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!)