Have you ever sat down and truly asked yourself: What does your dream cost?
It’s a new year. Lots of folks use this time to buckle down and set new goals. Personally, I’m eschewing any kind of quest for productivity or self-improvement this year. Both Bitches had an incredibly stressful holiday season, so we’re too busy being in emotional recovery hibernation mode. Declining with regrets!
Still, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. And I think one of the most powerful ways to transform dreams into plans is to answer the question “what does your dream cost?”
Our dreams feel more fragile and far away than ever
Young people are pretty gun-shy when it comes to discussing their dreams. Which is totally understandable and fair. Life’s reneged on a lot of important promises. When you unwrap gift after gift to find nothing but coal, you stop bounding joyfully down the stairs on Christmas morning.
If you ask them to describe their plans to achieve something they madly, desperately want, a lot of people freeze up. Or deflect with cynical nihilism. “I dream of owning a little cottage in the woods, but I guess I’ll die in a fire instead lmao!”
(Side note: guys, we GOTTA stop using “lmao” as a synonym for “I am having a mental health crisis.” Can’t we assign some kind of non-standard punctuation mark to this purpose‽)
Anyway, the road to the things you want most may be unfairly long and winding. But that is all the more reason to drive it in daylight, with GPS. Today, I’m going to walk you through some strategies to price out the kind of ambitious, lifelong dreams that feel so hard to quantify. Hopefully it’ll inspire you to do the same with your own bucket list! I promise this exercise will help you pluck your unreachable dreams out of the nebulous realm of “stuff I wanna do” and fix them amongst the stars of “stuff I’m doing.”
Example #1: Write a novel
Writing a novel seems to be one of the most popular lifelong creative goals. I think it’s because so many of us grew up with more books than friends! #CertainlyNotProjecting!
But what does it really take to pursue a dream like this?
Well, courage… discipline… practice… but also money!
Before the NaNoWriMo crowd interjects, yes. It’s true that many artistic and creative endeavors can be done on nights and weekends. Some would even say the pressure of cramming a beloved activity into a hectic schedule fosters a helpful kind of urgency. But if you work a stressful job, it’s tough to whelp the fluffy young adult adventure novel of your dreams between shifts. Especially if you also have children or other serious commitments. Big creativity takes big spoons! I totally get why someone would prefer to sit on the idea until they can give it their full focus. So let’s run the numbers.
First, we have to take this lovely artistic endeavor and ruthlessly quantify it. Obviously, every book and every author is different. But Google (and Piggy, who spent most of her professional career slaving away at publishing houses) tells me the average novel is 90,000 words long, and many professional novelists seem to write around 1,000 words per day. Now we have a baseline!
Since you’re an amateur, it’s wise to assume you’d work slower. If you could write 800 words a day, it would take 112.5 days to get to a first draft. Let’s round up and say five months!
Now the question is: how much money do you need to have saved so you could stop working for five months? For me, my monthly expenses are around $2,000. So if I saved $10,000, I could quit my job (or take a sabbatical) and spend five life-changing months cosplaying as a professional novelist.
Example #2: Run a marathon in every state
My IRL friend has this combination fitness + travel goal. Honestly, I don’t get it! I’m like a serial killer in an 80s slasher. My only speed is a slow, menacing walk.
That said, it’s an interesting dream to put a price tag on! You can estimate a simple travel goal by looking up flights and accommodations, creating a rough itinerary, and using that information to set a budget. But this dream is ongoing, and the cost varies a ton. I think a lot of people have serialized travel goals like this—to climb different mountains, or visit every continent, or whatever. So here’s how I’d handle one like running a marathon in every state.
First, I’d consider what timeframe I have to accomplish this goal. The average age of a marathon runner is 40 years old. People do complete marathons well into their 70s and beyond, but it’d suck to have 8 states left and fail to complete them because of injury or illness. So I’d say aiming to complete them all by age 50 seems like a good idea. Because my friend set this goal around age 25, they’d need to run about two marathons per year.
Next, I would divide the 50 states into three cost tiers: cheap, moderate, and expensive. I would do the research to accurately price out an example trip for each of the categories. For example…
- Boston to New York City would be a cheap trip. They can drive and couch surf. Between gas, the race fee, and a nice meal afterwards, they’d be out less than $300. About 11 states fit into this price range for a cost of $3,300.
- Boston to Des Moines is an average moderately priced trip. It would mean flying, staying in a hotel, or both. I’d estimate a price tag closer to $800. There are about 30 states in this budget tier, costing $24,000 in all.
- Boston to Juneau represents the most expensive trip. Flights are an absolute necessity, and they cost up to twice as much as some of the cheaper, closer destinations. Those further destinations also necessitate longer trips to avoid running a marathon while jet-lagged to hell. So each trip would cost about $1,200. They’ve got roughly 9 states like this, costing about $10,800.
So to complete their mission, I’d say my friend needs $38,000.
Which, holy crap, that sounds like a lot! But remember, that’s spread out over 25 years. They only need to set aside around $125 a month to afford their dream.
Example #3: Start your own business
A few years ago, my riding instructor was feeling burnt out. Her boss pushed the older horses to work as much as young, healthy horses. My instructor hated it—but because she didn’t own the business, she lost every argument. So she started to question what it would take to break free.
If you want to start your own business, there are three important questions you need to ask yourself.
- How much money will it cost to run your business?
- How many customers/sales do you need to cover those costs?
- Can you afford to wait for your success—and if so, how long?
These answers will help you understand the point where working for yourself becomes equally as profitable as working for someone else.
In my instructor’s case, she could lease a facility and cover her living expenses for $10,000 a month. The barn she rented had twenty stalls (horse apartments, for the uninitiated). Each stall could be leased for $1,000, so she only needed ten customers to cover her costs. Any more is profit!
Now, that’s doable, but customers don’t appear overnight! So before she pulled the trigger, she calculated how many months she could afford to keep the business going on her own. This number makes a huge difference. If she’d had $10,000, her business would sink or swim in just one month. Not exactly a fair shake for her dream business!
She qualified for a $50,000 small business loan, so she could afford five months. She had faith in her ability to attract clients within that amount of time, so she went for it. Her barn is now full, and she’s slowly getting her invested money back. A (temporary) investment of $50K was what it cost for her to achieve her dream of a more humane business.
What to do when your dream is way, way too expensive
If you’re lucky, pricing your lifelong goals out will reveal that they’re less expensive than you thought. Or at least, that the biggest barriers aren’t really financial.
But when asking yourself “what does your dream cost?” you may find that some dreams are still far outside your reach. If you wanna be like Android 17 and go live on a mega-yacht with a herd of critically endangered animals, well, let’s just say I hope you brought your Dragon Radar.
But the good news is: you have more than one dream! And if luck is with you, you’ll have a long life to chase after many of them.
If you can’t afford one now, put it on the back burner and start working on a dream within your grasp. Pick the back-burnered dream up again later in life, when you have higher stability and earning potential.
Alternatively, identify the second biggest barrier to your dream, and start working on that. If your dream is to write a novel but taking time off to do it is an impossibility, work on developing the other skills you’ll need. Read more to inspire yourself. Practice writing short things to develop your voice. Work on defending boundaries around your personal time. That way, when you can afford it, you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
Pssst. This whole dream budgeting thing is #7 on our list of the 10 best all-purpose steps to financial success. You can read the whole list here!
The gap between ideas and plans
One of my dreams was to stop working for The Man™️. And much to my ongoing shock, I’m actually finally doing that! In four months, I’ll start delivering the fine financial edutainment that is BGR on a full-time basis. But it took me 18 years of work and saving one million dollars to pull it off.
That! Sucks! That’s sooooo much time and money! I would’ve gone full Yellow Wallpaper if I hadn’t had other goals to focus on. So I did this exercise for every single thing on my bucket list. If a goal was within my budget, I started working on it immediately. It helped me stay sane, stay motivated, and gain confidence in my ability to, y’know, manifest that shit.
The gap between having an idea and making a plan can be hard to cross. Especially when your idea is as novel and original as you, leaving your with no guide or template to follow.
And especially-especially if you have hella ADHD‽
Yeah, it’s a known symptom. According to ~*science*~ my swiss cheese brain has too many dopamine transporters. Meaning the feel-good reward chemicals leave too quickly. Like a server putting delicious food down in front of you and whisking it away after two bites. Insatisfaisant!
There are lots of illnesses that can interrupt your brain’s reward centers: anxiety, depression, addiction, autism, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and more. So if you chronically struggle with executive function, talk to your doctor!
In conclusion, this is one of the best tricks I’ve found for transforming dreams into plans. But there are certainly others!
Tell us: what does your dream cost?
Bitch Nation, tell us a little about your lifelong dreams.
What do they cost? Is money the only thing holding you back from pursuing them? Or is it something else? Time, energy, logistical support, inspiration, courage…? Have you found other ways to help close the gap between ideas and plans? If so, don’t be stingy! Share them in the comments below.
PS: Piggy and I always take a break around the holidays. But for the first time in the history of this blog, we actually vacated on our vacation! Usually it’s our only chance to catch up on the administrative shit we hate doing: answering emails, paying taxes, editing podcasts. Neither holly nor jolly! But now we have an assistant. We entrusted the reins to Ducky, and could finally do what Real Americans do on Christmas: sob uncontrollably over recently deceased pets (me) and get stress migraines talking to conservative family members (Piggy). Ho fucking ho!
PPS: I gotta say how much I appreciate our Patreon donors. Pursuing my own dream kinda has me breathing into a paper bag. But they’ve provided us with a steady, predictable income that allowed us to pay our assistant a fair wage. Having an assistant kicks ass, and if the only way to afford her was to tongue some life insurance company’s asshole for ad revenue, I probably would! (And you’re welcome for the visual.) But because of you, I don’t have to disgrace myself. It’s fucking amazing, and the best Christmas gift we could ask for. Thank you so much, patrons, for lessening our stress during this
wretched magical season.
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Save this one for later. And if you feel inspired, checked out a few more of our best articles on setting goals.
- I’ve Succeeded at Every New Year’s Resolution I’ve Ever Made. Here’s How.
- Actually, Fuck Big Goals
- How To Start Small by Saving Small
- How to Make Any Financial Decision, No Matter How Tough, with Maximum Swag
- The Actually Helpful, Nuanced, Non-Bullshit Way to Choose a Future Career
- Ask the Bitches: Is It Too Late to Get My Financial Shit Together?
- I Am So Over Productivity Porn
- Don’t Turn Your Passions Into Work