Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking forward, looking back

Happy new year!

2012 was a year of ups and downs in many different ways.  On the positive side, I finally started feeling secure enough about my job to challenge how we do some things in the organization, and the ideas I've been bringing forward are starting to gain momentum at the executive level.  I also was able to hire four people for my team, and that's huge.  Being able to be a job creator is one of the most satisfying things about my job.  We have so much work to do that I'm expecting to be able to hire between one and three more people this calendar year, but it's a balancing act:  I'm always mindful that if I tip the balance too far, I'll have to let people go, and that's something I really don't want to do.

Another job-related boost was that after the hurricane, traffic got so bad that I finally announced to my boss that if anyone's looking for me on two particular days of the week, they'll have to look at home because that's where I'm going to be.  In reality, it has to be a bit more flexible than that, but working remotely more has improved my quality of life greatly.  It's also in keeping with my organization's drive to reduce real estate costs, so I'm hoping to make it a full-time, permanent gig in the next few years.

In the meantime, my relationship hit the twelve-month mark in late summer and is still ticking along really well, and I'm incredibly happy about that.  My significant other changed jobs to one with a horrible commute (so he's looking again) but with a ton of additional responsibility and pay.  He also finished an Ivy League Master's degree a couple of months ago while working full-time.  I met his entire family at a family wedding in the fall, and that really was a wonderful experience as well.  It didn't motivate us to hurry things along as far as our own status is concerned.  We're in our 40's, we both need a lot of space, and neither of us wants children, so there's no real point to getting married.  (As of yesterday, though, we wouldn't get killed in taxes if we did eventually decide to take the plunge.)

On the financial front, I watched the whole fiscal cliff debacle avidly.  I'm not looking forward to going through this again in a couple of months when spending comes back around, but I absolutely believe the economy would have tanked today if a compromise agreement hadn't been reached.  As for the agreement itself . . . well, you know what they say:  Compromise is the art of making sure that nobody's happy.  As it is, the major indexes closed 2-3% up today, and I'll take it.

My own personal finances were mixed.  My one goal for the year was to hit $65,000 in savings, and I missed that by exactly $2000.  I know the main culprit:  My mom gave up her townhouse for assisted living, so I'm paying monthly rent in a shared house in my hometown at the rate of $200 per month, or $2400 per year.  I totally don't begrudge her this, or the money I spent on six cross country flights last year:  She slowed down drastically and lost the last of her vision in the last several months.  The more I can do to make this time count, the better.  Despite having missed my savings goal, however, my investment returns did really well, especially my 401(k), which was up 18% for the year.  As a result, I reached and slightly surpassed my goal of a total net worth of $735,000, not including the value of my home.

I realize that the goal of $735,000 is kind of a chimera:  It's a goal that relied on really solid stock market performance, and that's mostly out of my hands.  I can only control what I can control, and that's making sure my portfolio is well-diversified and that I max out 401(k) and IRA, and save as much as I can otherwise.  I like having high-level goals, though, and I finally feel like my next major financial milestone is in sight:  As long as we have decent (not stellar) returns in the stock market in the next couple of years and I keep saving more than half of my net income, my portfolio excluding real estate might actually hit a million by the end of 2014.  (It's already there if you count real estate, but I don't include my primary residence as part of my investments.  Just a personal preference.)

I said it was a year of ups and downs, and there certainly were a few less than bright moments.  As I mentioned above, my mom is really slowing down.  She's 86 now and has a very strong interest in life and will to live, but she's lost most of her mobility, along with her sight.  I've never seen her tire as easily as I have in the last two weeks.  Several of my friends lost parents who were much younger than my mom this year, and that makes me all the more keenly aware that anything could happen at any time.

Another not-so-wonderful experience this year has been one of the more serious running injuries I've had.  I did a solid marathon in May after a miserable experience in 89 degree weather in Boston, but I ended up doing my third marathon in 2012 as a combination of walking and slow running after tearing some abdominal muscles (don't ask; it was a gym injury) and creating a series of microfractures in one of the important bones in that general neighborhood.  The injury was diagnosed in July and I'm still dealing with it today.  I'm doing less running and more spinning and weightlifting, but without question I've gained weight and I'm not happy about it.  I have three marathons on deck for this year, and I'd really like to run them decently.

Hurricane Sandy didn't really impact me directly other than losing transportation for a few days, but I can't write about lowlights for the year without mentioning it.  Many of my friends and colleagues went through an awful time, and there are still plenty of people suffering.  Unfortunately, I'm afraid this is the new normal for this part of the country.

Finally, this is really not horrible, but rather so-so:  Like everyone else in the work force, I'm officially paying 2% more of my salary to payroll taxes for Social Security, which completely nullifies this year's pay raise.  I actually don't think funding Social Security is a bad thing, though, given that I have a rather vested interest in seeing the program remain solvent.  Since that's the only tax hike I'm facing following the fiscal cliff negotiations, I'm actually fairly okay with it.

Since I think I do better with formal goals articulated, I put together a mini-list for 2013.  Here's what I'm aiming for this calendar year:

Save $65,000
Between losing my pay raise to taxes and paying rent in a place I don't actually live, it's going to be a stretch but I think it's a worthwhile challenge.  I have the advantage of being able to cash out 100,000 air miles this year, so I'm not going to be spending as much on cross-country trips this year as I did last year.  This goal also includes maxing out 401(k) and IRA at the higher 2013 limits and doing an IRA conversion to a Roth as soon as I make the deductible IRA investment.

Create a revocable living trust
This is a huge area I've neglected in my financial planning, on the grounds that I don't have any dependents.  I have enough saved up that it makes sense to structure my (eventual) estate so as to avoid probate, though, so I signed up for my corporate legal program so I can access estate planning services without paying through the  nose for them.

Save for periodic expenses in advance
Like everyone else, I have expenses that hit only in certain months (charitable contributions, homeowner's insurance, and so forth).  I usually end up shorting my investments for that particular month to cover the expenses, even though they are perfectly easy to anticipate and plan for in advance.  For 2013, I documented all of the expenses I can think of that hit only once or twice per year, along with the expected cost. Since I now have a clearer idea of what to expect and when, I'm going to divert any money I can squeeze out of my not-so-formal budget each month to savings so that I can build up a reserve fund to cover these periodic expenses, while maintaining effective dollar cost averaging for investments.

Don't buy any work dresses
It's a weaknesss.  I have plenty; I don't need more.  I just need to fit into the ones I have a little more acceptably.

Lose eight pounds in January, and four thereafter
I should add that I'm a little scared to weigh myself, but I will tomorrow.  This goal sets a progress rate of about two pounds per week through January, which should be achievable through activity, sensible eating, and using a tracker to capture calories in and out with a daily baseline of 1500.  A few mini-goals that devolve from this one include not buying ice cream at home since it's a major trigger food for overeating; limiting alcoholic drinks to two per night, two nights per week; and limiting sweets to once per week, with a conscious effort to avoid junk sweets and save the calories for the good stuff.

Work from home twice weekly
This is a work-life balance issue.  It's harder than it sounds, but I really want to stick to this schedule.  I'm more productive, I save money on transportation even though I spend more on electricity, and I just feel better having a reprieve from a really awful commute.  I'll continue working remotely for a week at a time  while I'm visiting my mom, but I start my workday at 3:45 a.m. local time when I do that, and that's harder on me than the daily commute here in New York.  A mini-goal that devolves from this one is to get to bed by 10:00 p.m. (10:30 p.m. latest) the nights before I work in the office, since I have to get up before 5:00 a.m. those days.

Run three marathons
I'd like them to be good ones, so I'm really trying to put this injury behind me.

You'll notice the absence of a blogging goal.  I'm feeling the itch to write more, so it may be that I end up posting more this year than I have in the last couple of years.  No promises, though.

Here's hoping that everyone had a tranquil end to 2012, and that 2013 brings joy and happiness to all.

4 retorts:

Karin January 3, 2013 at 3:56 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karin January 3, 2013 at 3:57 AM  

Great to see you back! I only started setting annual goals myself about three years ago, as a direct result of reading your blog, so thank you for that. My goals for 2013 include increasing my freelance work (not so much for the money, but because it's good to diversify), losing some weight, continuing to give to my favourite causes, do volunteer work and make microfinance loans (, and continuing to save for a rainy day - or early retirement ;-) Oh, and I want to cook more Asian recipes!

All the best for a fabulous year. Hope to see more of your writing here ...

Cathleen,  January 3, 2013 at 11:53 AM  

Nice to hear from you, I really enjoy your posts. Looking forward to your writer's itch!

frugal zeitgeist January 6, 2013 at 4:39 PM  

Thank you both! Karin, I love your goals. I recommend using the S.M.A.R.T method of goal-setting (I wrote about it here once, but you can also find it all over the internet). I find that it forces me to think through what I want to achieve, as well as map out a road for getting there and a way of measuring my progress.

I'll check out your microfinance page, too. That sounds so interesting!

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