Stay Inspired, 2/3/16

As I discussed in this post, I believe in the power of staying inspired. In fact, I believe in it so much that I’ve started a “Stay Inspired” series as a regular part of this blog.

Today’s dose of inspiration is brought to you by Pinterest. What can I say? I love it! Sure, if I’m not careful, I can easily be sucked into it for 2-3 hours at a time. But in my my experience – unlike other social media sites (ahem, Facebook) – this time is not usually wasted. Pinterest adds real value to my life, and I visit my pages there over and over again. Whether I need a new recipe, I’m planning my family’s next vacation, or I just need a good laugh, it never disappoints.

I often find myself visiting Pinterest when I need the motivation to get off my butt and accomplish something. Here are a few of my favorite inspirational pins (I hope one of them resonates with you!):

 

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Do you find Pinterest to be more useful than other social media sites?

What has inspired you lately?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I ran 4 easy miles as part of my marathon training plan!

(I also set up a Twitter account for this site! But I have no idea how to use it yet, so please stay tuned. 😀 )

 

My Goals For The Week Ahead (2/1-2/7)

For the last few years, I’ve made a habit of taking a few minutes each Sunday to mentally map out my week. Most of the time, this includes: 1) thinking through my work week and evening commitments, 2) planning my workouts and meals, and 3) dreaming about things I’d like to accomplish to propel my life forward (and subsequently taking action).

While the first two are helpful and necessary, number three is where the magic happens.

Unfortunately, this is the area that gets the least of my attention. I get so “busy” (read: sidetracked) planning for the daily grind that I neglect to put much thought into the things that really matter. Rather than coming up with an actionable plan to do these things, I have this conversation with myself: “It’d be so nice to do ____, ____, and ____ this week!!” And then I leave it up to fate to determine whether or not I have the time/motivation to actually do it. 

As it turns out, fate is pretty unreliable.

In an attempt to break this cycle, I’m going to try posting weekly goals here each Sunday. If nothing else, this will force me to consciously think about and plan the small steps I need to take each week to get closer to my goals.

Here are my goals for this week:

  1. Complete all of my marathon training runs/workouts: 6 miles easy, 6-mile tempo run @ 8:47, 4 miles easy, 12 miles @ 10:02, 1-2 cross training sessions
  2. Run/exercise before work (3+ days)
  3. Spend time writing before work (1+ day)
  4. Spend 20+ minutes writing every day
  5. Improve SEO scores on 5+ blog posts
  6. Set up my email subscription
  7. Finish the book I’m reading
  8. Invest $300+ in an index fund/ETF
  9. Evaluate my progress on these goals and set new ones for next week

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What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I created my first weekly goal list! (I hope this becomes a habit.)

Why I Want To Be Financially Independent

In my mind, reaching financial independence is pretty much the closest thing to heaven on earth.

If you don’t know what it means to be financially independent, you can find a detailed explanation here. If you want my abbreviated version, here you go:

Being financially independent means that you don’t have to actively work to pay your bills. Your income-producing assets make enough money to cover your living expenses. Rather than slaving away at a 9-to-5 job for 30+ years, you have complete control over your time.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: you have complete control over your time. Whether you want to travel around the world or play Parcheesi every afternoon at 1:30, the choice is all yours.

Seriously – how amazing does that sound?! Let me paint a little picture for you:

  • No spending 40+ hours of your week at a job that may or may not fulfill you.
  • No Sunday night blues.
  • No Monday mornings! (Well, Monday mornings will still happen, but you know what I mean.)
  • No stressful morning and evening commutes.
  • No leaving your small children in daycare (unless you choose to, of course).
  • No wishing away your Monday-Friday in anticipation of the weekend.

I know, I know – it seems like I’ve got a “grass is greener” mentality. (And we all know the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.) Many people will say they need a job to maintain a sense of purpose in life, and to keep them from boredom. There are plenty of well-documented cases of people becoming depressed in retirement for these reasons.

I’ve gotta say, while I understand this sentiment, I can’t relate to it at all. There are so many things I want to experience during my lifetime – my biggest road block is finding the time to do them. Here is a small sample of what I’d do to fill my days:

  • Travel everywhere
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Train for a mind-blowing race
  • Volunteer for a cause that I’m passionate about
  • Read all day long
  • Write a book
  • Cook amazing food from scratch every day (or at least when I get inspired)
  • Move someplace by the ocean, and spend as much time there as possible
  • Go back to school for something I love that isn’t necessarily practical
  • Get certified to teach Yoga, Zumba, Kickboxing, etc.
  • Really learn to play piano instead of being a hack
  • Go on long bike rides and take long walks
  • Spend more time in the sun

This list could go on much longer, but you get the point. Yes, I’m sure I could fit many of these things into my life right now, but not at the level I desire. I mean, it’s just not practical for someone with a full-time job and a busy home life to spend all day reading. (Okay, I probably do get that opportunity 1-2 times per year, and it’s glorious.)

[Side note: this post is not meant to demean anyone who enjoys working, appreciates the daily grind, and needs the structure that work life provides. I have needed these things at various points in my life as well, and I’m sure that will continue in the future. The opportunity to work will always be there.]

My point is that – for me – life could easily be fulfilling and purposeful without a traditional job. I have never been able to see myself working in the same career for decades on end. I am intensely curious about all this world has to offer, and want to experience as much of it as possible.

Anyhow, I digress.

But How Am I Going To Reach Financial Independence?

I read about how to become financially independent every day of my life. Currently there seems to be a movement of people on a quest to retire early and reach financial independence (commonly abbreviated as FIRE). Here are a few blogs I read on this topic:

There are numerous other great blogs on this topic, I just seem to visit these over and over. The people behind these blogs inspire me to continue along my journey to financial freedom.

My problem right now is that I don’t know how I intend to reach financial independence. There are many avenues to pursue: real estate investments, dividend-paying stocks, creating a product/service that provides passive income, and winning the lottery, among others. These all sound appealing in some form, but let’s be honest – I have no idea what I’m doing here. As such, I’m not comfortable jumping into anything full force yet. Without a clear cut strategy, obviously I cannot determine my path to financial independence yet.

And yet, while it’s important to recognize my ignorance on these subjects, I don’t want that to excuse me from taking action in some form. I’m going to make mistakes, no doubt, but failure is an important part of the learning process. I would much rather try something and fail than be stuck in the same place without the courage to start. That’s why I’m currently working towards building a dividend growth portfolio. This approach makes sense to me, and has provided me with the most immediacy on getting started (as opposed to investing in real estate, creating a product/service to sell, etc.). I have read and researched a fair amount about it, and feel comfortable enough to dip my toes in the water, so to speak.

My plan for the future is to become knowledgeable enough to branch out and explore avenues outside of dividend growth investing. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, and fully believe in the value of diversification when it comes to investing. I believe my ultimate path to financial independence will be some sort of hybrid approach.

Reaching financial independence is a lofty goal that will involve a lot of sacrifice, persistence, and calculated risk. Ultimately though, I think there are few – if any – pursuits more worthy of my time than this. Having complete control over my schedule will give me the opportunity to chase any dream I want, and I can’t think of anything better than that!

Do you need to work, or could you purposefully live without it? If so, what would you do with your time?

What small step did you take to reach one of your goals today?

I made a list of possible ideas to create passive income!

 

Why Paying For Everything In Cash Is Helping Me Reach My Goals

Over the last 6-8 weeks, I’ve been experimenting with paying for everything in cash. I can’t remember what the impetus was for this, but it coincided with my decision to tighten up my budget and start tracking what I was spending. While making this change has required more self-discipline than I expected, the results have been eye-opening.

I like to keep things simple, so I am currently using the tried and true envelope system. It works like a charm. Each time I get paid, I take out a certain amount of cash for each budget item (groceries, etc.), and once that money is gone, it’s gone. Since the cash is tangible and finite, I am really forced to plan ahead and be conscious of every dollar I spend.

Is this fun? Not really, no. At least not when you stare into your empty envelope knowing you have four long days until you get paid.

But you know what is fun?

  • Not having a credit card balance to pay off at the end of the month
  • Watching my investment accounts grow faster
  • Not having buyer’s remorse after purchasing useless junk
  • Sending a few extra dollars towards student loan debt
  • Not having any junk food in the house

(Okay, I lied on that last one. I do buy less junk food because my grocery budget is tighter, and I have to prioritize the healthy stuff. But it’s definitely not fun.)

Here’s the thing – I was pretty good with my budget before. I paid my bills on time. I maxed out my IRA and contributed to various savings accounts each month. I used credit cards responsibly and never carried a balance from month to month.

But…

I had no accountability for the money that was left over. I consistently overspent my grocery budget by $20-$30 a week. I made random stops at Target and dropped $42 on God-knows-what. I ordered pizza for dinner on nights I was too lazy to cook. I casually swiped my credit card for all of these things and didn’t worry about the cumulative cost until the end of the month. No big deal, right?

Well, it turns out that all of this stuff adds up! (Revolutionary information, I know.) I mean, it’s not enough to live like a rock star, but it’s definitely enough to make a difference in how quickly I reach my financial goals. A conservative guess would be in the neighborhood of $300-$400 per month. That’s a lot of money to spend on random crap like jelly beans and piñatas!

I am disappointed in myself for not discovering this sooner. I definitely could have put that $3500-$4500 per year to much better use. But I suppose there is no sense in wallowing in my mistakes – I know better now, so I’ll do better.

What am I spending my newly-discovered money on?

  1. I am investing $650-$700 per month rather than contributing the requisite $460 to max out my IRA.
  2. I am sending an extra $50-$100 per month toward my student loan debt.
  3. I am setting more aside for unplanned expenses that inevitably come up.

So what’s the takeaway here?

  1. Cash is the best tool around to keep me on track with my budget, and thus my financial goals.
  2. I need to account for all of my money. Tracking only the major/important expenditures will no longer cut the mustard.
  3. If I want to spend money on frivolous garbage, that’s okay. I just need to make sure I’ve budgeted for it.
  4. The “left overs” at the end of each paycheck can add up to a substantial amount, and should be applied to something important.
  5. Even though I use credit cards responsibly, they are still a budget-killer because they make it easy for me to overspend by just a little bit.
  6. Target is an evil money pit where I spend tons of cash on amazing stuff that serves almost no purpose in my life.

I am excited to continue this exercise to stretch my income as far as possible. I never imagined something so simple could have such an immediate and huge impact on my financial well-being.

Have you ever used the envelope system for budgeting?

Do you have the same issue I do at Target?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

  1. 4-mile run in place of Kenpo (P90X)
  2. Paid $40 toward my student loan debt

 

When Small Steps Aren’t Enough

I recently challenged myself to draft a blog post every day during the month of August.* I’m doing this because I want to get in the habit of writing every day without the pressure of having to publish anything. That requires exactly 31 small steps, all of which are important but pretty easy.

Unfortunately my blogging has grown stagnant over the last couple of weeks. This is not due to a lack of inspiration – I have so much that I want to write about – but nonetheless, I feel myself procrastinating on the task at hand. I am still writing most days, but it’s become more of an exercise in jotting down a few thoughts here and there rather than constructing a full post.

I see a few problems with my current challenge:

  1. I’m just writing aimlessly without a real deadline. While there’s some value in that, it doesn’t do much to create a sense of urgency on my end.
  2. Writing a rough draft is easy. It keeps me in my comfort zone. That’s usually not a good place to be when you’re starting a new project like this.
  3. Deep down, I know I’m trying to busy myself with writing because it distracts me from actually having to put this out in the world.

I think what I need here is a big step.

Now don’t get me wrong – most days, I think all we need are small steps to reach our goals. (That is the theme of this blog, after all.) But then there are those days every so often where that just doesn’t get the job done – the small step needs to be replaced with a giant leap. These are the days you have to put on your big kid pants, stop planning, and start doing. Here are some examples:

  • You register for your first marathon in lieu of going for a 3-mile run
  • You walk out on an unhealthy relationship instead of reading another self-help book
  • You make an offer on an investment property rather than continuing to build your savings
  • You resign from your day job to pursue a dream instead of researching alternate career paths

Those are big steps, and they take a lot of courage. And that’s exactly what I need right now.

So, I am going to give myself a deadline to launch this blog – September 7, 2015.

That’s a Monday, which always seems like a good time to start something new. It gives me a few weeks to produce some content, set specific goals, and hack through designing the site. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I suppose that will keep things interesting.

By creating a deadline for myself, I now have a sense of urgency. I am not one of those people that can get stuff done “as soon as possible.” Nope. Give me a hard deadline, or it will go on the back burner indefinitely. (Based on my highly unscientific observations, many of us are wired this way.)

So, here goes nothing. I am ready to take the small daily steps needed to successfully make my big leap on September 7.

Have any of you taken a big step recently to reach a goal?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I gave myself a deadline to launch my blog!

 

*This post was written in August and published in September.

 

Identity Crisis

I read an article today about how most people don’t like to read long, flowery introductions. So here goes nothing.

I’m not exactly sure what I want this blog to be yet. Let me just go ahead and put this out there – I am not an expert on anything. My interests/obsessions tend to be totally random. For instance, right now, I spend hours every day reading about dividend growth stocks. Exactly four months ago, I needed to learn how to achieve the perfect taper before a marathon. A year ago I spent an obscene amount of time searching for and attempting to cook vegan recipes.

[Side note: I’m not a vegan, but I did go through a phase. Life without cheese is just painful.]

This is the story of my life.

I don’t think I’m focused enough to write about one thing day in and day out for any length of time. I love to run, but this is not really a running blog. I love to cook, but this is definitely not a cooking blog.

So what is it, exactly?

Well, here’s the thing – I go to bed every night dreaming about what I want to accomplish in life. I don’t ever want to be a person that sits by idly letting life happen; I want to be deliberate about chasing my dreams every day that I can.

Basically, I want to use this blog to hold myself accountable to my goals. This is about taking action to make my life better rather than sitting back and wishing it was different.

True, some of my goals are totally overwhelming and downright scary – I have no clue what I’m doing or if I can reach them. But I know I have to try. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you can accomplish almost anything by focusing on one small step at a time.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. –Robert Collier

I want to take at least one step every day to work towards a goal I have and document my progress here. I’m sure there will be days when the step is miniscule in relation to the big picture, and I’m okay with that. No matter what the daily grind brings, conscious and consistent effort is what counts in the end.

I would love to have a community of people here that regularly share stories about the small steps they’re taking to reach goals, but I am not divorced from reality. I know that my sister in North Carolina is the only person reading right now (she promised me she would). That’s okay! We all have to start somewhere, and I am hopeful that one day this blog will exemplify its title.

With that, I ask you…

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I published my first blog post!