Flying without autopilot


Today I want to share the 4th (and last) basic principle that Katie and I use for successful budgeting. But first, here’s the previous three:

  1. Have conversations about money
  2. Spend every dollar with intention
  3. Minimize surprises in our finances

Sometimes I get so caught up with trying to grow the dollar amount of an account, or shrink the amount we’re spending on something that I forget what I’m doing all this for. The reason why Katie and I care about money in the first place isn’t because we just love money, it’s because we have hopes and dreams that we want to make real. And most of those dreams do require some amount of money.

You know what can be really easy to do with money and with life? Autopilot. For me, autopilot means I’m doing something just because some other people told me I should or because it’s what I see most people doing.

That’s how we got into debt in the first place. Autopilot said it was time to get a university education, and autopilot assured us that student loans were the best way to pay for that education. Then when school was wrapping up, autopilot kicked in again, and said it was time to buy a house—because that’s what adults do as soon as they can, right? We had almost no money in the bank, but autopilot wasn’t worried about it: “that’s what 3.5% down payment loans are for!” he said. Next we moved to California, autopilot knew just what to do: “spend like your in California!” he shouted with a laugh. “You just gotta spend more to live in a place like this,” was his constant reminder.

In just a handful of years, autopilot had us sitting with $180,000+ of debt. Thanks autopilot. But then one day I realized how dissatisfied I felt with autopilot—he wasn’t really getting me what I wanted. You see I didn’t care as much about that house as autopilot did, and I didn’t really dream of financing a furnace like autopilot thought I should. But autopilot made it so easy to follow the route he laid out for me, that I didn’t really stop to think twice about it.

So, what’s the cure for autopilot? How do you get rid of him? Well, for me, the best way to stay off autopilot’s path is to dream up my own. You see, dreams have this incredible power to stir our souls, to open our eyes, and to give us the voice we need to say “no” to autopilot.

That’s why the fourth principle we try to live by is to: dream big, and make it our reality!

At first, our dream was simply to become debt free—I say simply, but believe me, it was a big dream. We didn’t want to be making monthly payments for the next 10 or 30 years.

Thankfully, that dream was enough to wake us up, and shake us up. When we gained a vision of what life could be like without payments, it became clear that there was a better path than the one autopilot was offering us. So we took that dream, and we oriented a lot of our life around it, we made it our primary goal. We set a deadline for when we wanted to be done, and we laid out the steps for how we’d get there. We charted our course so we could be sure that autopilot wouldn’t accidentally kick in.

Of course, things didn’t go exactly as planned—they rarely do. But we put our best into it, we weaved and bobbed as the punches came, and eventually our dream became our reality. We did it! In fact, this month marks our one year anniversary of debt freedom!

Today we’re figuring out what’s next. We have lots of dreams competing for our attention, and we’re not quite sure which one (or how many) we’re really going to go after first. Is it going to be an adventure in Costa Rica for a year? The summer in France? A $10,000 fixer upper in Texas? Or maybe full-time travel across the USA and Canada in an Airstream?

I’m not sure yet what the next year looks like, and that’s okay—I’m figuring out my dreams as I go. But there’s one thing I know for sure, I’m not going to let autopilot decide.

Thanks for reading,