Guest Post: Are You Working Toward Your Goals – or Wishing on a Star? (By: Mary- Reflections Around the Campfire)

I am thrilled today to introduce Mary, a blogger over at Reflections from a Campfire.  Mary commented on Adventure Rich a few weeks back and I checked out her blog.  I quickly became excited about her story and reached out to ask her if she was interested in writing a guest post for Adventure Rich.  Without further ado, here you go!  ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

Hello, Adventure Rich readers!  I’m Mary from Reflections Around the Campfire – a blog celebrating our State and National Parks, the adventure of RV travel and the camping lifestyle.  Mrs. Adventure Rich asked me to share with you the story of how our family has managed to live a life full of all kinds of adventures while working our way toward financial independence – which we achieved two years ago this month when I was 58 and my husband Alan was 60.  As you can imagine, Mrs. AR’s perspectives on life are similar to mine in a lot of ways and, so, a guest post was born.  Here, at the request of Mrs. AR, is our story . . .

Setting the Goals and Making the Plans

Let’s go back in time to the 1970’s.  Long before we were married, as a young couple planning our future together, Alan and I spent endless hours talking about our hopes and dreams and what we wanted our life to look like.  We agreed we wanted to retire early (Goal #1) and build a house on our own without carrying a mortgage (Goal #2).  Both of us were born into families of hard working, middle class parents whose idea of family travel consisted of driving an hour or two to visit relatives.  But Alan and I wanted to explore this grand and glorious country of ours and decided that travel throughout our 50 states would be another one of the top priorities of our life together (Goal #3).  (Unlike many other travelers, we were never inclined to travel internationally.)

At the time, kids were not a priority for either one of us, but we did agree that we would re-visit that issue occasionally in the future in case our feelings about raising a family changed over time (Goal #4?).  These were some pretty lofty goals for a couple of young kids just starting out and, luckily, both Alan and I tended to be savers and not big spenders.  Neither one of us ever began smoking or drinking (another iced tea, please?) and we had no use for drugs when we were already high on hopes and dreams.  So we were never negatively impacted by the cost of these habits – or the cost of any expensive hobbies.  Although our parents and siblings all supported our lifestyle, there were a number of colleagues and acquaintances who challenged our choices over the years.

But Alan and I were always on the same page, in the same chapter, of the same book – and the book was not entitled “The Miraculous Appearance of Financial Freedom.”  No, our book might have been called, “We Did it Our Way.”

Success in attaining a goal is bred by hard work, attention to detail and perseverance, among other things, but the foundation of that success is communication, respect, trust and compromise with the end result being a complete dedication to shared goals and priorities.  It was because Alan and I both bought into our shared dreams with enthusiasm and without reservation that we achieved them.

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Before we were married, the two of us were already saving Alan’s salary and using mine for regular expenses and fun stuff, steadily putting money away toward the cost of our house and for the first big adventure of our young lives – the month-long cross-country tent camping trip to visit a number of iconic National Parks in the west that would be our honeymoon.  While we had done some limited traveling before we were married, it was that trip out west that ignited our love for the wild and spectacularly scenic public lands throughout America.  We found that we both relished the freedom of the open road coupled with the beauty and solitude that nature provided.  This trip confirmed that we were on the right track with Goal #3 and traveling would never be far from our thoughts.

We were extremely fortunate in that Alan, a computer programmer early in his career and later a system administrator, was not just a smart cookie, but mechanically inclined and able to (both physically and mentally) construct our home – which saved us thousands and thousands of dollars. We had purchased a wooded three acre piece of property on the side of a mountain here in the northeast before we were married then cleared the area for the house together.  After a regular contractor dug the hole for our foundation, we set the block, nailed down the flooring, hammered together the 2×4’s for the framing and on and on.  All of this while we were both working full time jobs; we were fortunate that family members pitched in when they could.

It took us two years but, when the house was finished enough to live in, we moved in and continued working – in our mortgage-free home.  Goal #2 was a big one and we had achieved it by the time we were in our mid-twenties.

From that point on, Alan and I focused on our careers and on plowing a solid chunk of money into our IRA’s and 401K’s.  In fact, I would have to say that the decision to begin investing for retirement early on, determining our investment strategy (and sticking to it) and continuing to invest consistently through thick and thin were the factors that most contributed to our financial security and independence.

While our colleagues were going out on weekends and spending money on trendy clothing, you could find us in blue jeans and t-shirts, working on the house, going for hikes and drives (that was when gas was cheap!) and traveling, always traveling, mainly up and down the east coast.  We didn’t buy a car unless we could pay cash for it and we paid our credit card bills in full every month.  It didn’t make sense to us to pay extra money in the form of interest to anyone for anything when we knew we would be happier spending those dollars on travel or beefing up our savings and retirement funds.

Alan and I were always frugal, but don’t think we didn’t spend money.  We had simply made the conscious decision to use our hard-earned money to enhance our lifestyle based upon our personal priorities and shared goals, and we directed our funds accordingly.  We saved big (like buying property in a low tax area that we loved and choosing no load and index mutual funds with low annual fees) and we saved small (buying store brand rather than name brand groceries when appropriate and changing the oil in our cars ourselves).  We tried to make frugal choices whenever possible, always with our end goals in mind.  When we and our siblings were blessed with the proceeds from our parents’ modest middle class estates, those funds, too, were earmarked for certain things based upon where we stood with our various goals at that moment in time.

Yes, it did take will-power and resolve, but Alan and I were working together toward our life’s goals and it was a team effort all the way.  (If I can achieve financial independence before the age of 60, please explain to me why I don’t have the willpower to walk past a Napoleon at the bakery.  Sigh.)

When we were in our mid-thirties, the occasionally discussed issue of children came up again and Alan and I decided that the time was now or never.  (Don’t laugh.  It had been “Never!” for a long time!)  Our son arrived almost 15 years after we were married and our daughter followed 5 years later.  (Goal #4 was adopted and accomplished.)  Alan and I had agreed that, if we ever had kids, we wanted one of us to stay home to raise them while the other continued to work full time.  It didn’t matter to us who stayed home and who continued to work, we just felt strongly that we wanted to be the ones to parent our children 24/7.  We knew that the decisions to have children and live off only one income would delay our plans for early retirement, but the goal of providing our kids with the kind of life that we, personally, valued the most was added to our list of priorities without a second thought.

At the time, Alan’s career was more advanced than mine and he was earning a higher salary, so “who stays home?” was an easy decision.  I became a stay at home Mom until our daughter entered elementary school.  At that point I took part-time work, scheduling my hours around the kids’ school schedules.  When Alan’s position was eliminated in 2010 (gotta get rid of those old guys with big salaries and six weeks of vacation, you know!), we swapped roles and I went to work full time.  He did part-time consulting work for the next three years and became Mr. Mom.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that, in order to reach our goal of early retirement, it would be helpful to develop another income stream.  About five years ago, after much research, we purchased a small mobile home park and, despite our “allergy” to debt, took out a 15-year commercial loan.  (Alan just checked recently and said we’re already at least five years ahead on payments.)  In April of 2016, I left the workforce and we found ourselves celebrating our #1 Goal of financial freedom.

Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor – But Don’t Wait Until You’re Retired to Do It!

So, that was all about the “work” part of the equation; I’ll bet you’re wondering when the “adventure” begins.  Here we go, but hold on – it’s quite a ride!  Before we had kids and when we had only two weeks of vacation per year available to us, Alan and I vacationed in most of the states along the east coast – unless we could tack on some vacation time when Alan’s business trips took him to an appealing location.  While we certainly have traveled by air, we prefer not to.  We’re road trippers at heart and we almost always choose to forego the flight for the adventure of the open road.  Our journey is not the means to our vacation; it is most often the essence of it.  I know this style of travel is not for everyone, but it gets to the heart of who we are.  We could be found in the mountains or at the ocean.  Sometimes we tent camped and sometimes we stayed in hotels.  But the one constant in our lives was the huge sense of adventure we enjoyed whenever we were on the road and exploring America.

Although my passions are travel and camping, Alan’s passions are travel and boating.  About seven years into our marriage we bought our first power boat – a decision that provided an entirely different set of opportunities for adventure.  Investing in a boat allowed us to explore for miles up and down the river, set the anchor and picnic as the sunset and the water turned to glass, waterski on the lake under sunny summer skies and lock through the Erie Canal like travelers of old.

As we welcomed children into our family, we decided to raise them as good little travelers and enthusiastic adventurers – at least to the extent allowed by their nature.  You know what they say . . . practice makes perfect!  When we bought our first travel trailer, our kids jumped into RV travel and never looked back, and we logged over 40,000 miles on that first travel trailer alone.  It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?  Not counting our honeymoon, we’ve taken three cross country National Parks camping trips.  Our kids have biked on the carriage roads and kayaked on the lakes and ponds of Acadia, witnessed a forest fire in Montana, splashed in the Virgin River at Zion, taken in a bird’s eye view of St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch, hiked among the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and camped within sight of the Grand Canyon.

When our son was 4, the three of us flew to Alaska for a land tour through the interior by rail, followed by a cruise down the Inside Passage.  We followed up with a second and similar trip to Alaska when our son was 10 and our daughter was 5.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see the kids playing shuffleboard at a lodge on the Kenai Peninsula, and I remember the look on our daughter’s face as she held and snuggled a tiny puppy at a sled dog kennel near Denali National Park.  And that’s exactly what it’s all about for our family – the experiences that lead to treasured family memories of road trips and adventures.

The adventures I’ve just mentioned are certainly big and fairly costly ones but, to tell the truth, our life is full of smaller adventures, too.  A bike ride at the reservoir, a team effort in designing a brownie pizza, a search for the eagle nest along the river, a trip to the ice cream stand, a hike in one of our state parks – activities like these enrich our lives and feed our souls.  They don’t have to be big and they sure don’t have to be expensive to leave behind memories that will warm our hearts forever.

I truly believe that each of us has the ability to achieve almost any goal we set our minds to – anything!  But we all have to decide what is more important to us – having a huge mansion like the Joneses or living in a smaller home that will allow for regular contributions to the kids’ college funds?  Going out to fancy restaurants for drinks, dinner and then a movie or choosing Netflix for the next two weekends so that you can go skiing?  We all have our priorities and what’s right for me and my family might not be right for you and your family.  I do know, however, that the $20.00 bill you’re holding will only leave your hand once and then it’s gone forever.  So think carefully and choose wisely.

Celebration and Satisfaction

Gaining the financial freedom to retire early was certainly our most important goal throughout our married life.  But Alan and I always agreed that we didn’t want to forfeit the opportunity for a life full of adventure for a goal so far in the future that we couldn’t quite envision what it would look like.  To walk the line between saving and spending, to achieve a balance in your life that reflects who you are now and who you want to be – it’s not an easy task.  But, I can promise you this, it’s one that’s worth tackling and the rewards are immeasurable.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is quoted as saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Are you working toward your goals?  Or are you wishing on a star?

BIO:  Mary has been married to the love of her life for 38 years and is Mom to two of the greatest kids in the world.  When she’s not blogging over at Reflections Around the Campfire (http://www.reflectionsaroundthecampfire.blogspot.com), she can be found hiking, biking or paddling in the parks, reading mysteries and travel guides or planning her next extraordinary adventure.

Mrs. AR here again… what an adventure of a lifetime!  Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story here today!  It is certainly an inspiring journey to Mr. AR and I 🙂