X Marks the Spot: Navigating Financial Treasure Maps

When you see a treasure map, like the one pictured above, what’s the first thing that pops to mind? Some of the images in my head are:

  • Adventure
  • Goals
  • Sword fighting
  • Really old stuff
  • Damsels in distress
  • Egyptian tombs

More important, and definitely more apropos to the blog, is the financial application of treasure-hunting. Yes, my friends – the same strategies used by the “greats” like Indiana Jones can be applied by us mere mortals to our boring checking accounts.

What the Heck is X Anyway?

Isn’t X supposed to mark the spot? If you’re not looking for “X,” you’re not really treasure-hunting. You’re just wandering around the desert aimlessly. How do you define your financial end-goal, or your wildest dream? Is it income independence? Freedom from debt? A red Porsche?

If you’re like some treasure-hunters, you know that there’s a prize at the end of the road, but you’re not quite sure of what’s in the chest. Other adventurers actually do their homework and know exactly what they’re looking for and what it’s supposed to do…i.e. a key to open an ancient sarcophagus, send down 10 virgins, etc, etc…

What camp do you belong to? Are you making progress, but unsure of what it is you’re looking for? Or do you have a picture in mind so clear that you can almost touch it?

Rolling the Dice

The path and the goal may be self-evident once mapped out, but the way to get there never will be. We have control over our own actions and responses, but we rarely control our circumstances. Protecting against failure and putting ourselves in the best position possible is key.

  • Create financial systems that work to protect you against unforeseen circumstances.
  • Simplify your finances for optimal effectiveness and greatest control.
  • Know that financial storms come and go, but preparation is key.

Taking Shortcuts

As a kid, did you ever play the game Chutes and Ladders? (It used to be called Snakes and Ladders, for the older generation…not to make you feel “old” or anything…). You go along your merry way and there are a series of “shortcuts” that take you to a different part of the board.

Opportunities in life present themselves like ladders, while setbacks can feel like chutes. Either way, we end up somewhere unplanned – way ahead of the pack, or starting our climb all over again.

Through the course of the game, it’s typical to ride so many of these chutes and ladders that, in the end, you end up where you would have even without them. The key is not the setback or opportunity, but how we react to it. In life, we have a bit more control than just rolling the dice, so let’s take advantage:

  • Look for and take opportunities that present themselves to get ahead financially in an ethical way.
  • Learn from setbacks quickly and put them behind you. Live in the present while respecting the sum total of your life experiences.

Looking for Clues

When the real pros hunt for treasure, they’re usually looking for clues, right? A scratch on the tree bark, or an upside down-reversed-mirrored ancient symbol inscribed in the translucent watermark visible only under infrared light after 6 PM. Maybe I just watch too much TV…

I define financial awareness as being able to keep your mind open and scanning for important things outside your direct scope of current attention. What the heck does that mean?

It means that while doing what you normally do on a daily basis, like paying bills and buying groceries, we train our mind to scan and pick up important financial opportunities outside of those daily tasks and nudge them into consciousness when they’re important. This is a great trick I learned from Life Matters.

The Importance of Varied Terrain

Treasure hunters don’t face just one type of obstacle – most of the time they arrive by ship after having fought off sea monsters, and go on to traverse mountains, hills and valleys, cross dangerous rivers, and climb into very dark caves. What I’m trying to say is – it ain’t easy.

A few months ago, I read a fantastic book titled Peaks and Valleys by Dr. Spencer Johnson, the same man who authored Who Moved My Cheese? At the core of the book are simple principles for anything in life – managing your peaks to get the most out of them and preparing for valleys, as well as getting out of valleys quickly and onto the next peak.

Your financial life is not like Florida – long and flat. It’s more like West Virginia – one hell of a ride. Sometimes you’re cruising downhill, and sometimes you’re giving everything you got to get to the top. In the end, you wind up right where you started – sea level. No matter what the obstacles, we can get to our goals through any terrain.

What is the Key?

What is the key that unlocks our treasure chest? We can journey along and get to the end, but unless we know what to do once we get there, we can spoil the entire journey.

The key here is planning – know what you intend to do once you actually reach your goal. If you don’t have a plan, are you fully committed and believe that you’ll reach your goal in the first place?

Is Financial Freedom Real?

Think about the guys on TV – what percentage of the show is about getting to the treasure and what percentage is actually getting it? Doesn’t it always seem that they spend most of the time on a wild goose chase, fail miserably to get what they were looking for, but “get the girl” anyway, and life is good?

You never know what the treasure chest might hold anyway – we put so many expectations on what we will find when we get “there.” We may be disappointed or surprised – the key is keeping an open mind, after all – most of the time, it’s not about the treasure anyway.

Many, many millionaires have failed and gone bankrupt along the way. Was their money ever their measure of success? No, it was the knowledge they had in their head that allowed them to pick themselves up and do it all over again, and faster.

The Lottery Effect

For those who do really find “treasure” and find it very early (through a shortcut, for example), the lottery effect can be their downfall. A fellow blogger (who exactly, I can’t remember), turned me onto this – the story of William Post, who won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery. Here’s a quote that really stood out from the article, talking about the effects after William won the Lotto:

“His problems included a brother who tried to hire a contract murderer to kill him and his sixth wife; a landlady who forced him to give her one-third of the jackpot; and a conviction on an assault charge, after Mr. Post fired a shotgun at a man trying to collect a debt at his deteriorating dream house in northwestern Pennsylvania. He went bankrupt, came out of it with $1 million free and clear and spent most of that windfall, too.”

Ouch! I thought everything was supposed to get easier when you get a ton of money…right? If you learn HOW to get there, you won’t waste the spoils WHEN you get there. That’s why millionaires are usually made slowly.


Too often, life can feel like a bit of a treasure hunt. We’re lost in a maze of seemingly unrelated events and circumstances on our way to a distant goal that often goes undefined. Take a few lessons from your movie stars and figure out:

  • Where you’re going
  • How you’ll get there
  • How to act along the way

May we all get to X someday…

Photo credit: Cameronparkins via CC2.0

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