How Planning Empowers Spontaneity

I'm a planner. Have been since college. And while I enjoyed spontaneity, it wasn't something that I purposefully embraced. In fact, it wasn't until I backpacked across 11 countries the summer after graduation that I realized how planning and spontaneity actually work together! It's an unusual concept, I know, but hear me out.

I believe that planning, in the sense that you have a good grasp on your own life, can actually empower you to embrace spontaneity without screwing up your life in the process.

You see, traditionally, if you're "spontaneous", you make decisions on a whim without concern for your financial, physical, professional, emotional, mental or spiritual wellbeing. Let's take Phil as an example. Phil is on his way to New York City with a friend to see some sights, eat a hot dog from a street vendor and maybe catch a show or two. While in the airport, he and his buddy randomly decide to make a trip to Vancouver instead. So they switch their flights and hotel reservations to the tune of $700, justifying the huge financial hit to their bank accounts with, "Hey, it's a cool story, right? We're being spontaneous!" The next week he's back home and his car breaks down and he finds himself struggling to come up with the money to fix it.

It's fun to change plans last minute and find yourself in a new city. I get it! But here's the rub — when you're disconnected from the realistic state of your life (aka: not planning), you're piling unnecessary risk on yourself. If, on the other hand, you have a grasp of your budget, your schedule, your relationships, your spiritual health, your community and your world, you can make decisions on a whim without incurring unnecessary risk.

When my friend and I were in Europe, we made decisions about where to go next by Googling a country, clicking on Google Images, finding the most beautiful scenery and then figuring out how to get there.

It sounds like a perfect recipe for spending twice as much money. Except that we had a budget. We knew how much money we could spend per day on lodging, food, travel and entertainment and not come home broke. If we spent more from one category, we had to spend less from another. At the end of the trip, I came home having spent only 6% over my original budget which is borderline miraculous on a tight budget spread across two months. Did we make some spontaneous decisions? Of course! We switched destinations while in the bus station, we made impulse buys to experience local entertainment, we added two entirely new countries to our itineraries mid-trip, and we even splurged on some expensive meals and wine. But we did so with a proper understanding of our situation.

Those who plan aren't necessarily tight wads, party-poopers, nerds or scrooges. Sometimes they are. But sometimes they're simply empowering themselves to explore, embrace serendipity and enjoy life to its fullest by not having to worry about whether or not they just over-drafted their bank account or missed an important job interview.

Despite popular opinion, budgets, schedules and lists are good, for in keeping order, you make room for surprise.