Saturday, January 10, 2009

The beginning of the dream

Our goal is clear. We want to pay off credit cards, school loans, and maybe even our mortgage so that we can buy a boat and, in five or six or seven years, sail: down the Intercoastal Waterway, to the Florida Keys, on to the Bahamas, and maybe even beyond.

If you look at our goal from a traditional perspective, it seems pretty crazy. We both have college degrees. We both work (a lot). We have a child. And bills. We're not rich. Shouldn't we dig in for the long haul, make enough money so that we can retire comfortably, send our kid to college, become grandparents, enjoy our golden years, and then, well, die? Isn't that kind of what we've been training ourselves to do?

We've tried hard to get enthused about this well-worn road, but both of us feel the urge to do something different. We've both had so many adventures - hiking the Appalachian Trail, backpacking in the Alps, living in Korea, camping in the deserts of the Southwestern U.S. - that we're addicted to the high of getting off the beaten path.

We've been focusing on this goal for less than a year. Last May, just after we'd purchased our house and moved in, Trent and I found ourselves wondering, Is this it? Are we going to be sitting here in front of the television in 10 years, doing the same thing? In 20 years? Sure, maybe we'll take some vacations, get a raise, upgrade to a larger home at some point, maybe buy some land...but where's the adventure?

That's when Trent said, "We should do something different. We should... sail around the world! Why not?"

That surprised me. Trent's usually a realist. I'm the crazy one with the cockamamie ideas, and such a thing had never even crossed my mind. I said, "But we don't know how to sail. It's dangerous. It's expensive. And we have a lot of debt, debt we won't be able to pay off for...forever. That's impossible." After all, we'd racked up a lot of credit card debt in the eight years we'd been married, and the balance remaining on our school loans seemed absolutely colossal.

The idea stuck with us, though, and the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. We came up with a tentative plan that started to look more and more realistic and doable: learn to sail. Go out to eat less, purchase less, spend less on things we don't need, distance ourselves from consumerism, and put more of our money into savings. With every day that passed, we became more devoted to this self-imposed pilgrimage to find and live out our dream. The beauty of it? No matter what, we'd be better off in five years - not just financially, but as a family, too, because we'd know how to work together in an effort to achieve a common goal.

Between May and December of 2008, we managed to...

-Pay off more than $12,000 in debt, including both of Susanne's credit cards
-Learn how to sail - Trent and I both earned our Basic Keelboat certification in September
-Set up 401K plans
-Put money into a "cruising kitty" - an account we're using to save up for a boat, which we hope to purchase outright, no financing

I'm convinced that without keeping our dream in sight, we would have never accomplished so much in such a short time. 

We're not especially unique people; we're not the kind of folks you'd really pay much attention to if you saw us at the local park or the grocery store. We're average. We both work from home. We both parent our 2-year-old son. We both run. We're a normal family with a middle-of-the-road income. But we don't buy into the idea that anyone has to live a typical life if he or she has a hankering for something more atypical. And neither of us believes we should be slaves to money, as we have been for a good long while by now.

The more we work toward our goal, the freer we feel - little by little. We're confident we can make our sailing dreams happen, but if for whatever reasons we do not, we're confident we'll be better off for this effort.


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