How to Achieve Your Financial Bucket List

Dreaming of a second home? Retiring at age 50? Here’s how to make it happen.

The words "Bucket List" resting in the hands of a female senior citizen.
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Everyone says that nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they had worked harder, but that isn't quite true.

What people mean is that nobody nears the end of their life and thinks, "Boy, I should have skipped all of my kid's soccer games and gone to all of those meetings instead."

But anecdotal evidence and common sense suggests that many people do regret not achieving some of the dreams on their bucket list – like going on that vacation around the world or leaving a hefty inheritance for their children. That may not translate into wishing you worked harder, but it may mean that you wished you had earned more – or saved your money more wisely. Many items on bucket lists, like skiing in the Alps or climbing Mount Everest or having a beach home, cost money – a lot of it.

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

So if you have a financial bucket list – that is, a list of goals you hope to achieve if you can just find the money – here are a few strategies that may prove useful when trying to achieve your lifelong dreams.

Put money away. Nobody needs to tell you that – you aren't going to have the money to buy a Ferrari or a Renoir if you aren't saving money for it. But it's the how to squirrel away enough money for your future bucket list without wrecking your current life that can be so problematic for some people.

Diana Webb, a professor of finance at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., has several ideas for people who struggle to save.

All found money should go toward your bucket list. "If you're lucky enough to receive money you never anticipated, then treat that money with 'respect' for future generations," Webb says. "For example, your Aunt Peg passes away and leaves you $20,000. Get that money working hard for you by investing it in a good long-term investment for the future."

[See: U.S. News Mutual Fund Rankings.]

Even if you don't have an Aunt Peg, or the best you can count on is your Uncle Mel, who promised you his bottle cap collection upon his death, you probably receive birthday money from an elderly relative or periodically get a holiday bonus or a tax refund. As long as you don't budget for it, put all of that money toward your goal. Your own budget won't take a hit, and eventually you'll get the benefits of that cash.

If your salary increases, make sure your expenses don't. For instance, if you get a $3,000 annual raise, invest it, or sink it into a savings account. Whatever you do, divert all or most of the extra money into your bucket list, rather than revitalize your wardrobe or upgrade your free car radio into an expensive satellite radio service, in which you'll be forking over money every month indefinitely.

Make money from your hidden natural talents. If you aren't saving enough for your financial bucket list, and it's really important to you, Webb suggests turning your hobbies or skills into a side business you can operate in your spare time. Maybe you start selling the fruits of your labors in your garden at the farmers market or start a dog sitting service. "The concept is simple," Webb says. "What can I do on the weekends to earn money to invest for my future?"

Do your research. If you're saving up for something big and that won't happen for a long time, there's no reason you can't start planning for your goals now. In fact, that's the best way to stay focused and motivated to save money. But there's another reason to periodically look for land for your second home, or plotting how you'll invest your first million dollars in your savings account, or what you'll do on your vacation to Easter Island – you may come up with a way to pull it off sooner.

For instance, Joe Buhrmann, a manager of financial security support at Country Financial, an insurance and financial services firm headquartered in Bloomington, Ill., recommends to clients that they "take some of those 'retirement vacations,' now, while you're still young, while you're still healthy, and while you're still working."