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Share your Biggest Ups & Downs in 2013 & Set Goals for 2014

Last updated by on 17 Comments

Happy new year!

A few posts ago, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about holiday break is taking some time to reflect, assess, and set goals.

If you don’t know where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you hope to go – life can seem a little, well… pointless. It’s good to keep yourself on track.

And since I think it’s always good to keep the “personal” in this personal finance blog, I thought I’d share a little more about some of the good and not so good of 2013, and what I’m focused on for 2014.

The Good in 2013:

The prior year (2012) was a bit of an anomaly in terms of expenses for us. Our one shared car died, so we bought a new one, then we got in an accident. Not good – or cheap.

My wife completed the bulk of her degree to make a career change to nursing in 2012, and despite doing it the cheapest way possible, school is not cheap these days. That, and she was driving an hour each way for classes (sounds ridiculous, but it was by far the cheapest schooling option).

The result was approximately $30k in one-time expenses that we typically wouldn’t encounter.

2013 saw a completion to the degree, in that she passed her licensing exam and there were no further classes to take.

Unfortunately, with test score result delays and employers cautious to hire new grads, it did take a bit of time and creativity in getting a job interview. But with some interview tips and coaching, an offer immediately followed around the month of March. Even though it was part-time (and she ended up choosing part-time over full-time, when offered full-time) – the result was a switch from a large net negative on our net worth (high education/transportation expenses), to a sizable net positive (income). Bee-you-tee-full!

Now, she is working to finish off a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) by taking online classes at the slow pace of 2 per year (what is covered by her employer). Completing the BSN won’t increase income further, but it will permit future career advancement more open.

2013 was a banner year in income. In my day job, performance based bonuses were outstanding and really ratcheted my income up to new levels. This blog drove a nice little side income as well. And my wife re-joining the workforce after 19 months off pushed our income even further. The result is 2013 will be our highest income year to date.

I’m still tallying up final expenses (which I’ll cover in a month or so), but things are looking quite good, particularly compared to the prior year.

High income, paired with low expenses will put our personal savings rate back in the 85-90% range for the year. It’s tough to beat that.

Other key accomplishments included:

The Bad in 2013:

With our personal savings rate being what it has, we should be putting our assets to work for us. I set this as one of my big goals for 2013, when I stated:

“It’ll be even more important than ever for me to effectively allocate my savings to start generating more income. So that will be my main focus. I’m going to put a target of 90% of my savings in to securities that aren’t cash/cd/checking/money market.”

I did a remarkably shitty job against this goal.

On one hand, I have more invested in the market than ever before. I even successfully invested 100% of my savings in my HSA account, after two years of max out contributions. But I didn’t come anywhere close to 90% invested – and percentage of assets invested actually declined year/year. FAIL.

This is disappointing, particularly because I highlighted it as a big focus for me in last year’s annual review. I have no good excuses.

In just the past few weeks, I’ve taken some big steps to remedy this – moving assets in to the appropriate Vanguard and TradeKing investment accounts.

What else? Getting a job is good, but location is vital to life satisfaction and keeping transportation costs low. Finding a job is a great thing, but the downside is that the commute is at least a half hour each way. It’s only twice a week, but still not ideal. How long can she keep it up? TBD. But sometimes you have to take the best job you can get at the time and look for opportunity along the way.

In other news – pet expenses struck, with a vengeance! We’ve been fairly lucky in this regard (we have 1 dog and 2 cats). But this past year, one of our cats developed bladder stones. This took a number of appointments to figure out, before resulting in surgery to remove the stones. The total bill for everything to diagnose and resolve was over $1,000. It served as another reminder that life happens and the result is expenses you can’t predict or avoid sometimes. Thankfully, she’s fully recovered and healthy now.

Focus for 2014

I think you already know the big one, but others will include:

  1. 2014 goals and resolutionsAppealing my property taxes: in looking at city tax records, I’m paying more than most neighbors. I want to challenge this to see if I can lower my property tax payments.
  2. Shopping for better insurance rates: I haven’t been happy with some of the price increases I’ve seen lately, and it’s time for me to re-assess my home and auto insurance rates, to make sure I can’t do better.
  3. Maintaining 2013 income levels: this is going to be a true challenge. As mentioned earlier, 2013 was a banner year. Much of that was the result of a lot of hard work, but a little luck and circumstance certainly helped as well. If circumstance works out well enough again, so that I am able to simply maintain 2013 levels, I would be ecstatic.
  4. Sprucing up the blog: at the least, I want to incorporate a new theme on this blog to make it mobile responsive and more user-friendly on all devices. If you see some changes in the coming months that lead to some technical issues, hang in there.
  5. Possible career change: I’ve been in the same role now for 4 years and in similar roles for the last 7. It may just be time to switch things up a bit. This will be an ongoing focus for me in 2014 and beyond.

What About You?

It’s your turn! Brag, beat yourself up, and set some public goals for yourself for the next 12 months:

  • What were your biggest financial and personal successes/failures in 2013?
  • What are your biggest focus areas for 2014?
  • What excites you the most about this coming year?

About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


17 Comments »
  • Jonny Debt says:

    My key goal is saving towards our new family home, we’ve got a tight timescale 8 months to get together a larger deposit!

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Financially, I have nothing to brag about for 2013. I neither gained nor loss much. But for 2014, I already do items #2 & #3 regularly.

  • Steve says:

    From a financial goal standpoint, 2013 was a good year for me. I never really thought about investing too much; I’ve always been frugal and lived well within my means but only had two investments:

    *10% of my salary went to my 401(K) – this was a bit more than what I needed to get the full company match
    *A Roth IRA that I put money into for a few years but hadn’t touched in awhile

    The rest of my money was just collecting dust in an unnecessarily large savings account. I now only have about 2 months living expenses in a savings account and passively invest the rest through my Roth IRA, 401(K), and more liquid Vanguard mutual funds – I invest somewhere between 50-60% of my salary. Then I started thinking more about my future finances, and here I am now – in much better shape!

  • Bethany says:

    2013 was a great year for me. I had got engaged the year before and so I was planning my wedding for the first half of the year. I had the Discover It card already, and got the Chase Freedom to max out category bonuses on both (or tried to anyway). I paid for basically the entire wedding with payments on those cards and always paid them in full every month. I became slightly obsessed with cashback, and that’s when I came across your blog. When I got married in August, I had to quickly get adjusted to all the expenses that come from getting your own apartment and paying your own bills (boo…), but compared to other young married couples we are doing really well! I used my cash back to buy us an unforgettable dinner atop the Eiffel Tower! And now I’m using it to top off our savings so later down the line we will be in a better position to put a down payment on our first house..I still have a ton to learn but looking forward to learning much more in 2014!

  • Matt says:

    Hi G.E. Miller – a tip for your cat with bladder stones: our male cat also had a bladder stone this year and we were able to dissolve it naturally (without surgery) by sprinkling a homeopathic remedy called “Pet Alive UTI-Free” on his wet, canned food. Just Google it. It’s a bit pricey for a tiny bottle, but it goes a long way and is definitely worth it for long-term maintenance. Make sure your cat is eating mostly wet food, too (it doesn’t have to be prescription, like most vets say). As long as he’s getting the moisture, he should be fine with a few sprinkles every week or month. Our cat had previously been eating way too much dry kibble, so we ration it now as an incentive for him to finish his wet food. Check the litter every now and then, too, to make sure he’s peeing alright.

    If your cat doesn’t eat the sprinkles, you can dissolve them in water and syringe squirt into his mouth (we did this when he needed it ASAP for the stone). Think of it as medical practice for your wife!

    Hope that helps. Oh, and if anyone ever tells me “I can’t believe you spend that much on your pets” (or some variant), I like to remind them that I can provide lifelong support for my 3 cats for less than the cost of an average American child birth ;-)

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Thanks for the great tip, Matt. We’ve switched her over to a different pet food (forget the name at the moment) that is supposed to help dissolve them. It’s a dry food. I’ll take a look at Pet Alive. When it comes to this stuff, a little prevention (with slightly higher costs) seems to be the way to go versus rolling the dice and having bigger costs later (plus the pain the cat has to go through).

      • Tom says:

        I love the blog and agree with so much on here, but I gotta say that this is one thing I just don’t get. I have two cats and enjoy their company, but at the end of the day they’re just pets. Call me heartless, but there is an endless supply of free cats on craigslist… just saying…

        Google “Don Friesen 88 Calico” :)

        • G.E. Miller says:

          I should put an otherwise happy/healthy cat (friend) to death because I had been giving it nutrition that led to it getting bladder stones, when a correctable surgery for less than a paycheck exists? It might save me some money, but I don’t think my conscience would permit me. I would hope you’d reconsider when the time comes… and it will come. Cancer at an old age is one thing – but bladder stones at middle age? On your deathbed, will you be thanking yourself for the nominal savings you got from ending one pet’s life early and moving on to the next? Please do your next pet a favor by getting a stuffed animal instead.

          • Tom says:

            Great idea! My next pet will be my last pet stuffed! Just like on scrubs :)

            I don’t mean to demean your views and I do respect the bond between you and your pets, I just think there is room for a dissenting view.

            And for the record, I hope that on my deathbed I’m thinking of what I could have done more for people, not animals.

  • Domonique says:

    First time commenting, but I’ve read about 15 articles here and I love this site. It’s very informative and I’ve already bookmarked it and sent links to my friends.

    I don’t have anything to brag about financially for 2013, but I was recently terminated, so being 5 months pregnant and looking for a new job, is my new job.

    In 2014: I hope to complete my Pharmacy Technician certification to find a job in the pharmaceutical industry, begin bringing in income from my blog, and lastly, contribute to my Roth IRA and my son’s 529 plan.

  • Krista says:

    I’m curious about your process of appealing property taxes. I’m not even sure how one goes about this process. Definitely staying tuned for that post (making an assumption).

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Yes, there will likely be a post on this.

    • Ryan says:

      From my experience, it isn’t necessarily about ‘appealing’ as it is about just getting your property re-assessed. I bought a property that was assessed at 191k that I bought for 151k. My realtor tipped me to the fact that I should have it reassessed. They dropped it to 175ish and for me that was fine and about in line with what I expected. I saved 400 on my taxes this year. If you do not agree with this number you can schedule a meeting with them and bring justification which would include several examples of houses (that are similar in some ways) in the same city that have sold relatively recently. If you google ‘your city’ assessors office you should be able to give them a call and get more information. Zillow is also a good resource to get a general idea if yours is high. If you’re planning a remodel and the house hasn’t been assessed in a long time it might also be wise to have it assessed prior to work being. This is just my experience in my city, your experience and how your city works may very. It’s amazing how many people don’t pay attention to their assessment and how it affects their taxes (especially in a higher tax area). It literally takes a phone call and time to walk around your house with someone and you will save that money year after year. Definitely a quick-win!

  • Eugen says:

    GE, ever considered part time career as a trader? Since you will use better securities this year, here is a tip for you: when purchasing stocks or ETFs, always use risk management set at 1% of the size of your portfolio. So if the buy price is $100, and sell price is $90, your risk is $10. Make sure that the risk is not more than 1% of your investment portfolio!
    Keep up great job with the blog!!

  • Michael says:

    2013 was a solid year financially for me. I got my expenses under control and was able to pay off a fair amount of debt, while investing the rest.

    My biggest focus for 2014 is being more proactive with investments. I own some real estate that I’m not getting full potential out of.

    Appealing your property taxes can work, if you have the data to back it up. Just make sure you bring as much relevant sales and tax data as you can find when you go in.

    I enjoy your site. Thanks!

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