There to Here – The 5-Year Plan – Part 1

             Write it down ... the dream becomes more real when you see the way to attain it.

             Write it down ... the dream becomes more real when you see the way to attain it.

You’ve been very patient following along with the early days of our decision to simplify our lives and sail off into the sunset. Have YOU ever considered this idea? Maybe it’s not sailing or living on a boat; maybe it’s a different kind of life change, but it’s your dream and it’s a dramatic change. Every major move needs a plan if you want to succeed.

It doesn’t have to be a 5-year plan. It depends on your circumstances. Maybe it’s a 10-year plan or a 3-year plan. Beyond the plan itself, the entire planning process and execution has significant positive effects on the outcome. The plan gives you direction and keeps you focused. It gives you a mindset and a goal worth achieving, especially if you plan some incentives along the way.

Here are some suggestions you might want to consider …

Year 1 of 5

  • Decide on the goal

If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you figure out how to get there? Ask yourself (and your partner) what’s important to you. What do you want to be doing in 5 years or 10 years … the same thing as now? No? Then what? Be as specific as you can. We wanted to retire at age 50 and sail off into the sunset.

  • Evaluate your current situation.

What has to be completed before you can live your dream? In our case, we had a 3-year employment contract, our youngest son was 18 and entering college and another son was already  in college. We had a mortgage on our house. Additionally, we had some real estate investments that had mortgages. We felt all the mortgages needed to be paid off or the property sold, our kids needed to be out of college and, for sure, we needed to complete our employment contract. Our current savings were not sufficient to support us into retirement or till the ripe old ages to which we assumed we would live. How much is enough? Well that’s a topic for a future blog post. Suffice it to say … we knew we didn’t have enough.

  • Put the plan in writing.

It’s not enough to think and dream. It becomes more real when you can actually look at a plan. It begins to take on a life of its own. Get a notebook or a journal and write it all down. Jot down all the questions you’re asking yourself with room for some answers. Maybe you can’t answer all those questions right now, but save room for pondering. We didn’t know if we’d like living aboard or if we’d like the full-time cruising life. Worse yet ... what if one of us loved it and the other didn't?  How could we know till we had the chance to live it? These questions remained unanswered, but it didn’t stop us from pursuing the dream.

  • Set the course and take positive action … NOW

Once you determine your goal, evaluate what you’ll need to do to get there … starting now! Begin with the big things ... finances, family, career, commitments. If it’s really your dream, you need to strive for it. If you put it off, it’ll be one year or two years later that you get to live it … or maybe never.

For us, this meant taking better control of our finances and getting our kids through college. We weren’t used to “tightening our belts”, but the goal was worth achieving. We made a number of commitments … no major purchases, no new cars, no new furniture, no impulse buying. Marcie was a bit of a clothes horse … a reduced wardrobe expenditure was required. No more eating out on a whim. We set up a budget and placed emphasis on savings and reducing debt. We evaluated what we thought might be a reasonable budget living on a boat. We made lots of assumptions, for sure, but we tried to err on the conservative side.

  • Tweak as needed

Set dates for evaluating your plan and yourselves. Situations change; minds change. Tweak the plan as needed to keep yourself and the plan on track. Add items, delete items, add questions, answer questions. As months go by, it’s easy to lose your focus. Review of the plan keeps it forefront in your mind.

  • Give yourself incentives!

When you put your plan into action, it’s not always easy to live for a goal so far in the future. You can start feeling deprived and deincentivized. Find a reason to celebrate and reward yourself once in awhile. Wow … you’re on target for savings! Only 4-1/2 years to go!

We made sure that we “celebrated” every chance we got. Celebrations didn’t include fancy dinners out or expensive gifts, but we made sure that chartering was still in our budget … during the off season when it was cheaper and when we could use frequent flyer miles to get there. This kept the plan forefront in our minds and provided fresh incentives to stay on track. Birthday and holiday gifts were all boat-oriented … a topic for a blog later this week.

Years 2 & 3 of 5

  • Evaluate, tweak, stay the course

The second and third years will be much the same as the first. Same old, same old. Save, reduce debt, evaluate where you are and where you want to be. Years 2 and 3 are sometimes the hardest. The goal is not quite close enough to grasp. Things don't seem to be happening very quickly. There's light at the end of the tunnel, but it's very dim. That said, you can and should do things to keep yourself psyched up.

  • Joining a cruising club like SSCA is great for newbies to give you a chance to share your goals with like-minded folks and pick the brains of more experienced sailors. Even if you are experienced, sharing ideas is a great motivator to keep to the plan and there's always something new to learn.

  • Take a class at a local voc tech or community college in diesel mechanics or photography or some subject that would apply to your life on a boat. Take a CPR or first aid course. 

  • If you’re near the sea, head to local marinas and meet local sailors. Check out all the boats. What do you like? What don't you like? Write those ideas down.  Learn as much as you can while keeping in mind that there are lots of “experts” out there, but some are only experts in their own minds.
  • Read, read, read! Find the best books and magazines available and read up on subjects that you’ll need to know more about … living on 12-volt, watermakers, boat electrics, electronics … the options are endless. We'll provide a list of "best" resources in the near future. Now would also be a good time to switch from the “pretty” sailing magazines and begin concentrating on how-to magazines like Good Old Boat and Practical Sailor.

Next week, Year 4 of the 5-Year Plan. It’ll start getting interesting as the timeline gets shorter. In the meantime, since we’re still in Boston with Lin, tune in mid-week for some ideas of good gifts for cruisers.