Start with a Bucket List, Finish with Financial Planning

Last summer, my son came home from a sleepover at his grandparents’ house and handed me two sheets of paper that had been glued together to form an extra-long sheet. His work was entitled, “50 Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” On it, he had written down 50 different things in alternating colors. 

After getting over the shock that my 10-year-old had compiled his bucket list before I’d even started mine, I read through it. It made me realize: You’re never too young (or old) to have a bucket list. These weren’t your basic adolescent aspirations. They were surprisingly detailed, including places he wants to visit around the world. When I inquired how he had come up with some of these ideas, he said they stemmed from conversations about where his ancestors had come from, or simply from watching YouTube or Instagram posts of adventure seekers.

Put It on Paper

What really struck me was how intentional my son had been about writing down all the ideas he had swirling in his head. We all dream of things we’d like to do and places we’d like to see. But too often, our flights of fancy stay tucked away in our brains, in part because we never formally document them. I have to admit, I have a few dreams of my own I’ve never written down. 

Thanks to my son’s example, that is going to change. Studies have suggested, when you take the time to document your goals, you increase your odds for achieving them. It seems your subconscious may kick in and help you move toward your goals once you’ve made a note of them. 

Practical Realities

The most important thing you’ll need to proceed are hours in the day. In a world where everyone always seems busy and there is always something else clamoring for your attention, you’ll need to be intentional about creating the time and space for this exercise. 

Ideally, get started during a time of the day when you have the most energy. Whether you use the latest nifty app, a simple electronic document, or a couple of handwritten, taped-together pieces of paper, there are many ways to effectively record your bucket list. You can even get especially creative and employ a Vision Board, using magazines to cut out pictures and words to glue to the poster board. This can help you fill in important details that may otherwise remain vague. Dream big! 

Once you’ve curated your list, the next step is to prioritize it from most to least meaningful. What are the essential, “have to do” things that will make or break whether you feel satisfied with your life? Be they big or small, they should be listed first. The rest can fall into “nice to do” categories. 

Here’s another way to narrow down your list: Ask yourself what regrets you would have if you found out you had only days left to live. What dreams have you not fulfilled? What would you sorely wish you had done? Those things should go straight to the top of your list. 

Filling Your Bucket, Funding Your Dreams

So, you’ve got your bucket list. Now what? At least for us financial types, here comes the fun part: connecting your highest-priority goals with the financial resources to achieve them. 

Begin by calculating how much each bucket list item will cost you. For the most important ones that are beyond your current means, it’s time to set up a savings strategy. I’m a big fan of opening online savings accounts with specific goals assigned to each. This makes it easy to track your progress toward each goal. (Note: I’m talking here about saving toward isolated items, like the first one on my son’s list: a skydiving adventure <gulp>. For your greater goals, like retirement, an investment portfolio structured to capture market risks and returns will probably be a more effective way to simultaneously accumulate and preserve long-term wealth.)

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

It’s possible you already have the financial means for some of your bucket list dreams. Sometimes, the challenge isn’t just financial. We all know clearing your calendar to achieve it can be equally as daunting. 

Either way, as I covered here, a little planning can take you far. Start to strategize how to actually make it happen. It also might help to take on a few of the easy ones for inspiration. One of my son’s bucket list items was to eat a Chicago-style hot dog, which he was able to check off his list pretty quickly! 

If you need a more structured process and some accountability for making your biggest dreams come true, engage with a fee-only financial advisor who’s passionate about helping you live your best life

We can learn a lot from the young and the young at heart in our lives. I know I’m supposed to be the one mentoring my son, but he has so often inspired me right back. He spurred me to set aside some time to create my own bucket list. I hope he’s inspired you too. If you could use any help, give me a call. — Kelly Stanley, Wealth Advisor.