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December 2, 2012

The totally do-able 12-month plan

While I love lists and bullet points and I am pretty sure my tombstone will be engraved in powerpoint, I've never actually made a life plan before. A five-year plan is simply too much. This is a post-recession world, people. Who has a five-year plan?

But I've read the financial literature and enough self-help to fill a landfill. What I know for sure is that I hate expensive surprises and I love vacations, so I am scaling a bit smaller and making a 12-month plan.

Hello, December 2012. I heard you were in town. Rumor has it you're the last month ever. Obviously the Mayans just ran out of bricks or whatever and the world is not really ending in 21 days. Just in case, though, I only paid the minimums on my credit cards. Furthermore I had half a tamale and a Bloody Mary for breakfast so consider the source.

The 12-Month Plan
Usually people who talk about planning have certificates of self-helpism and they expect you to floss and write thank-you notes and do sit-ups and take fish oil and eat vegetables.

Not me. I'm faulty at all of the above, but I love planning. I love lists and post-it notes and even little scribbles on the back of envelopes. I plan because it gives me the illusion that I have control over a world that defies controlling. It may make no difference at all but I FEEL better, and that is quantifiable.

The purpose of this 12-month plan is to make me feel prepared, philosophical, and taller.

How and why does one make a one-year plan?
I am making this plan to plot out financial necessities and save up instead of going into debt. You can plan for fun, for obligation and for the heck of it. It's just a year -- flexible, realistic and do-able for 12 months.

Take out a pad and paper, draw some boxes, make it twelve. For this plan I assume you have already mapped out your monthly expenses and know your fixed costs. (Check out the low-fi budget sheet if you're new to this.)

Use the 12-month map to plot out basic needs:

1) Looming life must-haves (dentist bill, car fixed, new phone, larger expenses that fall outside the fixed expenses.) Just jot it on the map. Add any details you have -- amount, date of bill, reason, whatever. This is the stuff you can't put off. Include tax time, insurance, doctor, family obligations, birthdays, whatever touchpoints are must-haves in your life. Think about commitments of time, money, or necessity. Where do you need to upgrade in your life? Is it time to start planning for a car? Computer? Lasik?

2) Happy wants. This is different from must-haves. These are nice-to-haves (a prettier coat, join a club, go on a date, hair appointment, vacation, better electronics, botox, volunteering, new kitten.) Sure, you could live without it but this is the stuff that keeps you sane, motivated, delighted. It adds function and excitement to your life road map. Ideally these goals make you happy and help bring your life picture into focus. Everyone has different wants and needs. You'll figure it out.

3) Personal desires (learn a song on the guitar, credit card paid off in X month, classes completed, paint the bedroom, 10 push-ups by June, read X books each month, one new recipe every quarter, big macs every 4th Sunday, learn basic conversational Norwegian.) Everyone has a few personal wish list items, this is your time to plot them out over the next twelve months. Don't overload. Pick just the most important. This is the future version of you, the version you want to be by year's end. The best version of you loves these goals.

That's it.

This is the process flow of 12 months at a time, a way to start planning for financial bumps and understanding which months have a heavier cost than others. You get to cross stuff out, move it to the future pile, forget it. You aren't caught off guard. You also get to see what lies ahead: Are you over scheduled before the year starts? Are you empty on happy wants? Are you a little light on personal desires?

This drawing activity got me thinking about the year I want to have ahead and what kind of life I want to shape in 2013, assuming the world doesn't end. Come next December I sure would like to know I flossed and read books and remembered my nephew's birthday. I'd also like to know I lived a little, met my obligations but didn't break myself doing it.

It's not about crossing off list items this time -- it's about projecting a picture of yourself into the future. Pick who you want to be and set about becoming that version of yourself. Distill your path into 12 boxes of movement. Plan for bumps and expenses, build in time for expansions and space to grow. Use drawing to get yourself where you want to be.

That's what I am doing. We'll see if it worked next year.

Posted by laurie at December 2, 2012 10:12 PM