Don’t Make a Bucket List. Do This Instead.


So, my birthday is coming up this month – exciting! I know! – and I’m officially entering my Late Twenties.

Sounds like the perfect time to come up with a Bucket List or a 30-Before-30 list and set some lofty and totally unattainable goals for myself, right?



Luckily, I’m not serious – although if it hadn’t been for Maggie’s recent post at Northern Expenditure, it sounds like exactly the kind of thing I would have said.

Minus the obvious sarcasm, of course.

Maggie’s post, in a nutshell, is that bucket lists can quickly turn into a stressful, pressure-filled obligations, especially when they’re tied to a milestone birthday like the big 3-0. She saw several of her friends go to extreme lengths to finish their lists, and had one friend who, after completing her bucket list, had this goal.

Have no adventures and fully enjoy what she actually likes to do.

You know who that sounds a lot like?


My happy place is most often cuddling with The Dog on the couch with a great book. If you don’t include any of The Dog’s ongoing expenses, or the vet bills that have me saving an emergency fund for him, that is a free activity thanks to my newfound commitment to the library.

I don’t even know how that – my favourite thing – would factor into a bucket list.

“1000 afternoons of reading with dog”?

“Excellent doggy snuggles x100”?

I mean.

I would make fun of me too (from the comfort of my couch with my dog.)

But thanks to my focus on mindful budgeting and designing my days – and my spending – to include things that really matter to me, I’ve accidentally designed a life that doesn’t need much bucket-listing, because I’m already planning to do more of what makes me happy.

That’s why I love Maggie’s alternate proposed solution:

Make a fill-the-bucket list.

It’s a list of things you’ve already done – times when you took a chance or had an amazing experience – that added to your life, taught you something and made the “highlight reel” of what makes life great. And it’s a list that focuses on being grateful for the life you’ve led so far – not on striving to top it with sometimes-stressful commitments to the future.

Plus it aligns perfectly with another great post from Alyssa at Mixed Up Money, about not focusing so much on the typical things we “should have” done by a certain age. Which, if you’ve seen the latest research on millennials and our financial situations, is incredibly reassuring.

So in the spirit of both of those great posts, I’m starting my Fill The Bucket list instead, because I’d much rather be grateful than force myself into a series of misadventures just because I’ll be 30 in a few years.

Because also? These knees cannot take a marathon, you guys.

Scuba Diving on the Great Barrier Reef. 

great-barrief-reef-fishWhat?! I know! I did this in real life! And you know what, it felt a lot like any other time I’ve been snorkelling, minus the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is no stranger to bucket-listers, so they were prepared with scuba gear for total novices.

Also, there was a really big fish.

Seriously though, this was something I had always wanted to do, and I did it at the tender age of 21 while I was studying abroad in Australia (another addition to the list, along with spending my birthday in Australia – notable because my birthday is on their national holiday!)

Stay in a Super-Luxury Hotel

Yes, ok, I just wrote about how this wasn’t that great and what it taught me, but still. I have officially stayed in a $10,000-a-night hotel suite, and at least I’m no longer wondering what it would be like. Experience, had.

Run a Half Marathon in Under 2 Hours

This is one of those things that was a written goal of mine forever.

Because I hadn’t learned the secret to building good habits, I never managed to incorporate training into my day to day life, until I lucked out and stumbled upon what worked best for me: external accountability.

I signed up to run a half marathon with a friend of mine, and since we were both going to run the race, I knew I couldn’t bail. That’s when I actually stuck to my training, did my long runs, and finished the race. I quickly followed that up with another one, and joined a Running Room training clinic to hold myself accountable again. That, plus the extra push of wanting to run with my friends in the fast group in the clinic, helped me finish my second half-marathon strong at 1:56:00.


Own a Dog

I’ve been talking about getting a dog since I was six years old.

To be fair, back then it was “Mommmmmm I want a dogggggggg,” not a rational discussion of the responsibilities involved in dog ownership, but still. Adding The Dog to my life has been a long time coming, and now that he’s here, I can’t imagine life without my freeloader roommate. Even if it does mean saving up a separate emergency fund just for vet bills and stuff like that.

It's a good thing he's so cute, really it is.

Write About Personal Finance

I’ve been talking about personal finance and money in hushed tones, among close friends, for sooooo long now – and reading about it in my spare time. Actually putting words on a page – even an internet page – about it has been so much fun for me, and feels like a huge win in terms of “things I want to do in life.”

Those are just some of the experiences I’m grateful to have already had – I’d love to hear some of yours in the comments! (Big or small, and as you know, dog photos are always welcome here or on Twitter.)

Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

26 Comments on “Don’t Make a Bucket List. Do This Instead.”

  1. Casey @Waffling

    As someone turning 30 this year, this post seems to be for me! I never made a 30 before 30 list. I just live my life and try new things! My 20s were full of awesome and wonderful adventures and I am very excited for my 30s because I hope they are full of new adventures!

    But…I should add…I am totally planning to run my first marathon a week before the big day. But I probably would have done that even if I was turning 31 this year too.

    1. Desirae

      I am SO excited for you re: the marathon! Honestly, I miss running soooo much but my IT band (and my physiotherapist) have other plans for me right now – if I was still running pain-free, I’d probably be ramping up to a marathon too. I hope training is going well!

      You started training this week, right? (I’m a creep on Twitter, I know.) I remember training through winter for the half and telling my running group that if you just pretend the half-melted slush in your shoes is like water at the beach, it’s way nicer! Runners are nuts, eh?

  2. Alyssa

    Love this! And I am so jealous that you have ran a marathon in that time! I try to convince myself to run a marathon every year and then bail last minute haha, so you’re my new inspiration.

    Also, thanks so much for sharing my post.

    1. Desirae

      Hahaha just a half-marathon! Which I always used to make fun of people for saying, like, it’s still 21 kilometres which is super far, but when you compare it to the marathon, it feels like nothing. I used to feel the same way about running the 10K – it’s impressive, but the half-marathon is just *nuts*.

      But seriously, marathons are far too long.

      And you’re welcome! I loved it!

  3. Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless

    Aaaahhhh, so cool, I can’t believe that photo with the big fish!! That’s amazing. As is your marathon accomplishment! And your blog! And your awesome dog (I can tell he’s amazing and awesome even though I haven’t met him). 🙂

    I’m going to do this soon too! It’s actually surprisingly difficult to make a list of these things, but I will persevere!

    1. Desirae

      Oh you! Thank you so much Sarah! And um, you have a PhD. You are *literally* a doctor of something. That’s worth like, five separate entries – plus you lived in China! There’s two giant, major, life-changing things right there and we’ve never even met in real life. You’re going to have the coolest list ever, I can’t wait to read it!

  4. Vic @ Dad Is Cheap

    Great idea – focusing on the awesome things you’ve done rather than always focusing on far distant goals that might not be easily attainable in the present. I’m a little claustrophobic (and not that adventurous) so I don’t think scuba diving underwater is for me though!

    Enjoy your late 20’s! You have many years to go! I’m 35 and there were plenty of things I wish I had known about money and life in general that you seem to have a great grasp on already! You’re doing great!

    These knees can’t take a marathon too! 😉

    1. Desirae

      Thank you so much Vic! And yeah, my poor IT band has other ideas for my future as a runner. I was all “I’ll keep running!” and it – plus my physiotherapist – were like yeah, don’t run anymore. Sigh.

  5. Bianca

    I love this idea of listing things you`ve already done! I generally think we tend to focus too much on what is lacking. There`s a lot I haven`t achieved (and maybe others have), but there`s also tons that I have done and not them, and thinking of then will get my self esteem right up again…

  6. Alyssa @ Generation YRA

    Yes, this is wonderful!! Maggie’s post on her “Fill-the-bucket List” absolutely thrilled me in the best way. It is SO my jam, and for the past year I’ve kept a gratitude/accomplishment journal that paired so well (anything from spending more time with my niece, to landing a new job is on the list)! How awesome you got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef! I too finished my second half marathon at 1:59 beating my first half marathon PR by 22 minutes – so I love this!! I need to go through and look back because life has been so fulfilling & wonderful so far, and I cannot wait to see what’s on the horizon. 🙂

    1. Desirae

      Woooo sub-2-hour half-marathon! How great did you feel when you crossed the line and realized your time didn’t start with a two?! I remember realizing at about the ten-k mark that I was on track to finish under two hours and it was the best feeling – especially since it was also a 20+ minute improvement for me!

      I love the idea of a gratitude journal – I keep meaning to set up one of those gratitude jars where you write down one thing a day and look at them after a set period of time, but I never actually ended up doing it. Maybe this is the push I need!

  7. Claudia @ Two Cup House

    I LOVE bucket filling! What an excellent message for kids and adults alike. I’ve been to many amazing places, including 14 national parks–these experiences of hiking endlessly and then sleeping on the ground fill my bucket. I can’t wait to embark on more of these adventures! 🙂

    1. Desirae

      National parks! Oh man I feel like someday (when I fit FI maybe?) I need to do a full roadtrip around the US, because natural beauty is my hands-down favourite part of travelling. I love that “wow, as if this is even a real place” feeling when you’re looking at mountains or ocean or forests. I’m so excited for you to take more adventures like that too! (And then post all the photos for us to live vicariously on your blog!)

  8. Lana

    There’s something about 30 where, it’s like the age we’re supposed to be afraid of. You’re twenties are care free young adult bucket list time, and then starting at 30 they say your eggs start to shrivel up so you better get a husband if you don’t have one yet, and start poping em out. Big jump :S I just turned 28 and I’ve very much been trying to avoid that attitude towards 30 and it’s funny last year I was like “Even when I’m 30 I’ll still be so young, I won’t even have kids, and besides everyone’s biggest accomplishments come later in life” this year though I’m freaking out like “Aaaahh! I’m 28! My eggs will start shrivelling soon! I’ll get wrinkles! I’m an old lady!” Lol I think it’s best to do what Liz Gilbert says and follow your curiosity for life goals. At least for me. So many people try different things and then their unique experiences are what makes them uniquely qualified to take on whatever their larger life goals end up being at like 40 or 50 or 60 or even 70 or 80 lol

    1. Desirae

      YES! Oh my god yes to all of this Lana. I love Elizabeth Gilbert and I think that’s the best advice possible – just follow your curiosity! (And everyone has those “oh my god I AM OLD and should follow society’s advice ASAP” moments, myself very much included, lol. You are so not alone on that one, and finding ways to work through that and remind myself that yes, there are tons of years and lots of time ahead for All The Things has been a journey, lol.)

  9. Our Next Life

    I am loving seeing people’s “fill the bucket” lists! That scuba experience sounds pretty amazing — and I’m glad you didn’t encounter any great white sharks. That is, after all, what I imagine in every square meter of ocean surrounding Australia. Great white sharks, backed up by saltwater crocodiles. 🙂 Also, GOOD CALL on not doing the marathon! I did one around age 30 (I think it might have been 31, actually — it wasn’t part of one of those lists, thank goodness), and my IT band has never been the same. Spare your knees, like you said! (Early) Happy Birthday!!

    1. Desirae

      Honestly, I’m not convinced that the entire continent of Australia isn’t trying to kill everyone, all the time, so I see your point with the great white sharks. I was lucky enough to dodge them, but they did put us in those full body wet suits because we were there in “jellyfish season” – and apparently most of them are little transparent sacks of ocean death. So. That was fun. I also went sea kayaking and we had to turn around because we were being stalked by a GIANT saltwater crocodile. I have never paddled so hard in my life.

  10. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    Do you know I’ve read this post three times and am apparently just commenting now? Go, Penny! I love the variety of experiences and memories here. You’ve done so much! I would also say you’ve done some really amazing things with your prints, photography, and this blog. I’m always inspired by you.

    1. Desirae

      Awww well right back at you Penny! I adore reading your posts, and you know I think your work – both on the blog and in your job – is amazing. (PS. That book I tweeted a page from is called Unfinished Business by Anne Marie Slaughter, and it’s seriously great.)

  11. Ashley Chorpenning

    This is a great article. I think we are always looking for the next goal or next step to move forward. What about what we have already accomplished? I think it gives us motivation to know we can step outside of our comfort zone and it will pay of. This will build our confidence and encourage us to do more and be more. Thank you Desirae for sharing.

    1. Desirae

      Thanks for commenting, Ashley, and for the kind words! It’s definitely a great reminder looking back on this stuff – I remember going to Australia was especially daunting, since it was the first time I had lived that far away from family, ever! It’s nice to remember that if I could do that then, I can definitely accomplish whatever is put in front of me now.

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