If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re probably not in grade school — that you’ve had at least some years in school and work. Probably a relationship or two, as well. You may be doing the job you always wanted — or you’re working just enough to pay the bills. Maybe you’re unemployed right now, and looking for a new direction to head.
The secret to a healthy, interesting life is like anything else: it helps a lot if you plan ahead. Knowing the answers to a few key questions will help you do it.
What do I really want?
If you’re a homebody, heading down to Rio for Carnival isn’t going to appeal…but setting up new raised beds that are easier to tend may help you garden for decades longer. (Not to mention the vitamins and energy home-raised vegetables can give you!)
On the other hand, you may have always wanted to travel: maybe the length of Route 66, or all of the national parks. Two of our friends have plans to hit every baseball stadium in the country. (Yes, they love the game.) Another set of friends enjoys getting (re)married in every state; they’re up to almost 15!
Take a spare hour — and a notebook. If money and time were no problem, what would you really like to do in the next 10, 20 or 30 years? Call it a bucket list, if you like — but write these things down. Have your partner or spouse do the same. Compare lists; can some items be combined? Are some accomplished more easily at a younger age? (Put those at the top of the list; your health may not be as good later on.)
Got your list? Now, by each item, write down how much you think it would cost. You don’t have to be exact — but be realistic.
What do I really need right now?
The basics apply here: food, shelter, utilities, transportation, reasonable insurance. (Leave off items like clothing for now: unless you’re stark naked while reading this, you’ve got enough to get by, for a while at least.) A lot of people, me included, would add computer and cellphone to this list.
Here’s the hard part…but it also can make all the difference in the long run.
What am I buying right now that I don’t really NEED?
It could be the taxi — when you could ride the bus (or your bike) for much less. New boots. (Winter’s coming, you rationalize.) Concert tickets. Going out to eat regularly, even when the refrigerator’s full.
Are these secondary items as important to me in the long run as the items on the ‘I Want’ list?
Setting them aside can help you do what’s important more quickly. Case in point: restaurant meals. One less visit adds at least $20 to your savings every time you don’t indulge. (More, if you like the snootier places.) If you’re used to going out weekly, switch to every week. Just that simple action, done over a year, gives you more than $500 toward that Mediterranean cruise on your ‘I Want’ list!
How can I save on what I really do need?
Turn the heat or air conditioning down. Buy a used car, instead of a new one. Save up for items, and pay cash. (Or get in a 12-month payment program. Each of our last three computers was purchased this way — on sale and no interest paid!) Get several quotes for car or renter’s insurance, instead of just one. Change your phone plan. Cancel the cable tv.
Saving here helps accomplish your ‘I Want’ list that much faster. Even better, it gets you on the road to things that are important, rather than bogging down in the everyday details.
Life is too short for just making do. With time, patience and preparation, you really can do what you want.