What do you want for your future? That’s not always an easy question to answer, but I do know one dream that Crystal and I share: we want to own a little house someday.
When I say little, I mean little. The home we’re renting right now is less than 1,000 square feet, and sometimes it feels too big for us. We have no children (and no plans to have any in the near future), so we only really need space for us and our cat Charlotte. We don’t want or need extra rooms that are just going to fill up with clutter and junk. We’re both really intrigued by the tiny house movement, although that may be a bit too small, in some cases, and we’d definitely want a stationary structure instead of something on wheels.
Location is a big part of this dream. We want to live in the country and not in some crowded suburb. Quiet and space and fresh air are things that are important to us. We’d like our little home to sit in the middle of a few acres of land — I’d like at least five to eight, but I’d settle for just two or three. A wooded lot or something with a little brook running through it sounds just perfect.
I want my little home to have a wood stove or fireplace — I grew up in a house with a cast iron wood stove, and I miss it every winter. Nothing makes a place feel like home like a good crackling fire. It’s also a very thrifty way to heat a small home — if your land is particularly wooded, you can use local timber. If not, a truckload of firewood is relatively cheap (and sometimes free if you’re willing to do the labor of cutting and hauling downed trees from someone else’s land).
I’d also like to add a screened-in porch, so we can enjoy cool evenings without dealing with the South’s mosquitoes, and to give Charlotte some safe outside time.
We want a lot of garden space. I’ll confess: I’m not a farmer, not even much of a gardener. But there’s something that feels very right about growing your own food and filling your habitat with healthy plants, both decorative and edible. Do it properly, and you can cultivate a local ecosystem that invites wildlife back into an otherwise barren area.
If we can increase our income enough that we have some disposable funds, I’d love to start experimenting with some off-grid power sources: solar or wind or even water (assuming we can find a lot with a creek or brook on it). Energy independence is something that’s really appealing to me, although I recognize that the current prices of alternative energy tend to make it a luxury rather than a thrifty thing.
What We Need To Achieve This Dream
It’s easy to dream, but unless you transform your dream into a goal and start working solidly towards it, it’s not likely to come true. Crystal and I have already identified some of the things that need to happen before we can have our little farmhouse.
- We need to increase our income. I’ve mentioned before that we’re running a small shortfall in our budget every month. That’s not sustainable, and it simply doesn’t put us in any position to go buy land or build a house. We can’t afford it at the moment, and even if we could fund it from savings, we don’t have the income to adequately replace what we’ve saved up.
- We need to chew down our debt. Between the two of us, we owe about $21,000 in student loans. I suppose that’s not a lot in the big picture (and many of our friends owe much more), but it’s something that weighs heavily on us. We also know that we’ll be adding more student loan debt soon, as Crystal pursues her MBA, so we want to get rid of as much of our undergraduate debt as possible.
- We need better vehicles. At the moment, our vehicles aren’t in great shape — Crystal’s especially. It works for very short trips, a couple of miles at most, but it’s prone to breakdowns and other maintenance issues that would just be exasperated by a commute into town. Within the next 12 months, we’ll probably replace Crystal’s car, but we’ve even talked about becoming a one-car family. We’re still weighing our options on this one.
- We need to get Crystal at least partway through school. Crystal is just starting her MBA, and the house we’re renting now is just around the corner from her university and only about a mile or two from her work. That’s incredibly convenient for us right now. She can come home every day for lunch, and she doesn’t have to deal with a costly commute that would strain her car and our gas budget. That convenience has a lot of value, and it’s not easily replaced right now.
- We have a lot of learning to do. If we decide to build our little house instead of purchasing a premade structure, we could save a lot of money. On the other hand, Crystal and I don’t know much about construction and aren’t particularly DIY-savvy people in that regard. Thankfully, we’ve got some time to learn and decide whether or not building our little home ourselves if the right decision.
Because there are so many variables here, it’s difficult for us to put a timeline on this dream. We’re in a position where a single good job interview could potentially double our household income and allow us to accelerate our plans. We’ve also been mulling some loose ideas about working from home and entrepreneurism, which could alleviate some of our transportation issues.
Why You Need To Keep Dreaming
When you’re scrimping and saving and trying to get rid of debt and increase your income, it’s easy to lose sight of why. Dreams give us a spot on the horizon to navigate towards; they’re a way of keeping our heading straight. Dreams can buoy your motivation when you find yourself frustrated by all the hard work and sacrifice that improving your finances entails. What your dream actually is doesn’t really matter so much — it could be to own a home, or to launch your own cupcake business, or to travel the world.
If you can’t really think of any dreams that interest you, start exploring! The world is vast, and it’s absolutely certain that you haven’t explored it all.Maybe you’ll discover a love of philanthropy or wildlife conservation, or find that you really enjoy a skilled hobby like blacksmithing or beekeeping. Maybe you’d enjoy learning how to make movies or want to take a stab at launching a music career. Maybe you’ll discover a passion for a certain cause and take up activism.
Libraries are a great place to start exploring, since you can find books and other materials about pretty much any topic imaginable. Volunteering is another great way to explore your dreams — it can give you some hands-on experience that libraries can’t.
How To Transform Your Dream Into A Goal
Dreams are nebulous. We know our dreams are things we want, but dreaming doesn’t really involve figuring out the logistics and processes necessary to turn dreams into realities. Goals, on the other hand, are concrete. Goals are the difference between “Wouldn’t it be nice if we owned a farmhouse?” and “We’re going to own a farmhouse.” Goals have intention and motivation behind them, and they’re logical enough that we can examine what we need to achieve them. Here’s some questions to ask yourself that will help you turn a dream into a goal:
- What resources do I need to achieve this? This can mean income, but it can also mean equipment or other gear. If you want to raise horses, you need bits and bridles and stables and all the other equipment that a horse rancher needs to conduct business. If you want to do something involving the sea, you probably need a boat. What resources does your dream require, and how can you get them?
- What skills do I need to achieve this? If your dream requires certain knowledge, what do you need to learn? If you want to open a bakery, you obviously need to know how to bake, but you also need to know something about running a business, managing inventory and sales, and marketing. If you want to travel nonstop, some knowledge about geography and the cultures you want to visit will be helpful.
- Who can help me achieve this? In every field, there are experts. If you want to learn beekeeping, one of the best assets you can acquire is the friendship of someone who knows everything there is to know about raising bees. If your dream is home ownership or travel, get to know people in real estate or people who already travel the world. These people not only have valuable knowledge to share with you, but they also know other experts who might be able to give you hand. That kind of networking puts you in a good position to make your dream a reality.
- How can I break this dream down into manageable steps? If your dream is something particularly complex like running a business, you might need to break it down into different steps. Inventing and launching a new product might be broken into several phases: researching the market, developing the product, acquiring funding, production, and sales. If your dream is to build a custom home in a certain area, your first step might be just acquiring the land, which involves its own costs and procedures. Once you have the land, you can move on to focusing on the building itself.
- When can I achieve this? This isn’t always an easy question to answer, but a good goal sets a timeline for completion. How soon can you start actively working on this dream? How long will it take you to acquire the resources and skills and connections necessary to make this happen? Are you satisfied with how long it will take? If not, what can you do to accelerate your plans?
Keep your dreams alive, transform them into tangible goals, and work towards them. Even if they have to be put aside so you can focus on the day-to-day tasks of saving money and paying down debt, keeping your dreams on the horizon gives you something to work towards, something to remind yourself why you’re taking charge of your finances.
What about your dreams? Do you know what your dreams are? Have you identified what you need to do in order to achieve them? Tell us your story in the comments!
Photo by Richard Elzey