My Financial Bucket List

by Elizabeth on July 25, 2012 · 12 comments

My mom wants to play a round of golf at Pebble Beach; my father-in-law dreams of traveling to his ancestral homeland; my best friend wants to meet a sitting president. But when it comes to forming my own bucket list, I find that it’s populated by more financial goals than anything else.

Bucket List Goal #5: Buy – And Pay For – Our Dream House

Right now, my husband and I are in the midst of the single most frustrating financial exercise of our lives: selling our home. We bought it nearly six years ago, when mortgage financing flowed as freely as beer from a tap at Octoberfest. At the time, we knew it was merely a starter home; we’d no sooner moved in than we started planning for our imminent departure. Two babies, one recession, and a career change later, and we’re still in the starter home, merely dreaming of our dream home instead of living in it.

When our house does sell (positive thoughts, positive thoughts!), we don’t just plan on taking out a bulky 30-year loan and making the minimum monthly payment until we approach our twilight years. Rather, we aim to make extra payments on our home’s principal on a regular basis, regularly refinancing to loans with shorter and shorter terms. Our goal? To outright own our dream home in 15 years or less – hopefully less – leaving us with excess cash to dream some more.

Bucket List Goal #4: Finance Our Children’s College Educations

My parents not only paid for my unwieldy undergraduate student loans, but my husband attended college on an athletic scholarship. The result? We entered our marriage with no debt from our undergraduate years, although I did have my grad school loans to contend with.

Even though our children are only three and one, we plan to finance their college educations. We know that’s going to be a monumental task. My four years at Duke cost in the neighborhood of $160,000. Based on the full schedule of tuition, room, board, and fees for the 2012-2013 school year at my alma mater – a whopping $59,343 – it could cost my daughter in the neighborhood of $727,000 to graduate as a member of the Duke class of 2031, by some estimates. And while my husband likes to think his son is going to follow in his footsteps and earn a D1 scholarship to play football, I’m still saving to fund his college education just in case.

Bucket List Goal #3: Not Be A Burden On Our Children In Retirement

I have a close friend whose parents fully financed her college education… only to lean heavily on her and her older brother when they ultimately retired.

That’s why my husband and I started funding our 401(k) and Roth IRA accounts early and often. I started funding my retirement account when I was 25 years old; my husband was 24 when he started setting aside money for our golden years. We put our retirement funding first – before our extra mortgage payments, ahead of our children’s 529 plans. Why? Two reasons: first of all, even a modest six percent return on investment will pay bigger dividends for you than paying down a mortgage with an interest rate of four percent ahead of schedule; second of all, while there are grants, scholarships, and loans to pay for college, there’s no such help if you fall short with your retirement planning.

Bucket List Goal #2: To Help People

Warren Buffett is my financial role model. No, it’s not because his company, Berkshire Hathaway, has helped him amass one of the world’s largest fortunes. Rather, it’s because of exactly what he plans to do with that fortune: give it all away. In 2006, Buffett made a very public pledge to give away just about all of his wealth to philanthropic organizations before or at the time of his death. I believe that it is my civic and moral duty to help those less fortunate in my community; it’s why I regularly make monetary contributions to my church, spend time volunteering with organizations like Ronald McDonald House Charities, and donate items to charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The return on investment I get on this type of activity is priceless, even if it never shows up in my financial portfolio.

Bucket List Goal #1: To Die Penniless

Yeah, that probably sounds like an unusual financial goal, especially when you consider that it’s my top financial priority. Let me explain.

My grandmother, Lord love her, wants to die a millionaire. In order to make that happen, she’s suffered like Job. She refuses to go on vacations, lest she should spend money that she believes should go to my mother or her two sisters; she frequently skips meals, thinking that she’s saving a few bucks with every breakfast, lunch, or dinner she misses; and, she refuses to help family members in desperate need – she’d rather give them the money when she’s dead than receive their heartfelt thanks while she’s alive. In other words, she’s become something of a recluse thanks to her ultimate financial goal. Her desire to die a millionaire has deprived her of enjoying her own life – the life she and my late grandfather worked so hard to build. I know that’s not how my grandfather would have wanted her to spend her final years, and it’s not how anyone else in my family wants her to live either. We’d rather see her celebrate her life, even if it meant we didn’t receive a single red cent upon her death.

I don’t want to be like my grandmother. I don’t want to hoard money to the point where it becomes an illness instead of an asset. I want to use the money my husband and I make, save, and invest over the next 40, 50, 60 years to see the world. I want to travel. I want to – finally – learn how to cook. I want to take dance lessons again. I want to go back to school and get my PhD, even if I never put the degree to use. I want to help my children fulfill their dreams; I want to help others, too. I want to have just enough money to live, timing my retirement portfolio perfectly to run out of money minutes after I run out of life. To me, that would be a sign of a life well-lived.

What’s on your financial bucket list? What kind of financial goals do you hope to accomplish before you meet your maker?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents June 25, 2012 at 10:23 am

I like dying penniless! I reached all my financial goals, but one! I want to work for 5 more years. It sounds easy except I am a teacher and budget cuts keep cutting teachers. So far so good.

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2 Kris @ BalancingMoneyandLife June 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Dying penniless is a great goal. I’ve told my parents over and over – spend our money, if you run out before you die we’ll help. I think they’re listening. :)

As for my goals, I want my husband to have the option to retire at 65 (in 10 years), which means really working hard on our debt for the next few years!

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3 Sean A June 28, 2012 at 10:09 am

I love this idea of having your dream bucket list for financials. When you have a clear why the how becomes a lit easier to achieve.

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4 Diane June 29, 2012 at 7:27 am

I like your list! Regarding college, I love the idea of young adults graduating with no college debt. My alternate approach would be to fund their educations at a much less expensive school and then have a tidy sum left over to use as a down payment on their first homes. Shoot, at the amount you are talking about, you could pay cash for their homes and they would be debt free at the start of their adult lives. How awesome would that be?!!!

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5 Kevin Mzansi June 29, 2012 at 10:37 am

For me, helping others is the biggest goal on the list. We don’t always realize how lucky we have it…
Dying penniless is a worthy goal, but it may be hard to pull off, since we don’t know how long we are going to live. Love the sentiment that we need to “live” while we are living!

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6 Emily Guy Birken July 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I love the dying penniless goal. My grandmother, who was a wealthy woman, loved to give money and gifts to family while she was alive. If you objected and said “Grandma, it’s too much!” she would always reply “Why should you be glad I’m dead?” I love that philosophy.

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7 Kim July 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

This is a great list. I have known several people who were like your grandmother, who left the earth with a large amount of money, but deprived themselves of very basic things during their lifetimes so they could pass that money on to relatives. There has to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

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8 William @ Drop Dead Money August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am

My wife and I would like to leave enough for her niece to buy a little place for herself. She’s dedicated her life to help needy kids and she makes barely enough to survive. Her parents are well off, but we’re likely to go first, so our goal is to live comfortably but leave enough for Annie to get her own little place…

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9 Rich In The Heart August 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Excellent post!
I absolutely love the idea of a financial bucket list.

You’re grandmother has a goal, which apparently helps her make it through the day. Perhaps you should ask her if she’d rather save the money simply to give it away (to charity, family members, etc.), or to enjoy it just a little bit.

You’re point about getting a starter home is exactly why my wife and I were determined NOT to listen to my own dearly departed mother. Thankfully, we made the right choice since we ended up having 4 children and bought a 4 bedroom house (yes, 2 of them are doubled up in 1 bedroom but it isn’t that bad on them). Coincidentally my younger siblings followed suite shortly before the housing busted a bit.

Are you using a chart to show your progress toward those goals? It should be easy enough to put in an Excel (or OpenOffice) spreadsheet), just let me know if you need help making one up. :-)

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