Why I ditched a traditional Bucket List and switched to this instead

How to take your Bucket List to the next level
Photo Credit: AccidentallyRetired.com

How to take your Bucket List to the next level

For anyone who follows my work, you know that I love making lists!

I have lists for everything – from tracking my happiness to life mantras and goal setting.

If there is a way to make a list for it, I probably have done it.

My birthday was earlier this week, and I typically like to use special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and the new year to check on my lists and ensure that they are accurate and up to date.

On my birthday in particular, I hone in on my Bucket List. But my current Bucket List is unlike any other…

buck·et list

a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.

Definition from Oxford Languages

The problem with a traditional Bucket List

I could come up 100+ experiences and achievements that I’d like to complete during my lifetime. In fact, I could probably make a list with 200, or even 300 items if I really wanted.

If done right, you shouldn’t possibly be able to accomplish your entire Bucket List in a year, two years, or a decade. It should take your entire lifetime.

The problem is that none of us have any no idea how much time we are working with.

On top of the obvious time issue, if I was to make a list even 100 items long, how the heck am I going to figure out what to prioritize? The longer the list, the more likely I am going to have a hard time completing the list.

The inherent problem with a regular old Bucket List is that your time horizon is too long, and life is too uncertain.

And that leads us to the last problem with the traditional Bucket List…All of the amazing, once in a lifetime experiences cost a lot of money. I can list off 50+ great vacations, and maybe I’ll even get to take them all, but where is the money going to come from?

So to sum up the problems with a normal Bucket List:

  1. How long/short do you make the list?
  2. In the end, you simply don’t know how much time you are working with.
  3. Amazing experiences/travel can cost a lot of money.

So how do you create an actionable Bucket List when you’re working with all of the above?

Create a Bucket List for each decade of your life

My solution to making your Bucket List more relevant, and actionable, is to split your Bucket List by decade.

You can do this a couple of different ways:

  1. You could build your entire lifetime Bucket List and work backwards to figure out what is feasible to accomplish in the next ten years.
  2. Or, you could have even more fun with it. Make a decade specific Bucket List (example: 2020-2030 Bucket List)
  3. Lastly, you can base it off your own age, fitness, and health.

After stewing over this for a bit, I ended up coming up with is a twist on the last one. At the time I was 35, and rounding the corner towards 40, I realized that was the perfect deadline to help me perfect my new Bucket List.

“30 things to do before I turn 40”.

I like that my list has a firm deadline (40 years old), and the list is manageable with only 30 items.

I created it when I was 35, so I knew that I actually only had 5 years to complete all 30 items.

But I knew that it was actionable and it fits within my budget. There are big ticket items, such as traveling to Europe, and there are small ticket items such as going to local museums. But every item on the list is manageable.

It also solves all of the traditional Bucket List problems: 1) My list has a deadline and set amount of items. 2) I can figure out the estimated cost of the entire list to ensure it fits in my budget. 3) And I know the exact time frame I am working with.

Furthermore, I believe that you can create this type of list no matter what your age:

  • 20 things to do before you turn 30
  • 30 things to do before you turn 40
  • 40 things to do before you turn 50
  • 50 things to do before you turn 60
  • etc.

When you are younger, you are going to be working more and have less time for Bucket List items. As you age, you have more free time and money to accomplish and tick off more items.

So using this method, you start off with a smaller list if you are young, but you can make it completely actionable and affordable.

Now, you might be 60, and thinking, “how can I come up with 60 things to do before I turn 70?” I would say that this is up to you…at a certain point maybe you throw out the count and just list out everything you want to do?

But as you get older you likely will have much smaller experiences that you want to do such as taking your grandkids bowling, spending time with each of your kids, learning a new skill, etc. All of these things can and should go on your list.

The truth is that I don’t know if I will still be using this method when I am 60 or 70, but I sure as heck never want to stop coming up with new experiences and places to see and do.

How my Decade Bucket List is working out so far

So far, I have accomplished only a few of my “30 things by the time I turn 40” list. The biggest hindrance to me accomplishing most of my list has been COVID restrictions.

When I first created my list, it was entirely actionable in 5 years. Even easier to accomplish when packed into a 10 year list.

Now, I have only 3 years left to complete my list, so I have to make sure to execute on as many of these as possible.

But that is what I love about this type of list. It is an actionable Bucket List that can be completed in a short amount of time. So here is my list…

30 things to do by the time I turn 40

  1. Take kids on a Ski trip
  2. Go to an NFL away game
  3. Go to my alma mater’s football home game
  4. Go to my NCAA team’s home game
  5. Go to my NFL team’s home game
  6. Take kids ice skating
  7. Play a round at a Top 10 US Golf Course
  8. Take an international trip
  9. Surprise my wife with a weekend trip (possibly to Disneyland)
  10. Indoor skydiving
  11. Surprise kids with a Disneyland trip
  12. Weekend trip to Chicago, Seattle, Portland or similar city
  13. Go camping as a family
  14. Write a book (or an eBook)
  15. Take a one month vacation
  16. Become financially independent
  17. Take kids to Medieval Times
  18. Visit local museum
  19. Take kids to Great Wolf Lodge
  20. Visit a planetarium
  21. Visit a large telescope observatory
  22. Rent a houseboat (when both kids can swim)
  23. Visit a National Park
  24. Take my oldest on a 1:1 trip
  25. Take my youngest on a 1:1 trip
  26. A weeklong trip without kids to Hawaii, Tahiti, or Costa Rica
  27. Siblings camping trip
  28. Rent a beach house for a week somewhere 
  29. Go back to LEGOLand
  30. Take the kids to Disneyworld

Clearly this list isn’t cheap. There are a lot of things that are expensive. And because of that and COVID, I likely will not get them all done. But I certainly will try my hardest.

I’ll make sure to go on the big trips that I have dreamed of.

I’ll make sure to do some of the smaller, more important things such as getting one on one time with each of my kids.

Plus we’ll do the easy things like visiting local museums that we haven’t been to in years (or ever).

Don’t forget to check in with your Bucket List yearly

No matter what kind of Bucket List you create, you certainly want to do an annual check in. I like to check in on it around my birthday and the first of the year.

My wife and I also have a Yearly Bucket List, where we list out everything we’d like to do in a given year. Naturally our Yearly Bucket List has to contain some of the items from the Decade Bucket List for us to be able to accomplish them.

We don’t always get to complete all of our lists every year. COVID has certainly taught us to be flexible. But it has also taught us that planning trips, and ensuring we have meaningful experiences are even that more important.

You just don’t know what life has in store for you, and you only live once. So make the most of your life.

If there is something you have dreamed of doing for years, but have procrastinated, I urge you to start planning for that experience today. Don’t let life pass you by!

Update: Ramit Sethi’s Bucket List discussion with Tim Ferriss

Shortly after writing this, I listened to the Tim Ferriss Show’s interview of Ramit Sethi. Ramit recommends that couples work on their joint 10-Year Bucket List together to dream up their “Rich Life” together.

I loved hearing that Ramit is embracing the 10-year/Decade Bucket List mentality. More importantly, he is working with couples to build their plan together.

This is something that is so critical to relationships. I cannot think of a better way to make sure you are on the same page financially with your significant other.

So let’s all take this to the next level and work with our significant others/spouses to create joint Bucket Lists. And let’s continue to make them actionable. The more specific, the better.

Price it out, plan it out. Go live life!

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4 comments

    1. Thanks! I just heard something similar in Ramit Sethi’s interview on The Tim Ferriss Show. He goes with the number 1 option, plan your bucket list for the next 10 years.

      And even if you are saving aggressively for FI or FIRE, there should always be a way to find your balance and enjoyment in life. That is the whole point of FI/FIRE after all right?

  1. Yeah, what a bummer regarding travel restrictions. But on the flipside, we can better enjoy things locally.

    For example, We are currently on a vacation in Sonoma. It’s only a one.2 5 Hour Drive away from San Francisco.

    And for the first time, we went to train town, and it was really a wonderful wonderful experience for our children. There’s just so much to do locally, but I think we sometimes take things for granted.

    Where do you live again? Maybe there are a couple things you can check out that you haven’t either.

    But Lego land with my boy sure sounds fun!

    1. Yeah you are right. We have pivoted and have gone camping 3 times in the last year, plus traveled locally more than we ever have, even after living here for 20 years.

      That is a good reminder that even with restrictions like we have been living with, you still have to make the most of it. Revise your list, come up with a new list, etc.

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