Like most bloggers, I have a variety of goals and milestones that I hope to achieve. I also have a carefully crafted timeline (read: spreadsheet) upon which these ambitions are judiciously plotted. One month, six months, one year, five years, and on down the line.
My situation is not unique. Think back to the five most recent blog posts you read. Were they about monthly budgets or net worth updates? Compound interests or dividends? IRAs or pension plans? As a society, we are incredibly future-focused.
The future is where we store our dreams, our passions, our goals. Yet, the present is what matters most.
The Past Has Passed
You got yourself in debt? Join the club. You waited a long time to invest? Been there, done that. You made some really kick-ass financial decisions in college? Kudos. You snagged your dream job right out of school? Amazing. You started a blog, you developed a side hustle, you penned a book? Right on. All of those milestones will unquestionably shape your future.
But the past is still the past.
This is not to say that you cannot learn from the past, regret it, or celebrate it. Past accomplishments helped get you where you are today. But in order to keep moving forward and to make the most of each day, we have to hold on less tightly to the past. If something failed, find the lesson and move on. If something succeeded, find the recipe and improve it.
Today Shapes Your Tomorrow
Everything you do today influences your tomorrow. That coupon you clipped, that money you transferred, that stock you bought, that item you sold? All of these things set you up for a brighter tomorrow. Today is your one opportunity to make your next move. Whether it is the smallest of steps or the longest of leaps, take action. This action is the only thing you immediately influence, and it is the sum of these actions that will catapult you towards your goals.
Whether you are looking ahead at early retirement and weight loss or marathon running and language acquisition, whatever you envision for your future self has to start today. Today is the only thing any of us can control. Today is the only thing that is guaranteed.
Tomorrow Isn’t Guaranteed
Sometimes I think that personal finance is another iteration of existential crises. As humans, we are all grasping at things that we can control and influence; we are desperately seeking purpose. We crave security. That foundation, that footing, that certainty does not exist in tomorrows. Storing your happiness in the promise of a brighter future is problematic. Undoubtedly, we are all charting courses. The ways in which we navigate the waters, utilize the resources, execute the decisions, capitalize upon lessons, affirm our attitudes all help direct the ship. But that vessel is still steering into the unknown.
This post is not intended to discourage or disparage anyone. Set lofty goals. Devise grand plans. Dream bigger than you ever imagined you could. Then remember that everything you want to accomplish tomorrow actually starts today.
So Tell Me…What baby step or big leap are you taking today?
Originally written November 2015; updated March 2020
I don’t have any big goals today. I just want to write my boring stuff and get it over with. Isn’t that awful? I start getting depressed when it gets dark out earlier.
Mike @ Tip Yourself
Amazing. Hit home with me on many fronts both personally and professionally. It’s an important lesson, a hard lesson, but understanding that lesson today is all that matters. Small steps lead to big outcomes! Cheers!
Maggie @ Northern Expenditure
Excellent reminder. The things I do today (read: fiddle with my spreadsheets), help motivate me toward that tomorrow. When I get all money-eyed (“I NEED it”), I just start looking at the possibilities of that money in the future. And I usually decide it’s not worth it.
No big leap today. My main “today” effort is always making sure I don’t deprive us completely because I’m too busy planning for the future.
Hence me sucking it up and paying $90 (so. many. fees.) for tickets to see a comedian we like when he came to town last weekend. But for the most part, my today is always about chilling out to spend less money because we need to plan for the future.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
Great post! Today I applied for a new healthcare plan to save me money and looked over my income and expenses from the past year to help forecast my new budget for January. Planting seeds today to bloom in the future…
Alyssa @ Generation YRA
Absolutely! I didn’t find this post discouraging, but actually the contrary – encouraging. We always find ways to set ‘limitations’ in our mind: we don’t have enough time, money, resources, energy, etc. But if we take ownership & start now, today, at this moment – it will compound for greater successes in the future. This is why I started a small achievement journal – accomplishments large & small! It could range from I got to spend more time with my niece this month, to ran a half-marathon and beat my previous personal record. It allows me to focus on the day it occurred – and also to look back in months, years, etc. from now & recognize how much I really did accomplish.
Des @ Half Banked
Yes, yes, yes to this! I don’t find it discouraging either, and you know I love this post 😉 It’s SO EASY to get caught up in the “When I have X” or “When I achieve Y” mindset, and while it’s one that I’m really good at avoiding in other areas of my life, I sometimes trip up on the money front. I mean, we do talk about it an awful lot as personal finance bloggers, haha, but still. It’s easy to get caught up in looking ahead or focusing on the past, and there’s a good reason I think more people should read this: it’s important!
Thank you for a wonderful post!
“If something succeeded, find the recipe and improve it.”
I absolutely agree with you on this point. A big leap I’m taking is starting a small business with my friend that we are launching in the New Year! It’s exciting but I’m so happy to be testing myself and finding that recipe for success.
Love this post 🙂
What a great post, thank you! I often encounter this catch-22. Life is short, should deprive myself to have a good future? I don’t want to look back in regret. So I guess, the key is balance. I strive to balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s.
My baby step? I have decided to wake up early and be first one at work in the morning, and the first one to leave in the afternoon. This has saved me a lot of time as I’m avoiding the rush hour, I spend less on fuel and have more time to live 🙂 Baby step that make huge ripples in my life.
Laura Beth@How to Get Rich Slowly
This is an excellent reminder that it’s really all up to us. What we do today matters. I agree the past is certainly important because it brought you to where you are, but it should deter us from pursuing our goals and our dreams.
Enjoyed the post!
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor
Great post! I’ve been taking the small leap to start writing guest posts for other blogs, and it’s been very fun and successful so far. Last year’s leap was to start my blog and I’m so glad I did.
Great post. I have been struggling with this for a long time. Most directly, not planning and not having a foundation to move forward from. I like the concept of having a spreadsheet not of numbers and figures, but ideas and dreams. You can plan all you want, but eventually you must be in action. And it starts today. I am well aware of the lessons I still have to learn. The baby step I am taking is presence and awareness of my failures. The great leap is that I will turn them into my greatest achievements.
@luxthrift | Reforming spendthrift
I used to be only focused on today. Not quite YOLO but I wouldn’t even book a flight 3 months out or buy an advance train ticket. Today’s happiness has always been the most important thing to me although I used to go about achieving it in the wrong way. My current struggle is staying happy today but also doing things to ensure that I’ll stay happy in the future. Your post is very relevant to this goal. Sure I was rubbish in the past but I can take a small step or a giant leap today that has greater impact on my future.
I’m so glad you commented. It is always a balancing act, I think. I am still working hard on being more present.