How Much Money Do You Need to Go for Your Dream?

We had a special house guest this week, a traveler in his late 30s from Japan. He came to stay with us through Couchsurfing, the global network of hosts that open up their homes for free for travelers, as an exchange of culture and friendship.

My husband and I met through this organization. It’s how I came to meet him and his farm. Even now with two little kids, we enjoy hosting Couchsurfers at our home. It always makes our world seem bigger and we meet interesting new people and learn about their lives.

This traveler, who I’ll call Kibe, had just finished a two-year adventure across Africa.

Over dinner, he told us about how he had made his way through East Africa, all the way to South Africa. He obviously was someone who traveled on the cheap. He hitchhiked and said he had a tent in his rucksack in case he needed to spend the night outdoors. (Couchsurfers typically are budget travelers, since the platform is a “gift economy,” an exchange without money.)

It was a lot like how I had traveled in the latter part of my sabbatical, hitchhiking in Patagonia.

We got on the subject of money – and I asked Kibe if he typically gave himself a daily budget when he traveled. He said, no, not really, he just tried to spend as little money as possible.

“These last two years in Africa,” he said, “guess how much I spent?”

“How much?” I asked.

“About 600 U.S. dollars.”

I thought I had misheard, and asked him to repeat it.

Six hundred dollars.

He used to live in Tokyo and worked in marketing. In his old life, he said, he spent many times that amount for a month’s expenses. “My friends back in Tokyo can’t believe that a person can live on this amount,” he said.

Kibe had told us that he had now been away from Japan for eight years. He had initially intended to travel for only a year, but then he got hooked. He's crossed nearly every continent.

I said, “I bet that when you initially set out, you didn’t travel so cheap.”

He nodded, “That’s right. It’s something I learned along the way.”

That had been my experience too with my sabbatical.

The fear of running out of money was one of the things that kept me from pursuing my sabbatical dream for many years.

Yet what I found was that the longer I stayed on the road, the more I realized how little I actually needed. It was curious. Even as the number in my bank account shrunk, I stressed less about money.

Because my confidence in my ability to handle whatever the future brought was growing.

The gift of having so much time to simply be in the world completely recalibrated how I valued time versus money. I realized I wouldn’t ever want to trade so much of my time for money again.

It was an unexpected insight.

That’s one of the best parts about working through the fears that come along with a big leap: You learn really important things about yourself, and how you want to live.

The next morning, when our Japanese guest said goodbye and set off in the cold rain to hitchhike through the Pyrenees, I doubted that many people would want to live on so little money – or in this way.

But one thing that remained clear is that how much money you need is relative, and individual.

There is no one amount that is perfect. There is no one amount that buys complete security.

In this life, we all have the opportunity to take a thoughtful approach to decide how much is enough for us. Once basic survival is covered, how much more do you need to feel safe, and to enjoy life?

This is perhaps one of the most important questions that you could ever ask yourself, because it has everything to do with how you live, work, and spend your time.

In some ways, this is a spiritual practice too. When you practice noticing that you have enough, it frees you from worry about not having enough. It can help you enjoy the present moment more, and to value what you have already.

Is there some dream that you’re putting off in life because of money? If yes, here’s a first, simple writing exercise you could do.

1. What is your dream? Write down everything you know about it. If it’s hard to get started, set a timer for 10 minutes and don’t let the pencil come off the page until the timer is up.

2. Make a list of all the concerns that you have about money. Again, set a timer and don’t stop until it rings. See what comes out.

3. What did you learn or notice from doing this exercise?

4. What is an immediate next step that you could take to move this dream forward?

For example, do you know exactly how much your dream might cost? Do you know exactly how much your current life costs?

If you’re a practical-minded person like me, it can be easier to take a risk after you have done more research. So your next step might be to track your spending for one month to see where your money currently goes (track it through a tool like Personal Capital or YNAB).

Or spend an evening researching how much your dream might cost.

Do you want to go back to school? How much do programs typically cost?

Do you want to live a year in Costa Rica? How much does it cost to rent a bungalow?

Do you want to start your own business? Who has started a similar business that you could talk to about money in the startup years?

Knowledge is Power. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say: Knowledge is Confidence. The more that you research and explore your big goals, the more do-able they become.

Your dream is totally possible. If you try this exercise and get stuck at any point above, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for ideas. We can even jump on a call and get you moving again.