There is an allure to the bucket list. This term was made famous by eponymous movie, but the concept has been around for a long time. I recall that in a Financial Peace University video, Dave Ramsey talked about one of his most prized possessions. It was a antique savings envelope with ‘Trip to Hawaii’ printed on it. That savings envelope personifies the idea of the bucket list. The things we dream of owning, the adventures we wish to partake in and the things we wish to create are the types of things that populate a ‘bucket list’. I have to admit I didn’t see the movie, but this article isn’t about the movie. It’s about the concept that the movie was built around. I, like many others, have understood the concept for a while. The movie just reengaged it’s use for the greater population.
I always feel sad when I hear someone say something similar to a ‘I’ve always wanted to X but it just never happened…’ type of story. I’m not talking about the smaller things that are easy to achieve. The easier bucket list items generally can be bought and paid for with a small fee, like parachuting out of a plane. Really the only thing keeping someone from one of these bucket list items is building up the nerve to do it. As far as I’m concerned if you haven’t done these easier to accomplish bucket list items it means you really don’t want to. It’s just something for you to talk about. The bucket list items that I’m discussing today are the ones that take time, effort, and commitment beyond just working up the nerve or ceasing your procrastination.
Why aren’t we doing them now?
Although it’s probably obvious to most why we are not engaging in these dreams today it’s worth a quick review. I say this because in understanding what is keeping us from experiencing our bucket list items, it allows us to understand the barriers we have to overcome.
We have these barriers to our bucket list goals due to the complexity of life and the limits of resources. It’s hard to travel the world for a year or two when you have a spouse, it’s impossible when you have kids and a family. Even if you assume unlimited resources, unless you achieve success on the level of Buffett or Gates you cannot assume your children will be able to maintain a bucket list oriented lifestyle throughout their lives. This means you have to prepare them to live an average life so they can function within the rest of society. The net-net of this realization is that you may be able to fit in a few things here and there but living a life filled with bucket list items is probably going to have to be put on hold. It’s good for kids to do things like ride the school bus, interact with other kids in school, live in something approximating an average house, and figure out how to earn money and pay the bills. All of these are important skills for surviving and they are learned by experience through the years.
The rest of the complexity comes from money and time. These really are two sides of the same coin. Money is the obvious challenge. Even if you are a relatively high wage earner as a professional the odds are that your cost of living is commensurate with your income. This isn’t just because of how easy it is to fall into the trap of lifestyle inflation. It has much to do with where you have to live to earn the good income which in turn directly affects the cost of living that you have to deal with day in and day out. For example when looking at Siler City, a town about 40 miles west of the Raleigh-Durham area, there are no jobs that pay close to average American middle class wages, so commensurately costs of living are very low. Homes cost between $100,000 and $150,000 on average and day care is about $600 a month. Forty miles to the east in Cary, a bedroom community of Raleigh Durham, homes are $300,000 to $500,000 and daycare starts at about $1,100 a month. In both cases if the things you wish to achieve on your bucket list cost money, like say climbing a mountain and all that’s involved with it, you have to put aside those resources to fund your grand excursion after your cost of living is paid. It will take many years of discretionary income savings to have enough to climb a bucket list mountain like Mount Everest. Just the royalty climbers have to pay to be allowed to get to the top is $11,000. That doesn’t include airfare, training, equipment, or supportive services. You’re probably looking at fifty grand minimum if climbing the world’s tallest mountain is on your bucket list.
You may have low cost options on your bucket list that don’t involve travel to some great destination or acquiring some dream possession. The quintessential example, one that I’m currently involved with, is writing a book. I’ve often heard people say something equivalent to having a dream of writing the great American novel. It doesn’t have to be a book. Many people dream of being creative in various other ways before they die. It could be anything from acting in a local theater to learning to play a zither. This is where the other side of the coin takes its toll, that side being time. I know this from first-hand experience. To do something at the level that requires bucket list level accomplishment takes time, lots of time. This means that there is a challenge between the realities of life and the aspirations of the bucket list dreams. Life demands nearly all of a person’s time just to maintain the status quo.
There are of course a list of bucket list items that are really more fantasy than actual things that should be on anyone’s bucket list. These include things like being President of the United States and winning a lottery jackpot. They, like the simpler bucket list items I mentioned earlier, don’t count for this article.
It’s different for everyone.
I’ve talked about my bucket list items. I classify these items as achieved, close to being achieved and achievable but only in the far future. There’s one final category of bucket list items that are so far away they seem impossible.
An example of the ones I’ve completed, at least partially, is owning a business. I started a business and worked it full-time for a few years. I wasn’t very successful. My running joke is that I learned what not to do in business. In the category of close to being achieved, I’ve discussed writing a book, which I’m currently deep in the middle of. I’m also close to restarting my PhD. I expect to reengage that process after my youngest is out of daycare. In the far future, but achievable classification I have listed a long trip or two to Europe and paying off house. I also put commercial ‘multi-media’ project in this category. There are others like a world cruise, owning a second paid off beach house etc that seem incomprehensible. This is because to achieve these bucket list items, although technically feasible, it’s simply hard to wrap my head around something like having a paid for second house when i’m decades away from paying off the first one. This is my list and it’s unique to me, but nearly every person i’ve ever met has something similar they wish to achieve.
What can you do to achieve your bucket list goals?
There really is good news here. In reflecting on both the concept itself and my own interpretation of it I have come to the conclusion that you can do it all, just not to the scope you may want or in the timeframe you may want to complete it in. The secret is to plan and prepare as much as you can now.
The first step is to work your bucket list like any other task list you have. Prioritize it! Figure out what is easier and what is more difficult. I’d suggest the ones that are easier to achieve are the ones to focus your efforts on first. Easier has different facets. It may be easier to buy a $10,000 vintage miata but if climbing that mountain is on your list that should take priority. I say that because we age and after a while our bodies can’t handle it anymore. You don’t want to be 75 years old and finally have the resources and time to go to Tibet to sweet talk a sherpa only to realize just getting up the stairs in your house is now a challenge. I’m the perfect example of this, i’m glad mountain climbing is not on my list because my back went bad unexpectedly a few years ago and I don’t think i’d ever make it now.
You can do some things now but they will be very limited in scope. Want to open a pastry shop? Go sell pastries out of your house on the weekend. Want to do a multi-media project that includes the creation of a video game and other media like comic books? Go learn to code or start on some basic scripts. Do a little bit a day or start taking class. I’m not saying go whole hog, just take the first tentative steps. There is a huge benefit to starting small. Most new ventures include mistakes. One of the biggest benefits for me of all of the articles i’ve written is that my book, if I ever complete it, will be much better from honing my craft in little ways over the years.
If it’s something like a world cruise that’ll cost $50,000 for two, then start auto drafting $50 a month or what ever you can that you won’t miss into an account labeled ‘world cruise’. Yes you could wind up like that old couple from the movie UP, but if you plan it correctly you’ll have other buffers in place. I have one great hint on target saving for any purchase, be it dream car, world travel, or a beach house. Auto draft into an account in another bank that’s difficult to physically get to. There still are many community banks. Don’t look at it, ever. If you can turn off account statements. Just let it build up out of sight, out of mind.
All of these small starts will build up over time if your consistent with it. They also have a tendency to accelerate if you maintain that consistency. Get an extra $100 a month at work, then raise that $50 to a $75 contribution. Sell enough pastries and you can buy some nice used industrial cooking equipment. Little by little, it can be done.
You can start right now!
I would recommend you start the process right now, assuming you haven’t ever put your bucket list items in an actual list. Write it all down. Figure out what’s feasible and what’s simply impossible (like winning millions in the lottery). Throw out the garbage items that are truly beyond any control and then prioritize. Start to figure out what you need to accomplish. Put those plans in place today, even if it’s just to start reading one article per day on the topic of choice. The best part about starting is that if you work on it today, and every day you can, then you probably will accomplish many of the things on your list before you kick the bucket. If you don’t get everything done, or even the majority of the things on your list done,you’ll have achieved some of it. Being able to say you achieved a few of the things you wanted to before your time is up will always better than the alternative. Because, honestly, who would ever want to end their walk on this mortal coil by kicking a bucket filled with regrets!?!
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