Why the Plan Changes and Why I Couldn’t Be Happier About It

About 5 years ago, my BH and I had set our sights on owning a cottage. The reasons for this were myriad – we wanted a place for family to regularly gather on vacation, a place where we could get away from it all at any time of our choosing and, eventually, a place to retire away from it all. We were in love with the idea of a quiet, peaceful, lakefront existence. We often envisioned many of our golden years being as cottagers. We developed a strategy to reach our cottage dream that included how much we would need to save each year, where we would need to cut back, where we would keep our savings to maximize returns, and how often we would need to rent out the cottage to help offset some of the expenses. It was the perfect plan for us.

Until it wasn’t.

Sometime between the moment that we decided on the cottage and today, the plan received an overhaul. We no longer see ourselves owning a recreational property, splitting our time and money between two fixed locations. We do, however, see ourselves renting a cottage in the future whenever we get the hankering for a taste of that life. But cottage ownership is not something we are striving for any longer.

I told you I had a plan – Rocket Raccoon, Guardians of the Galaxy

Whenever the change in the cottage plan casually came up in discussion with family and friends, the types of responses we received ran the gamut. We heard everything from immediate acceptance and nonchalance, to disappointment and confusion. We even had someone make the comment that this was the exact reason why they don’t make any plans as if a change of plans was something of a failure in either reaching the goal or in making the plan itself.

This attitude towards planning didn’t make me question how I was going about things, but I can honestly say that it did stick with me. From time to time the comment would pop into my head, ready to challenge my convictions and, dare I say, my ego. But I write to you today good reader, steadfast in my belief that planning is a healthy thing to do and a sound component of a strong relationship, regardless of whether that relationship is with a partner, with money or even with yourself.

It’s all part of the plan – The Joker, The Dark Knight

 This may come as a surprise to some, but I am not the same person I was 20 years ago. Nor am I the same person I was 10 years ago. Dare I say that five years ago, I was someone else as well? Believe it or not, last year’s “Me” is now an outdated model too. I am also pretty confident in saying that I am today different than I was yesterday.

Okay, I admit that as the time frame for comparison shrinks, so to do the differences in who I was and who I became. But I don’t think this changes the fact that I am, at least to some degree, a product of my experiences, education, relationships and so on. If so, then I feel it safe to expect that as my experiences, education and relationships evolve and grow, so to must I.

Continuing down this rabbit hole, since I maintain that who I am is different than I was “X” years ago, why then must I be married to the plan and goals I had when I was ostensibly someone else? This someone else is most certainly a part of who I am today, but that person definitely had different motivations, different circumstances, different dreams, different relationships and different priorities. This is not to suggest that planning is futile since it is only a matter of time until we no longer wish to pursue the plan. Rather it is to suggest that regular and ongoing reviews of the plan are required in order to make slight (or large) course corrections to ensure that our bearing is true to who we are today.

I love it when a plan comes together – Hannibal Smith, The A-Team

It was not that long ago when BH and I were passengers on a rudderless ship – the S.S. Going Nowhere Fast*. While I think that everyone should be the captain on the voyage that is their life, we were on a voyage without a course and without a destination – set adrift, but certainly not on memory bliss.  We were swimming in debt with no lighthouse to guide our way. Between a student loan, consumer debt, a car loan, intermittent unemployment and a lack of sound personal finance skills, we were up the creek with nary a paddle in sight. We were also renting an apartment with zero savings to put towards a down payment on a house, which at that point was a pipe dream at best.

Slowly but surely, we created our first real plan. We stumbled through the baby steps of reducing wasteful consumption**. We prioritized debt reduction, focusing on the highest interest rates first while working our way through the various credit tools on which we carried balances. It was not long until debts started to be eliminated. Before we knew it, we were ready to start saving for a down payment on our first house.We even started putting money into an RESP for our Son’s education. Within 3 years we had paid off over $40,000 in debt, saved $30,000 towards a down payment on a house, and deposited over $5000 in an RESP. Throughout this time, we tried to educate ourselves on personal finance, savings, handling debt and more. Would we have reached those goals without a plan? Eventually, sure. But I shudder to think of how long it would have taken by waiting for happenstance to steer us to calmer waters. We firmly believe that our goal of paying off all of our debts and saving for a down payment on a house was only achieved at the speed we did through the creation and execution of a sound plan.

Ever since then and with every goal we have had, no matter how small or how big, short term (eating a low-carb diet this week) or long (early retirement), we have created an action plan to make it a reality. We also continue to review our plans and goals on an ongoing basis. The ones that no longer fit who we are and where we would like to be invariably go the way of the cottage…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

*Although it may seem like tickets to ride the S.S. Going Nowhere Fast are free of charge, don’t be fooled. There may be no fee to hop aboard, but disembarking will cost you a lot of blood, sweat and tear equity. And depending on how long you stayed on board, it can wind up costing you a lot of money, time and missed opportunities.

 **I think that wasteful consumption is a very personal thing, and can mean something different to everyone. Not unlike our plans, our definition of wasteful consumption is regularly under review and sees frequent updates, which almost always means more items are added to category of “waste.”

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