How vivid is your vision of the future? Do you know where you want to go? Do you create specific financial goals to get you there?
Decades ago, I didn’t have a plan for my money. I loaded it into my bank account without a clear idea of why I needed it or how I intended to use it in the future.
When I started saving, I didn’t have a long-term plan. The younger version of me didn’t know I would leave my high-paying job to become a stay-at-home mom or spend ten months caring for my dad.
My life twisted and turned in unexpected ways, and money allowed me to pivot. Which got me thinking, should we set specific goals for our money or stockpile our dough without a predetermined plan?
Would You Tell Me, Please, Which Way I Ought to Go From Here
Growing up, Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite stories. I identified deeply with Alice, a young girl trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense to her.
Throughout the story, Alice is lost, confused, and unsure of where to go. At one point, she asks the Cheshire Cat for advice.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
The Cat is right. Alice will wind up somewhere, but the coordinates of SOMEWHERE are unknown.
To some, that might sound scary, but perhaps it’s easier to embrace life’s journey when we don’t know exactly where we need to go.
Last week, I wrote about my lost identity and the strange feeling that I didn’t know who I was after quitting my career.
Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into the past or stuck on former versions of ourselves. Without a destination or a rigid view of our identity, it’s easier to go with the flow.
There is something to be said for the creativity, freedom, and excitement that comes from a life unencumbered by weighted goals. Wandering aimlessly allows us to live more firmly in the present moment.
So when it comes to our finances, should we or shouldn’t we define clear objectives? Does the ambiguity of our dreams prevent us from meeting our goals or result in a more enjoyable journey?
What Do You Want to Do With Your Money?
Some might argue against creating a vision for your future. Living in the present is challenging when we spend so much time thinking about distant timelines and dates.
I understand this sentiment. I’ve written about the need to create new goals each month because I can’t follow through on resolutions intended for a year.
I don’t think we need to narrow in on every dollar we save, but it does help to consider the big picture.
Because if we aren’t careful, money can become our destination. We can sacrifice today for tomorrow and waste our lives working long hours hoarding cash we’ll never have the time or energy to use.
We save for the sake of saving but never sit down to figure out how we want to spend or allocate it. What is the point of stockpiling our money without deciding how we want to use it?
At some point, we need to know when we have enough.
Do you need to earn a six-figure salary? Do you need to become a multi-millionaire? The answer depends on what you want from your life.
To get a general sense of how much you need, it helps to bring a fuzzy financial picture into a sharper view.
It helps to craft a vision, not necessarily for how to spend your money, but how your money can help you.
What do we mean when we say we want to save for a future house, for early retirement, to help our kids? How much money do we need to meet those goals?
Many parents want to help their children financially, but what does that mean? When I ask parents, I receive very different answers.
Do you want to send your kids to an ivy league college, provide them with summer camp experiences, or buy them a car when they turn sixteen? The amount of money required for each goal differs significantly.
Maybe you tell yourself you want to spend time with your children or travel.
But what do those dreams mean to you? Quitting your job while your children are babies is very different from working part-time or carving out extra time in the afternoon to be with your kids.
Traveling locally on trains, buses, and RVs is very different from flying around the globe. Staying in cheap hotels will cost much less than staying in five-star, all-inclusive resorts.
Creating a Clear Vision For Your Future
The dollar amount of financial decisions varies widely. Think about buying a new house. What do you need?
Some say they want a five-bedroom house in the country, while others choose a high-rise city condo.
Some people want a car that gets them from point A to point B, while others want a high-priced electric vehicle.
When we create a clear vision of our goals, we can set an end goal for saving.
Focus on Values Rather than Destinations
When I was younger, I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to stay at home with my children or that I would care for my dad in his last year of life.
In my twenties, I focused solely on work and the thrill of climbing the corporate ladder, but my core values changed over time.
As I get older, I’ve come to believe that happiness arrives after you figure out what you want. Between twenty and forty, my desires drastically changed.
I don’t need a fancy car, a bigger house, fatter paychecks, or fancy titles. While those accolades mattered in my youth, they no longer appeal to me.
Instead, my core value is carving out time for the people I love. If that means giving up other financial treats, I will happily forgo them.
Now, firmly in my mid-forties, I treasure time freedom over money. What do you value most? Do those things have anything to do with earning and saving more money?
Confusing Our Core Values
When I was younger, I believed in society’s version of success, and I didn’t ask myself what my ideal life looked like after I had enough money.
Before my dad died, we had a long talk about money. I so wish I had recorded that conversation!
He talked about being rich in what matters and that many people have piles of money in the bank but feel empty and alone.
He said everyone’s life is different, but not enough people spend time asking themselves what’s ideal. We save money without crafting a vision for how it will help us.
My dad didn’t have regrets. He never talked about living a bigger life, of traveling to more countries.
He cared more about a close, loving family than a stressful career that would earn him a high salary. He chose a small house he could easily afford over one that would take a full thirty years to pay off.
Changing Goals and Objectives
If we define these objectives, are we narrowing our path? Are we removing the whimsy, carefree nature Alice enjoys in Alice in Wonderland?
I don’t think so. I think we can make a plan to pay for our kids’ college tuition or buy them a car and then change direction.
What is the harm if we don’t do those things? What if we want to send our kids to college and then decide to quit our careers to stay home with them instead?
Will my children remember me for the car I bought or the time I spent with them? When my life ends, will my children commend me for earning a million dollars or spending quality time with them?
It’s important to understand the difference. If we don’t, we can waste a ridiculous amount of time pursuing goals we don’t value.
Focus on the Journey
Achieving financial goals is important, but remember, happiness isn’t guaranteed after you complete them.
Sometimes we sacrifice our time and energy in search of success and fulfillment. Only to find that we wished we wandered a bit more along our path and enjoyed the journey instead.