How much does your ideal life cost? Not sure? Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. I’d be surprised if 1 in 10 people know. Which is unfortunate, because knowing the price of something is usually a prerequisite to buying it. Think of every purchase you’ve ever made. Every car, house, computer, shirt, subscription, meal, concert ticket, vacation and even book. Price was an important data point, no? At some point, you considered the price, weighed it against things like affordability and how bad you wanted that thing and then made the decision to either move along or reach for your wallet. Funding your ideal life is no different. If you want to “buy” it, it’s important to figure out how much it costs. Here’s how.
Step 1: Figure out what you’re spending on your current life.
Begin by listing out your current spending. Feel free to use our budget worksheet. Just go through the categories and write down everything you spend, from your phone bill to your car insurance. And don’t forget about the other side of the ledger. Write in your income sources as well.
Step 2: Figure out what your ideal life looks like.
The next step is to outline what your ideal life looks like. To get started, just write down, in as much detail as possible, what your ideal day (or week or month) would look like. Where do you live? Are you renting or do you own a home? Do you live there year-round? When do you wake up? Who are you with? Does family live nearby? Friends? Are you working? Do you have a car? What types of things are on your agenda? Do you have any hobbies? What kind of pace is important to you? What types of activities do you do in the area where you live? When you travel, where do you go and why (e.g. to see family, to go skiing, etc.)? Do you eat out frequently or mostly at home? How is your health? Do you spend time exercising and being active? What are your sources of income? The goal with this step is to get clarity about what you want your ideal life to look like.
Step 3: Make an “ideal life” budget.
Now it’s time to start making a budget for your ideal life. Some things will be easy. For example, if your ideal house is the one you’re already living in, then you have a pretty good idea of what the costs will be. If, however, your ideal home is a cabin in Montana and you live in Florida, it’s time to get on Zillow and start doing some research. Again, use our budget worksheet to help. How much do you need for your housing? Hobbies? Travel? Insurance? Taxes? Food? Utilities? Be as specific as you can, but also feel free to give yourself an amount for certain categories. For example, rather than detailing every restaurant meal, maybe you prefer to just allot $300 per month to eating out. Look at your ideal life and make a budget that funds it.
Step 4: Compare your ideal life budget to your current life budget.
Now compare your current budget with your ideal life budget. Where do they differ? Are there places you need to trim or eliminate? No need spending money on things that aren’t important to you. Or maybe something needs to get added. Or maybe you see debt payments on your current budget, but in your ideal life you’re debt free. Time to make a plan to get out debt. Budgets reflect priorities. In Step 2, you outlined your priorities. In Step 3, you calculated what they’d cost. Now it’s time to align your spending with your priorities. That likely means change, but it’s good change. You’re moving from imperfect to ideal. You’re becoming who and what you want to be. That should be incredibly motivating.
One thing that might surprise you when you do this exercise is that your ideal life is probably not wildly more expensive than what you’re making and spending right now. It’s just better directed and more intentional. So start bringing things into focus. Cut where you need to cut. Add where you need to add. Set goals for making incremental progress.
Step 5: How much does it take to earn your freedom?
Was there a shortfall between your current and ideal budgets? Maybe your expenses are higher in your ideal budget. Or maybe your income is less, because you don’t plan on working. Regardless of the reason, that shortfall is what you need to make up in order to earn your freedom (a.k.a. doing what you want to do instead of doing what you have to do). If where you are isn’t where you need to be, then you need to make a plan for how to get there. The best way to do that is by creating a detailed financial plan that incorporates all relevant variables (e.g. age, income, spending, life expectancy, taxes, investment returns, market volatility, Social Security, pension, risk tolerance, etc.). That’s a lot of moving parts. Unless you’re capable of doing it yourself, I’d encourage you to find a qualified adviser that you trust. If you don’t have one, feel free to touch base with me. We can chat about your situation and I’ll let you know if I can help.
Alright, time to get out of the lecture and into the lab. Grab a piece of paper and get to work.