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:
- contributing the maximum 401k contribution and receiving my employer’s full 50% 401k match
- making the maximum HSA contribution
- making money on health insurance for the second straight year
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.
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:
- Appealing 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?