Sunday, March 20, 2011

What’s a Life Without Experiences?

By: Chris Stoll

Admittedly, I am newly retired.  I don’t feel old enough to have reached this milestone.  But, I know it’s true because my alarm isn’t set for 5:30 A.M. anymore.  I’m busy all the time, but still have a lot more time to do the things I love.  There’s also more time to work on my list of projects, many of which have been on that same list for ages. 

The Stuff 
I’ve had years in which to buy things I thought I loved and to acquire the possessions of a middle-class life.  So, what has been the most driving idea that has consumed my time in these first months of retirement?  How to get rid of my stuff, most of which has to be cleaned, fixed, stored, or moved to make room for other stuff.Over the holidays, I was walking through a department store.  As I took in the racks, displays and piles of clothes, I had an almost physical reaction. I wondered what could be there that I needed.  I thought back to all of the clothes I have bought and barely worn.  I turned around and found the nearest exit.  How much are we influenced by what businesses put in front of us, making us think that these are things we need or should want?  Are we being manipulated?  You bet.So, I am now on a program of “Stuff Control.”  Surfaces at home are being cleared, cabinets are being cleaned out, closets are being edited, and the garage is being tackled.  Many of the items are being donated.  Some are being sold, and much is being tossed.  It’s a good feeling, this cleaner, sleeker, and more organized existence.  I’ve made a little money.  But, most of all, I am now surrounded by the things I really need or love.  And, shopping to replace what is gone holds no interest for me.

The Experiences  There is, however, one cabinet and several nearby drawers where very little has been thrown away.  It is where I keep pictures, travel journals, and family heirlooms.   Inevitably, when people faced with natural disaster are asked what they grabbed from their homes to save, it is their precious pictures and family heirlooms.  These are the tangible reminders of our history with those we love, of memories being made, of the adventures of our lives.  I am thankful for that cabinet and drawers, and for a mind filled with memories of adventures, times with friends and family, and moments that reminded me that life is good.
Like a recent afternoon at the beach.  I found myself standing on the sand in the late day sun watching my grandsons play with their sand pails at the water’s edge.  And thinking, this is all I need.  Life is good.  God is good. 

Experience Travel
Living a financially empowered life doesn’t have to mean giving up what we love.  Maybe it means approaching what we love in a new way.  Maybe it means stretching ourselves and discovering new passions and ways of contentment.  Maybe, like me, one of the things you love to do is travel.  Does it mean that we have to give it up for this new way of living?  Not by a long shot.   In fact, travel, done with good planning, can be an important part of a financially empowered life.  In the months ahead, I hope to be able to share with you some ideas on how to make travel a vital part of your new way of thinking and a goal worth striving for.  We will explore ways to get-away within your budget, whether it be for fun, for relaxation, for enrichment, or for inspiration.  
Why am I so passionate about travel?   How can it be such an integral part of a financial plan?  Should we really be spending our hard-earned dollars on this luxury?  Or, is travel really a luxury?  I see travel as a necessary part of my life.  Sometimes my travels have taken me to far-away and fascinating places, like the Great Wall of China, or the stunning Machu Picchu.  I’ve hit the roads and highways of this great USA seeing the beauty it has to offer.  I’ve found places that re-charge me every time, like Yosemite, NYC, and Paris, where I return as often as possible.  I have a collection of treasured experiences from past travels, and lots of plans for the upcoming years, like my safari and gorilla trekking in Africa this summer.  And, I am making it a priority to find the little treasures right near my own home.  I’ve had a lifetime of travel, and hope to continue adding to my portfolio of experiences for years to come. These experiences with family, friends, new cultures, and new places are, for me, the ones that really count.

Over the coming months, I will be sharing with you some of the lessons I’ve learned planning, paying for, and taking several vacations a year.  I’ve made my share of mistakes, but don’t make them twice.  Using travel dollars wisely contributes immensely to the experience.  Coming home is always better knowing the trip was well-thought out and already paid for.  Paying off a trip after coming home is not only unwise, but takes much of the joy out of the trip.   Hopefully, I can give you a few ideas that can keep that joy in your travel by making good financial decisions.
Some of the most familiar words in the Bible are from Psalms 23:
                        He lets me lie down in green pastures;
                           He leads me beside still waters;
                           He renews my life… 

We have an awesome God who has created a world for man to use.  The majesty of God’s creation has the potential to excite and inspire us, to renew and restore us.  Explore this gift from God, and make a lifetime of experiences for you and those you love.    

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