A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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Approaching Big Life Moments With Manageable Short-Term Goals

A pivotal year (whether I like it or not)

The beginning of August has put me in a contemplative mood. Maybe it's because my kid has started middle school, which seems bonkers to me because how is he suddenly in sixth grade? Maybe it's because of recent upheaval at work. Maybe it's because I've been spending long hours running on the trail, accompanied only by my busy, worried mind.

Or maybe it's because I've reached that watershed life moment: I'm turning 40 in a few months.

When I turned 30, a bit of dialogue from When Harry Met Sally lodged itself in my brain:

I'm gonna be 40!

Yeah... in 10 years.

I repeated it every birthday like a mantra of reassurance: I'm gonna be 40! ...Yeah, in 8 years. In 7 years. In 3 years.

...This year.


I always told myself that I wouldn't make a big deal of this birthday. After all, age is just a number; on the path of life, there's no sign at mile 40 that says, "You have now reached OLD." Whatever old is, I don't feel it; the only difference between 39-year-old me and 25-year-old me is some stretch marks and a few natural silver highlights. Come at me, twentysomething me. I don't believe in old.

That's why I've always (discreetly) rolled my eyes at friends who, upon reaching the four decade mark, suddenly start talking about creaky joints and earlier bedtimes and how it's all downhill from here, and not in a good way. This idea that age dictates how I should feel? Yeah, no. I'm not buying that. YOU'RE NOT ANYTHING SPECIAL, 40, AND TO PROVE IT I'M GONNA GO RUN 50 MILES IN THE DESERT.


As hard as I try to avoid it, I can't shake the feeling that it IS a big deal, that it IS noteworthy. I find myself both dreading and anticipating this birthday because dammit, despite my resistance, it appears to mean something to me. I'm suddenly observing the arc of the last 10 years, critiquing the winding path I've taken so far, and asking some unsettling questions: Is my approach working for me, and if not, how do I adjust? What's next? The need to reflect feels as natural and inevitable as anything else that's programmed into my DNA.

I'm not going to try to answer those questions in this blog post, in case you're wondering. But they're on my mind and I'm probably going to use this personal finance-focused space to explore them further in the coming months. While my mini-midlife-crisis may seem to have nothing to do with money, it actually has everything to do with money, because money gives you the freedom to explore different options and to select a new path if the one you're on isn't working out.

(Sidenote: Tenacious Feminist just wrote a blog post about goals and 40, too, so check it out!)


August goals

I don't have all the answers. Or any answers. That's okay. I don't need them right now. Nascent big dreams and long-term goals will undoubtedly become clearer with time. What I've found is that when the future seems like a big question mark, I can ground myself with some well-defined short-term goals.

So here's what I've got for August:

1. Stick with my running plan. I have my two "I'm turning 40 and I've still got it" races coming up in September and November, and I'm trying my darnedest to keep up with my training schedule so that I'm as prepared as possible. At this point I'm running five days a week: three shorter runs, a really long run, and a medium-longish run (the long run is followed the day after by the medium-longish run, the idea being that it'll train me keep going even when my legs are tired). I love running, but I'll admit that this plan is extremely time-consuming, and I don't always feel like doing it (like this morning, when I got up at 5:30 AM so that I had time to get my workout in before walking the Kiddo to school and starting work).

But I can do it. I've got this. And when I show myself that I'm capable of sticking to this goal, it'll make me feel more confident about meeting my other goals, too.

2. Save $5000 in emergency fund. I discussed this in a previous post so I won't rehash it all here, but we're getting close to the finish line on this one. I just need to put 1/3 of each remaining August paycheck into the savings account. It's a relief to have a thicker financial cushion, despite the fact that we receive peanuts in interest. Not even peanuts. Maybe peanut shells, or crumbs of peanut shells. But still.

3. Write six blog posts. I love this blog. I enjoy writing about our financial journey, but more that that, I just enjoy creating. It's fun (also sometimes frustrating) to sit down and see what actually ends up on the page. Crafting these posts gives me a sense of focus, flow, and challenge. So from here on out, I'm going to make every effort to create six original posts per month. I did it last month. I can do it in August, too.

4. Identify 3 things I'd like to change or add to my life in Year 40. If 40 is going to insist on being a big deal, then fine. I'm going to make the most of it. Lately I've been journaling more, recording what I value and the things I value less, noting where I feel in my element and what energizes me. Throughout August, I'll continue reflecting, and hopefully I'll be able to set some longer-term goals (somewhat randomly, I've elected to make three goals). I figure I don't need to know how I'm going to achieve them. The logistics can wait. But I'll allow myself to acknowledge them.

Does any of this resonate? What about you? what are your current goals, whether short- or long-term?


  1. I have been feeling this way about 30. I will be 29 next year, and then 30 will hit hard. I have some goals that I NEED to achieve by then, like paying off my debt. I will be so disappointed if I don't meet that one goal, above all others. I also feel like my thirties are going to be some of the best and worst years of my life, so I know I need to be armed for everything life throws my way.

    So I understand that this particular number means something to you. We all have those years, I think.

    1. Exactly! I didn't go into it intending for 40 to mean anything, but clearly... my brain has other ideas. Ha.

      I am cheering you on as you pay off your debt! You've got this! Super excited for you that you're going to start your 30s debt free. You are doing yourself a major favor there.

  2. As a teen and in my early 20s, I always thought I'd be crippled or dead by 30 because of my at-the-time undiagnosed crippling pain. Every year after that has felt like a boggling mystery, a little bit. Uncharted territory in the sense that I never projected a future beyond that. Somehow, I'm halfway between 30 and 40 and thinking that now that we have a kid, I do have to plan for a future beyond my nose and that's at least a little bit weird. I'm not sure what significance 40 carries for me other than a big divisible by lots of numbers number but right now my hope is that it can include more freedom in front of us than we've got now and more good health than I've ever had reason to hope for.

    1. I remember sitting in my college dorm room and thinking, "If I don't have my life together by 25, I'm doomed." Bahahahahahahahahaha. And then for the longest time, I didn't think beyond 30 because I figured that after 30 it was all over? *insert eyeroll here* The way our culture treats getting older as a negative thing is such a disservice.

      Yes, for me, 40 = more freedom. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but that's what I need.

      I am so glad that your pain has been diagnosed, and I wish you good health, always.

  3. Awww, you are awesome! Age is nothing but a number my friend. I bet you are still rocking it. Yes, it is a noteworthy age, but it's just another chapter in your journey.

    So um.... when are you running 50 miles in the dessert again? Asking for a friend lol

    Oh and good luck with your August goals. I am sure you will crush them! Cheers my friend!

    1. Hahaha! Thanks, TJ. The race is in late fall... Hopefully the desert will be nice and cool then, and hopefully I will be prepared enough to make it happen!

      Thank you for reading and for your encouragement.

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