The MapleMoney Show » How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Fulfilling Your Everyday Bucket List, with Karen Cordaway

Presented by Borrowell

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Have you ever dreamed of checking off items from your bucket list, but felt like you just didn’t have the time or the money to make the dream a reality? As a busy working parent, Karen Cordaway spent years struggling to find free time and extra money for herself. That is, until she figured out how to reclaim her schedule and infuse more affordable bucket list experiences into everyday life.

Since then, Karen has written a book on the subject, aptly titled, The Everyday Bucket List Book. She joins me this week to discuss why you don’t need to wait until you retire to fulfill your bucket list. According to Karen, there are several things you should take into consideration when creating your bucket list.

For one, it should align with your values. In other words, spend time and money doing things you truly enjoy. That doesn’t mean that a bucket list item has to be expensive, however. You’re free to customize it to your own situation. For example, if you can’t afford an expensive vacation, consider planning a staycation. After all, there are a lot of things you could be doing that you’ve never done before, without driving more than thirty minutes from your home.

Karen provides a number of tips on how to make a bucket list more affordable, and shares her very own BUCKET acronym. She even takes time to help me with my own list. Find out everything there is to know about bucket lists, on this week’s episode.

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Episode Summary

  • What items are on your bucket list?
  • The difference between a bucket list and setting goals
  • Bucket lists don’t have to be travel related
  • Immediate vs. delayed benefits. What motivates you more?
  • The Bucket List Acronym explained
  • Creative ideas for a staycation
Read transcript

Have you ever dreamed of checking off items on your bucket list but felt like you just didn’t have the time or the money to make the dream a reality? My guest this week spent years struggling to find free time and extra money for herself. That is until she figured out how to reclaim her schedule and infuse more affordable bucket list experiences into everyday life. Karen Cordaway is the author of The Everyday Bucket List book and she joins me right here on the Maple Money Show to help me and you with your own list.

Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. There was a time when getting a copy of a credit report was a major hassle and would cost money as well. That’s no longer the case thanks to our sponsor, Borrowell. They’ll send you an updated credit report each month and share tips on how you can improve your credit. To get your free credit report, head over to today. Now, let’s talk bucket list with Karen.

Tom: Karen, welcome to the Maple Money Show.

Karen: Thank you so much for having me, Tom. I’m happy to be here.

Tom: I know you’ve got a new book out that’s all about bucket lists so I wanted to have you on the show to really get into this topic. It’s something I’ve never truly done. I’ve probably had ideas in my head but I never really made a true list out of this. Could we just start right from the beginning for people that may not have even heard this term, unless they’ve watched the movie—what is a bucket list?

Karen: A bucket list is a list of ideas you want to do before you die. Because the term “kick the bucket” used to mean you would die. So the bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die. It’s really evolved. It’s in the vernacular. It’s a common term now. So everybody’s trying to come up with these creative ideas and get them done.

Tom: What kind of ideas are these? I’m sure it could be any range of things but there’s that idea that you can’t do everything, right?

Karen: Right. And that’s why my book is called, The Everyday Bucket List because when I first wrote to you I explained how I wish I could be one of those people in the FIRE movement and save a bunch money while I’m young and all of a sudden I have a million dollars because I don’t have a home or kids or anything tying me down. My whole thing is to try and “bucket list” throughout every phase of life. The ideas are your own, of course, but people think of these big ideas like going to Greece or Venice. It kind of stops you in your tracks if you know you’re not going to be able to do that for a year because you have to really save up. So I kind of rebrand “bucket list” in my book because I want people to come up with both big and small ideas. You shouldn’t have to just wait for retirement to do something big and travel all over. You should still enjoy your time no matter what phase of life you’re in.

Tom: Is it mostly traveling things? What’s the difference between a bucket list and setting goals? Is the bucket list more about travel or is it anything?

Karen: You know what, it can be both. I think initially when people think of a bucket list they do think of those big travel plans. But a lot of it is little mini goals or little one-off ideas. Sometimes it could be something ongoing like learning how to play the piano. You’re not going to learn that one shot unless you’re some creative genius. But yeah, it can be something small or something big. It doesn’t have to be travel. It can be mini goals. I think once you get into that goal setting mode, you get that momentum of learning how to complete the actual ideas and not just brainstorming a bunch of them and never doing them.

Tom: Well, never doing them is a good point. I think what I’m hearing with this idea of bucket lists (and with travel at least) is you make this list of all these things that you’d like to do but probably won’t. I want to go to all these different countries but maybe I won’t. Your way of doing it seems a little more like it’s actually going to happen.

Karen: Exactly. Well, I’ll tell you my inspiration. When that book, Eat, Pray, Love came out a long time ago, it was this big hit. Everybody was reading it. The woman in it went to India. She traveled to all these countries and had a long period of time that she could stay there. People were very inspired by that. It was popular. I think she was even on Oprah. Then Gretchen Rubin came out with her book that was almost the complete opposite. So I want to say it was the Happiness Project. This is kind of like my response to what people think of as a bucket list. I’m the more practical everyday person. Whereas in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, she talked about how she liked to read children’s books and how she wanted to have these special things that she did with her kids while they were growing up while she lived in New York. So she made it a point to make sure you go in and actually do these things because there’s so much in New York. It’s so easy to take it for granted and just go home and watch TV. I kind of thought of it in the way of bucket listing. There are all these things that you’ve always wanted to try and it doesn’t have to be related to travel. But for whatever reason, you just don’t do it. It could be at home. It could be locally. If you think of something at home like people who are on budgets or they’re in debt, this is a way to motivate you. There was a time I was on a really strict budget. I got really creative with my grocery list and decided, instead of feeling deprived because I only have X amount of dollars, I decided I wanted to be an awesome cook. I thought that is such a cool thing for anybody—a man or a woman. And so we started to do all of these different recipes. Food Network was just coming out. And when you focus on something like that you bring joy to your life. And was I really spending any extra money? No, it was my grocery budget. I just got a kick out of the fact I have an Italian heritage. How Italian am I? I’m an Italian American. I’ve never made sauce. I’ve never made risotto. I’ve never made biscotti. I’m going to make all those things. So anything as simple as that, like tapping into your heritage. People in the U.S. are big into that. They swab to find out where they’re really from. I don’t know if that’s big in Canada.

Tom: Oh, like DNA tests?

Karen: Yeah.

Tom: Oh yeah. We do them here too. I did 23 and Me and now I’ve got all sorts of people contacting me saying they’re my third cousin or whatever.

Karen: They’re probably saying, “You’re that guy with the money show. You’re my cousin.”

Tom: Well, that’s what’s concerning me. I guess I can actually log in and look. But I’ve had a lot of people connect and send me messages saying that they found me on there.

Karen: Oh wow, that’s really interesting.

Tom: Yeah, it might be creepy too.

Karen: Yes, a little creepy too.

Tom: I’ll have to look at it more. I haven’t really looked at the whole heritage side of it. I just wanted to know what percent of everything I was, and then I never logged back in again.

Karen: Right. Everybody’s different. That’s where I make a point in the book. I was just talking to a young 30-year-old. He said how he went to Vegas and I said, “There has to be those things there that you’re only going to enjoy when you’re a 30-year-old, with your buddies and you have to pick those things.” My husband jokes a lot. I put football in my book and he says, “You can’t put all these things that only women like to do.” You have to pick what you like and it could be as simple as, “I’ve never done this before and I always wanted to try it.”

Tom: That’s a good point. Speaking of football, I’ve never gone to an NFL game. Being in Canada, I barely even care which team. I’d like to just say I’d like to just say that I went to one because I hear they’re huge at the tailgating and everything. So yeah, that could be a bucket list item. It’s definitely the kind of thing where if I do it once I’m probably good. But it’s definitely that I would like to do once.

Karen: Right. Look at what just happened with the basketball and how Canada finally won. I don’t know if you’re into basketball, I just can’t imagine how exciting that must have been. Obviously, you saw some of the partying in the street. But even for us it’s exciting because the team was so special and it’s the first time they ever won.

Tom: I was into basketball that month for sure. Before that I was very stereotypical Canadian where I cared about hockey. I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan. And Toronto is like the other side of the country for me but during that whole run in the playoffs the entire country was into the Raptors. It’s probably going to help make basketball a candidate in general now, just to have that success. Maybe we’ll see more fans, if not new teams in the future. What are some more items on your bucket list? Maybe stuff you’ve done to start—a few things that you’ve checked off?

Karen: Because I do stay locally for multiple reasons, one of my kids is a homebody. I couldn’t get her to go on vacation with us if I begged her. And when you’re bringing someone who’s unwilling to do something, I don’t really think of that as a vacation. This is life with teenagers. My husband and I have been going to concerts (and I probably say that on everybody’s show) but now I feel like every time I say it, I get more concert tickets. My rule is, if someone is nearing 70 and I haven’t seen them if they still sound good and they’re a rock legend or any kind of music legend, I try to see them. That’s my little rule. Because the other thing is, a bucket list isn’t just about when you kick the bucket. It’s a kind of linked to when other people kick the bucket. I want to try to make sure I have certain experiences before they’re no longer available.

Tom: Back in the mid 90s I used to go to so many different rock and punk concerts. One band I always wanted to see was, Weezer, and they’re still playing 25 years later. I still haven’t seen them so I’m probably pushing my luck a little bit and should probably see them at some point.

Karen: Think about that. I know they have a remake of a popular song—I can’t remember the song at the moment.

Tom: Yeah, it’s Toto is Africa.

Karen: That’s right.

Tom: Now they’ve built a whole album around the whole 80s cover album which is awesome. But I still have not seen them.

Karen: Well, maybe you’ll make it.

Tom: I don’t know how many times they’ve come around. I’ve lived most of my life in Edmonton and now that I’m in the Calgary area, they’ve probably toured so many times and I’ve missed them every time.

Karen: That’s the other thing where you take it for granted. There is like this debate in that arena where a group may say it’s their last tour so people come. Then you hear they’re still touring two years or five years later. All the while you thought that was the last tour.

Tom: Now it’s the last, last, last tour.

Karen: I really think there’s something with that urgency in how they promote market their stuff.

Tom: It sounds like a lot on your bucket list items—especially because it just fits in your lifestyle with your family, are more kind of the staycation kind of items?

Karen: Yeah. And you know what’s funny? It really suits me in the way that as much as I like going away for a week, it’s hard on me. I’m always exhausted. I don’t sleep well in hotels. It’s like I need a vacation from my vacation. It’s not that I don’t like doing that. We absolutely do have those adventures. I just like to get snippets of fun where I can. I’d much rather do a bunch of $100 to $500 things than to save up for one big thing that only happens once in awhile. I have a friend whose parents live near the water so she only has to pay for airfare. She can stay there and eat and everything so it’s not that expensive. But that’s where the creativity part comes in because I do think we have an “all-or-nothing” attitude. And if you are someone that can’t get away, there really can be a lot of fun things to do. I looked up something that’s popular now in America (and it’s also in Canada) which is the party bike. Have you seen those?

Tom: Is that the one where there are a dozen people on a bike?

Karen: It looks like a bus. You can get 10 or 15 people on there and they are pedaling. So, you’re taking a tour and it’s all pedal power. There are ones that are during the day that look like they’re more mellow. Then they have ones that are more nighttime. The idea is you’re getting exercise and taking a little tour. They’re making stops and everything so that seems like a lot of fun no matter where you are. But it’s not like the book is all focused on that. It’s just to have a broader mindset. I was sending you statistics on Canada and it seems as though Canadians “spend” on recreation which is great because you want to enjoy your life.

Tom: Yeah, it’s the bike example. I saw a bunch of people going through Calgary downtown on one. It looked exhausting to me but they were going through a park and it just seemed like I’d probably rather just walk it. This whole staycation idea… Actually, we should mention this. I’ve been terrible at it. I lived in Edmonton for over 20 years and I never did certain things once. I never went to the provincial museum. I missed so many things. You kind of forget what’s local. Now I don’t live there. I’m only two and a half hours away and visit my family there. And with my sister we finally went to the museum. So you’re right about this idea of seeing what’s there and not missing out on it because most people probably have an example like that where there’s something within a 30 minute drive that they could be doing that they’ve never done.

Karen: Right. And I think it is that sense of urgency. Even when people have a summer bucket list they often wonder what they can squeeze into that amount of time. It creates a deadline. So it sounds like you might have to be someone who needs that imposed on them a little bit.

Tom: We actually do that with our kids. Our kids actually like being in school. They get a little bit of depression that they’re leaving school so we start this summer fun list at the beginning of the summer season. They write down everything they want to do. They want to go to a bunch of parks. They want to go to a spray park—just all of these local things they can do. So my kids are actually better at staycationing during the summer than I am. Maybe I need to make my own little list or help influence their list to make sure we do some things as a family.

Karen: No, absolutely. In my book there’s research that shows immediate benefits. People are actually more motivated by immediate benefits than delayed benefits. I’m a “now person” and I’m thinking, “What is Tom doing instead of doing these things?” What is your thing to do?

Tom: A whole lot of blog related stuff. It’s like I said with the summer list, I like to spend time with my family but I let them dictate the terms a lot of times. They’ll make their list and I will help them achieve that list.

Karen: There is nothing wrong with that. There are definitely people who have motivated me to try something that I know I would never try if they didn’t invite me. Sometimes you need something external. My daughter dragged me to Harry Potter when that first came out in Disney. I probably would not have gone so sometimes that’s okay too. It’s just a matter of how do I want to spend my time? Maybe I want to be with my family more or I want to take up a hobby. You have to do what works for you. I say the whole thing in the book. There’s an acronym for bucket, keep it simple. You just might be a content person and you don’t feel any urgency. That’s fine too. It doesn’t mean you have to have a list of 50 things. I think Joe said he had two things. And I think that’s fine.

Tom: Maybe this is why a lot of people do equate a bucket list with travel. With me, my mindset shifts when I travel. I start doing everything and anything that city offers. Or if you’re traveling with friends—like going to a conference where we’re doing all these sort of things before or after the conference that I wouldn’t do at home, we make sure to get out and do all the things. I’m probably doing the top 10 things any city offers.

Karen: I really like that because people will say they’re going to do those things but then they don’t. It sounds like you feel that sense of urgency where you feel it’s your chance to do all those things.

Tom: Yeah, for sure. I do it all.

Karen: Well, since we’re psychoanalyzing you here, that might be your thing. It’s not a bad thing to want to travel. Maybe that’s where you get all of the things you want to do, done. If that’s what is exciting to you, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if you don’t think of a bucket list as something local that’s not exciting, you can’t force yourself to like something like that.

Tom: I think it’s almost two different kinds of lifestyles. When you’re traveling you’re maybe more freed up to do these things and check them all off. At the same time, I have people tell me that I stay too busy on vacations and come back more exhausted than when I left.

Karen: You have to have a balance, right?

Tom: Yeah.

Karen: It’s interesting to hear what other people think. I try to make a game out of everything. I think that’s what motivates me because I don’t want to be that person watching TV all the time or not doing that thing that I said I was going to do. I have this silly thing where last summer we hit 10 different ice cream places that were written about in a magazine. This summer, I realized I don’t like all these different places. I tried it. There is a place locally that has all these flavors and I always get the same thing. So sometimes it’s something very silly. And when you have kids they love stuff like that, just like you were saying. They want to try every flavor. I get bored very easily. Because I can’t be like a travel blogger, I just try to have fun no matter how little, big or whatever. It’s just how I’m wired.

Tom: You mentioned how bucket as an acronym. Can you run us through that list of terms?

Karen: So ‘B’ is for be on the lookout. If you’re always kind of keeping your eyes and ears aware of what’s going on, you can find out exciting things to do. But we have to make sure they appeal to Tom and he feels compelled to go. Then ‘U’ is to understand what you value. So, if you are one that wants to go somewhere new, go to another city, that’s fine. The ‘C” is for customized to your situation. For me as a parent, I try to work around staying locally sometimes, or maybe most of the time when my kids are in school and I can’t really leave. The ‘K’ is, keep it simple. Whether that’s planning what the actual activity is, just the whole mindset in general. I really feel that will help people to just do more if they want to do more. ‘E’ is ever evolving. It can change. Or maybe you had this idea of what you wanted to do and then you just change it. And ‘T’ is take time to store the information. If you write it down (or at least store it digitally) and have a way of going back and checking, that’s pretty much my bucket acronym.

Tom: The idea of storing it is interesting because, like I said at the top of the show, I think I have a lot of ideas in my head that I haven’t actually made this list so you really do have to write it down. Even if it’s just to make sense of it, to see what’s actually there and not just a bunch of ideas in your head of things you’d like to do?

Karen: Right. And I even encourage people in my book to physically write it down at first because there is research that shows if you write things down you’re more likely to accomplish them. There’s just something that seals the deal in some way that you’re more likely to do it. And I have worksheets in the book, so it does seem like these simple steps of carrying this out kind of holds your hand a little bit. Just like you are saying, “Why don’t I do this?” If you go step-by-step—I hope this answers your question.

Tom: Oh, it’s great.

Karen: Okay.

Tom: One of the arguments I could see a lot of people making is, they’re missing one or two things. Either they don’t have the time to do this or they don’t have the money to do this. How do they get around that? I guess we kind of covered some of this with the staycation idea but maybe they want to travel to all these different countries. How do we make this happen when time and money are both kind of limited?

Karen: There are always deals. If you’re someone who’s willing to scour through Kayak or any of those deal sites where if you have flexibility and you can go whenever the deal allows you to fly or whenever you plan on going, if you want to go that route that works. You can update your email, go to your phone and things like that. If you’re open to trying different places—let’s say you’re not specific and set on going to Athens but you do want to go to Europe or somewhere tropical, you just kind of open your the idea of maybe running with a general theme versus a specific location. That could work. And then old-fashioned saving. If you know how much it costs, then you have to save that amount of money. Or just researching as much as you can on how to make it as affordable as possible. There’s so much on the internet now. There is even a site called, the Frugal Traveler and different sites like that you can check out to try to do those things.

Tom: I guess any anytime these list items start to involve money, any general personal finance helps. Like you said, if you’re saving for goals or spending less on those trips, you don’t have to stay at the finest hotel every time. There are ways to cut the costs.

Karen: And it depends what you do, what you eat. You just have to really thoroughly research. Like Disney (which is so big here), you’re going to spend at least X amount of dollars if you go to Disney. But that’s if you go with them, with that meal plan and you do all those little things where you sit and eat with the Princess. It’s what your idea is. There are certain trips where you’re always going to spend X amount of dollars no matter what. That’s the base. But if that’s your thing, then just save up for that because if you really want to go then you’ll try to find a way to make it happen. Otherwise, you’re just never going to go.

Tom: Not so much on the podcast, but for readers of my blog, they’ve heard me talk about Disneyland at Disney World a lot. Our family is huge into that. There’s certainly loads of ways to save money there. Maybe I’ll add that in the show notes. I don’t know if that even counts as a bucket list item unless the bucket list item is to go every second year, pretty much. It’s definitely one of our frequent vacations.

Karen: You could even make a Disney bucket list because how do you get to see everything? You have to go back multiple times.

Tom: If we had one Disney bucket list item it’s to finally do the Disney Cruise which is coming from here is expensive all-around. Just to fly corner-to-corner in North America, getting to Florida isn’t cheap to begin. And the cruise isn’t cheap either. We’ll have to figure out that.

Karen: That’s awesome. We try to go every 5 years at least.

Tom: Another thing with money I wanted to bring up was this idea of saving for a goal. There’s tons of ways people can do that. You can do the old-fashioned budgeting. In Canada we also have an app called, Milo, and then other similar apps and in the US where you pick a goal and it might just take a roundup of the money you’ve spent. It can even add money on top. But the idea is that’s just kind of slowly siphoning money out of your checking account—

Karen: Tricking you.

Tom: Exactly. You don’t notice that missing and all of a sudden you have $1,000 saved up for a trip. I like that kind of goal-based saving because then you are saving for that pricey trip. You’re seeing that goal actually get accomplished.

Karen: Exactly. I say it’s like a bit of a Trojan horse for saving in general. I talked to so many people when I was writing for U.S. News and Huffington Post. I would try to work with my friends who just couldn’t stick to a budget or they were in debt. And when I would have conversations with them I felt like they would get so down and I thought, “Wow, I can never be a planner or anything like that to hear the nitty-gritty details and feel this emotional burden,” so that’s why I decided if you focus on something fun and see how you can accomplish that goal, then everything can take care of itself in a way. It’s like, “Okay, I know I can do this. I know I can save.” And obviously, if it’s something exciting or more fun instead of thinking about when you’re going to retire, you’re starting to go after things you really like. It’s easier to give up those things you just kind of spend money on because you’re not really satisfied. You’re out of touch and out of sync. Because you’re working too much or you never really feel like you’re getting things that you want, once you feel experience that joy—I always come back and say, “I’m not going to do X, Y, Z, and I’m going to put away this money…” But like I said, you’re doing this to get all your financial goals in order to motivate you to do that and strengthen the muscle of saving. It’s not just like saving for a vacation but knowing what you’re going to do as an older person. I just feel if I can teach people about saving, when it came to a travel goal or a bucket list goal then I’d be tricking them into saving and learning how to save. Does that makes sense?

Tom: Oh, for sure. I think I hit that same realization, this mindful spending. When we talk about goals, if you have a goal, is your spending bringing you toward that goal or are you going in the other direction? If you’re on something that doesn’t match your values then you’re just blowing money and going in the wrong direction. That changed things a lot for me. I don’t mean to get too woo-woo with it but it’s this idea of spending towards your values and goals, and it’s okay to spend but you need to go in that direction. I love this bucket list idea and I think I’m going to start one. We’ll see about it for this summer but I’ll definitely get one going.

Karen: Nice.

Tom: Thanks for being on the show. Can you let everybody know where they can find you online and tell them about the book?

Karen: I’m at And if you go to /theeverydaybucketlistbook, I have a page there that explains more about the book and about myself and if you wanted to sign up and get updates about things. I’m going to have a journal coming out in January. But I’m also on Amazon with the same thing, The Everyday Bucket List Book. On Twitter it’s @karencordaway. I would love to connect with people.

Tom: Perfect. Thanks for being on the show.

Karen: Thanks, Tom.

Thanks Karen for showing us ways that we can fulfill our bucket list every day. For more tips you can find a link to Karen’s book in the show notes. You can check out those show notes for this episode at If you’re on Facebook I would love for you to join the Maple Money community where you can ask questions, share your best money tips or just hang out with people like yourself who are interested in all kinds of money related topics. You can search for Maple Money Show community on Facebook or head to Thank you for listening and I’ll see you next week when we have Alyssa Davies joining us from Mixed Up Money and Zillow to discuss what Millennials can do to afford a down payment on a house.

When you start to go after things you really like, it’s easier to give up those things that you spend money on just because you’re not really satisfied, or are out of touch because you’re working too much... - Karen Cordaway Click to Tweet