Tips on how to turn dreams into goals

By | January 11, 2016

I’m working on crossing off Life Bucket List Item #3 – Learn to Cook Like Mom. I’ve tried more times than I can count to cross this sucker off, but now that I’m being a bit more meticulous about the process and thinking about what worked for me in the past, I feel like I’m finally making some progress. Here are some tips on how I turn a dream into a goal into a completed bucket list item.

Tip 1: Understand exactly why you want this dream to come true.

If you’re anything like me (a lazy banana), you’ll be tempted to skip this step. I’ve found when I do gloss over this point though, I’m much more likely to fail at some point during my attempt. When I take the time to give some serious thought to this question, one of two outcomes usually occur.

This is not me. Or is it?

Outcome 1. I find continual strength and motivation in the reasons I articulated in the beginning of the project and I’m able to power through on the days when I’m not feeling particularly ambitious. Unicorns and fairies dance in the rainbows and life rocks.

Outcome 2. I realize I don’t actually care about this dream, that it was more an aspirational thought than a realistic goal. I can then give up on the scheme and clear up space in my brain and my life for new ideas.

Outcome 2 feels surprisingly empowering! One of my favorite feelings is the feeling of relief when I decide to put a dream down. Know yourself. You change throughout your life, so something you might have wanted when you were in your teens might not be what you want in your early 40’s. Sure, 7 year-old-Thriftygal desperately wanted a massive library filled with beautiful books in her future mansion on her own private island, but 33 year-old-Thriftygal now prefers more VTSAX, less clutter and a cozier home close to friends.

Retire Early: Throughout my time working on my Retire Early bucket list goal, I made lists and lists and lists of things I wanted to do when my time was completely my own. Picturing that life made me happier than any trip to the mall.

Why I want to Learn to Cook Like Mom: I hanker after my mother’s cooking regularly and could eat it for every meal. I want to learn how to create my own version of comfort food. I want to feel competent in the kitchen and capable of cooking for other people. I want to learn how to make my mother’s recipes specifically because they are all vegetarian and delicious and usually cheap.

Tip 2: Break the dream down into smaller goals.

That’s a picture of a pickaxe in case the metaphor isn’t obvious.

I spend an embarrassing amount of time chasing my favorite high – crossing items off one of the many lists I make. For my life bucket list, the items are usually pretty large, so to get my “fix,” I break the dream down into smaller goals.

Retire Early: When I was working on my Retire Early bucket list goal, first I needed to get out of debt. I then broke THAT goal down into smaller goals and tackled each individual loan. Give yourself small victories along the way to the bigger and ultimate victory. Progress is key. Revel in the journey. People have a tendency to overestimate what they can accomplish in a day, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a year. Play the long game.

Learning to cook like Ma: My mom knows hundreds of recipes and in the past I’ve often despaired at the thought that I could not possibly learn everything. I wrote a list of my 25 favorite dishes, which you can read here. Mastering 25 measly recipes will hardly make me a cook in the same caliber as my mom, but I know not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. After I learn these 25, I can make another list of dishes to learn and go from there. Progress.

Tip 3: Make time for your goals., right? Decide what I want to do and schedule it in. If it’s important to me, I’ll find the time. If I don’t find the time, I go back to Tip 1 and decide again if this dream warrants my precious “NOW”.

Retire Early: Immediately after graduating from law school in 2009, I didn’t pay that much attention to my student loans. My firm gave me a paid deferral year to ride out the recession. I spent just enough time making sure I was paying the minimums each month (and I even paid late once because I couldn’t access the website abroad). I also paid back some money to my sister. I spent the rest of my mental energy and finances traveling the world.

I didn’t seriously start to tackle Operation Get Rid Of That Debt, Man until I started working more than a year later. And then each month, I made sure to spend at least two days (the 15th and the last day of the month) calculating how much of my paycheck I could transfer to which loan and how much less in interest I could pay. But honestly, for most of that year it took me to pay off $95,000, I crunched those numbers daily.

Learning Mom’s Cooking: I never made time to learn to cook and this was always my roadblock. Eating out seemed easier when I was gainfully employed and then I moved to Sydney and didn’t see my mom for a couple of years. While I’m home visiting for the holidays, I tried to spend at least an hour a day on this project.

Tip 4: Measure the goal this is my favorite step. I am a big proponent of managing what you measure. How else do you know if you’re making progress towards that goal? I don’t have intuitive self monitoring skills and need numbers and charts and a visual aid I can point to frantically when self-doubt begins her inevitable grilling.

Retire Early: For my retire early bucket list goal, I used real graph paper and plotted my progress month after month for five years. I then started this blog so if friends and family voiced disbelief, I could simply shrug and say “” If anyone actually wanted to learn my philosophy and strategies, they could read my posts and I could pretend to possess an eloquence I can so rarely activate in real life.

Learn to cook. For my cooking goal, well, like I said, I have this blog. I also put it on my resolutions chart and….so far I give myself a solid C. I didn’t come close to making all 25 of those recipes over the holidays, but I plan to beat my “C” score next time I’m in town visiting my mother. Perhaps cooking will become a habit and maybe eventually theoretically hopefully I’ll make a cookbook I can gift. Wish me luck!

14 thoughts on “Tips on how to turn dreams into goals

  1. Helen Wallace

    Goodness me I had not read that other post.. 95K paid off in ONE YEAR man that is incredible.

    I had a mortgage of a similar amount some years ago and it took me FIVE years to pay it off.
    I still remember the joy of the month after I paid it off and my bank account not being slugged with that repayment 🙂 something I have enjoyed every month since!
    You’ve inspired me to do some graphing. I track all our spending in a program called accountxpress which is great but I haven’t been so good at the actual goal setting. Maybe because I’m a contractor and income is so unpredictable. I’m off to think about it now though (visualising your graph paper filled out for 5 years!)

    Happy travels

  2. Alexander @ Cash Flow Diaries

    Congrats on retiring early. Just saw your interview at MMM. Good stuff.

    I think having goals is critical to success but more importantly is acting on those goals. You are a primetime example and I love your bucket list by the way.


  3. AlexJ

    First time reader here — followed a link from the interview post at Mr. Money Mustache. Enjoyed this post about goals! Nice writing style, interesting points that resonate. Keep up the good work!

  4. Frugal Vegan Traveler

    This is all so true. Small goals and daily mental calculations were how I got through the time it took to pay off my six figure student loans and start building an early retirement stash. I used to run the numbers while out for a run!

    I’m with you on being more eloquent in a blog than in real life. People can’t believe I can retire early, can’t understand why I’d want to retire early, and always ask what I’m going to do with my time. It’s hard to come up with a good answer on the spot.

  5. Trish @

    Hi Thriftygal. Just caught up with your interview on MMM. Excellent inspiring information for young people like yourself to show what is possible. I’ve forwarded the interview and your blog link to my sons (the eldest is at uni studying law in his 3rd year–so very relevant and specific.) It sounds as if you enjoyed Sydney while here 🙂 I hope you achieve all your dreams and goals and enjoy your retirement. Well deserved and documented!

  6. Jen @ Ms. Model+Minority

    Hi there. Also just saw your interview on MMM. I’m a 34 y/o asian american woman, also have benefit of high-paying job that I’m trying leverage for a fast-tracked FI path (goal of 2018), and I’ve done a fair bit of world travel myself as well during previous sabbatical jaunts. Anyways, just wanted to say hi. Like you, I recently started a blog (really for my personal edification than anything else) to track my FI journey as well as my happiness journey. And my latest blog is quite similar to this post of yours on goals and dreams ( I’ll be following your journey, and keep on the path to follow your dreams! – Jen (

  7. Adventures with Poopsie

    Have just come over from MMM and read through all of your posts. I really like your blog, especially your awesome charts. I had never thought to track my expenses next to my 4% withdrawl rate. Brilliant. Subscribing and look forward to reading more.

  8. Conor

    i think i just read your whole blog. great stuff! this will have a positive impact on me. just wanted to say thanks!

  9. Andy

    Hey Thriftygal, I found your blog off of MMM’s site. I just bookmarked this article, love it to death. I totally have the same relationship with lists and goals. I like the tips about breaking down bigger goals into smaller ones, and how we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day vs. a year. I’m often proud of my years but annoyed at my days.

    I feel like you’re my thrifty globe-trotting twin, except you’ve reach financial independence but I’m still a few years away. Even though I graduated college without debt 2 years earlier than you. Huge congrats on getting there. I’ll be back! =)

  10. Randy

    ThriftyGal, did you not enjoy practicing law? Or just had other goals you wanted to pursue!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I’m very grateful for my time at my firm, but I’m also really happy to be done. 🙂 Life is short and there is so much to experience. The job took up too much of my time.


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