What's Your Financial Priority?

Last week, I visited with a friend of mine that I had worked with for almost a decade.  We have a number of things in common including a very positive attitude and a general belief that life is a blessing.  It’s no coincidence that we have both been through our share of good times and tough times.

The bulk of our conversation was about how thankful we were to be enjoying some of the good times.  We have great new jobs, our kids are doing well and the sun just seems to be shining on us.  Anyone who has seen tough times can appreciate this feeling.  It’s like the clouds part and a rainbow appears.

Talk About Priorities

One topic of our conversation was about her children’s education.  Her children attend a very expensive private school that was well beyond the reach of most people in her income bracket.  She went on to elaborate about all of the sacrifices they were making toward her children’s education.  She expressed this was her top priority above vacations and material things.

Choosing Our Priorities

This got me thinking about the priorities I had set for our family many years ago.  When you support a family of four on a single income, there are always more priorities than money to fund them.  And yet, we achieved most of our goals on a modest income.

Retirement – My first goal and investment, was for retirement.  I started an IRA long before a 401K was available for me.  I still have this investment, although I now put money into our 401K.  I have changed the mutual fund twice and converted it into a Roth IRA, but my first investment is still plugging along.  My goal is to semi-retire in my fifties, instead of waiting until I qualify for Social Security.

A House – Buying a house in San Clemente, CA was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I started saving at age 21 and couldn’t afford the house for 10 long years.  But, this tenacious commitment paid off and we have a nice house at the beach.  I have been paying extra every month for the past 13 years.  My goal is to pay off the house in my fifties, so we can enjoy some financial freedom.

Education – Having worked my way through college, I wanted to give my kids a good education.  So, I started college funds for them when they were each two years old.  It’s not a ton of money, but it represents a commitment they understand and appreciate.  We also sent them to an Episcopal school until the 8th grade.  This investment in our children has more than paid for itself.

Entertainment – Part of life, especially when raising a family, is sharing experiences together.  Since we don’t have a large budget for entertainment, we camp a lot.  We usually sleep in the camper shell of our pickup truck.  Our truck, trailer and motorcycles were all purchased used and I fixed them up.  My goal was to have some fun together as a family, without mortgaging our future.

What we Sacrificed

We have never owned a new car or expensive clothes.  We don’t have a flat-screen TV or new furniture.  I maintain all of the vehicles and the house, whenever my abilities allow.  We cook more than we eat out.   We don’t waste food, energy or money.  And, we don’t buy expensive things on a whim.

These were all pretty common practice when I was kid.  So, it doesn’t seem like we have sacrificed very much in order to reach our goals. 

What we Gained

After many years of scratching out a living, we are quietly starting to pull ahead.  It’s easier to pay the bills and becoming more of a habit than a necessity to be frugal.  Reaching many of our goals has been quite rewarding by itself.  Plus, we don’t have any money worries, so that reduces the stress in our lives.  Most important, is that we will have more control of our future. 

What’s your Priority?

Driving old cars and shopping at Target may not be your dream lifestyle.  Maybe, you have bigger dreams, goals and priorities.  That just means you will have to produce more value in order to reach your goals.  It may also mean bigger sacrifices.  Life is a journey that should be enjoyed to its fullest.  Choose your priorities wisely.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that a priority requires a commitment.  Dreams are useful for visualization and goals are helpful in planning.  But, priorities demand resources and they require action.  You can’t set a priority and then neglect to fund it.  You need to setup investments to support your priorities.  Or, they will die like an unwatered tree.

If you want to improve your future, write down your goals and put them where you can see them.

If you want to reach those goals, set some priorities and commit the money to fund them.

“Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn’t always have to be their top priority.”

William Arthur Ward – American Author

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