What Does Your Dream Cost?

What Does Your Dream Cost?

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!

Books is like TV in your head!

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.

  1. How much money will it cost to run your business?
  2. How many customers/sales do you need to cover those costs?
  3. 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.

What does your dream cost? Uh, 'bout 10 million zeni!

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

What does your dream cost? Ma'am, my pants are around my ankles??

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.

Pin this article

Save this one for later. And if you feel inspired, checked out a few more of our best articles on setting goals.

15 thoughts to “What Does Your Dream Cost?”

  1. These are not my dreams, but if one of the Bitch Nation wants to come up to run a marathon in Anchorage (or environs), Alaska I will put you up and tailgate it like no tomorrow.

  2. Mostly my dream is to live in a house with enough land that I can grow some food and own some chickens and maybe like, an alpaca or something, but I live in a country where land is basically out of reach of normal folk, so I either need to win the lottery or marry someone from a country where it’s achieveable, sooo idk any ideas anyone?

    1. That sucks that your dream feels so far out of reach. Are there any ways you could add small parts of it to your current life? If you want to grow your own food, could you start with a container garden on a porch this summer? Or even some potted herbs on a windowsill?

      If you want to feel a connection to the land and your labor, are there any farms around that do agri-tourism? Maybe you could volunteer on a farm or spend a week vacation on one so that it’s a more achievable goal & you can experience some of your dreams despite the other hurdles.

    2. Epic Gardening is a YouTube channel that focuses on gardening basics with an emphasis on urban gardening- you might go there for some inspiration!

      And as much as the USA is a dumpster fire capitalist hellscape, my husband and I were able to buy a modest farmhouse on 10 acres for less than what I owe in student loans (which I am choosing to find HILARIOUS). Maybe look in to moving here? The Midwest and Mountain West have cheap land and fairly low costs of living if you’re healthy and have good insurance…

  3. Suggestion for mental health symbol in lieu of lmao: ‱
    It is non-standard, the circles are not symmetrically divided (so things are off-balance), and it looks like the ones on the bottom are trying to escape (and/or hide).

  4. I don’t know, but I’m going to find out! I want to GTFO of work but I can’t retire yet. But I CAN take a year off, not budget it super tightly (yes I’ve been saving up in advance), and therefore find out a) what I want to do when all my time is mine; b) how much I actually need to plan to spend when retired; c) what kind of work I can face doing for the next leg of my career (could be the last leg, who knows?)

    I might be bored and lonely at times, and that’s okay. I might find myself eager to get back to work, who knows?

    1. omg Bethh, this is exactly what I am doing right now. I saved up approximately enough cash in savings to take a year off, plus an equivalent amount in my taxable brokerage so I don’t raid my entire savings/Emergency Fund if something bad happens. Struggling with the decision of what to do next and what kind of work I can be happy doing again, but the time away from The Grind has been amazing.

      1. I’m so glad to hear it’s a great break!!!!!! I’m doing the same – saving my baseline expenses + saving fun money + saving emergency backup money. It’s weird to make a pile like that with the full intent of spending a bunch of it but I’m excited.

        Good luck sorting out your next steps!

  5. My non-financial and financial goals (dreams?) have pretty much gone hand-in-hand ever since I landed my first W2 job when I was about 23 (“I can’t do x if I have student loans or an uncomfortably high mortgage”). I’ve made some really big strides in the last 10 years, and I’ve gotten myself very comfortable in the present to the point where I’m finally starting to seriously contemplate the real possibility of doing *more* of what makes me happy, especially since what I do for income will never be anything that brings me great joy in life.

    I’m glad that one of your past posts debunked the myth that going to a financial advisor is a scam in all possible scenarios, because after I save for a couple necessary, big-ticket house repairs in the next year and a half, I’ll be able to max out my 401K and maybe even contribute to an IRA after that. Then, after that’s been maxing out for maybe the next 10 years, I’m fantasizing about bumping down to part-time work when I’m 45-ish, but I’d value some fiduciary advice before pulling that trigger. I don’t want to squander my present by pining away for the future too hard, but yeah, it’s a dream of mine. But then I get all existential when I wonder if, when I do go part-time, I’ll just be spending more money because I’ll have more free time‽ …and I’m not sure how to quantify or future-proof that one!

  6. The Yellow Wallpaper! I appreciate a healthy dose of Charlotte Perkins Gilman with my financial/life advice and hope there can be more in the future.

  7. I think it’s one part that current younger generations respond with cynical nihilism when asked about dreams and also one part dreams are just smaller now or are so far down the pipeline because we can’t get basic needs met. Where before a house and job and retirement were guaranteed for the Jones’, now those things are a struggle bus for many to achieve (including me). Do I have a secret dream of traveling the world for fun instead of work? Sure. But I’m 37 in a job I don’t love, with a precarious retirement (if I keep going at current levels and nothing goes wrong and I get at least 60% of my estimated social security benefits, I should be okay? Maybe?), and trying and failing to buy my first home completely on my own (no parental help or partner, just my dog who really wishes I’d get her a damn yard already). Travel for fun is just so incredibly far down the list of things to save for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *