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?