I don’t mean to pick on you, but lately this seems to be a trend and I think it misses the point of reading The Simple Dollar.

  14. Penny says:

    A timely post – I have been thinking about this recently. My partner’s employment contract was not extended past Christmas, so we have, for the first time ever, been a one income family since then. At first we were both worried as to how we would survive, but it seems we are doing fine, and so he is taking the plunge into a long held ambition – writing full time. And it’s making him so much happier as well!

    So I’ve been recently thinking about how we can get our savings plan back on track, reduce our debt and work on that ‘all important’ emergency fund. Thanks for putting it in words Trent – It has jolted me a bit into thinking about how we will move forward from now.

  15. Sumi says:

    For me, it’s teaching my kids to be frugal and save for the future. Easier said than done when they want just about everything they want on tv!


    Earn a living on Etsy. Visit my good friend The Buzz.. http://www.TheBuzz.etsy.com

  16. Melson says:

    Nice timing, since my wife and I finally sold our house after 1½ years on the market. For the first time since our student days we are out of debt (we rent now), and two healthy savings accounts on top of it.

    For people looking for cheap travel: three weeks ago we discovered CouchSurfing.com, where you can find people who let you sleep a night or two on their couch/mattress/guest bed. We CouchSurfed to three cities in France during Easter holiday last week, and it was a great experience.
    And since we were hitchhiking as well (an old hobby of ours), we spent about half as much in seven days as a weekend city trip we took in December.

  17. wren says:

    @Barb (comment #6) I read that last paragraph differently. The what’s next is the summer camping trip. The sacrifice NOW is having driven their car nearly into the ground, to the point where they don’t feel comfortable taking it on long trips. So they give up the longer trip to go camping NOW, and will be taking it in the summer, now that they have a trustworthy car.

    Somehow, based on what Trent has said before, I don’t think that camping trips are sacrifices for him. Maybe, I could be wrong, but I think you should consider it in the context of the whole paragraph, not just the first two lines.

  18. We are still in the debt repayment phase. Our debt is now snowballing nicely, paying off three debts this month. We still have a long way to go but we are working to pay off our debt in 2 years (except the mortgage), before we start trying to have children. Without the debt, we’ll be able to live comfortably on my husband’s salary and any money I make can go toward paying off the mortgage.

  19. Carmen says:

    Once you get your financial house in order, there are also new financial goals to strive towards, should one wish to do so.

    Although we have been fortunate to avoid non mortgage debt, our ‘what next’ is to pay off the mortgage (ideally by 40) and retire as early as possible, at 50-55, dependent on decisions yet to be made, events outside our control and luck.

    We also gave birth to project Travel 11 this year which involves monthly savings for our 3 month family holiday in, wait for it, 2011! So that is one big motivator this year as we avoid overseas travel in exchange for cheap domestic camping this year.

    Travel will always be at the forefront of our dreams. Unfortunately I think it’s a case of the more you see of the world, the more you want to see!

  20. Expat says:

    For me the next three months will bring a move from Hong Kong to an African country, a totally new working environment, new household staff, a new car, a new (second) dog, and a large garden where I plan to grow some vegetables. After settling in, I plan to save enough money to buy an apartment for my daughter in 3-4 years without any mortgage.

  21. Barb says:

    @wren Thanks for the clarification — when I read that paragraph it felt like a few sentences were missing.
    It had choppy logic.
    It almost read like what next is ‘sacrifice and difficult choices’ and what’s next for Trent’s family is a camping trip — therefore what’s next was a sacrifice. And then it added the statement about they drove their previous car almost into the ground — therefore we’re used to sacrifice.

  22. CPA Kevin says:

    Our what’s next has led us to become much more disciplined on what we spend our money on. When we were in debt it was easy to run to Target or the mall and drop $50-75 on whatever. Now we really think about it – since that money could be spent or saved.

    We’ve found it’s also much more challenging to buy a new house when you are going to put down the full 20%. I think we are being much more selective this time and will wait until that perfect home comes along. Maybe we’re just growing up, but I feel like the financial security we have now has a lot to do with it.

  23. My take away on this for me is simple – the question of what next is the ball that you keep in front of you; it’s the point that you always stay on; it’s your watchful eye.

    The idea for me is to always have a plan, some important objectives, and work towards those objectives as smart as I can. I’ll have to delay gratification and modify my plan as I go along, but I always have the light at the end of the tunnel in my sights.

    I know whether I work smart and hard, or I just coast along, each of the options has a set of short term and long term consequences. And, I know that either way, I’ll probably get exactly what I deserve (earn).


  24. Chaturon Wattaporn says:

    The lofty goal of financial independence is next, wherein passive income covers basic living expenses, thus freeing one from having to work for a living! (Best definition of passive income = income that shows up whether you do or not!)

    Am almost there: have purchased two properties for rental (rental income), have amassed a large amount of capital through self-employment (interest income), am slowly but steadily building a photography portfolio to sell online (passive residual income), and have reduced living expenses to a minimum. Just need the courage to unhinge from a high-paying freelance gig.

    Very excited to take the next step of exploration (artistic and terrestrial)!

  25. I am thrilled to read your account of what next and how dealth with it.. Its a question haunting me also and I too intend to make a living out of writing.. I may not be that good now but with practice guess it will be par for the course. Have started a blog myself and would love to make it popular and then branch out.. lets see where this takes me.. thans for sharing..

  26. John Frainee at PlainCents says:

    It is that “seemingly inaccessible dream” that I’m pursuing. I’m taking your advice to heart, Trent. Thanks for your encouragement! This article was very timely.

  27. Nick says:

    Trent, thank you for this post.

    I have almost no debt (will be paid off by end of year) and don’t own a house/condo, so my Whats Next is a little different.

    My plan is to save up enough money to travel around the world for a year with enough money left over to be able to successfully return and manage to find a job. I realize I will need to cover living expenses for a bit while I get back, not just the costs of travel.

    Sometimes it seems so hard to think about that long-term goal and all the saving I need to do – I contribute monthly, but it seems to be taking so long to build! I do see all the obstacles, but your post gave me more hope about overcoming them! Thanks!

  28. What’s next is creating more alternative income streams. I took the first step by starting a blog. I’ll continue to improve my writing, and hopefully put out an e-book sometime next year. That’s the short-term plan.

  29. partgypsy says:

    The last couple years have been about “surviving”, a variety of things too long to go into but the biggest impact being a parent on the older side with a young child who did not particularly like to sleep through the night. Anything but doing the minimum was as you say an unreachable dream.
    Now that I have a child who sleeps through the night (and even shows some interest in potty training) I am looking forward to the next step: living. One realization I have made is compared to me pre-kids me making a more firm division between work and home is better and allows me to be more productive and happier in both arenas.

    Regarding financials, we have paid off our non-mortgage debt. Our next step for the next year or two is to fund an emergency fund, and to see if my husband can earn money off his avocation.

  30. Robert says:

    Actually I was thinking that what would be next for you would be to change the name of the blog to ‘The Simple Life’, since you’ve basically gotten your financial house in order and, (judging from the reader’s questions you choose to answer) you’ve now become an advice columnist and a life coach in addition to being an amateur ‘financologist’. : )

  31. Foxie says:

    Great post Trent! Of course, I’m always conflicted when I come across the “goal” sorts of things… I find plenty dealing with people who, like you, want to make career changes. For me, I know what I would like to do with my life, but I have yet to get out of college… And am nervous about going about it. I know I would like to someday be self-employed as a financial planner/adviser, but I’m afraid of getting stuck in a firm job and never being able to branch out. Still trying to develop job confidence I guess.

    Of course, I have dreams and aspirations to get into club racing, which is a pretty hefty goal at this point in time… My career aspirations (the self-employment) are to give me the financial means and time to indulge my hobby while having a job I enjoy. It’s weird how many people are taken aback by my plans. I know I’m young and all (20), but if I work for it and want it bad enough, I can achieve it, can’t I?

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