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Do you know what the top regret is, of people on their death bed?
Bronnie Ware knows. She’s a palliative nurse, who, while caring for many patients during their last days asked them. She compiled their answers into her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The most common regret people expressed is that they lived their life according to other people’s expectations, rather than living a life true to themselves. What they wanted to do.
How many of them do you think spent 40 years commuting on a train, staring out the window wondering what it would have been like if they’d done what they really wanted to do?
Are you doing what you want to do? If not, why not?
The Trap We Fall Into
When people become trapped in a career or lifestyle, it’s usually due to money. Whether they’re working their first job out of college, or a 20-year corporate executive, millions of people – over 60% of all employees are living paycheck to paycheck.
Once we enter the working world and start earning a salary, we want something to show for it. A nice apartment, or a home, some furniture, a car. Then we have a family and all the financial obligations that come with it.
Many people realize sooner or later, that the line of work they’re in isn’t anything like they expected. Or it’s like they expected, but it’s no longer a life they want. But when you live paycheck to paycheck you begin that slow surrender.
You convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing. For your wife, for your husband, your children, your coworkers. And a decade slips by. Then another.
The Way Out of the Trap
Suppose that person on the train – I’ll call her Mary, is looking out the window wondering what her day would be like if she’d gone for a teaching degree instead. “What would it be like”, she wonders, to see a child’s eyes light up when she suddenly understood long division?
But Mary can barely afford the mortgage, utilities, credit card bills and her daughter’s upcoming college tuition. She’s expected to bring home a salary, so going back to college is out of the question.
Mary is also one of the 60% of people living without a budget. She knows her salary and the amounts of her regular bills. But she’s never taken the time to write it all down and see every dollar they spend, on one page.
She knows they’re getting by – as long as something major doesn’t happen. Mary’s exhausted by the time she gets home. An hour or two of Netflix and a glass of wine get her mind off the fact that she can’t stand her job.
A Budget is Not Just a Budget
Have you ever heard the saying, “a goal isn’t really a goal until you write it down”?
Writing down your goal clarifies it. It’s no longer a dream once you write it. You’re accountable now, even if it’s only to yourself.
Suppose Mary thought again about getting off that commuter train and becoming a 4th-grade teacher at her local school? She has a bachelors degree but would need to pay for more school to get an elementary education degree.
So, tonight, she puts down the wine and writes, “My goal is to be a teacher at our school within 3 years”.
But remember, she’s never taken the time to create a budget. She’s living paycheck to paycheck.
Or she thinks she is.
Not having a budget is like juggling 12 balls at once. You may see a couple but you’ll never see the big picture clearly. You won’t see where you can improve or how you’ve improved. And most important, you’ll never see your situation getting worse until it’s too late.
So Mary writes her income down and takes the time to document every dollar they spend each month. Each utility account, credit cards, groceries, take-out food. You name it.
She’s shocked as she goes through her bank statement, to count $250 on restaurants last month, as well as $150 on take-out food, and another $700 on groceries! Mary takes a closer look at their huge cable TV bill. And she realizes she can get a cheaper cell phone plan.
Then she looks into combining her auto and homeowner’s insurance. She sees that she spends almost $200 per month on lunches and Starbucks.
She makes an entry for every category of expense and writes it all down. Now she’s got a baseline she can work from. She’s pissed about her situation but excited about the possibility of lowering their bills.
Now that she’s created a budget, Mary will see where they can cut down, combine or eliminate. Then next month she’ll fill in their expenses again and compare them to this months. And each month after that.
Sure enough, after a few months, Mary’s able to find enough money to enroll in some online college courses that will lead to her teaching degree. She knows it won’t be easy, but now Mary’s almost forgotten dream is a goal.
What About You?
What do you do for a living?
Is it what you envisioned for yourself?
Where do you see yourself in five years? Or ten years?
If you made no changes in your lifestyle or your career, would you be where you want to be ten years from now?
Not a lot of people can say they’re doing exactly what they want to be doing, so if you can my hats off to you. If you’re not doing what you feel you were meant to be doing…is it because of money?
Obviously, money’s not the most important thing in life. But managing it is one of the keys to move in the direction of the life you want.
Having and using a budget is more than just a way to pay your electric bill each month. Once you decide a direction for yourself, a budget is one of the essential tools that’ll help get you there.
Whether you want to change careers, enhance your current career, travel the world or retire to a certain location, write it down. Move it from a dream to a goal.
Then create a budget. Go over it with a fine-toothed comb and know that your budget is one of the keys to moving you toward your goal. And your goal will motivate you to stick to your budget.
Remember, we only get one shot here. No regrets.