My Financial Bucket List: How I’m Challenging Myself to Be Better With Money


Bucket lists are long-term plays. They’re the things we hope to achieve over a lifetime, keep working at, refine, achieve, and start all over again. While building a list of major money milestones, it’s helpful to think across all three categories of saving, spending, and investing.

Another way to frame it might be goals for yourself today, in the near term, and in the long term. Take your list from goals to plan by having a framework like this to build from.
My financial bucket list has changed a lot over the course of my life, but right now, it looks like these seven things.


1. Be debt-free… and stay that way

In 2020, I should be knocking on the door of being completely debt-free. Rounding the corner of my student loan payoff and at the tail end of tackling credit card debt, the next step for me will be putting a plan in place to stay that way.

Life definitely comes in seasons, and times I’ve been “debt-free” before didn’t always stick, because I would get out of sorts on my spending habits or didn’t have the right emergency fund to get me through some unexpected difficulties. My financial wish list includes having a savings and spending framework that makes debt-free stick.

I plan on getting there by getting my vacation fund shored up — a major source of credit card spending for me. Planning out travel budgets for the full year ahead — including a little buffer for surprise weekend getaways — will be an important new approach to help me stay on track with this goal. I’ll also be going back to a “fun money” checking account that let’s me keep a better eye on where that kind of money is going.


2. Fully fund my retirement options

Fully-funded retirement options are a big goal, and look very different for everyone. For me, this means I want to work toward maxing out my 401k contribution ($19,000), and add another $6,000 in IRA contributions. If $25,000 sounds like a big chunk of change, well, it is. But that’s why these are bucket list moves!

To close the gap in terms of where I’m at and where I want to be for my own retirement savings, I’m thinking in terms of percentages. I treat raises as if I’m only getting 50 percent of it in my paycheck, and bump up my retirement savings by the other half. Above all, I commit to taking advantage of the match my employer gives me. When we’re tackling big bucket list ideas, you can’t leave free money on the table!


3. Save for a down payment on a house

This is a slower, steady goal, and one that I’m still working through. For a home purchase, this is where some financial calculators can really be helpful. Typically when you’re buying your first home, you want to have at least 20 percent saved for a down payment.

I also want to be sure that this goal doesn’t entirely drain my savings, so it might even take me six months to a year longer to be sure I still have a solid emergency fund and some fun money to help make a new house feel like home.


Source: @kathleen_barnes


4. Be a points and miles guru

I have a work colleague who is completely this gal. Name a trip and she’ll tell you how she’s constructed a brilliant web of points, cards, discounts, and mileage rewards to get to a fabulous vacation.

This is another area of my life where I’m sure I’m leaving money on the table. If my “stay debt-free” plan is well constructed, I could still be thinking about how to smartly use points and rewards I could be racking up at places I shop often, or earning miles for business travel.


5. Automate all my financial activities

I’m getting close to this goal, but there are still transfers and a few bills that I click away at on my bill pay to make every month. So many financial apps today make it easy to “set it and forget it” when it comes to financial habits. While my savings activities are pretty much there, I want to do a better job of timing my bills (many pay dates of the month are negotiable!) around certain money flows in my month.

I also want to do a better job of reminding myself to schedule financial check-ins with both myself and my husband. It’s easy to let a few weeks go by without revisiting goals we have, or for spending to get a little out of check. Adding a calendar reminder will prompt me to stay on top of these longer-term goals.


6. Arrange for final affairs

If you’ve lost a loved one or close family member, you know that it can be an incredibly challenging and heartbreaking time. Even if this is a difficult topic to think of at this stage in our lives, having your final affairs in order is a selfless gift you leave to your family and should be part of the financial bucket list to which we aspire.

While this is especially important if you’ve got children or major assets, we all have aspects of our lives we’d like to look a certain way when we’re gone. For example, I’ve got care plans outlined for my pup and places I’d like my final funds to go. Free and digital options have popped up around this need, so we have no excuses to take a few minutes and think through this aspect of our financial lives.


Source: Amy Northard, CPA


7. Grow my business

I’m on a quest to move away from calling what I do a “side hustle” in an effort to stop minimizing a lot of really hard work and attaching some sort of faux frenetic pace to this job. (Side note: I’ve yet to meet a man who calls his startup a side hustle.) So, right now I’m squarely in “job” mode, but want to start planning for more resources for my business.

This will look different for everyone, and whether you’re keeping a full-time job alongside it or hoping to go completely entrepreneurial, having savings is key. Checking this item off the list will also require a lot more research personalized to my business. I’m planning to start networking more heavily with experts in my field and getting smarter about tax breaks I should be considering.


What’s a goal you’re in process of, or that you’ve already tackled on your financial bucket list?