How to Achieve Your Financial Bucket List

Dreaming of a second home? Retiring at age 50? Here’s how to make it happen.

The Bucket list
Scribblings of Light/Flickr
By Geoff Williams

Everyone says that nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they had worked harder, but that isn't quite true.

What people mean is that nobody nears the end of their life and thinks, "Boy, I should have skipped all of my kid's soccer games and gone to all of those meetings instead."

But anecdotal evidence and common sense suggests that many people do regret not achieving some of the dreams on their bucket list -- like going on that vacation around the world or leaving a hefty inheritance for their children. That may not translate into wishing you worked harder, but it may mean that you wished you had earned more -- or saved your money more wisely. Many items on bucket lists, like skiing in the Alps or climbing Mount Everest or having a beach home, cost money -- a lot of it.

So if you have a financial bucket list -- that is, a list of goals you hope to achieve if you can just find the money -- here are a few strategies that may prove useful when trying to achieve your lifelong dreams.

Put money away. Nobody needs to tell you that -- you aren't going to have the money to buy a Ferrari or a Renoir if you aren't saving money for it. But it's the how to squirrel away enough money for your future bucket list without wrecking your current life that can be so problematic for some people.

Diana Webb, a professor of finance at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., has several ideas for people who struggle to save.

All found money should go toward your bucket list. "If you're lucky enough to receive money you never anticipated, then treat that money with 'respect' for future generations," Webb says. "For example, your Aunt Peg passes away and leaves you $20,000. Get that money working hard for you by investing it in a good long-term investment for the future."

Even if you don't have an Aunt Peg, or the best you can count on is your Uncle Mel, who promised you his bottle cap collection upon his death,
you probably receive birthday money from an elderly relative or periodically get a holiday bonus or a tax refund. As long as you don't budget for it, put all of that money toward your goal. Your own budget won't take a hit, and eventually you'll get the benefits of that cash.

If your salary increases, make sure your expenses don't. For instance, if you get a $3,000 annual raise, invest it, or sink it into a savings account. Whatever you do, divert all or most of the extra money into your bucket list, rather than revitalize your wardrobe or upgrade your free car radio into an expensive satellite radio service, in which you'll be forking over money every month indefinitely.

Make money from your hidden natural talents. If you aren't saving enough for your financial bucket list, and it's really important to you, Webb suggests turning your hobbies or skills into a side business you can operate in your spare time. Maybe you start selling the fruits of your labors in your garden at the farmers market or start a dog sitting service. "The concept is simple," Webb says. "What can I do on the weekends to earn money to invest for my future?"

Do your research. If you're saving up for something big and that won't happen for a long time, there's no reason you can't start planning for your goals now. In fact, that's the best way to stay focused and motivated to save money. But there's another reason to periodically look for land for your second home, or plotting how you'll invest your first million dollars in your savings account, or what you'll do on your vacation to Easter Island -- you may come up with a way to pull it off sooner.

For instance, Joe Buhrmann, a manager of financial security support at Country Financial, an insurance and financial services firm headquartered in Bloomington, Ill., recommends to clients that they "take some of those 'retirement vacations,' now, while you're still young, while you're still healthy, and while you're still working."

Buhrmann says people who have been working at a company for years often accumulate several weeks of paid vacation. For some, it makes far more financial sense to take that ambitious vacation when you're still drawing a salary.

Even if you do end up achieving your financial bucket list on schedule, the more intel you've gathered, the better experience you're likely to have -- and the smarter choices you're going to make with your money. Speaking of which, along those lines ...

Don't be afraid to change your dream. The more research you do, and the more you save, you might come to realize you're raising money for the wrong goal -- and so there's no shame in veering left instead of right.

For instance, a lot of people think it would be wonderful to own a second home, like a cabin on a lake, or a beach home, but even if you can someday afford it, "do you really want one?" asks Chip Manning, director of the University of the South Babson Center for Global Commerce in Sewanee, Tenn. "If the vacation home is more than an hour and a half from your primary residence, statistics show you will use it three weeks or less a year."

Plus, people change, circumstances change and your financial bucket list may well change, too, to the point where what you thought you wanted at age 32 isn't what you want at age 63.

And that's OK. After all, you've spent half a lifetime saving up to buy a Winnebago so you can travel the country in your retirement while writing mystery novels, only to remember that the idea of driving a motor home scares the heck out of you, and you're now wondering what to do with three quarters of a million dollars you have saved up -- well, there are worse problems to have.

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Great article. I'm 34 and a bit behind. But we've cracked down in the past 3-4 years and seen amazing results. I'm currently disclosing all our finances on a monthly basis and tracking our progress along the way.

January 02 2014 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


January 02 2014 at 4:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Johnny Jay

Your suggestions are great. I am retired but many years ago I used the same thinking that you wrote about. I started investing all the extra money into top notched quality stocks that pay a solid dividend. As the years rolled by those investments grew. I lived within my means during my working years and never got extreme with places to go, things to buy or wild dreams.
My financial bucket list was to have enough invested stocks that would pay me an ample amount of cash via dividends to enjoy retirement. By staying frugal in my spending habits & saved I have accomplished my goals beyond my expectations. There were times when my investing was only $100 per month but the key factor I followed was "DISCIPLINE". Treating my investing like it was a monthly bill that must be paid to reach financial freedom. It worked for me & it can work for anyone. Remember, it did not happen overnight. It took me 28 years. So the earlier you start the easier it will be to reach your goals and enjoy your retirement years in comfort.

January 01 2014 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was born in Florida - I\'ve seen a lot retirees. There are upsacale motor home parks like the Jack Eckerd park as an example where the retirees sold everything and bought a $750,000.00 gold plated motor home and park it then spend weekends playing bingo in the clubhouse.
From the number of motor homes I\'ve seen parked behind houses, I would suggest rent one, get your fill of it, then give it back. You\'ll be dollars ahead. If you can\'t part with it, then buy one. They get around 8 miles to the gallon.
Buying paintings, like a Renoir or a Monet is a waste. It sits there on the wall collecting dust.
If you absolutely love Monet\'s style, buy a couple of Monet prints for $99.00 each, frame them nice, and you can stare at Monet\'s all day.
And a gray haired retiree screaming down US 27 in a Ferrari sounds kinda out of place and risky.
You can hire a nice limo for $150.00 and make 1,000 trips for the same $150,000.00 cost of the Ferrari. If you want to have a good laugh, check-out the Ferrari hood ornament park the Arabs built in the desert - they have two roads, the rest is sand.

December 31 2013 at 7:25 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply