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Starting to design – your DreamList

“Starting to Design” is the second Building Block in my Blueprints series of workshops and the second chapter of my book, Financial Freedom for Special Needs Families. This Building Block is often the most impactful and exhilarating for workshop participants and readers as they write out their dreams and goals.

The design process starts with writing out hopes, dreams and goals on a sheet of paper called a DreamList. This DreamList contains anything and everything you want out of life – without any limitations. For those of you who have not been able to attend this workshop, take out a blank piece of paper and start writing down what you want to have, feel and do.

For some, these goals look like things – a new car, a fast boat, a memorable wedding and engagement ring set, a home, a gym set or a large screen TV. Many people start with the “stuff” they want in life.

Some people add goals about how they want to feel in life. Healthier. Slimmer. Happier. Settled. Making progress in careers.

Others include experience and retirement goals. Many families I talk to want to have travel experiences on the list. These can be small family reunions in a nearby state, an autumn visit to see the leaves change color in Vermont or an expedition to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Still others look at their family members and write down their hopes and goals for those people. Independence. College. Support structures that include social and community engagement. Thriving after middle school or after a first career failure.

Some of these goals are the ones sitting right in front of us, ones that can be resolved quickly in our current life situation. Others are long-term goals – like living a comfortable retirement or taking the family on a special trip to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

At the workshop, we want people to write down whatever comes to mind; there should not be any filter at this stage of the process. Too many people stop themselves when the little voice in their heads says, “That’s not possible,” or “You will never get to have that.” Part of this Building Block is to get on paper everything you want out of life. The other part is to push through the self-imposed boundaries we all have that stop us from working towards the life we want. Give voice to the ideas, emotions and possibilities that exist for you by writing everything down. Later, you will organize the list and decide which goals to work on and in what order. The desires expressed on your DreamList will help motivate you to finish the Building Blocks and take control of your financial lives.

There are so many distractions to our best intentions of saving and investing for future goals. You have to find ways to keep your dreams alive and present in your daily life so you can keep your distractions at bay. Imagine you are faced with a choice. Do you use money from emergency funds to buy a ticket to see a concert of your favorite band next week or keep that money in savings in case you need it for an emergency? The choice seems simple – buy the ticket. The emergency funds have been at the bank for two years and have never been touched. But what happens if you get in a car accident on the way to that show and have to miss several weeks of work or buy a new car? The rest of your plan – retiring comfortably, funding a trust, paying for education costs or moving to a new home – do not happen.

It’s easier to make good financial choices when you keep your dreams and motivations alive and in front of you. Keep this DreamList out and look at it every day. It is one technique to use to remember what you want and help you make good choices.

For me, successful planning comes from financial behaviors. Spending less than earned. Paying off debt. Saving to retirement accounts. We can control how we spend, save and invest. We make better financial choices when we have reminders of our goals and strong emotional connections to how we will feel as we make progress on our goals.

The DreamList starts this process by helping you actually give expression to all that you want from life. Don’t be shy. You do not have to share the list with anyone – this list is for you. Have fun with it and imagine all the possibilities you have in life.