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080: Finding Happiness in an Everyday Bucket List – Karen Cordaway

Karen Cordaway is the author of “The Everyday Bucket List Book: 10 Steps to Bring Exciting Experiences to Everyday Life.” Karen is a busy working mom, and she spent years struggling to find free time for herself. That is until she figured out how to reclaim her schedule and infuse more exciting bucket list experiences into everyday life. Karen is a former Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Writer and her articles for U.S. News, Clark Howard, and Huffington Post have been seen all over the internet. She has also shared her insight in Money Magazine, Yahoo Finance, The Consumerist, Rockstar Finance, Market Watch, and even O Magazine. She now inspires everyday people to fulfill their bucket list dreams both big and small.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Why bucket lists are a powerful tool in your life.
  • Why every day unique experiences are possible for everyone.
  • What B.U.C.K.E.T stands for.
  • How to get started with your own bucket list.

Launch Your Life – online course and coaching experience Connect with Karen:

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Interview Transcript

Karen, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Good. As I was reading your book, right in the very beginning you share a quote by Paul Coelho and it’s really powerful. You include what he writes, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” It’s kind of a warning, but also very empowering. Why did you choose that quote? How did that speak to you?

Well, now that I’m in my forties, I realize how time is very fleeting, and sometimes when you’re younger, you think you have all this time to do different things. And when you’re in your twenties, a lot of opportunities may come your way and you may put them off and think, “Oh, I could do this down the road.” When really, some things are a once in a lifetime opportunity, but you don’t know that at the time.

Seize that moment.

Correct.

Yeah, very fun. So I know you’re a writer, and you write about a number of different things, but you took significant time to write about bucket lists. Why did you chose bucket lists when you could have chosen all sorts of other topics?

Well, at the time I was writing for US News Money, and I would write about money saving tips. And I got other opportunities, I wrote for Clark Howard, Huffington Post and some other places on the web, and people would tell me, “If you want more opportunities or you want even more credibility, you have to write a book.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So I started to look into it and it’s such a saturated niche, and I just didn’t know how I would put a different angle or a different spin. Some people have these big stories, that they were in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and that wasn’t me.

Right. Right.

So I didn’t know what to do, so I started helping people informally with their budgets. To do it in person to see, “What do people say? What are they thinking? What are their problems?” To give it one more shot. And I informally helped friends with their budgets, and that would stir up a lot of feelings that weren’t always pleasant feelings.

Sure.

And sometimes when people found out, “Even if I have this big income. Uh oh, I’m spending a lot more than I thought.” Or, “I have obligations that I have to pay for these things.” So I knew I was not going to be a financial planner in that moment. I wasn’t all of a sudden going to change course like that, but I thought, “How can I help people no matter if they’re stuck or no matter what their budget was.” Even if they did have a lot of spending money, how could I help them? Because I just felt like people do put things off, and people will say, “I always wanted to go there,” but they just don’t take action. Even people who make bucket lists, they don’t always take action on the things. Or maybe they do one or two of them. So that was part of it.

And another aspect was, I was getting in articles about having my parents pass away before I was thirty years old. And I was actually taking care of my mom when I was pregnant, and it was just a very difficult time. And time had passed, years and years had gone by, but once I started to get in those articles, those feelings started to resurface. And I thought, “You know, that was really hard.” And most people don’t necessarily have that happen to them at that age. So I kind of took all of these experiences; writing, having experience with the money topics, and then the bucket list thing, it just made sense. That was my compelling story. Without really knowing it, it was kind of like this organic realization.

Nice. So you share an acronym in your book, using the word BUCKET to help us kind of expand the idea of bucket list. People have obviously heard of bucket lists, some people make bucket lists. I’ve never made one. I’ve kind of thought about it. But break down this acronym for us. Share why you came up with it and why it’s helpful.

Well, I wanted to re-brand bucket lists, because they do seem to attract the twenty-somethings who are jumping out of airplanes. Or people who are on the other spectrum, maybe they’re retired and they’re finally getting to travel. I wanted to make it very realistic for anyone to do at any phase of life. So the acronym BUCKET, the B is for “Be on the lookout.” And it’s really about actively looking for things to do to keep it on the radar. It could be in a very informal way, just checking social media, Facebook pages, or looking at Trip Advisor, Groupon, YELP, things like that. Just so you kind of have a momentum. And if you just take a little bit of time, whether it’s once a week or even if you get alerts, that’s the easiest way – to have alerts come to you.

Sure, so really you’re talking about be on the lookout for things that would, I assume, they’re out of the ordinary. They’re things I’m not doing on a regular basis that would be somehow adventurous to me?

Correct. So it could just be something as simple as a restaurant I never went to before. I was on this kick with Food Network, and any Food Network star who had a restaurant, I wanted to try to go to all of their restaurants. It works out. I was in Universal with my family, and here you think that’s a family trip, it’s mostly for the kids. And once I found out that Emeril’s restaurant was there, I was like, “Sorry, this is my part of the trip. That’s for me.”

Yeah, yeah.

So it could be something very simple like that. Because many of those restaurants are all over the U.S. So it’s just being very deliberate with what you choose, and not going to the same restaurant, always going to the movies. Doing something unique on the weekend.

Okay, so B is for “Be on the lookout.” What about the U?

Okay, the U is “Understand what you value.” Because it’s very easy to see someone on social media going to this fancy place, and for whatever reason our ego takes over. We want to keep up with the Jones’ and we just go, “Well, I’m going to do that too.” Or, “I’m going to top that with this trip,” whatever the trendy thing is. Sometimes we get caught up in that, and it could very well be a great experience, but it’s like, is it truly something that you want to do? Is it something that’s going to make you happy? You don’t want to just do it just because it looks like the cool thing.

I love that. So many people of course, like to go to Hawaii. Or maybe because I’m California, they go to Florida and vice versa. I’ve got the beach five minutes away from me, I don’t want to go somewhere where the beach is. We took our family in 2009 for two weeks to India.

Wow.

That was just a crazy amazing trip. We went to Nicaragua a couple of summers ago, literally for a vacation for a couple weeks. It can be tempting to get pulled in by those other places. Whether it’s a food thing, or a trip thing, or clothing, it’s like if I’m not really into it, I don’t have to be into it. I can do my own thing.

Exactly. I hear a lot of people say Machu Picchu, that’s a popular one.

Yeah.

And Alaska. And it’s people who I would never think would want to go there, and they just get hooked on it. And I’m sure it’s beautiful, but I don’t like the cold weather because I’m in the North East, so I’m like, “No, thank you. That’s not a vacation to me.” It is pretty. Maybe I would like it. But it’s not the first thing I would think of.

Sure, sure. All right, so help me review these; be on the lookout. U stands for?

Understand what you value.

And C stands for?

And C is for “Customize it to your situation.” Because there’s a lot of people who maybe they have kids or they’re a single parent, or whatever. They have pets, they’re like, “Oh, I could never go away,” or “I can’t do that.” And they start shutting everything down. And it’s like, there are places where you can bring your pets. Or if you’re open to it, obviously you can board your pets or get a pet sitter. You just have to start thinking about, “What can I do?” Even if you are limited, there’s always some creative idea that you can still do.

You know, one of the things that is kind of hip now, I guess among young people, is this whole Van Life idea. Taking a van and transforming it. There’s tons of YouTubers on it. My daughter loves to watch it, and so I’ve gotten into watching these, with the tours, and I thought about buying an old van. Why do I want an old van sitting in my driveway the majority of the time? I’m not going to be driving this around, because I have family.

Right.

And here’s the hard part, Karen. I like to be clean. I like my shower. And a lot of these things they don’t have showers. And so I’m like, “I don’t think that’s for me.” But I love watching it. It’s so fun. Maybe we rent an RV for a few days. And I grew up with my grandparents who had a trailer and a truck and we literally went all over the U.S. with them. But it’s a trailer, it’s got a shower, they have more time. I don’t know, maybe when my kids are out of college, we’ll get a nicer van. Maybe a Sprinter or something. But I like my showers.

Exactly. You can’t be miserable. You come to a certain age where you know yourself and there’s a thing where, coming out of your comfort zone is fine, I think maybe a little step. But if you already know yourself and you know, “That would not be my idea of fun.” Then, yeah, why do it?

Yeah.

Exactly.

Let’s hang out in a dirty van together. Sounds awesome.

Exactly.

Okay, so K. What does K stand for?

Okay, so K is “Keep it simple.” So I already had that Disney trip planned, and usually when it comes to my husband and I, our desires are on afterthought. So when I did just easily find out that Emeril’s restaurant was in Universal, that was easy to choose. The plan was already made. And Disney, Universal, you really do have to plan a lot if you want to pack in as much as you can. But when it came to restaurants, we weren’t picky with seeing the characters or anything like that, so there was some wiggle room and I’m like, “Hey, we’re going there.”

Yeah. So keep it simple. All right, and E? What does E stand for?

E is “Ever evolving.” So it’s not like this rigid list that you write one time. You can change your mind. If there’s something that you figure out after all it’s not what you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with not doing it. But also ever evolving, like I’m a big concert person and I like to go to my area casino. It’s an hour away. There’s actually two in Connecticut. And then we went further to see the Rolling Stones in New Jersey. When you talk about something that’s been on your bucket list a long time, they’ve been around so long. So I went to a stadium. So I always thought of going to concerts in this comfortable environment, not that a stadium isn’t, but it just keeps this momentum of, “Now I want to do this. And now I want to do that.” So keep an open mind and it’s a fluid thing.

Yeah. Now personal question here, Karen.

Sure.

I’m just going to tell you, you seem a little uptight. You’re a financial writer. You seem very detail oriented. You seem a little anal. I’m telling you, I may be wrong. And yet, you have this adventurous – you’re wanting to do these things. Am I off on this?

It’s funny that you say that, because I became more of this detail, anal person as I became an adult. I was a free spirit, so I am very much trying to rekindle that person. I travelled all over when I was in my twenties, and I would go to Europe by myself.

Wow.

I was one of those very adventurous people. And yeah, you know life becomes routine and you take care of kids and they need to be fed and things need to happen. Like you said, finances, you have to stay on top of that, and that’s a part of making it work so you can go.

Right.

But yeah, once I am somewhere, I do things in the moment. I don’t have to stick exactly to a schedule or anything like that.

That’s so fun. All right, so ever evolving. I do feel like if I had something on a bucket list and I didn’t do it and I took it off, I would probably feel like a little bit of a failure. But I’m going to take your grace, you’re telling me I can take it off if I need to.

Yes, and then you’ll just be better at selecting ideas that are more realistic. I found out skating in Rockefeller Center, when you read some of the comments that people write about the skates and how it’s always crowded, I hate crowds. I was like, “I don’t want to go now.” And I’m like, “It’s okay, maybe if it was a day where it’s so cold out that nobody’s there, maybe I would do it.” But it bothers me, it pains me that I took that one off. But after reading it I’m like, “I don’t want to be miserable doing that.”

There you go. All right, and what does the T stand for?

Okay, the T is “Take time to store information.” So we always come into contact with people who will give you recommendations for the best restaurants, where to stay at a hotel. Anything like that, just store it and capture all the details while they’re fresh on your mind. And have a set spot. Whether that’s old school pen and paper somewhere, or if you use something like Trello, Asana. Any sort of digital capturing tool, or even just Google Docs, so you can access it from anywhere when you get free time.

Okay, so you’ve given me this kind of overview. You’ve expanded my thoughts on a bucket list. If I want to create a bucket list, how do I do that? Do I grab a piece of paper? I mean, there’s a bazillion options of everything I could do. Am I realistic? Do I put Machu Picchu on there? You know what I mean? How do I go about it?

Well, I tell people to start with paper. If you’re someone who has so many ideas, then you have to get them all down and it’s kind of like a brain dump. But then there’s people that they don’t even know what to write, because they’re so out of touch with even trying to pursue those goals.

Yeah.

So they may need to generate ideas based off of their interests, and just pick a few general interests, and where can this go? Like if you like music, are you going to see an orchestra? Are you going to try and play an instrument? If you start that way, I have a bubble map in my book. But I also have a list if you’re someone who is more of a list person.

Yeah, I love that about your book. That you gave kind of worksheet pages where you can just write right in the book, or you can photocopy it or whatever. So that was super helpful. Take me through some misconceptions on bucket lists. Things that people think about bucket lists. I think about this movie, I’m trying to think – the actor. They just had a bucket list movie come out recently, did they not? Two guys. White guy and a black guy, they were both dying or something. Morgan Freeman.

You know, that was back – correct. And Jack Nicholson.

Did you see it?

I did. And I want to say it’s over ten years ago. I believe it was 2007, 2008.

Oh, my goodness, like that’s recently. I’m like, “Yeah, it recently came out.”

No, but people do know that movie.

Yeah.

And they did do all of these elaborate, luxurious things at the very end of their life because they had terminal illnesses. So they went to see the pyramids in Egypt, and you see them on motorcycles and all these different things. It was an exciting movie, but that’s where that all or nothing thing comes in. And Jack Nicholson’s character, he was a very wealthy person and could just take this person. I think Morgan Freeman worked in a trade. I don’t know if he was a mechanic. So do you have a wealthy friend who’s just going to bring you everywhere?

Yeah, I wish.

Exactly. So I think some of it came from that, but I think in general, people shoot for that over the top. When really, when you’re thinking about happiness, it’s really in everyday life where you get long-term happiness. That’s why people have that let down when they come back from vacation. That’s not real life. I mean, it is fun, I’m not saying don’t do that. But really, when you sprinkle in another layer of, “I went to a different corn maze.” Or, “I went to that fancy restaurant.” Or, “I tried Korean food.” Or something that is simple, but it can still bring just as much happiness to you.

So one of the misconceptions you’re talking about is that they have to be over the top. They have to be grand or elaborate. So I love what you’re saying. You can have this whole other level of just everyday bucket lists. What are some other misconceptions that people might have?

Well, sometimes people think you have to constantly go to different places and come up with all these different ideas all of the time. And there are people who do just like certain things. They just like to fish, or they just want to see NASCAR, or whatever it is, surf. But maybe you just go to different locations, or you surf in different locations, or you fish in different locations. And then there’s people who are Disney people who go every year, that is their thing. So they’re thinking, “Well, I already checked that off my list.” Unless you have gone for a long period of time, or do go back multiple times, you can’t see everything in one shot at Disney. And there’s always something new. So Disney could be your bucket list and you can check off this ride or whatever it is, seeing all those different countries.

Yeah, so it’s almost making one thing that you really like, like I know somebody who’s trying to visit every major league ballpark in the United States. So they really like baseball, they really like ballparks, so rather than all these different things, it’s focused on one thing. Obviously a lot of people climb certain mountains. I don’t know what the technical term is, but it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to hit every mountain at a certain height or something.” I like that. All right.

Right, right.

Let me hear about your bucket list. Do you have a physical bucket list right now? Or is it in your head? Is it on Asana or something digital?

You know what? I do have one but I update it constantly. I’ve been doing it monthly because I’m a “now” person, and I want to know, “What can I do now?” Because I have concerts I want to see, but the people aren’t touring. So I have to wait, I don’t have a choice. I have places I want to go, but I have a high schooler and one in college, so I kind of have to choose the right time I want to go to Greece. But that bothers me. I like saving for that, but I need to have something now. So I update mine monthly, and I put things on my site so people can also try to do that if they want to update it. But you can print out one bucket list sheet, and then just keep adding to it. I hope I’m answering your question.

No, that’s great. So tell me, what do you have right now? You’re like, “Okay, I’m working on this.”

Okay. I am working on – I’m actually going to be writing a journal that goes with my book. I want to get in Woman’s Day magazine one day.

Okay.

That’s far off. That’s far off. But I also want to see the baseball stadiums too. I’m a Red Sox fan and I love Fenway, but I’ve been to some other parks. I can’t say I want to see all of them necessarily, but I want to try to go to as many as I can. Let me think of some other ones.

So you’ve got concerts, people that you want to see. What’s a list of those individuals?

Well, see, this is what’s funny. I’m in my forties, but because my cousins growing up, they were eight to ten years older than me. My friends always make fun of me because I like a lot of the seventies bands.

Okay.

And they’re like, “It just doesn’t match. You’re supposed to like -.” “You went to college in the nineties, what about the nineties bands?” And I’m just such a nerd. I like bands that have been around a long time. I like classic legends. And I always fight them. I just think that that was one of the best time periods for music. So like I said, I went to see the Rolling Stones. I want to see Queen. I want to see Aerosmith. Phil Collins is coming back. It’s funny because his tour is called something like I Ain’t Dead Yet. So it’s funny. And there’s even someone who has a tour named Bucket List Tour, I can’t remember who it is. I know it’s not someone I want to see.

That’s great. All right, so you also use another acronym that I found to be really helpful; the word FILL. If I don’t have necessarily the financial resources to do things. If I have big ideas but I don’t necessarily have the finances right now, there’s some things that we can FILL our time with. Can you break that word down? Because I think people will really enjoy that.

Sure, so there’s, “Free, interesting, low-cost, and local.”

Free. Interesting. Low-cost. Local. Okay.

Correct. And sometimes something that’s free could still be very luxurious. There are concerts in New York. If you’re really resourceful, you can find things that are free to the public and they’re really awesome things. So sometimes when people think “free”, they go, “Oh, you’ve got to go to the library and get a little pass to a museum.” It’s not always something that seems lackluster.

Sure.

If that makes sense?

Yeah, and free could even be you have a friend who works somewhere and has special access to something. So it could even be tagging along or asking them for that experience.

Right. Having social capital goes a long way, because I know a lot of people who are just so social and they’re always going to this, that. And I’m like, “Wow, aren’t those tickets a lot?” And they go, “Oh, my friend got them.” Or sometimes people will give tickets to their friends if they can’t go to something, or season tickets, things like that. So absolutely, that can work to your advantage.

I also find that in our area we have tons of events all the time, and a lot of them are free or low-cost, and it’s kind of just outside of my normal day-to-day routine or comfort zone. There will be concerts in the park, we’ll grab some food and show up and it’s just a relaxing evening. It took a little bit of effort. It took effort to find it. It took effort to find the parking. It took effort to get there. Yes, there’s a crowd, but if I’m there and I’m focused on my family, it’s an enjoyable time. But it does take intentionality, is what I’m hearing you say?

Exactly. So if you can really be resourceful and be open-minded, that’s part of it too. You can be pleasantly surprised. And sometimes you are just saving for those bigger things and you don’t want to be side-tracked by short-term things that would not allow you to go and save enough money for that bigger trip. So it’s like, if you think of it that way, “Well, I’m doing this. Because later on I’m going to do X.” But even if you’re not able to save for those bigger things, I just still believe in trying to enjoy your life in whatever capacity that you can.

There’s so many things that you can do. No matter where you’re at in terms of socio-economics, you can find, like you said, free, interesting, low-cost and local right where you live, for sure.

Exactly.

You talk in the end of your book about how important it is to reflect on our experiences. Why do you put an emphasis on that?

Well, part of it is savouring, so you’re extending the happiness that you felt. Because even if you just think back about a positive memory, or you tell someone, “Hey, remember when we did this?” it kind of re-ignites those happy feelings. So that’s a bonus. It helps you gauge what’s important to you to help you figure out next steps or just what’s next. Or, “Hey, I realize I want more of this in my life.” It’s important because you’re kind of really processing what you did and like I said, you’re extending those positive feelings.

And photos seem to be such a powerful part of that. I know if you’re taking a photo, you’re not necessarily living in the moment, but I think you can do both. Take a quick photo and then live in the moment. And then you’ve got that photo later to reflect on and savor those moments.

Yes. I mean, you just have to be really disciplined. Because literally some of the concerts that I go to, people are on their phones so much that they’re not cheering and screaming and singing along.

Yeah, I don’t understand that. Yeah.

Yeah, my friend was like, “Why isn’t everybody up?” I said, “See? They’re recording it.” It’s like, be in the moment. And yes, you can – sometimes my husband and I, we’ll take turns if they allow you to record. I go, “I really love this song, so you record it.” But yeah, you have to really be aware of that because you are there, that is your little slice of time, and enjoy it and be present.

Well, it’s a difference between enjoying personally or trying to show it off to friends, is kind of the difference really.

Yes, yes.

So Karen, if people want to get your book, once again the title is The Everyday Bucket List Book: Ten Steps to Bring More Exciting Experiences to Everyday Life, they can go to your website www.karencordaway.com/book, and they can get it there. What other things do you offer that would be beneficial to people?

Well, I have things on my site where there are PDF’s. If you want to do something as a couple, I have a PDF for that. There’s a bunch of ideas on my website as well. And if people sign up, I can update them. I give them a lot of personal insights and I give them a lot of quick wins. If they want to be updated about my blog posts or whatever I’m doing, and I even include some of my silly pictures of the things that I do.

That’s great. Good. Well, Karen, thank you so much for writing this book. You’ve got me thinking about bucket lists. I wasn’t thinking about that before, and now I’m going, “Okay, I think it’d be cool to make one that’s both local and global.” Lots of different things on it. So thanks for being on the show.

Thank you so much for having me.

thank you!