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Archive for December, 2017

Happy New Year! My 2018 goals

January 1st, 2018 at 07:01 am

So here are my goals for 2018. As I've mentioned before, I tried to identify why some of last year's didn't work out, and apply what I learned to creating this year's. The main parameters:
1. It has to be something I'm genuinely interested in doing.
2. It can't depend on anyone else to get done; it has to be something I can control. (Exceptions are the net worth and retirement goals.)
3. There have to be concrete steps to the goal, ways to measure results, or some combination of the two.
4. Preferably, many of the goals will be about slowly creating and building up a habit. I'm interested in behaviors that will continue to benefit me, not just one-off achievements.

So here are my goals, along with the first step if applicable. I've also added reminders to my Google Calendar to prompt me to keep making progress on them, and assess them to see what the next step should be.

Creative - get a novel publishing-ready. Step 1 (Jan): online class (already enrolled)

Creative - learn guitar. Step 1 (Feb): private lessons @TwinTown (borrow guitar).

Health - limit drinking on everyday nights. Step 1: 1 day a week of 0-1 glasses.

Health - limit screen time outside of work. Step 1: 1 night a week of no computer/phone use after work.

Health - Try relaxation/destress tactics on nondrinking/no-screen-time days--tea? Meditation? Reading?

Pragmatic - emergency preparedness. Step 1 (Jan): research on cdc.gov, ready.gov & dps.mn.gov. Make a kit, make a plan, get informed. First aid training, e.g. CPR.

Work/professional development: Look for class on Agile; see if work will pay for it.

Work/professional development: Start to limit social/personal internet to bathrooms/breakrooms. Step 1 (Jan): Limit it for one day per week.

Financial: Retirement assets to $475K. Net worth to $650K. Bump NT's 401(k) up 2%.

Financial: Kids' savings up to at least $1K per year of age. (SL: $6,000. AA: $8,000.)

Home: Full kitchen renovation. See what other improvements we can save up for after that.

Vacations: UK or warm weather family trip. Solo trips for adults. Weekend at lake. Niece's wedding in Va. in August.

2017: A look back

January 1st, 2018 at 12:05 am

Whew, what a year. Besides my goals, my family and I did TON of traveling:
- I had 4(?) business trips to Memphis, 3 overnight and one for 3 days
- I took a solo trip to NYC for 4 days
- AS and I went to Wisconsin for 3 days
- We all went to a lake up north for 5 days
- We all went to Va. for a week
- NT went to Chicago overnight
- NT went to England for 10 days
- AS went to NYC for 4 days
- AS went to Va. for 2 weeks to take care of her mom
- AS went to Nevada for 4 days for work

I think that's it, anyway. Like I said, whew! This was the first time we tried taking solo trips for the adults (except required business trips) since we were married, and it's been really positive to indulge some of our individual interests. That said, I still love family trips, but I think we'll continue this solo-trip idea in 2018!

I felt like I developed a lot of healthy habits over the year but I also started drinking more, starting in mid- to late 2016 with the stressful election and continuing with the constant stressful stream of bad news out there. But I know that's not going to end any time soon, so I can't just self-medicate until it's over. Reducing the drinking will be one of my 2018 goals. I also have been glued to my phone the same amount of time, due to the same factors. Another of my goals will be to consciously unplug a little at a time, hopefully increasing over the course of the year.

I got way back into music over this year, mainly one band, but it also reawakened my love of older favorites and made me start listening a bit to new acts as well. I'm going to continue seeking out my favorite band and new acts, because it gave me a lot of joy. I'm even going to try guitar lessons and see if I like making music as much as I like listening to it!

I really feel like I acquitted myself well at work and gained a lot of visibility and respect with both co-workers and clients. That said, it didn't translate to any material gains or title change, so I'm really hoping this is the year for that. I'm getting much more involved in our huge client's annual report this year, which is a high-visibility project, and another client from that same company has been asking for some really creative stuff including videos that will hopefully get me even more attention. So I feel optimistic and determined to keep upping my profile, but what I really want is more money and a higher title.

The rest of my family is doing incredibly well too. NT got a new role at work at the end of this year that he's excited about, and he's been selling his hats and now T-shirts at lots of shows, which has a double benefit because he also has gotten to see a lot more live music. He hasn't made a ton of profit but it's at least a fun and challenging self-funded hobby.

AS had her lowest income in three years (only by a couple grand, so not much lower), but it was after she quit accepting jobs from my company for a while because they were really bad about paying. They've gotten better and she's agreed to work for us again, so this next year looks really promising. Anyway, what she made this year was totally sufficient, so anything she makes above that will just be icing on the cake. She also added another college where she teaches editing; she thinks there's an opportunity to package some of the things she teaches at her publishing and editing classes into one-off seminars and/or speaking engagements. I think that would be a really smart way to repurpose the great material she's worked so hard to develop for her classes. Even though the teaching doesn't pay too much by the hour, it's a really prestigious and challenging part of her work.

SL started kindergarten and absolutely loves it. She reads at probably a 2nd grade level, while our 2nd grader AA reads probably more at a 3rd grade level. Both have gotten more into art and AA joined the school choir. SL might be a mathematical genius, as well. She definitely has a grasp of time, dates, addition/subtraction, and geography that's well beyond where I was in kindergarten. This will be our last full year at our daycare, which is very sad, but I can tell our kids are really growing up fast, so it makes sense. AA will probably do something else for the summer but we'll have SL go there one more summer. When school starts again in fall 2018, we might use the school's after-school program for both, or see what the YMCA near their school offers. So August 2018 might be the end of our time at the daycare. Sniff! I never dreamed we'd find a place that we'd gladly keep our kids at forever. But we'll keep in touch with them; they're like family at this point.

Our extended family has hung in there this year; AS's mom having open heart surgery was scary, but she seems to be recovering for the most part. It's still up in the air as to whether she'll move to Minneapolis (more on that in a later post in a few days, probably). My mom and dad are doing pretty well, about where they were last year. One niece got married and another got engaged! NT's gran and dad are both having health issues but it doesn't seem to be too serious. His gran's boyfriend passed away, which was sad, but she seems to be hanging in there.

Living with our downstairs neighbors is still going well, though a few things are frustrating here and there. First, that they wouldn't consider turning the basement into an accessory dwelling unit for our other friend; even though they've only used it as a guest room about three times in the three years we've lived here. And the fact that the one who's a lawyer still hasn't given me a rough draft of the agreement to purchase their share of the home. I feel like I'm being fairly generous letting them veto the ADU idea even though they don't have any ownership and pay below-market rent for their unit. I'm not even sure it will work out, although I hope it will, but I need to get the agreement in front of a lawyer before I know for sure. I hate to have them draw this out forever and then maybe it doesn't work out and they're stuck deciding whether they just want to rent from us indefinitely or get their own place. They asked about getting a permanent bed for the basement and I told them not until we get the purchase agreement worked out, so hopefully that will spur some movement. I also don't intend to sign anything until I'm satisfied that back-tax issues have been cleared up, because I'm not tying myself financially to someone who may face future issues with the IRS. But all that said, we get along really well and work well together on various things, and we usually have dinner together twice a week. Plus we get free babysitting from time to time, and cat sitting! And we just love them like family, so even with the frustrations, it's an incredibly rewarding living arrangement.

I'm sure there's more to write about, but those are the highlights of the year as I'm thinking back on it right now. I hope everyone had an overall good 2017 and will have a wonderful 2018 too!

2017 goals review

December 31st, 2017 at 07:02 pm

It was a mixed-bag year in terms of hitting my goals, but overall I'm happy.

Successes:
- Get assets above a million
Result: $1,030,555

- Get debt below $450K
Result: $448,947

- Get retirement above $350K
Result: $390,774

- Try about one new recipe per week (at least 50)
Result: I stopped counting somewhere around 54 new recipes but I tried at least a few more since then, so I bet I'm over 60.

Mixed:

- Attempt refi on US duplex if it appears home values are strong enough to give us 80% LTV
Result: I worked quite hard looking into it but it wasn't feasible.

- Increase 401(k)/SEP contributions up to 10% for NT, 10.5% for me and 11% for AS. (We started with NT at 8% with match, me at 9.5% with match, and AS at 10%)
Result: AS now putting 11% aside, CJ 10.5%, but we didn't increase NT's contributions.

- Continue home renovations
Result:
Did upstairs bathroom (complete redo)
Didn't get insulation for whole house
Saved up as much as we could for kitchen (complete redo) (currently saved $19,450)

- Re-establish nearly daily walking and no breakfast/snacks habits; get weight below 130
Result: I was really good with my habits until November, when I fell off both the walking and eating habits somewhat. I got my weight below 130 in early August and bounced above and below that mark until mid-November, when I bounced above and stayed there. I'm currently at 131.2. But considering I started the year at 137.4, I'm not too displeased with that result!

- Self-publish two novels (already written, need editing) and write at least one more
Result: Wrote one more novel, and did some work on editing another, but did not self-publish. I got stalled out waiting for AS to review one of them and she never got around to it.

Failures:

- Get net worth to $600K
Result: $581,608

- Declutter/reduce stuff, beginning with boxes of paper
Result: total failure. I was going to go through a few boxes today but my book nook where they're stored is a disaster area due to putting in new beds for the kids and bringing some of their old stuff out to my area. Just too chaotic so I'm not going to attempt it.

- Take a more active role in garden/yard maintenance
Result: total failure. At least I learned that I'm not at all interested in this area, so that's something.

2017 year-end retirement goal progress

December 30th, 2017 at 02:02 am

Goal: $492,077 by 2019

As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone (which changes whenever our salaries change) is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $68,291, so $204,873; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2017 was $50,452, so $100,904). AS's 2017 salary went down from $51,785, so the goal is a little smaller for now.

Current balance: $390,774

November 2017 balance: $379,984

Progress: $10,790

We had a big month! If every month were like this we'd reach our goal. Will I reach it during the false optimism of greedy traders post-tax reform, before the reality of trickle-down economics stalls our economy? Only time will tell.

Compared with end of 2016:
2016 $297,419
Change $93,355
I mean, that's pretty astonishing. We averaged a gain of $7780 per month.

To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 15 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $101,303 -- $6,754 per month -- to reach it.

I'll also have a 2018 mini-goal which I'll post with all my 2018 goals soon.

2017 year-end net worth update

December 30th, 2017 at 12:56 am

We won't see any more movement on our assets or debt for the year, so I thought I'd total up our net worth a little early.

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
AV: 17,967 pounds ($22,459)
SW: 26,544 pounds ($33,180)
FL: 6,462 pounds ($8,078)
NT's 401(k): $61,822
NT's Roth IRA: $25,618
AS's trad. IRA: $19,105
AS's Roth IRA: $44,800
AS's SEP IRA: $22,231
CJ's 401(k): $123,753
CJ's Roth IRA: $29,728
NT's flat: $212,500 (200,000 pounds value x1.25 -15%)
CJ/NT/AS house: $427,281 ($454,554 value -6%)
---
TOTAL ASSETS: $1,030,555

US Mortgage $391,847
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $33,571
UK Mortgage 2 $7,076
UK Mortgage 3 $7,453
---
TOTAL DEBT $448,947


Current Estimated Net Worth: $581,608

November 2017 estimate: $569,850

Change in net worth: +$11,758

Summary: Another big leap! Were it not for devaluing our US duplex earlier in the year, we would have blown past our $600K net worth goal for the year. We didn't make it, but I'm happy with where we are. I have a feeling we now undervalue our duplex, but better that than the alternative. If I get anything I feel is definitive proof, I'll updated our home value next year.

Compared with the end of 2016, here's how our net worth numbers fared in 2017:
Total Assets:
2016 $992,419
2017 $1,030,555
Change $38,136

Total Debt:
2016 $460,445
2017 $448,947
Change $11,498

Net Worth:
2016 $531,974
2017 $581,608
Change $49,634

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are approximate. (I do have my eye on a comparable listing for the UK flat, but it's been on the market a long time.) UK pension values updated about once a year. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $1.25 for every British pound.

News and notes

December 20th, 2017 at 03:47 pm

It's my last day of work until next year! Well, I might have to do little bits of work from home, but nothing like last year when I worked 2-3 hours per day during my vacation, even on Xmas Eve.

I have to admit I'm flagging. But part of it is that there are no big deadlines or huge projects that need to be done. But there are lots of smaller ways I could get myself set up nicely for next year, so hopefully I'll get some work done today.

We hired a carshare and took the kids to see Santa for the first time last night. We didn't buy the photos (minimum $25) and they didn't let you take your own photos. But it was more about the experience. Plus everyone got to choose what they wanted for dinner, and walk around the festively decorated mall, which we hardly ever do. The kids had a great time.

One of my mothers-in-law (AS's mom) gets in today from Va. and is staying for two weeks in our basement. It could turn out very nice or very unpleasant but will probably end up somewhere in between. I'm just not worrying about it and will focus on trying to help AS not stress out about anything.

We didn't want to overdo it on gifts for her since she'll be lugging it back home, so we got her a $100 Walmart gift certificate, a sleep mask, a photo calendar, and more photos of the kids including school pictures. Oh and we might regift a little basket of nice candy that NT got from work.

We're still expecting some packages and I'm hoping they all get here before Xmas. 10 books and 3 gifts, I believe. But the kids have a lot of presents already, so it'll be fine if they come late. We had to buy the kids' presents for 3 sets of grandparents, an aunt, ourselves and Santa, so even with only a few gifts from each person, it really added up.

My dad's check came, and NT's parents and sister also sent some money. I allocated it mostly as planned. I bought some gifts for the kids in each person's name, set aside $175 each for the kids to go into their mutual funds, put some toward new furniture for the kids' rooms, and gave each adult $200 fun money. Added to the $150 each adult got from NT's bonus, it's a nice chunk of change!!

I almost immediately spent $130 of mine to buy 7 tickets to my favorite band's shows in January. They're playing every Monday in St. Paul, and I'm taking advantage because they spend a lot of time on the road touring other parts of the U.S., Europe and Australia these days.

I bought 2 tickets to one show I'll be bringing AS's mom to, 2 tickets to another that AS will definitely accompany me to, and 1 ticket each to the other three shows. I have friends lined up to go to almost all of them, so I don't think I'll attend any alone, but I will if I have to! I can buy more tickets if NT or AS decide they want to come to any of the other nights with me, but it's not NT's style at all, and AS has been to a lot of their shows with me this past year so she's kind of overdosed on them. She likes them but isn't a superfan like me.

I also spent $80 to enroll in an online class called "Finish your novel." It starts in January and is one of my 2018 goals. I'm planning to buy myself some music lessons for 2018 but haven't done it yet. I'll do a full goals post closer to the end of the year. (Or maybe later today, if I have some more down time at work!)

Very interesting article

December 19th, 2017 at 05:19 am

I found this article about signing a prenup to be so interesting. I relate to how the woman is feeling from how I was in my 20s and 30s, but I very much relate to the man, who's in his 40s as I am. It's a scary thing to have assets and be around someone you love who doesn't understand how to accumulate or protect assets. I am so so so glad my partners and I came into our relationship at about the same level of cluelessness and similar amounts of debt (though NT had more assets). I would have a hard time entering into a marriage in my 40s with someone like this woman who doesn't care about money and squanders it.

Inventory of habits

December 18th, 2017 at 05:01 pm

NT's bonus came, and it was $250 more than last year! We did everything I laid out in my last post except we sent $2250 to renovation savings instead of $2000.

I've been thinking a lot about my 2018 goals and what could help me achieve them. One thing I kept going back to is that things that become habit by being gradually added to my routine tend to stick. In fact, I have several things I don't feel like need to be goals anymore because they're pretty much ingrained into my life. Now THAT is an achievement because it's making things stick.

My habits aren't all 100%; for instance, during vacations or the winter holidays, I let myself go on snacking and exercising. Not all the way gone, but I have many more cheat days than during the rest of the year. But they are things I can maintain in my everyday routine.

So I made an audit of all the good habits I've added to my life over the past year or so. Then I added some of the habits I've added since I started my journey to financial freedom, because even though I take them for granted now, they were once struggles for me. It felt important to recognize how comfortable my good habits can feel once they're truly part of my routine.

Then I did an audit of my bad habits. I wanted to see how many of them could be cleared up by my 2018 goals. I actually think my goals could help me at least cut back on some of these bad routines or habits, if not eliminate them entirely.

I'll get to my New Year goals in another post, but here are my habit audits:

Good habits already set:

- Intermittent fasting (no breakfast/no night snacks)
- Walking approx 10K steps per day (incl 3 mi to work most days)
- AM strength training
- NaNoWriMo every year
- Capsule wardrobe 2x year (fall/winter & spring/summer)
- Personal finance (keeping a budget, setting goals, blogging)
- Grocery & menu planning, including CSA every year; cooking nearly every meal at home, taking leftovers for lunch vs eating out
- Daily flossing
- Consistently use Google Calendar & work calendar to keep on top of schedule

Bad habits:
- Too much screen time (esp social media)
- Not enough book reading
- Too much alcohol
- Need screen to get to sleep most nights (watch show on phone)
- Biting/picking at nails, lips, fingers, etc.
- Don't pick up after myself enough at home; don't help out much with indoor/outdoor chores
- Desk & email boxes get cluttered
- Don't play with the kids enough
- Lose focus at work sometimes; have some unproductive days
- Grooming: could shower more often, dress professionally more often, wear makeup more often
- Don't brush teeth second time before bed

I don't expect to turn into a perfect person overnight, but I'm really hoping that some of my 2018 goals will help create new good habits, or decrease some of these bad ones!

NT's bonus is coming! Planning how to use it + Xmas money

December 15th, 2017 at 03:12 am

NT got his letter about this year's bonus, and it's even a little bigger than last year! $7500, more than the $7K we got in 2016.

It will hit tomorrow, so I don't know how much we'll net, but last year we netted about $4500, so I'm hoping for a bit more than that. But I'll start there to be safe.

We talked about it a bit tonight, and I think this is how it'll go:
- $500 to our daycare providers (this will be our last full year with them so we want to give them a really nice bonus)
- $1000 to help pay for Ikea loft beds, mattresses and desks for the kids, to make a bit better use of their small rooms. We may make some other improvements, but we'll cashflow them from AS's checks (and plus my parents are sending us money instead of gifts for Xmas).
- $200 to buy $250 worth of gift cards from our favorite pizza place
- $150 each fun money for the adults, so $450
- $350 to help offset the cost of hosting AS's mom for two weeks
- $2000 (plus whatever more we net) to kitchen reno savings

So that's pretty good!

My dad called yesterday to let me know he was sending money instead of gifts this year. Good for him! The man is 86 and mom is 83, so it's about time they took it easier. Smile

I wasn't listening too close to my dad but I think he said he was sending $600 for the kids and $600 for the adults, so $300 each for the kids and $200 each for the adults. I already bought about $50 worth of gifts in their name for the kids, leaving $250 per kid. I think I'll put $100 each toward sprucing up their rooms, and $150 each into savings.

The adults can have theirs as fun money. We're always scraping the bottom of our fun money these days, so we'll all welcome it! Especially NT, who has a big deficit because of his hat and T-shirt business, and me, because I've got FIVE shows I want to go to in January, plus some classes/lessons I want to take in January/February.

More on that soon ... still finalizing my 2018 goals, but I'm pretty excited about them.

Preliminary thoughts about 2018 goals

December 7th, 2017 at 02:29 am

The year is winding down quickly, and I definitely won't be hitting all my goals. Though I'm fairly happy about the number I did hit, it makes me want to go into 2018 with clear eyes about what works and what doesn't in terms of goalmaking.

One thing I've noticed is it has to be something that genuinely interests me so I have a motivation to do it. I work hard enough with the full-time job plus cooking and kids, so the last thing I want is extras that just feel like chores with no pleasure attached. I fell short of the decluttering and gardening goals because I just wasn't interested. (I am going to try and achieve some decluttering yet this month, but obviously the gardening ship has sailed. Smile ) By contrast, I was very interested in the bathroom renovation and saving up for the kitchen reno. Even the failed refinance I put a lot of work into because I was very motivated to try and lower our monthly payment.

Another thing my goals need to be is not dependent on other people or forces beyond my control. For instance, I couldn't refi the duplex because I wasn't confident we had enough home value to have a 80% LTV. And my self-publishing goals depended on AS critiquing my manuscripts, so when she got super busy those languished. I also fell short of the net worth goal because I slashed our home value estimates, another force beyond my control. I do like having a desired net worth to hit, though, because it motivates me to track. So I'll probably set a similar goal this year. But other than market fluctuation stuff, I'm going to try and have my goals be things that only need ME to get them done, not luck or other people.

Another reason I would fall short is not having definite next steps or defined steps to get to a goal. So I think this is a second reason that fuzzier goals like "get into gardening" or "declutter" or even "self-publish" fell by the wayside. On the other hand, I know exactly what I need to do to write a novel (do an outline and participate in NaNoWriMo) and raise retirement (raise 401(k) every time we get a raise) and do renos (save money, decide what we want to do, get an estimate, schedule the contractor). So those goals were more successful.

With those parameters in mind I hope to come up with some really good goals that are fun AND achievable, but stretch me out of my comfort zone a bit. I'm excited!

December 2017 debt payments

December 6th, 2017 at 04:44 am

I keep not getting around to my usual entry about debt payments! Let's see if I can actually finish this. All our payments hit for December:

US mortgage: $709 to principal
UK1: $180
UK2: $39
UK3: $40

All told, that's $968 of debt gone.

Current debt:
US Mortgage $391,847
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $33,571
UK Mortgage 2 $7,076
UK Mortgage 3 $7,453
___
TOTAL DEBT $448,947