How to Achieve Your Financial Bucket List

The Bucket list
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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, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%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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How to Achieve Your Financial Bucket List

This is my personal favorite! Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month.

I recommend using a separate savings account because if you have access to your funds in your checking account, you're more likely to spend them. Again, it might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but trust me, after a while you won't even notice it's gone. Here's a moment when the "set it and forget it" strategy works wonders.

It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to France or an iPad. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.

So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you're building a well-earned safety net). I live by this rule.

OK, OK, this seems like an obvious one -- and easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and there could help you put a lot away in the long run.
Many banks offer seasonal accounts meant to save for holidays like Christmas. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a hefty penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies don't occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you're touching it only when needed (just make sure you're not tempted to blow it all on Christmas gifts).
I love this one. Chalk it up to my massive craving for organization, but I'm all about getting rid of things I no longer use. Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay or Craigslist or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.
Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you'll be surprised by how quickly this silly trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.
You could pick up odd jobs via websites like,,, or
If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your freedom fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts.
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