m741’s Goals: Part I

It’s very easy to fall into this trap: you spend all day fantasizing about what things *will be like* when you have different skills. For instance: when I can play guitar, I’ll be able to tutor people and show off at parties, and all my friends will be incredibly impressed at how awesome I am!

And then, you practice guitar for a week or two, and then get sidetracked by another dream: when I have six-pack abs, chicks will be all over me, and then when they find out I can speak French, and have also published research papers on quasars …

As an introvert, self-improvement is more of a focus for me than going out drinking, but I’ve never had enough focused to achieve my goals. So, here, I will formulate goals in two areas that are important to me: speaking foreign languages, and reducing monthly expenses.

Goal 1: Learning German

Why? I enjoy traveling, and I enjoyed my time in Germany and want to return; I’d also like to see Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. I think knowledge of German would also be a big boost if I wanted to visit the Scandinavian countries. Furthermore, knowing German would open up the possibility of being an English tutor. And there are other languages which I’d like to speak where English tutoring would make even more sense, and having practical experience learning multiple languages would be great. Examples: Thai, Spanish, Hindi.

Milestone 1: Intermediate Comprehension

Timeline: 3 Months
I will consider this milestone achieved if I am able to:

  • Hold a general (unspecialized) conversation in German, with 50% or better understanding of exactly what my conversational partner is saying, and with the ability to express myself without resorting to English.
  • Be able to understand 50% or more of random German sitcoms/comedy TV shows (either German or English with dubbing).
  • Be able to read pulp/non-technical literature (on the level of Crichton, Grisham, Cussler, etc) with only occasional reference to a dictionary or translation.

Currently, my plans aren’t specific, but they include: reading Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” (Kafka am Strand) side-by-side in English and German. I have several pulp-grade books as well. Download TV shows or watch movies with German dubbing or English subtitles. Talk to German-speaking relatives more frequently. Join groups in my area which have German-speaking members. For now, I’m studying about 1 hour a day.

Milestone 2: Advanced Comprehension

Timeline: 6-8 Months
I will consider this milestone achieved if I am able to:

  • Pass the Goethe-Zertifikat C1-exam

The C1-exam is a level on the Common European Framework of Reference Languages and corresponds to “Effective Operational Proficiency”. I would estimate my current level as about A2 – basic communication.

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Yikes! But I think it’s best to have ambitious but achievable goals. I’ll start for the first few months with the plans for Milestone 1 and then see if I need to do any specific studying for this exam.

Goal 2: Reducing Expenses

Why? Because reducing expenses is the quickest way to Financial Independence (FI). Because I feel my expenses are still too high. Because reducing expenses means consuming less, which is good for the planet. Because reducing expenses will help me achieve other goals.

Timeline: 6 Months
I will consider this achieved if I am able to:

  • Reduce expenses to rent+$500, for two of the next six months, without stockpiling the month beforehand or otherwise ‘cheating’.

I’ve been trying to reduce expenses for quite a while, and my previous best was rent+$610, give or take. I think rent+500 is achievable, I will just need to be careful. My first attempt for this will be November, which is a relatively light month for me, in terms of anticipated expenses.

I will be posting updates once per month. I have a few other goals in mind, in other areas, which I’ll introduce in the next few weeks.

Leave a comment


  1. Koen

     /  November 9, 2011

    Interesting read. A side note though: only a small minority of the people in Belgium actually speaks German. However, your knowledge of German would boost your ability to communicate in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium as well as the Netherlands, mainly because Dutch/Flemish is quite close to German.

    • m741

       /  November 9, 2011

      My experience with Dutch is that it (A) looks like funny German, and (B) makes me panic when people speak it, because it sounds a lot like German, but I understand even less.

  2. buzz

     /  November 9, 2011

    My monthly expenses are currently rent+400, so it’s definitely achievable with deliberate and strategic budgeting. Good luck!

  3. Debbie M

     /  November 9, 2011

    FYI, it’s very easy to find English speakers in Switzerland and Belgium (especially the Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium) and also in The Netherlands (another country with a Germanic language). However, it is also greatly satisfying to have a conversation in the local language (I’ve only managed to do it once–I ordered a donut and paid the proper amount completely in German!).

    As for the budgeting, don’t forget that the amount leaving your pockets each month is not necessarily the amount you are spending. For example, if you have a recurring expense that is not due every month (such as homeowner’s or renter’s insurance), then if you want the sort of lifestyle that involves that expense (such as living an insured life), then that needs to be included in your calculations at some point even if those expenditures don’t leave your pocket that month. Some are more difficult, like house and car repairs or replacement costs for electronics, appliances, and clothing. And some costs are basically impossible to estimate, like remaining healthy, but there should still be a budget for these items.

    • m741

       /  November 9, 2011

      I usually amortize expenses. For instance, when I was paying car insurance I amortized that over 6 months. Medium-size expenses in the ~$100 range don’t get amortized. Everything that goes out of my pocket does get included in expenses, I just treat it like a lump sum instead of trying to figure depreciation.

      I recognize that monthly expenses are by nature chunky, and with some clever accounting it’s possible to manipulate them quite a bit. But I’d only be lying to myself.

      • Debbie M

         /  November 10, 2011

        In that case, rent + $500 sounds awesome. I will love seeing how you get there.

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