Are We Ever Done?

The following post is from Neal of After reading the article, be sure to sign up for free at Wealth Pilgrim to receive more from Neal. Also, be sure to check out Neal’s free “Holidays Without the Headaches” program for families. Great stuff!

When are you “done” financially?  Are you ever “done”?

When do you kick back, sip lemonade under a shady umbrella and just relax?

I asked myself this question after reading a post by Frugal Dad several weeks ago.

You may remember the post. FD wrote about his family becoming debt free. And he mentioned that his next mission is to work on savings and retirement.  He said that he planned on dealing with these issues with the same fervor that he did debt.

I, along with all the other faithful readers and supporters of FD cheered him on.

But that post really got me thinking.  At certain points of my life, I’ve been convinced that once I accomplish a certain goal, I’ll be able to relax.  But I soon find myself with a new goal and I often approach that new goal with the same intense energy.  I’m convinced that this new goal is mission critical – just like the prior goal.  It creates a lot of stress.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

When I first got married, I was certain that if I could just hold on (financially) long enough until my daughter grew out of diapers, I’d have it made financially.  (Do you know how much Pampers cost?)

Then, when we bought our first home I borrowed money from anyone who could fog a mirror to do it.  I told myself that if I could just repay those people, I’d be in great shape.

Within a few years – I had a different goal.  I wanted to save a certain amount of money in an emergency fund.  I was sure that once I achieved that goal, I’d be satisfied.

Now, the goals are bigger.  But I’ve approached each one along the way with great determination.  I stayed focused-which is good.  But I didn’t relax until my goal was accomplished. And I only enjoyed that relaxed state for a very short period of time.

I think I’ve been way off on this.

The truth is, nobody is really ever really satisfied – and that’s a good thing.

Heck, even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet work full-time.  They probably actually work more than full-time.  Maybe they aren’t trying to acquire more money, success or power for themselves, but they are still striving for something.  Right?

It seems to me that the trick is to enjoy the progress and process rather than focus on the end result.  At least that’s what occurs to me.

I don’t really know how to do this.  I’ve always been “bottom line” focused rather than “process” focused.

I believe now that the only way any of us to be truly happy is to understand that their will always be another hill to climb and we have to learn to focus on doing the best we can and enjoy the process because that’s really all we have.

Am I happier now that I can afford Pampers and I’m out of debt?  Absolutely.  But I just don’t want to tie my peace of mind to achieving yet another financial goal – because it’s a lie.

Do you struggle with this like I do?  How have you come to terms with the long list of goals you have?  Are you waiting to be happy until you’ve checked those off your list or have you found a way to enjoy the journey?


  1. We’re in our mid-fifties, and never lived large when we were younger, so we now have no mortgage, car loans or other debt. There’s some retirement money, but not vast amounts. I went to college when my daughter did, and we own 2 houses (one is rented out) and 2 cars. Now we’ve inherited a farm and we have the luxury of being farmers with no debt. It was never in our sights to become farmers, but it’s a great way to live. Yes, we have lots of goals related to fixing up the house and barn, getting equipment, planting crops, fencing pastures for the sheep and goats, and so forth. But none of the goals are critically time-sensitive. They’re things we want to accomplish, and bit by bit we do. I can truly say that because we were frugal when we were young, our lives are our own now, and we only do what we want to do. We work very hard, but we totally enjoy the process. It’s not about accomplishing the goals, because there’s always more to do. It’s about being the boss of your own life. Being frugal is definitely worth it. I see other people fritter away more money than they have, and closing off their options to a freer, happier life. It’s like they’re obsessed and don’t know how not to buy stuff they don’t really want or need.

  2. It is very important that we remain active and busy. We will need to plan and create in order to remain happily alive.

    It’s okay to always have some goal. It is normal. It is hard, at times, to have certain bills to pay or seasons of bills to pay, but if we accept that all our money is never going to be our own, (Thank God) we will avoid greediness and hoarding.

  3. The day you overcome all stress is the day they put you six feet in the ground.

    The idea is not to be “done.” The idea is to achieve enough emotional balance to permit you to make the best of your life that you could possibly make of it. Nobody tells you in advance what that is. You figure it out as you go by seeing how many obstacles you can overcome. There’s always something on the other side of the current obstacle.

    Dylan used to complain in interviews about questions that suggested that he should be jumping up and down in happiness over being a rock star. There was a time when it was his burning ambition to be just that. But once he got there, his mind was focused on other problems. This doesn’t mean that it was a mistake for him to do what it took to become a rock star. It means that it is a mistake to forget that life is a journey and not a destination.

    There is no such thing as “making it” in any final sense. I think this is one of the reasons why the rich and famous so often destroy themselves. They think they should be happy and they don’t understand that happiness comes from the struggle, not from getting to the end point of the struggle. If you come to believe that the end point is a final end point, you are going to make yourself miserable.


  4. I think your idea of trying to enjoy the process is the key. But that seems to be harder for some people. My husband is like you. He is focused on the end goal and often misses the joy of the process. He accomplishes a lot more than I do, but he doesn’t enjoy it and is usually pretty stressed out as a result.

    Maybe understanding and trying to balance out our inborn tendencies is the first step to letting go of some of that pressure so that we can enjoy the ride.

  5. For me, it’s always been about balancing between boredom and complete burnout. I tend to aire on the side of burnout myself. As soon as something big gets checked of the list, a bunch of new things get added. I think it’s the type A thing.

    It’s easy to fixate on financial goals because they are very easy to track. I also try to do non-financial ones too. (usually related to experiences or new skills) This will sound lamo, but we do schedule our fun. I’ve made an effort to be more spontaneous this year and scheduled “free time” instead of specific stuff and that’s helped with stress.

    To your point, it’s easy to get fixated on the end goal and wish your life away. Wishing for the weekend, wishing for that next paycheck, wishing for winter to be over. Sometimes, it takes real effort to get something out of every day instead of just going through the motions.

  6. I love the point of life we are at. We have certain goals for the jobs we are in. We could leave them at any time- but we hang in because we know the jobs are important and fill a need in our lives. My husband is much worse about taking time off- but I understand the need for time and space.
    There are always goals. There are always dreams. There are even fears- as we see good friends and family members pass from our lives. Trying to live more for today and a bit less for tomorrow. It helps that our financial ducks are in a row- and have been for a long time!

  7. Great article. 🙂 It’s so true. We do have to learn to appreciate the process. Or if we can’t, we need to learn how to not stress during the process. Because the process will never end. I think a lot of empty lives are created by striving for one goal after another while not truly enjoying daily life.

  8. Yes – I can say I am “done” – done with achieving the goals and now just “CONTENT” with having
    “enough”…. Enough is a number in my head that fits me, my age, and where I am in my life process.

    While I still work for the free health insurance, and because I enjoy the daily contact (the busy-ness), I know I work by choice, and not by necessity, and that I could quit at any time and be “ok”… I would not be considered rich by most, but when your basic living costs are at about $400/month (including property tax and insurance and utilities, food, etc) , it doesn’t take much either 🙂

    The house and rigs are paid for so my expenses are minimal, my pension, IRA, 401K, and SS will be more than I am making now – so all feels well in my world and I am Content and am not heading for another financial goal. I am there 🙂

    May you find you have “enough” also at some point in your life, and be content with it.

  9. When I was younger, I thought that I’d be done when I retired. Instead of retiring at 65, I became permanently disabled at 50. I have the “gift” of 15 years that I didn’t expect and I’m trying my best to stay mentally sharp even though my day to day can be complicated. My income is fixed and I’m not reliable enough to attempt to supplement it in any way. It is a challenge to live within my means and I’m learning as I go.

    My next big goal is to find a smaller house in an area that’s less expensive then the suburbs/urban area I’m used to. I’ll have plenty to do getting our current house ready for sale. Tasks that I used to do easily (plastering, painting, floors, etc) I’m no longer able to do, so I will contract most of the work out with local businesses. If I could hire a husband for a couple of weeks, I could accomplish a lot and stay on budget.

    I am sorry to be leaving my house, as it was my dream, but I can’t manage financially and stay where I am. It’s not that the house is too expensive, it’s that my medical expenses are too high. Expenses for insurance to supplement Medicare as well as dental, prescription and my costs for medication run about $12,000 annually, which is 25% of my (fixed!!!)income.

    My biggest goal was to get the kids through college. My daughter will graduate in May 2010 and my son is already our of school and working at a job he enjoys. I took parent loans out for both kids and I want to continue to pay them off, even though the kids have expressed an interest to “pay me back”. It’s more important to me that they help their own kids, when it’s time for them to continue their education or learn a trade.

    I ended my career as a mid-level manager and I have lots of friends and contacts from past jobs. I volunteer for the local Co-op, and do the layout and editing of the newsletter. I’m rarely bored.

    I don’t relax well as I’m continually adding to my “list”. These are tasks, or books to read or research I want to do. I try to set goals daily (knowing there’s a chance that I will accomplish NOTHING some days)so that I have an outline to follow.

    I hope NEVER to be “done”!

  10. We are never done because even if you have no debt, you will have goals, or wants, or things that come up that you want and need to save for. Unless you are the rare few who don’t have to worry about money, you will always stress, and never be done.

  11. When you’re younger, it makes sense to have “mission critical” goals: developing the career, having a place to live debt free, putting the kids through college, saving for retirement etc. However, we retired some years back and I can tell you that it’s very very nice to have all that mission critical stuff in the past. Now we have hobbies and activities – things that are nice to do but not critical and not on any kind of schedule. We’re the happiest we’ve ever been.

    Sure, two of the richest men in the world still work but that’s why you know their names. Celebrities are celebrities because they’re unusual. Be careful comparing yourself to them. Many more people made a “measly few million” and decided that’s enough to enjoy life.

  12. Yes, I struggle with never being totally satisified (kind of like the Rolling Stones song “I can’t get no satisfaction”).

    Today, things are still stressful, but not as stressful as they were 10 years ago.

    I use to be the type that worried constantly about things, never really enjoying my work or life to it’s fullest. But after obtaining a certain level of financial stability, I find that I’m seeing things from a different perspective. Maybe it’s also having lived through this “Great Recession”… I’m not sure…

    Now I feel like I want to work harder than ever. But enjoying it, unlike I did in the past where I needed to work to pay off debt. This is one reason that I’ve started blogging, I enjoy it.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  13. I work with many people who have more money than I could ever hope to own in my life. I used to wonder why they still came to work.

    But the more time I spend here, the more I realize that they’re not after financial reward — they’re after the intangible rewards of feeling productive. For them, simply hanging it all up would be tantamount to surrendering.

    But other people can just call it a day after they’ve achieved some reasonable goals, and enjoy the fruits of their work. The key is to find what’s right for you, not to emulate others.

  14. Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever be done. I have no interest in being done. It’s not about money so much as just trying new ideas and seeing if I can make something work.

    Like blogging.

    I’d be crazy to do it for the money…yet I’m drawn to it. I love being able to express myself and to see what I can learn from others – which is a lot.

    I want to see if I can make some money doing it even though it’s not a good use of time for that purpose. It’s a challenge and I am learning something new every day.

  15. The best thing I got out of this article is the lesson that concentrating on one task at a time is an easier way to ensure you reach your goals. I do have a small savings account for emergencies that I put a set amount into every pay period. However, my main financial goal is to pay off all my debt – and I am almost there!

  16. If I were given 10 million dollars I think I might be done. I may still work, but it would be because I wanted to. I may do charity instead. There’s a big difference between working for something because you need the money and working for something because you believe in the cause and it makes you happy.

  17. Thanks for your insights in this post.

    My husband & I have gone from being well off, middle class to struggling financially due to a business deal which went sour.

    I’ve been dwelling a lot on it lately but then a couple of weeks back an old friend of mine, of the same age as me, died of cancer suddenly.

    That put our current predicament into prespective.


  18. Lindy -#18,

    Of course, I’m sorry you and your husband are going thru this period. It’s never easy.

    Having said that, it’s fortunate that you were able to gain perspective – as unfortunate as the reason for that happening.

    I’m not going to wait until I get that big fat paycheck of $10 million Lazy Man – but it would certainly be nice. I believe you can work because you need the money yet find yourself and your joy anyway. FWIW

  19. Is anyone ever “done” financially? I hope not.

    This is much like saying, will I never have a goal to achieve? I will always have goals, and I will always have financial goals.

  20. I can’t imagine living without goals, which is no great hardship because I’m far, from achieving them. Happily they’re outside of the life-limiting debt-related goals, and more about growing net worth and income.

    What I must do a better job of is enjoying the process. I don’t really know how to do this. I relate to Rob’s comment about ‘stress’. I guess on some level I presume that if I reach a certain financial goal I’ll keep striving but without stress, but as Neal’s original post implies, every time I’ve got over a hurdle so far the stress has come with me.

  21. I find having concrete goals far less stressful than relaxing and just winging it. For me, peace of mind comes from knowing I’ve got a plan and I’m on track following it. I imagine that in retirement I’ll simply work to a different plan. Continue frugal living so that I maximize my budget for travel, which I assume will still be the single most important thing to me. I’ll have a time for a more regular fitness program and more time for reading and visiting with friends and family. I won’t set reading and visiting goals in particular, but perhaps just plan to read a little every day and visit out of town relatives at least once a year.