Reaching the end of a calendar year always pushes me to pause, reflect, and move forward with a little exercise that I like to share with my readers.
Reflecting on past accomplishments and failures is always therapeutic and helpful for me. I think it’s human nature to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that it takes us away from our long-term goals and from recognizing the progress we’ve made towards those goals. So, each year, I take stock in what I’ve accomplished, where I’ve fallen short, and re-adjust my goals for the future. And right now, 2016 is a lovely blank slate!
I also find it helpful to put my goals out there in public view so that I can hold myself accountable to them. If you feel inspired, I’d encourage you to do the same in the comments or elsewhere.
2015 was an interesting year in a lot of ways, with a lot of ups and downs, but plenty to be grateful and thankful for. So let’s start with some the big areas of accomplishment or progress.
What went well last year:
1. Job situations: in last year’s review, I had shared that my wife and I were both feeling dissatisfied with our current job situations. We both took major steps to address that. Last October I had moved to a different team at my employer of the last 8 years – moving away from a role that I had held for 5 years. I was fortunate enough to turn a 3-month rotation into 15-months, which allowed me to do something completely different and gain many new skills. It was exactly the kind of refresh that I needed.
Meanwhile, my wife scored a desired job that was a few years in the making. A few years ago, she had decided to make a career change to nursing from landscape architecture. Her first nursing job was not the most desirable – it was on a high turnover unit with crazy hours (7 pm to 7 am) with a very high patient workload, and a long commute of 30-40 minutes each way. She stuck with it for two years and after following my advice of always looking for a better job, was able to nab a desired job with a lighter workload, 1 mile commute, and better pay and benefits! Then, just over 6 months in, she was able to switch from a 7 pm – 7 am night shift to 7 am – 7 pm day shift! Better employer, better pay, better benefits, better commute (she’s joined me as a bike commuter!), better workload, better hours (and better sleep) all in the same year. Huge!
2. Investing: one of my big goals for last year was to crank up my percentage of invested assets. My fear of investment risk had kept me on the sidelines more than I should have been in the past. I was able to push through that fear and get up to 95% of assets invested at one point last year. That has dropped to 90%, however, it is still much higher than it has been historically. And I was able to push through the flash crash jitters and enjoy the rebound, which provided strong reinforcement that market timing doesn’t work.
3. Asset protection: earlier in the year, I added umbrella insurance to my insurance portfolio to protect my assets in the event of litigation.
4. Identity protection: using tools like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, I have done a good job protecting my identity, particularly following the big Anthem hack that exposed my Social Security number and other sensitive data to hackers.
5. Savings: I am very grateful for all of the big wins here:
- I made the maximum 401K contribution of $18,000 and paired it with an employer 401K match of 50%. Meanwhile, my wife maxed out her 403B (the non-profit version of a 401K).
- Wife’s new job resulted in adding a 457B (in addition to the 403B) account, which opened up another $18K of tax-sheltered retirement savings to us – and we took full advantage.
- I contributed the maximum 20% of pre-tax self-employment income to my SEP IRA (which is one of a number of self-employment income retirement accounts).
- We continued my employer-sponsored high deductible health plan (HDHP), which gave us a $1,600 employer contribution to an HSA, along with $400 in HSA bonus incentives for going to annual preventative visits.
- Meanwhile, I made the maximum HSA contribution of $6,650 ($2,000 in HDHP bonus incentives + $4,650 personal contribution).
- We carried no credit card balances and made about $650 in cash back from our rewards cards.
- Our spend level declined to the lowest point in a few years.
What Didn’t go so Well Last Year:
1. Job situation: while this was one of the big collective improvements in our household (and 100% positive for my wife), there’s still some uncertainty about exactly where I go next. My stint on my rotation just came to an end and now I start a new role, with more ambiguity. This will be a big area of focus for me in early 2016.
2. Income: last year saw the first decrease in income year-over-year that we’ve seen. And it was sizable (tens of thousands of $). This was mostly due to me changing jobs from one that was much more incentive-based to one that was not. This was expected, and we weren’t hurting for income, but dropping that much in income was still a stinger.
3. Investment results: while my investment gumption was strong over the last year, the performance results were not. I diversified internationally, but markets overseas performed horribly, so my investments lost a significant amount (in the tens of thousands) on the year. While I am passively investing in ETF’s (a positive), I’m also investing in too many of them, making re-balancing investments challenging.
Focus for 2016:
1. Make big career decisions and moves: as noted earlier, I’m at a point where I currently don’t have a defined path moving forward. Making some challenging big decisions on where I want to go over the next few years with my career is a top priority early in 2016.
2. Investment improvements: I’d like to see better investment results, but obviously the moves of the market are entirely out of my control. Instead, I’d like to focus on simplification, reallocation, diversification, and keeping my invested assets at a high level.
3. Insurance review: towards the end of the year I had analyzed my CLUE report and created a dispute with LexisNexis. I have yet to hear back on the outcome, but after the resolution, I plan to thoroughly shop around to see if my rates are still the most competitive.
4. Maintain saving levels and modest income increase: would be splendid.
Outside of finances:
5. Simplifying: I’ve gotten into the bad habit of creating too many inputs in my life and I try to do too much, which inevitably leads to a few things being put off (and a lot of weight on my shoulders). I need to do a thorough analysis of where I am spending my time and decision making energy and trim the fat.
6. More exercise: I ramped up my exercise last year and want to continue to push forward with this in 2016.
7. More travel: we had an awesome backpacking trip in late summer that revived my love for exploration.
What About You?
This would be an excellent time and place to brag and hold yourself accountable for the past year and set some goals for 2016. Have at it!
- What were your biggest financial and personal wins and losses in 2015?
- What are your biggest focus areas for 2016 (financial or otherwise)?
- What are you most excited about?