Friday, May 24, 2013

Make a plan, and make it loose.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "In preparing for battle i have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

I've mentioned plans quite a bit lately.  My own plans, what makes a reasonable plan, and so on.  Today, I'd like to dig a little deeper into that subject.

First and foremost, we need to have some sort of plan for our life.  Without a plan, you end up 32 years old, out of shape, and working in a job you can just tolerate.  (trust me, I've tried it)  However, your plan needs to leave some room for surprises.

One of the big 'plans' that my wife and I have been on, has been to get out of debt so we can buy a house. We're almost there, and we have an excellent chance of owning a home before the end of summer, almost certainly by the end of the year.  We've been doing that by (mostly) following the plan Dave Ramsey set out in the book, The Total Money Makeover, which I mentioned in a previous post.  The very first step in his plan is to either scratch together or set aside (if you already have some cash) a $1,000 emergency fund as a starter emergency fund (which gets expanded to a healthy size once you get past your non-mortgage debt).

As we've been doing this, we've had all sorts of unexpected expenses pop up.  For instance, a few months ago we had to replace a wheel bearing and a tie-rod end on my wife's car.

Goodbye $800.

With the wiggle room provided by that mini-emergency fund, this is purely an inconvenience; which is kind of awesome.  There have been plenty of times in my life when $800 in unexpected auto repairs would have been catastrophic.  In fact, there have been times when I made more than I do now, when that would have been a huge problem because I lived without any room for surprises.  This very week, a guy I work with has found himself in dire financial straights because he had to spend $600 having the alternator in his car replaced.

You need that wiggle room in your budget, your weight loss plans, your relationship plans, and your life in general.  Without it, every set-back will fee like a failure

Even with the wiggle room there in your plan on paper, you have to keep some room for surprises internally - Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, you have to be prepared for the fact that somewhere along the line, things are not going to go As Planned™.  Several times along the way, we would find ourselves with suddenly little or no extra cash, or that emergency fund suddenly depleted, and one of us (often my wife, but sometime me) would feel as though we had been kicked in the wedding tackle.  As though we were somehow failing because we'd had to dip into that emergency fund.  The reality is that we'd built room for surprises into our plan, and it had paid off, which meant we were winning.  The feeling is that we'd had a horrible setback and would never get there.

The same thing can happen when you're trying to move into a new career, lose weight, or just about anything.  If you plan to lose 2 pounds per week, and don't prepare yourself for the fact that some weeks you'll lose a little more, and others a little less, you'll feel like a failure every time you step on the scale.

As a final thought, I'd like to share the final spoken line from the excellent but underrated 2007 film, Dan in Real Life.  "..instead of asking our young people what are you plans? What do you plan to do with your life?  Maybe we should tell them this - plan to be surprised."