What does your dream lifestyle look like? Have you given it any thought?
Until just a few years ago, I hadn’t. It seemed like my life was on track to play out as a series of clichéd milestones. After graduating high school, I went straight to college. After graduating I wasn’t sure what came next, so I postponed adulthood by attending law school. Then I got my first grown-up job. I figured somewhere along the way I’d find a wife and buy a house. Maybe we’d have a couple kids. And hopefully I’d be ready for retirement while I was still young enough to enjoy whatever I had built for myself before old age kicked in.
It wasn’t until I started my first job out of law school that I really asked myself what type of lifestyle was important to me.
I hated my first job. I absolutely dreaded going to work every day. It wasn’t the long hours that bothered me as much as it was the toxic work environment and constant stress. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I wanted more than the right to say, “I’m a lawyer.” I wanted to enjoy going to work. Or at least not have frequent nightmares about my job. I wanted to feel like I had a life seven days a week – not just on Saturdays and Sundays.
I still wanted to achieve certain milestones in life. But I also realized that the vision I had for my life was missing some important details. I had created a series of events and accomplishments but hadn’t factored in an important variable – quality of life.
I had created a life checklist – not a lifestyle.
What Matters Most to You?
When asked about the things that they truly value, most peoples’ answers boil down to having more time or more money. Or more of both!
When I finally asked myself what matters most, I realized that what I really want is the freedom to do more of what I love and less of what I don’t. To have that type of freedom and flexibility I needed more time and money!
I’ll bet that most of us place a high value on having the freedom to spend more of our time doing what we want. To gain that type of freedom, we need to find a way to reduce time spent doing things that cut into our “free” time.
For most of us, that means working less. Unfortunately, working less usually also means making less money. And if we make less money, how much can we really do with that extra free time, right? We might as well go find another job so we can enjoy whatever time we do have to ourselves.
It can be a vicious cycle.
There seems to be a tug of war between our dream lifestyle and the financial factors that give us the means to pursue what we value most.
Is it really possible for an “average Joe” to achieve his dream lifestyle? Yes! Let’s look at what it will take.
1. Recognize that Your Lifestyle Goals are Linked to Your Finances
Whatever your lifestyle goals may be, there’s a good chance that achieving them will depend heavily on your financial resources.
In some cases, finances will be a minor factor. In other situations, finances will seem like the only factor.
I want to reach a point in my life where I can make decisions and do what’s important to me without having to worry about money. It’s not that I need to be a millionaire or have a certain amount of money by a certain age to live the way I want. It’s mostly about arranging my life in a way that frees up my time. The trick part is that freeing up more time generally requires financial resources.
Accumulating those resources typically requires more than a casual game plan that involves spending less and saving more. It requires a detailed finance plan designed will a particular lifestyle in mind.
And remember, financial planning is about more than retirement. People often work for 40 years or more before they can retire and begin enjoying their life. I don’t want to wait until retirement to have that type of freedom.
My financial plan is about making it possible to do what I want sooner. By planning now, you can decide what you want your life to look like in 5 years instead of 40.
I don’t know about you, but financial freedom is one thing I don’t mind being impatient about.
2. Align Your Financial Goals with What You Truly Value
Often times, we’ll base our financial goals on what society says we should work toward. We see something we want and figure it must be important to us. Maybe we think it’s so important that we buy it right away. Or maybe we have a little more discipline so we work the purchase into our budget and start saving. When we have enough money, we’ll buy it never thinking for a moment about whether it’s something we truly value.
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Travelling is at the top of my short-term to-do list. I want to visit different states, travel abroad, and experience cultures from all over the world. I estimate that I’ll need to save a certain amount each month for the next two years to travel where I want to safely and comfortably.
Now let’s suppose my car breaks down and I decide it’s time to buy something new. I know that buying a used vehicle will keep me on track with my travel savings goals. But instead, I give into temptation and buy a flashy new car with a payment of $500 a month.
Unfortunately, that monthly payment will keep me from travelling where I want, the way I want.
Even though I’ve repeatedly told myself that travelling is my top priority, my actions say otherwise. Apparently, I value a fancy car more travelling.
Buying an expensive new car doesn’t align with what I truly value. Even if I can afford those payments, it takes me further from where I really want to be. If I had stopped to consider the potential impact of that purchase, I would’ve realized that buying that new car will keep me from having the experiences I really value.
3. Be a Conscious Spender and Avoid Mindless Consumption
Major purchases like a house or car will have a major impact on your financial status. Missing the mark on those purchases can easily set you back years. On a more granular level, our day-to-day purchases are unlikely to have such catastrophic consequences. That’s probably why it’s easy to downplay the significance of mindless consumption. Those smaller purchases may not seem like much, but they can really pile up.
I’m not suggesting that you completely eliminate those smaller purchases that bring you joy. But always remember that your money mindset and spending habits will impact your future lifestyle.
It’s not about saying you can’t have the things you want. It’s about determining what you really value and not buying the things you don’t truly want or need!
You’ve probably seen mindless consumption interfere with peoples’ journeys to financial freedom and living their dream lifestyle. I know I have.
High wage-earners often trick themselves into thinking they are great with money, because they never experience any cashflow shortages. They have a nice house, fancy car, and brand name clothing. But to pay the bills and maintain their current lifestyle they have to work 60 to 70 hours a week.
Hard work is great. Pulling those long hours week after week isn’t easy. The only problem is, it’s a work-centric lifestyle. If they don’t get their spending in check, they’ll have no choice but to continue working those long hours to maintain their lifestyle. They won’t have the flexibility to find a new position or take a pay cut in exchange for a less stressful or demanding workload.
I’m not saying everyone should commit to financial success so they can quit their job. I just want to know that I won’t be anchored to a job I can’t stand because my finances depend on it.
4. Create a Budget Financial Plan and Stick to It
So many people have an aversion to the term “budget.” Apparently, it has negative connotations. Maybe you’d prefer to call it a “financial plan” instead. No matter what you call it, you need to have some type of system for monitoring your spending, income, and progress with financial goals. It’s important to check in on things regularly to stay on track. It’s really easy to drift off track.
While having a detailed financial plan may seem limiting, it’s really just a blueprint for achieving your vision and dream lifestyle. Think of it as a tool rather than a set of restrictions.
And don’t forget about Step #2 as you develop your financial plan. Be clear about what you value so you can set goals that align with the things that matter most to you.
Your financial plan needs to work for you. If it doesn’t work for you, there’s little chance you’ll stick to it.
Picture what would happen if you had a financial advisor create a financial plan for you. They encourage you to limit your spending and start saving for this thing and that thing. It could be an expertly crafted plan, but it won’t take long before the budget gets scrapped if you aren’t working toward your dream lifestyle. They’re budgeting for someone else’s version of a dream lifestyle – not yours.
Having an overall vision for your life gives you a guiding principle to work toward.
A Few Final Thoughts
It’s so easy to lose track of what we really value as we focus on crossing off items on our checklist of life milestones. It can be difficult to ask yourself what really matters most in your life. But asking and answering that question can also be incredibly rewarding.
Once you discover what your dream lifestyle looks like, the goals and dreams that you are working toward will suddenly seem tangible. It makes it much easier to sacrifice now when you can visualize what you’re working toward rather than some foggy concept of retirement that seems so far away.
We’d love to hear what your dream lifestyle looks like. Tell us in the comments why you want what you want. And what are you doing right now so that you’ll have it someday?