Throw Out the Bucket List

Do we need to call a list of goals a bucket list? That has a desperate connotation to it and goals shouldn’t be pursued just because the end is near. Any list should be positive as well as useful.

Many years ago, I wrote out a list of 100 goals. My list of 100 was random, at best. I did it as part of a challenge from someone’s website, the name of which is lost to history. The point made in an article on that website was: Why stop at 1 goal or 5 goals? Why not create 100 goals to follow? I bit. Why not? I didn’t date it, but my earliest notation of reaching a goal was in 2002. I’ve completed about 40% of the list without really working at it.

Some of the remaining things on the list pertained to household projects that I wanted to do, such as landscaping and remodeling. We sold that house in early 2009 and our new house didn’t need those upgrades. Do I count those things in the undone column or the completed column? I was able to sell that house without everything that I had hoped to do, so does that count as anything?

Some things I will never complete because they are too vague. I was running out of ideas and put down “Be Happy” as one of my goals. There is no way to achieve that unless I define it. I guess it’s like pornography: I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.

It’s possible to have 100 goals but it was clear that I did not. In my frenzy to reach 100 entries, I wrote down “be happy” and “find meaningful work.” No wonder I still have so many outstanding goals because those goals would never really be achieved without a clearer definition.

I’m ready to create a new list of goals but I’m going to tame the chaos of my original list. What I should have done at that time was to separate my goals by category. Some I categories I could have used are:

Goals
Work/Career
Finances
Education
Relationships/Family
Artistic
Experiences
Health/Fitness
Pleasure
Community
Personal
Physical items
Spiritual

Rather than my shotgun approach, I will now take each category and determine if there is something I want to work towards in that area. Some of the categories won’t have anything to pursue while others may have many goals. It’s not permanent, either. As a human, I have the ability to change my mind and change directions.

I know that fluidity is sometimes detrimental to my success. It’s that ability to change my mind that forces me to write things down or I start to wander. I’ll admit that shiny objects distract me from my path but the written task keeps me focused. I explained one of the lists that I keep for myself here. It has always worked for me as long as I work the list. Writing my goals down keeps me on track, too, if I remember to look at the paper occasionally. That is really the secret to success with lists and written goals. Never put the paper away and forget about it. If it’s in front of my face, I remember. If it isn’t, that shiny object holds my eye.

A quick search online for the benefits of written goals brings up many, many sites referring to a 1953 study of the Yale graduating class. It’s bunk. Not the written goals part but the existence of the study part. It didn’t happen, yet even well-known gurus cite it as gospel. A study done at Dominican University does support concept that those who write down goals achieve more than those who don’t write them down. (This study actually exists.)

Personally, I find that my written list serves several purposes:

  1. It forces me to clarify what I truly want to achieve
  2. It provides motivation to take the action I need to achieve the goal
  3. It helps me resist the shiny objects by keeping my focus on my goal
  4. It allows the great satisfaction of crossing something off that I have completed

There are still plenty of things I want to accomplish in life. A bucket list screams that death is nigh. It might very well be just around the corner, but I want to focus on living instead. No bucket list for me. I’m calling it a life list.

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Together Again

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I can’t tell you I’ve been on an extended vacation. I wasn’t.

I can’t tell you that I’ve been unable to contribute to this blog. I was able, but didn’t.

I can’t tell you that any other external reason kept me from posting. What I can say is that I didn’t know where I was going with this blog, or with life. There are too many choices and, with more years behind me than ahead, some tough choices had to be made.

Living frugally my entire life has helped us get to this point. We always lived within our means. We avoided debt. We have been happy with older cars. It all adds up to being financially secure in retirement.

It took some time for our income to stabilize now that the regular paychecks are gone. Being frugal eased our way through that time and I focused on those topics here. While I will always practice frugality, I don’t want to make it the centerpiece.

My goal from this point is to chronicle my journey to the best retirement years I can imagine. I have to learn some new skills. I have to leave my comfort zone. I have to be bold and grab what I want or the years will simply pass by and I’ll be in the same place as I am now. Nothing would be more disappointing.

This blog will continue to be my outlet for things learned, for celebrating successes, and for the teachable moments that only come from failure

Life Morphs

A picture of a path isn’t a very original or creative illustration for an article about life planning. I’ve been guilty of being unoriginal in my life plan, but now I’m stretching my creative wings to plan a retirement that is anything but ordinary.

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Our life plan has experienced some recent changes. My spouse finally came around to my way of thinking. I’m not sure what his reluctance was about, but he finally saw the light. The interesting thing about his change in thinking is that what I’ve been proposing recently is something we dreamed of doing many years ago. It’s now possible. It wasn’t possible then.

You know when something isn’t right when you aren’t enthusiastic about it. The things we were discussing about our retirement were ordinary. There was nothing about our plans that was exciting or even interesting. I knew I would have regrets if we followed that path. It’s all about making the best choices and when you find the right path, you will be filled with motivation. It’s still possible to fail, but staying on track minimizes that possibility. Keeping focused is key.

The problem with setting goals and envisioning how your life will progress is the constant changes of life. We’ve all done it: decided what we want, determined the steps to get there, and before we achieve success, we found that we didn’t want it anymore. .

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
-George Elliot-

Now, it’s all about a new direction. Start by creating a vision and not just goals. How does a vision differ from a plan or a goal? A vision is the general direction. A goal is more specific. Think of a clear vision as a compass which will continually point you in the correct direction. Having your own vision prevents others from directing your choices. My vision of our retirement is to elicit a “Wow” reaction from people I tell about it. Nothing else will do.

This will take some time and it must be cultivated before you can design the details. Answer the general “What do you want?” question. It seems like a simple thing. Keep focused on what you want and leave what you don’t want out of the process. If you pursue what you want, then things you don’t want will likely stay out of the way. Of course, this has to be realistic. You can’t plan bad things out of life. They happen.

Give yourself permission to dream, and to dream big. This isn’t about what should happen in your life. Things we must do are a part of life and will never go away, but they are often confused with the “shoulds.” Know the difference between things that have to be done and those that should be done. There aren’t many choices in “have to” but there are many in the “shoulds.”

One last piece of my dubious wisdom: Enjoy the journey. Life is short.

This Time It’s Gotta Be Right

I always thought I should earn an advanced degree.
I always wanted to write.
I always wanted to travel extensively.
I should have majored in photography.

These are a few of the overwhelming array of possibilities that I could pursue in retirement. Maybe, I should have done all of these things by now, but the reasons I haven’t yet pursued them are irrelevant.

Many of us have regrets in life, especially when it comes to what we could have been when we grew up. I am no different. While I don’t think I did poorly, I do think that when I was young, I didn’t set a search that was broad enough.

options

This time, with retirement, I’m looking at everything I can think of that’s possible for me to do. There’s only a little time left, as depressing as that sounds. Certainly, there are more years behind me than ahead, but there is still time to do something major if I want to and more than enough time to do a bunch of little stuff.

It all boils down to the question: What do I really want to do? That’s harder for me to answer than I thought. I guess I’ve never decided what I want to be when I grew up. I’ve had lots of ideas, but the little devil on my shoulder, whispering all the pitfalls that will come with a decision, often wins and I abandon the thought.

There is time for some things, but not all of them so deciding what’s important and doable is the goal. How to Make Decisions is an article published on the Real Simple website. The author divides us based on our decision-making style:

Poll Taker
Procrastinator
Overcautious
Make Snap Judgments
Overanalyzer
Overconfident
Waffler

I see myself in several of the descriptions.

I sometimes put off making a decision thinking that there will be time later. When there are too many choices, it results in a paralysis. I’m afraid I’ll make the wrong decision, and there won’t be time for a do-over. Sometimes, I make immediate decisions without adequate thought.

In my mind, a procrastinator and someone who is overcautious are two sides of the same coin. Am I procrastinating because I’m overcautious or is my caution causing me to put off the decision? Which came first and does it really matter?

giraffe

In the movie We Bought a Zoo, Matt Damon’s character explains that sometimes in life, you only need 20 seconds of courage to get what you want.

That’s what deciding what to do in retirement is about–finding 20 seconds of courage to make a decision and not worrying beforehand that it might be wrong.

Frugal? That’s Funny

When did being careful with money become the fodder for jokes? How did frugality become defined as cheap? Aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice?

Too many people view being frugal as being a cheapskate. Television programs that showcase people who take the idea to the extreme reinforce that notion. The difference between frugal and cheap couldn’t be more clear. To be cheap is to focus solely on the cost of something. To be frugal is to focus on the value of what is being purchased. Sometimes the least expensive option also provides value, but not always.

I was speaking to a friend about an event that was held in another state and why I decided not to attend. When I added up the costs-the fees, hotel, meals, and airfare-I didn’t see enough value to be derived from attendance. She listened to my reasoning and determined that the reason I didn’t attend was that I couldn’t afford it. That wasn’t true, but she didn’t understand the difference between not having the money and not seeing it as a valuable expenditure.

Determining value is at the heart of frugality. Of course, we do things that save money but that’s only on the surface. I save money by making my own laundry detergent. I’ve also eliminated lingering fragrance on my clothes and I’ve reduced the amount of trash I generate by reducing the packaging that I toss out. For anyone who has to pay by the number of bags of trash they put out each week (luckily, that’s not us), this is a double whammy of savings. There is more value to homemade laundry soap than just saving on the cost of washing and that’s at the heart of frugality.

Returning to my original premise, why is actively saving money not a revered practice?caution

“Economy is the art of making the most of life.”
–George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)–

You would think that those of us who are retired, or close to retirement, would heartily embrace frugality. Alas, it is not always the case.

Baby Boomers are ill-prepared for retirement. According to TD Ameritrade, in their 2012 study Boomers and Retirement, 74% of Boomers are $500k short in their retirement savings accounts. Those who think Social Security will make the difference may be surprised to learn that the average benefit check is slightly more than $1200 per month. No one is going to live large on that. Couple that lack of savings with consumer debt and the picture is even more grim.

Can we blame it all on poor planning? A study done by National Center for Policy Analysis found that 59% of Boomers are providing financial support to their adult children, including providing living expenses, covering medical bills and paying off loans. The stars that lined up to create an economy that made this so prevalent are still being debated, but it is certainly a drain on resources in a time when Boomers need all that they can get.offspring

Many Boomers had parents and grandparents who lived through the depression. There seems to be some idea that we don’t have to employ the lessons in economy that those folks learned. Maybe that explains some of the dismal economic circumstances surrounding our generation. Thrift is a way of life and shouldn’t be reserved only for hard times. It makes those hard times easier to live through and we’ll all be better off.

Perhaps we should be quietly thrifty. Use frugal ways to get out of debt, supplement savings, acquire the money for luxury purchases, become a stay-at-home parent, or retire well. When those who would ridicule frugality notice, let them laugh. Bet they won’t, though. They’ll be asking how you did it.

Dipping Into the Dumpster

The Learning Channel has a show called Extreme Cheapskates which showcases how people save money and live cheaply. It’s intriguing how many ways people employ to save money. My objection to this show is that it is done in a way that pokes fun at them. Maybe some go to real extremes and do things that most of us wouldn’t do, but that doesn’t suggest that there is anything to laugh about. I guess these people are freaks to the producers of the show. Saving money is nothing to be ashamed about nor is it freaky. Earning money while saving money is a double whammy!trash

Trash picking has been around for a long time. I’m sure most of us have, at one time or another, picked up something that was left as trash. There are some who take dumpster diving very seriously and use their finds to furnish their homes, supplement their incomes and put supper on their tables. I hope to never have to search out tonight’s dinner at the bottom of a dumpster. That’s taking trash picking to a level I’m not willing to explore.

A lengthy article on Wired, “The Pro Dumpster Diver Who’s Making Thousands Off America’s Biggest Retailers,” showcases one person who found the benefits of dumpster diving by accident and turned it into a lucrative sideline. At first, he used the items he found for himself and later discovered there was a market for many of his finds. According to the Wired article, Americans dumped 251 tons of trash in 2012. There’s no reason to believe that the amount has decreased in subsequent years. So, is picking trash a possibility for supplementing retirement income?

Being an extreme tightwad isn’t on my radar but maybe I could be persuaded to take a peek into a dumpster. Wikihow has a complete How-to get me started.

Wow! It’s Retirement

My father once told me that people need to learn how to retire. He said those who retired without a plan for what they would do died sooner. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that life needs a purpose, even for someone who is retired.

We’ve all spent the years working, raising our families and doing the necessary things in life. Now, it’s time to be a little wild. The definition of wild will vary, but you know what I mean.

Looking online for ideas has been less than satisfying. The search for retirement information is often limited to financial planning. We get it about the finances. Either we have enough or we don’t and the only remedy to a shortfall is more money. That’s what these sites say—save more or earn more. Such insight.

In this day and age of writing for search engines, the sites with the best SEO win so trying any type of search for retirement information leads us frequently to financial planning sites. It seems that the owners of the retirement related sites think that financial planning is our only concern.

I was getting nowhere fast in my search for interesting ideas, so I tried some different search terms to see what happened.rollercoaster

awesome retirement: brought up a couple of sites but quickly reverted to financial planning
retirement find passion: better but still not there; finding your passion is a common theme on lots of sites

There is no shortage of people who want to help you plan your life. I’m not sure when the profession of “life coaching” came into being but it’s certainly prevalent now. A simple search about creating a rewarding life brings up plenty of sites with lots of life coaches willing to help for a fee. It’s a valuable service, but in my case, I think the hunt is going to be rewarding, too.

What I’m really searching for are ideas for a spectacular retirement. We are still able and, for the most part, healthy so an average retirement won’t really fit. There are probably a million and one things we could do. The problem should be choosing rather than finding out about stuff.

What we really want and need is an exciting pursuit that makes people say “Wow!” when they hear what we are doing. It doesn’t take much for a reaction like that, but it does have to be a bit different than what everyone else is doing. That one thing that is a little different is what I’m searching for and what I’m trying to achieve.