Eyes on the Prize

Right now, in our driveway, sits the oldest, most beat-up looking vehicle on our block. It’s a 1997 Ford F-150 with about 150,000 miles on it. It has some rust spots on the back bumper and a patch of rust near the door. In short, it shows its miles.

I could easily look to the house to the north, where a nice shiny SUV sits in the driveway, or to the south, where a nearly-new minivan sits, and talk myself into getting one. But my eyes are on the bigger prize, so I wait. I’ll wait until my truck literally gives up the ghost.

One of my good friends has an Xbox 360 and is regularly encouraging me to pick one up, too. He wants to play a number of online games against me, particularly Ticket to Ride.

I could easily afford to go pick one up and have a good time playing with my friend. But then I think of the other things I enjoy filling my time with and I realize that I don’t really need that Xbox 360 to be happy. My eyes are on the bigger prize. The money for that Xbox 360 (and for Xbox Live… and for the software I’d need) instead spends its time in my investments and my time is spent on other pursuits.

Several of our neighbors have installed satellite dishes recently, and a few of our friends have asked whether or not we watch various programs that aren’t available on our cable selections.

Again, I could easily get one and enjoy those programs. Again, though, I think about my life and what I enjoy doing now – and I realize I’d have to give up something I enjoy now in order to add that new activity – and new expense. So I keep my eyes on the bigger prize and my money in my pocket.

I could go through dozens of these examples – the neighbor’s lawn service, the wonderful shed behind another friend’s house, my other friend’s enormous separated garage, and so on.

I’d enjoy, on some level, all of these things. It would enable me to keep up with the Joneses. It would give me another enjoyment in my life. And, sure, I’d use all these things, likely quite a bit. And I have the money to do any of those things if I so chose.

This is the thought process that I used to follow when I would buy new things. I’d justify a new gadget with this logic. I’d justify new video games with this logic. I’d justify expensive dinners, kitchen equipment – all kinds of stuff with that logic.

But what I failed to look at was the real cost of doing those things.

For starters, spending the money on one dream means abandoning another one. I could own a shiny new minivan tomorrow, without skipping a beat, but by jumping the gun on that purchase, I’m taking money away from our long term savings for other goals (namely, our big dream of owning a nice home in the country). I could have that Xbox 360, a pile of games, and a Live account, but I’d have to pillage even more of that savings. Ever so slowly, that big dream begins to fade away, stolen by the immediate purchases.

Time is another sneaky cost. As things sit right now, I have more things I want to be doing than hours in the day. I love hours in the yard with my children. I love reading a good book in my favorite chair. I love playing Memory with my kids and playing Ticket to Ride with my wife. I love cooking delicious meals for my whole family. I love the volunteer work I’m involved with. Add on top of that my work interests and basic life upkeep and I have a lot of full days.

If I were to spend my money on these new things, in most of the cases I’d see another time sink. The Xbox would eat away plenty of hours, as would a satellite dish. A new garage would give me a place to hang out and tinker and generally fritter away my hours, as would a shed. Even a new car would suck away some time, as I’d want to read the manual and actually learn the nuances of the new vehicle.

That means taking my eyes away from my bigger goals means less money for them … and less time to spend on the things I enjoy now.

Instead, I have plenty of great things to fill my life right now. I have a great job (writing), a great family, a pile of good books to read, and plenty of things around me to explore. I also have a big dream – the house in the country with the barn out back that I’ve mentioned quite often.

Add the two together – and considering the cost of other, lesser goals – I think I’ll keep my eyes on the prize, and enjoy the ride along the way.

What’s your prize? What’s distracting you from getting there?

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