Thursday, July 23, 2009

Planning for Your Dreams

Last night Ron and I enjoyed the sunset (and the distant chaos of rush hour traffic) from a serene rooftop lounge in Chicago, and toasted each other with, “We’re living the dream.” Our dream is the culmination of years of planning and decision-making. We know how we reached our goals, and are happy to share some ideas with you.

The first step in any plan for the future is to get a handle on what your expenses and spending patterns are today. Use this as the basis for establishing a realistic budget. Start by tracking spending against a budget to create more awareness about where your money is going.

You can document and analyze your ongoing expenditures with an Excel spreadsheet – or a piece of paper for that matter. To some extent, HOW you pay can ease your tracking efforts. If you deal mostly in cash, you need to save receipts for review. Our preferred methods of payment are a bank debit card and American Express. Both give us detailed online records that we use to categorize purchases for comparison to the budget numbers. (In addition, with the American Express Rewards program we accrue points that are redeemable for gift cards.)

Once you are knowledgeable about your spending habits, you may want to make some adjustments to pull things into line with your saving goals. Looking objectively at expenses in a consolidated form, you may become aware of untapped opportunities to be thrifty and save more for your future.

Below are some examples of “non-essentials” that eat up discretionary income. No judgment intended – just food for thought:

· $25 a week to have a landscaping service = $100 per month
· Internet access on your cell phone = $40 per month
· Premium movie channels on cable that you rarely watch = $30 per month

I’m not suggesting that you sacrifice quality of life today. Just make deliberate choices, weighing your needs today with your dreams for the future. Your philosophies may well be different than ours. None of us truly know what the future will bring, and should live our lives to the fullest every day. (Being a victim of cancer in 2002 changed my perspective on that for good!) We saved aggressively to try to ensure that our retired life could be full and enjoyable, but certainly never felt deprived.

Next week, I will begin a series on the specifics of how we built our plan for retirement. Ron masterminded our plan, so I will be interviewing him to document the approach and some tips you may be able to use.

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