evolution of a dream

as of right now, we have a very specific dream in mind: an end date for full-time work, a place where we plan to continue living, and a plan for travel that will take us through our first several years of early retirement. but we didn’t just wake up with this dream, this end date, or any of the details filled in. it’s been an evolution.

we offer our take because we definitely notice lots of folks on twitter and the blogosphere setting retirement dates and concrete goals very early in their retirement saving and planning process. our plan has evolved — and accelerated — over time, and in our case, that’s been a very good thing. sometimes it’s worth it to start out with a vague goal, and move toward more specific ones over time, to avoid burning out by reaching too far too fast, or just to avoid getting frustrated.

where our goal started

when we first met, when we dated, and early in our marriage, we’d often have a conversation that went something like this:

she: if you get a $XX raise, can i quit my job?

he: how about you get the raise, and i quit my job?

she: what if i have a kid? then can i quit working?

he: i wish i could have the kid, so i could make that argument.

truly, neither of us have ever wanted to work long-term, even though we’re good at our jobs and dedicated to our employers and clients. that has been pretty clear from day one. and early on, we’d talk about saving to reach some vague notion of not working. at the time, we lived in a very expensive and very large city, and just saving for our first place was a big enough goal. but after we bought that first place, we started to look farther down the road. (we were in our late twenties and early thirties at this point.)

a year or two after buying our big city condo, we discovered the small town where we now live, and we started dreaming about having a place there, with a goal toward eventually retiring there. saving for that “retirement home” became our primary goal, though we still did things like saving for retirement via 401(k)s in the meantime. about four years ago, we started to get serious about getting that place, and our vision then was that we’d stay in the big city but try to split our time between the city and the small town. (we were in our early and mid-thirties at this point.) but almost as soon as we bought our “retirement home” it became our full-time home, and we sold our city condo. we just loved the lifestyle we were able to have in the small town, we loved that we could afford an actual house and didn’t have to share walls or deal with micro rooms like we did in the city. we loved the quiet.

fortunately, by buying our small town house when we still had the city condo, we had bought far less house than the banks believe we could technically “afford” (and it didn’t hurt that we bought our current house at the bottom of the market). so when we sold the condo, we now had only a single house payment that was super affordable, and we quickly realized that we could pay off our fifteen year mortgage in under seven years.

at the same time, we were able to bank some money from the condo sale that kick-started our savings, and we were able to invest some of that in a rental property that now pays us some income above and beyond the fifteen year mortgage we have on that house. all of this helped motivate us to get even more frugal with our spending, in order to further accelerate our savings and investing, to help bring our dreams into reality.

very quickly, at that point, our vague notions of early retirement started to take on specific numbers and date goals, thanks to the many spreadsheets we developed to track and project where we will be at given dates. we started to realize that our dreams are actually possible, and that we get closer to reaching them every day.

now, here we are, in our mid and late thirties, contemplating being able to quit our jobs in as little as three years (or really, two years, nine months and 27 days — not that we’re counting), even if we still need to freelance or consult for a little while after that. we find it incredibly exciting and motivating. but we wonder if we would be as motivated or excited if we had decided, say, 10 years ago that this was our goal. would we be burnt out by now? would we have quit in frustration? or would we be way ahead of where we are now financially, and maybe be retired already? any of those feel possible to us. but for us, we’re happy that our goals have evolved. while we’ve long been savers, we’ve also focused on living in the moment, or taking goals one at a time, and that has made this — the BIG goal — that much more satisfying to plan for.

how have your dreams and goals evolved over time? share here, or tell us on twitter.

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