Category Archive: Random Thoughts

Beginning And Ending And Beginning Again

Over the past several weeks, I have been working on several projects around the house.  I built my son a bunk bed (picture below).  I constructed a storage-and-shelving unit for the shed.  I installed a new mailbox, with a a new post, and I tilled and planted a new flower bed, around the post.

I love working on a project, especially when it has a definitive beginning and ending.  For instance, the bunk bed took almost two weeks to complete, but when it was complete, it was complete.  (I worked on it mainly in the evenings, and there were a couple of days when the weather just wouldn’t cooperate.  We had three days of high humidity and heavy rains – and those days just were not fit for painting.  Push-come-to-shove, the bunk bed could have been built, rather easily, in just a couple of days.  I took my time, because there was no rush to finish the bed, and I was working all by myself.)

Now, let me get back to my thought:  I like it when I complete a project like building the bunk bed.  I can walk away, knowing that A finally worked its way to Z – and I am done.

I also have other projects – take the landscaping of our lawn – that never really “get completed”.  There are always leaves to be raked, mulch to be applied, compost to be, well, composted, etc.  Every single time I walk in my backyard, I notice two things – all of the things that I’ve recently done – and all of the things that I really need to do.

When I think about money management (personal finance) – I’m reminded that there are some projects that have a beginning and an ending and that there are others that are open-ended – always requiring some attention.

Getting out of debt – that was a beginning and an ending project.

So was creating a fully-funded emergency fund.  A to Z.  Finished.

Lots of other projects – like preparing for retirement or saving for kids’ college – these are open-ended.

And, for someone like me, who prefers the former, the latter type of project, the open-ended project, can feel overwhelming.

I try to break major, long-term projects, into manageable short-term projects. 

I cannot possibly save enough money, this year, to send all three of my children to college, but I can save X amount, per child, this year.

I cannot imagine how much I might need for retirement in thirty years, but I can save G amount, in H account, this year.

Even with a concrete goal, like paying off my mortgage in less than 10 years, I still have to break that goal down.  I need something that I can “see” – something that I can achieve – in a relatively short amount of time.

Thinking in terms of yard-work – I know that I cannot possibly rake all of the leaves, trim all of the shrubs, water all of the vegetables, prune all of the trees, clean all of the gutters, pressure wash all of the siding, and mow all of the lawn – today.  So, I break things down, map out some achievable, short-term goals, and tackle them, one-by-one.  I’ll rake Monday.  I’ll trim shrubbery Thursday.  I’ll prune trees next Wednesday.

The problem, for folks who think like me, is that we like to see and know “things are in order, complete, and finished”.  One would think, when dealing with “just” numbers and math, finding that sense of complete would be easy.  However, it’s really not.

Every achieved goal leads to another goal to be achieved.

I’ve had to learn to accept this cycle.  I know it’s very, very important that I set goals – and even more important that I work to achieve them.  I also know (somewhat paradoxically) – that I will never actually achieve every goal.

There will always be a budget to manage, bills to pay, taxes to calculate, and “something that needs doing”.

Here’s to the process – the process that brings both satisfaction and (a bit of) frustration.  Here’s to managing our finances, without losing our minds.  Here’s the pic I promised. (Go Dawgs!)

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A Simple, Productive Day

You know you’re getting older when you a.) spend your “off-day” doing chores around the the house and b.) you enjoy doing them.

I have been extremely busy for the past six month, twelve months, two years, forever, so it was good to take a day “off” from the world – and just focus on getting some things done around the house.

First, I replaced a broken light-fixture in our master bathroom.  I tried to simply buy a new globe for the original fixture, but that was a no-go.  I just couldn’t find one.  So, I went to the local hardware store and found a replacement for the entire fixture.  I remembered to flip the breaker, took down the old fixture, and replaced it with the new one.  First project, complete!

I then installed an 8-foot section of gutter above the backdoor.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, and it feels good to have it done.  The install took a bit longer than expected, because I couldn’t find my tin snips.  Instead, I had to use a hacksaw to cut the gutter – and my blade was a little dull.  It took a couple of hours, but now the rain will be safely “guttered” into the flowerbeds, and away from the backdoor.

After that, it was time to replace several light bulbs, throughout the house.  I recently stumbled across a great deal on some compact fluorescent bulbs, and this was a good time to get the ladder out and change some bulbs.  Our new house has more than twenty recessed flood lights, and it feels nice to have all of the traditional bulbs replaced with the new compact florescent bulbs.  (Obviously, I’ll hang on to the traditional bulbs, just in case I need one.)  The compact florescent bulbs have a pretty unique design.  They’re shaped just like a traditional “flood” bulb, but, if you look closely, you can see the little curly-q compact fluorescent, inside the bulb.

Finally, I spent some time in the yard, cleaning our flower beds, edging along the driveway, and mowing the lawn.  There’s just something about doing this kind of manual labor that is, oddly, relaxing.  Even though it was, as we say in the South, “100 degrees in the shade,” I still really enjoyed myself.  It was just a simple, productive day.

Oh, one more thing.  I’ve noticed that when I go to the hardware store, I tend to get project-happy.  For some reason, surrounded by all those building materials, I can think of a hundred projects that “need to be done”.  My wife says that I need “blinders”, like those that a race horse might wear.  I could just put them on, head to the exact isle that I need to head to, pay for my merchandise, and then go home.

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Some Thoughts About Thinking

Isn’t it amazing how our thoughts work?  I’m sitting here, typing this article, and it’s October 7, 2009.  There’s a part of my brain that is occupied with next word I’m going to type.  There’s another part that’s focusing on an appointment that I have tomorrow – and yet another part that’s thinking about next year’s summer vacation.  Even if I tried, it would be impossible to control just how far out into the future my thoughts are capable of exploring.  I can, in a split second, imagine tomorrow’s breakfast, or, just as easily, the birth of my first great-grandchild, decades from now.  My brain has absolutely no trouble imagining or picturing either event, with the exact same clarity.

However, even though I can see both events – the breakfast and the birth of the grand-child – the thoughts about the breakfast are much more linear in nature.  In other words, while I can picture both events in my mind, the paths to each event are imagined in very different ways.

For instance, I know that I will be at home tomorrow and that my breakfast choices will be limited to the foods that are already in my house.  I’m not really a big fan of cooking, so I’ll probably skip the eggs or the oatmeal.  I am, however, on a bit of a health kick this month, so I will not be having pop-tarts or doughnuts.  Let’s see.  That leaves a nice juicy apple and a handful of almonds.  Yes, that’s what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow.

Did you see how that works?  Very quickly, I was able to narrow down my choices and make a decision about tomorrow’s breakfast.  For all intents and purposes, the decision about tomorrow’s breakfast has been made.  Freed from making that decision, my brain is now free to think about other things.

Let’s consider the birth of my great-grandchild.  Instead of the simple. linear approach that my brain took to figure out tomorrow’s breakfast, it’s now considering a nearly infinite number of scenarios that might lead to me actually holding a newborn great-grandchild at some point in the distant future.

My goal, honestly, is to free my brain up so that it can spend as much time as possible thinking about and planning for the future.  Before it can do that, however, I have to be sure that I’ve taken care certain short-term goals – like preparing breakfast – so that I can then begin to think about long-term dreams – like seeing that great-grandchild.

There are certain times when it is important to focus on short-term, linear goals. Extremely important.  I would never have gotten out of debt if I had spent my time reading books about investing or dreaming up scenarios for how to purchase a newer car.  My thoughts would have been all over the place.  I would never have settled on a specific plan.  I would still be exactly where I was five years ago.  Broke.

Compare that laser-like focus with where I am today.  Debt free with an established emergency fund, I am able to consider a whole world of opportunities.  The difference between where I am, mentally and emotionally, and where I was five years ago – it’s like night and day.

For a short period of time, I had to stop all of the mental-chatter and focus, focus, focus.  Taking the time to get out of debt was the smartest thing I have ever done for myself.  Taking the time to build an emergency fund was the second smartest thing.  I spent two years on those goals and now, I am in a very good position to think about – and dream about- the rest of my life.  Now, my thoughts are free to wander down a thousand different paths and my plans can be bigger than ever!

I would love to hear from you, my awesome readers.  Where are you right now?  Are you focused, like a laser, on the short-term?  Or, are you moving into a place where you are ready to think long-term?  Have you managed to do both?  Comments are more than welcome.

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