The Life You’ve Always Wanted?

We all have our ideas of what the “perfect life” would be like but often the images in our mind are a far cry from the reality we are living.  If you were able to travel back in time and ask a younger version of yourself if this is the future they’d choose for themselves, what would their answer be?  Twenty years ago, could you have envisioned the life you have today?  Is it everything you’d imagined or have your dreams evaporated into thin air?

Chances are, the life you are living today is nothing like the life you expected to have.  You sold your ideals for a dollar bill.  Why?  “Because that’s just what adults do.” We have to make a living to pay the bills.  There’s food to buy and television to watch.  How are we supposed to save the world when we’re up to our eyeballs in debt?  The mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?

“It is what it is.” There’s no time for dreams.  Dreams don’t pay the bills or put food on the table.  Our younger selves didn’t understand what it meant to be adults.  We have obligations now and we’ve built our lives around some idea of what it means to be a “responsible adult” in today’s world.  What we ended up with is a career that steals our time and energy, a mortgage that drains our income and debt from all the Stuff we bought to furnish and decorate our home.  We have many thousands of dollars in Student Loans and a couple of cars to pay for.  Oh yeah, and the credit cards…

It looks like being an adult isn’t all that we’ve been led to believe.  All of our lives we’ve been told that adults are “responsible”, implying that it’s somehow more virtuous to fall in line and follow the leader than it is to follow our youthful ambitions.  The “responsible” thing to do is find a job, get married and have children, buy a house and a couple of cars, then keep your nose to the grindstone until it’s finally time to retire.  When that day does come, we hope that our health will last long enough to enjoy the life of our dreams; the life we’ve been waiting our whole life to live.

And what has it all amounted to?  A garage full of Stuff we never really needed in the first place, kids that seem to resent our very existence unless we’re buying them something, a spouse that we barely seem to know anymore and a huge house we aren’t able to enjoy because we are at the office earning a paycheck to pay the mortgage.

Sure, we have all the Stuff we could ever imagine.  We drive nice cars and wear nice clothes.  Our home is decorated like a magazine cover and on the weekends we are able to relax with a cold beer in the backyard.  On the surface things seem wonderful.  A little deeper though and things don’t look as good anymore.

What are we sacrificing to create this image of the “perfect” life?  Our time, our energy, our sanity?  If the average person starts working fresh out of college at the age of 22 and retires at 67, that’s 45 years of life sold for a dollar bill.  We’re trading our life to fill our garage with junk, for a heap of metal to take us to a job so that we can pay for that same heap of metal.

What if there were a different way?  What if you didn’t have to spend your entire life working?  Would you do it?  If you knew that in 10 years you could be financially able to walk away from your job with enough money to pay for all your expenses, would you have the ambition to make it happen?

There is a way, it is possible!  The only problem – of course there’s a problem – is that to get there, you have to minimize your spending and save.  “But that’s Un-American!” Our entire lives we’ve been told to “get out there and boost the economy.”  After the attacks on September 11 we were told to go shopping as a way to stand up against terrorism.  Does that mean we’re supporting terrorism by saving money?  Of course not!

What I’m talking about isn’t a new concept.  It isn’t impossible.  It’s been done before and it’ll be done again.  And not just by a few outliers but by many thousands of people.  Will you be one of them???

What’s the secret?

Live Frugally: Cut your expenses to the bone.  Anything that doesn’t offer real value to your life is out.  That might mean going without a contracted cell phone, cable television, TiVo or Netflix.  Find alternatives or other ways to occupy your time.  It may seem impossible now but you can live without these things.

Get Out of Debt: You can’t be financially independent when you’re in debt.  Get out, get out, get out! By adopting a frugal lifestyle, the extra money you’re able to save can be applied towards eliminating your debt.  After you’ve saved up enough money to cover six months of living expenses, every penny should be thrown at your debt.

Save: Once you’ve paid off the last of your debt it’s time to save like never before.  It may take you a few years, maybe even ten or 15, to save enough money to become financially independent but that’s better than 45 years!

Invest: This is where the magic is!  With the money you’ve saved, you can invest it into conservative investment vehicles which will pay you interest in fixed intervals over a specific length of time.  If you’ve saved and invested enough, this interest will cover all of your monthly expenses.  Now your money is working for you, not the other way around!

If you’d like to learn more about the process outlined above, I recommend checking out the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

What is Your Master Plan?

"Sail boat" by Nuno Vasco Rodrigues @ Flickr

Without goals, our lives are like a ship without sails.  The winds of potential blow strong against our mast but with no sail to capture the energy we are left stationary, floating quietly with no command over the direction the waves push us.

Having goals allows us to hoist our sails high into the air and in an instant we are skipping across the surface of the water.  Our sails are filled with energy from the wind and our eyes are focused on the sliver of land that has just peaked out from the ocean blue.  Our destination comes into focus and as we arrive upon the shore we have learned a powerful lesson; if we create goals and harness our ambition & passion, we will realize our dreams.

If we are ships upon the sea with no focus or direction, what can we do to raise our sails and capture the wind?

Something I don’t spend much time discussing is the power of long-term goals.  My list of 100 Goals consists mostly of milestone accomplishments, things that once accomplished can be crossed off the list.  Crossing a goal off the list is a moment of satisfaction; knowing that I’ve done something great and meaningful in my life but once that goal is crossed off, it is done.  The moment has passed & I am looking forward to the next milestone that I can work towards accomplishing.

While I wouldn’t change any of the experiences I’ve had in using this method to accomplish my goals, the question that begs to be answered is this: “What happens when I have accomplished everything I want to do in my life?  What will I be left with?”

The answer is to have a Master Plan; a series of successive goals that will ultimately lead to what we envision our Perfect Life to be.  A Master Plan requires knowing where you want your life to be and figuring out a way to get there from where you are today.   It requires you to be proactive and take intentional steps in order to make your plan a reality.  It requires discipline, determination and flexibility.

Creating Your Master Plan

Too often we find ourselves ignoring our dreams of a Perfect Life because we tell ourselves that they are not grounded in reality.  Before we allow our desires to blossom into anything more than a passing thought, we stifle ourselves.  We are blocking our own success and happiness.  There will always be a reason why we “can’t” do something and now it is time to ignore those excuses and begin to create your Master Plan.

Close your eyes and envision your Perfect Life.  What do you see?  Are you working with panda bears in a sanctuary?  Are you backpacking the Appalachian Trail?  Maybe you are relaxing in your backyard drinking lemonade watching your children playing on the swing set.  No matter what you see, you have found your destination.  Now it is time to figure out how you will get there.

Usually at this point you would push your dreams aside with thoughts of “reality”, all the reasons why you are unable to pursue your dreams.  I want you to consider all of these excuses about why you can’t follow your dream but I need you to change your perspective.  Instead of using them as reasons why you can’t follow your dream, think of them as challenges to beat.  Don’t use them as an excuse any longer.  Use them as motivation.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, find a way to overcome these challenges.  Your plan should be ambitious yet realistic.

The next phase in accomplishing your Master Plan is to figure out what steps you must take in order to position yourself to make your dream possible.  Will your Perfect Life require a career change?  Do you need to further your education? If your Perfect Life requires you to get a degree or certificate, enroll in classes, even if that means taking one class a semester for the time being.  If you need to change your career, start submitting resumes and begin networking with people who are in the field that you want to break into.  Prepare to Quit Your Job.

Ultimately, your Master Plan is about having a long-term goal to pursue while using short-term goals as a means for making progress towards your Perfect Life.  A Master Plan is not something that happens overnight.  My own Master Plan has been in the works for nearly 5 years, and I am only now really beginning to fully understand what it is that I want in my own life.  Progress is slow but steady and each day is a new opportunity.  Today is your opportunity to make a change in your life, an opportunity to start working towards your Perfect Life.  No more excuses, no more hesitation.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  You decide what that means for you.

Master of Our Own Slavery

"Old Slave Bell" by Schalk Marais @ FlickrIn the not so distant past there was a distinct line between the slave and his or her master.  The slave was considered to be less than human, more closely related to the horse or oxen than to a human being.  They were there to harvest the crops and tend to the chores around the home.  Eventually, common sense prevailed and slavery was abolished, however slavery continues today in a more subtle form and of our own making.  We have become the slave and the master.

Everyday throughout this country, people force themselves to show up for work at a job they loathe.  They do it because they feel as though they have to.  There is no other choice than to suffer through another day, another week, in order to get that paycheck in their hands so they can put food on the table, a roof over their head and clothes on their back.

What people fail to realize is that their money isn’t being spent only on basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothes.  We buy expensive cars, motorcycles, boats, flat-screen televisions, iPods, iPhones, CDs, DVDs, Blue Ray, green rays, plasma rays, death rays, fast food, Aqua Globes, Snuggies, gym memberships, touch screen car stereos, vacations, shopping sprees, designer jeans, perfume, cologne, teeth whitening systems…

If we didn’t buy all of this unnecessary Stuff, just how much less time would we need to be slaves in a job where we are unhappy solely for the purpose of financing all of the things we buy but don’t actually need?  I live a pretty basic life today compared to how I used to.  Sure, I still spend money and enjoy my life, but I do it more responsibly.  I think about how I am spending my money and how it will affect my future.  I consider whether or not what I am purchasing will add value to my life or if it will end up on eBay or a landfill before I buy it.  I used to blow my entire paycheck buying things like DVDs and CDs.  I didn’t have a penny saved, but I had a lot of Stuff sitting around my apartment, collecting dust.  At least I had something to show for all of my hard work, right?

While I did have a lot of things as a result of my ability to spend frivolously, none of it added value to my life.  I may have been entertained while watching a movie, but wouldn’t I have been just as entertained had I rented it or borrowed it from a friend?  Of course I would have and I would have saved myself about $15 in the process, but I wouldn’t have anything to show for my work.

Every single week of my life I have $82 withdrawn from my checking account to make my car payment.  That is money that I never see, it is just gone;  $328 in after tax money each month.  That is over 33 hours worth of work just to pay for a car (net income divided by a 40 hour work week), which is used primarily to take me to work.  Sweet irony.

Many people don’t consider how much money they actually bring home.  A person may gross $40,000 a year but thanks to Federal Taxes, State Taxes, FICA, medical and dental insurance, 401(k) contributions, alimony and whatever else a person may have deducted from their earnings, their checks don’t amount to $40,000 at the end of the year.  People rationalize to themselves that buying a $20 DVD is only an hour and a half of work, but in reality is more than that because you are paying with after tax dollars.

We are spending ourselves into a situation where we really do need that job that we hate so much because now we have a mortgage, a car loan, consumer credit card debt and we keep spending more and more on things we don’t need.  We are the masters to our own slavery.  Until we are able to break ourselves of these spending habits we will continue to rely on a job that doesn’t make us happy.  We will continue to shuffle our feet through the door of a company which doesn’t allow the personal freedom or creativity we desire in a job.

We may as well be pulling a plow across the earth like our ancestors.  The major difference between then and now is there wasn’t a choice in the past but today there is, and we are our own masters.  Whenever you feel like it is time to break free from the chains of slavery, you are in control to make that decision.  The more debt you accumulate and each dollar you waste is another day of slavery.  It doesn’t need to be that way…break free.