It’s Time To Make A Shopping List

shopping list

When you first run into the concept of financial independence, and realization dawns that it is not a pipe dream reserved for trust fund babies, you feel exhilarated. You plan, you dream, you do back-of-the-napkin math or, depending on your proclivities, whip up a fancy spreadsheet or two. Slowly though the realization dawns that you can’t have it all. Sacrifices will have to made. You find yourself staring down the barrel of a decade or two of strict financial discipline and you quail.


The Danger Zone

It is this time, when the initial excitement has worn off, and the reality of the long journey has sunk in, that is the most dangerous time for the worthy pilgrim on the journey to financial independence.

Thoughts like “But I deserve that” or “All my friends have that” or “Is the sacrifice really going to be worth it?” creep in, and before you know it you hear a loud thump. When the dust settles you find yourself sitting in the road while the wagon rolls on sans you.

So what is one to do to ensure that one’s butt stays firmly in the driver’s seat of the wagon as the long years roll on? Make a shopping list.


Make A Shopping List

Lists are magical things. What is it, short of necromancy, when a few orderly lines on a paper (or in an app) can tame the chaos of the universe?

The humble shopping list is a tried and true method that helps you stay organized and on-track. If you meander into a grocery store without your trusty list, odds are that when you finally meander out again you will either have spent more than you planned to, or you will have objects in your shopping cart that make no sense, or you will be missing certain key items or all of the above (what maniac bought three kinds of organic peanut butter but no bread?). Trot into the store with a list instead, and you find yourself transformed into a creature of purpose and efficiency.

When we need to tame a beast as large as financial independence, we need the sorcery of Lists to aid us.


The key to the kingdom is the following realization:

Financial independence is a purchase like any other.


Undoubtedly it is a large purchase. It is likely the most expensive thing you will buy in your lifetime, but don’t let its size delude you. You are saving up to buy your freedom. In the final reckoning, financial independence is just one more thing that you have decided that you must acquire. And you know what we do with things we want to buy? Yep. We put them on a shopping list.

Here is what my shopping list might look like:

  • A college education for Toddler BITA
  • Two vacations a year
  • Regular quality time with friends and family
  • A cleaning service
  • Financial Independence
  • Eating out every week
  • Redoing the kitchen
  • Jimmy Choo shoes
  • A new car

How Does the Shopping List Help?

The shopping list removes the idea of deprivation or suffering or sacrifice from the picture. It is a list of things you want, in the order in which you want them, to maximize your happiness.

If I can’t buy a college education for my child, I won’t value my financial independence very much. If I have to get to financial independence scrubbing toilets and cleaning the tub for a decade, I’ll be miserable the whole time. If I have to stop traveling in order to build my stash, I will be a sad panda. On the other hand, if I get to my grave never having acquired a quartz countertop, designer shoes or a fancy set of wheels, I will manage to die without regret.

The shopping list helps you clarify your priorities. You are stating clearly what purchases are more important to you than financial independence. You are also deciding what set of things are worth far less to you than your freedom.

The key is that you are deciding, stating and clarifying – not sacrificing, sulking, or breeding resentment faster than fertile rabbits reproduce. You replace a mindset of deprivation with a rational list.


Steel Your Spine with Your Shopping List

Achieving financial independence is simple, but it isn’t easy. You have to be in it for the long haul. Viewing the years leading up to your goal as a prison sentence, as a time of rationing and privation isn’t going to get you there.

What will get you there is an attitude of gratitude. To be grateful, you have to be happy. And that is the purpose of the List. The list lets you define, in black and white, the things that are essential to your happiness, the ones you will not cast aside in order to bank a million dollars. The list gives you permission to build for yourself a life that you can sustain for the long haul, and thus does it set you up for success.


So make that list, and shop your way to financial independence.  



6 thoughts on “It’s Time To Make A Shopping List”

  1. I’m a fan of goals, and your list seems to be the same thing. In a nutshell, it’s a way to set your spending in retirement. Factor in $ for cleaning, college, vacations. Will need at least $5K budgeted per year for one kitchen redo every ten. I like that it makes you list your priorities. And focusing on what you’d like, versus what you’ll go without, is wise. We’ve included travel, a must for us, and gifts. Who wants to be the relative who can’t give gifts? Being able to give money and time. I’m excited about that.

  2. I love this idea. I’m big on lists. I don’t know why I haven’t actually written one for future “must haves” and the “would be nice to haves” to actually help define what I think I’ll need. What I have trouble with is the actual “number” to obtain the “must haves”. Will air travel be more accessible and more affordable once I finally really understand this “hacking” business? Will house cleaning be at all important in a 700 sf condo? Will world events change so much that I won’t want to spend 6 months in Central America and, therefore, need more to live here in the US, mostly full time? Will my daughter marry, decide to have kids and will it rock my world so much that I make major changes to my future plans – like eschewing semi retirement outside the US, contributing to a 529 for them, etc.? So many variables! So many what ifs! So much gambling on what “I think” will happen. The uncertainty makes planning so difficult. And, then there’s this little thing I like to do which guarantees change – like totally reinventing my life about every decade…lol.

    Will take a stab at my “must haves” but I guess I just need to figure out how to build in a margin just in case things change. And one thing I have come to know for sure…the only thing you can count on is that life is all about changes.

    1. “the only thing you can count on is that life is all about changes.” Amen.

      I hear you on all the possible permutations and combinations, and I somewhat envy the FIRE folks who seem to know where they will live for the rest of their natural lives. I am certainly not one of them. I already know we’re going to move to a different city, most probably in a different country. They way we are dealing with all the what-ifs is a bit cheaty – we are counting on geographic arbitrage and the fact that we live in one of the most expensive places in the world right now. So what we tell ourselves is that it will only get cheaper. If we can set our sights on affording where we are now, we will have plenty of freedom to move almost anywhere in the world later.

  3. Love this grocery list idea! When I learned about FIRE 1.5 years ago I sat down and calculated how much I could save if I cut out all the unnecessary things in life. Basically, I only allowed myself groceries, gas, cellphone service, internet, and one very budgeted vacation. I just couldn’t do it because it was like I would stop living for the next 10 years in order to save for FI. I like how you put into perspective that FI is like a purchase we are saving up for and it’s up to me to decide whether the current items on my shopping list are necessary. Recently added to the shopping list: River rafting road trip with a group of friends next month. The way I see it, how often can I get a group of friends together to have what could be one of the adventures of our lifetimes?! We’re all around 40 years old so we should be taking advantage of our youth, you know, while our bodies can still handle getting tossed from a raft.

  4. A strong mental image: “I will be a sad panda”. That is why we will travel 2/year as long as the budget allows (no travel hacking here). Otherwise, a sad face will appear!
    It is all about priorities. spot on. Figure that out and you are good to go!

    1. I know that you have purposefully structured your life right now to maximize your happiness (and that of your family) and I applaud you.

Leave a Reply