When I was young, I always found it easier to find my way out of those puzzle mazes by starting from the finish line. Some say that doing so is cheating. The puzzle was built to be started at the start and finished at the finish line.
When I talk to people about retirement, they often feel the same way. To be honest I felt the same way for many years. When I was about 23 to 26, my goal was to get to 1 Million dollars as quickly as possible; I figured that would solve all my problems. Make a million and sit back the rest of my life.
Then in my late twenties I realized how hard it was to make a “quick” million and as every year passed… that million dollars seemed to be moving farther and farther away.
I’ve always considered myself a “lazy” hard worker. When I work for others, I give it my all, but when it comes to working for myself… I tend to chill out a lot more. When you’re trying to make a million dollars, chilling out is not the quickest way to reach your goals.
It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m ADHD and for me, that means I want to do whatever it is that I want to do at the moment I want to do it. That’s the life I truly wanted. (It just took me some time to figure that out.)
A lot of stuff happened to me between the ages of “late twenties” and thirty-six (when I bought my first house). Here’s a quick rundown.
- I got married
- We had a child
- We quit our jobs to start our art/website design business (that was the easy way I was going to make my million)
- We ran out of money
- I became depressed
- We ended up on welfare
- Our daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor
- She passed away
- The depression got worse
- We drank heavily and racked up our credit cards
- and on and on and on…
When my wife got pregnant the second time, I started realizing we’d have to move forward. I had to get back into the world, I had to go find a job, do something.
I ended up finding a job at a jewelry store over the Christmas season and knew right away this was not going to last. I had way too much energy to stand behind a counter. I ended up quitting and finding a job as a driver for The Sally Ann picking up food and working at their thrift store. I didn’t care that it was a minimum wage job. I just needed to work somewhere, where I wouldn’t have to think too hard and I knew it would only be for a few months or until I could shake off the depression.
Well, as it turned out a few months turned into two years. We now had our third child coming and I was still kinda lost. I was now thirty-two years old and still living without a clue. I had no idea where I was heading.
One day my wife and I sat down and started talking about where our lives were going and how we needed to make plans for our family’s future. My wife suggested we figure out a way to buy a house. She figured that would be a good start and she was right.
We visited a mortgage broker to see where we stood with the house-buying situation. He looked at our finances and said it didn’t look good. We’d have to reduce our debt (we had about $30,000.00 in credit cards) and find a way to save up for a deposit.
I told him that I was looking for a new job, one that would pay more than minimum wage. After all, I had some skills… I had managed a bar for five years, I could go back to that. “That’s all well and good,” he said, “but you have to show stability. The banks want to see that you can hold down a job. You’d be better off staying where you are and hitting the five year mark, get your mortgage and find a new job then.”
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “I can’t stay there another three years, it’ll kill me.”
“It’s either that or start over again.” he said.
I went home discouraged but also determined to make it happen. About four years later, we were not much closer to getting out of debt, let alone have a deposit for a home. Hmm… maybe if we had created some sort of plan we could have achieved something. But we didn’t and we were nowhere near to reaching any kind of situation that would put us in a house.
We decided to contact Habitat for Humanity, maybe they could help us. Turns out we were too poor for Habitat. The lady from Habitat who interviewed us explained that we just weren’t the right folks for the project. Maybe if we could find a way to get out of debt a little more and maybe save up some money… then maybe we’d be rich enough for them to help us.
That was the wake up call we needed. Holy smokes, we were too poor for an organization that helps poor people. I thought that was like walking into a food bank and being told that you’re too hungry for them to help.
“We really need to get our shit together.” I said to my wife. That night we sat down and started making plans, setting goals, creating budgets and doing a deep dive into our finances. We were going to find a way to buy our own place… and within a year, we were moving in.
At the time of the Habitat meeting, my wife was in charge of the finances. The first problem was she was only writing them down and keeping track of what we had and didn’t have. The second problem was that I was a spender. I cared about our debt in theory, but not enough to get out of it.
The year was 2004, we were a one income family and that income was minimum wage. We had over twenty-five thousand dollars in credit card debt. We had to figure out how to pay down our debt, save money for a deposit and keep a good credit score. It wasn’t going to be easy.
I love problem solving, so how do we solve our problems… first we had to make a list of our problems.
- Credit card debt is over $25,000.00.
- We’re a one income family making minimum wage.
- We have no down payment for a house.
- I like to spend money.
- We have no plan.
First things first, we needed a plan. Our first plan was thinking of our future. What did we want? Not today, not tomorrow, not next year. What did we want for ourselves in thirty years? We needed to think far into the future and then work our way backwards from there. We needed to see the finish line. We needed a target.
At first it seemed crazy, I didn’t even know what I wanted for supper and now I was trying to figure out what I wanted in thirty years? I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but somehow it seemed to make sense. It was just like the puzzle, start from the end and work your way backwards.
What did we want in thirty years? Well, that’s easy. We want a million dollars, a beautiful house and our dream lifestyle (whatever that was). But then we looked at where we were. How the heck is that ever going to come true? We figured we needed to be realistic, we needed something we thought we could attain and we thought we can’t dream big, we’re just not that kind of people. Right?
I wish I could say that I didn’t let that stop me. All I had to do was listen to a motivational tape and everything would magically work out. But that’s not where we were mentally.
The first thing we realized was the need to list the things that were truly important to us. (My wife is good at that.) “Let’s pretend that nothing changes.” she said. We stay at a minimum wage job and we rent for the rest of our lives. We do our best to raise the kids and give them all the love they need. We enjoy the kids and each other and our family. What does that future look like?
We were old enough to know that no one wishes they’d spent more time at the office when they’re about to die. So loving each other through thick and thin and loving our children was the number one priority.
We decided to create our best plan Z. This would be our best, worst case scenario. After all, we’d been through a lot and we were still in love, we had each other and that was the most important thing we had.
I’ve always said that I could live in a cardboard box as long as I had Hunnee by my side.
Ok, we had our plan Z.
What small improvement could we make that would improve our future selves? What was our plan Y?
What’s your plan Z? Take some time and think about it. What does your future self do?
What I didn’t realize back in my early thirties was that I was a goal setter. I set a goal to move to BC when I was 17 and thought about it on an almost daily basis. When I was 22 it happened almost through no fault of my own.
I used to tell my friends about my future wife. They all told me I was crazy. First there is no woman like the one I was describing and secondly if there was, she’d have nothing to do with me. When my friends met Hunnee, they all admitted they were wrong and wondered if I kept her medicated.
I talked about retiring at 55 and told my friends and family that I would spend my days doing whatever I wanted to do. Turns out I was off by 3 years. I did it at 52.
I guess what I’m trying to say is… to quote Barney Rubble (from the Flintstones) “Think big and be big Fred.”
Set lofty goals and think about them all the time. Talk about them with friends and family. It doesn’t matter whether they believe in you or even whether you believe in you. Talking and thinking about your dreams is the first step. Write them down if that helps; the important thing is to take steps toward your dreams. Little tiny steps. You need your checkered flag. Don’t worry about how you are going to get there, you’ll find a way.
Are you thinking that maybe there is no way you’ll make your dreams come true? That’s ok. Think of it this way.
Your goal is to climb a mountain. You want to see the view from the top. You know there is so much to see from the top of the mountain. So you start climbing. One step, then another.
A few years into your climb your friends are shouting up at you, “Hey fool, look at you and your dreams of climbing to the top of the mountain. You’ve been at it for years and we can still see you. You’re no better off than we are.”
You’ll be able to shout back to them, “Come join me up here and see that the view from here is more beautiful than from the ground below. I see more, the air is cleaner and the top is that much closer. Even if I die here, my life will have been better, because I climbed.”