January 2020: The Year of More Fun

Two Simple Goals for the Whole Freaking Year

Yes, I know. I picked a hell of a year to try to have fun.

On the other hand, what better time? When will we need fun more?

Let me walk this back a bit. Last year’s monster challenge to myself, when I was just starting this blog, was inspired by Debt Free Happens: I listed 19 Goals for the New Year. I checked in on these faithfully each month. They did me a lot of good. I’ll do one last recap at the end of this post. And then, I never want to see that list again.

The list was so long that I ran out of financial goals and had to include broader life goals, which in turn led me to flip the priorities partway through. That was a good revelation: While no one’s going to argue that you have tons of choices when you’re strapped, it turns out that having money problems doesn’t prevent you from having all the fun.

It’s a new year. GO CRAZY. (via the Eh Bee Family)

Which brings me to this year’s goals. I have two.

  1. Increase our net worth.
  2. Have more fun.

That’s it. That’s all.

The Need for Clarity, and a Break

It’s actually Goal 2 that led me to the clarity of Goal 1. I was having coffee with my best friend Anne one day last month, talking about the things we do, the things we don’t do, and the way we feel about all of it.

I can’t remember which of us said it first, but one of us wondered aloud why “having more fun” was never on the list. And thus, a Big Idea was born.

I can’t remember which of us said it first, but one of us wondered aloud why “having more fun” was never on the list. And thus, a Big Idea was born.

The more you think about having more fun as a life goal, the better it suits most needs. At its simplest, you can stop yourself many times a day and ask, “Is this helping me have fun?”

  • Suddenly all the things you like but that make you feel a little guilty become priorities. Walking outside at lunch, taking a nap, daydreaming, playing that dumb game, watching TV.
  • It also clarifies and helps you pare down the “fun” things you are not really enjoying. Again, could be the same list: Taking a walk at lunch because you think you are supposed to, taking a nap because you are depressed instead of getting fresh air or calling a friend, daydreaming to avoid something that is bothering you, playing a dumb game or watching TV instead of picking up a book you’ve really been enjoying. Fun is sensitive to context and highly situational. If you’re asking this question of yourself, you may discover what you really love.
  • In a situation when you are doing a task, you don’t have to stop work just because it’s no fun. But you can, perhaps, find a fun angle, a way to Mary Poppins that situation.
  • Or, if not, you can put the thing in perspective and create a timeline that ends in fun. Just today, for example, I got the guest room ready when I really didn’t feel inclined, because I have dear friends coming out on Thursday. So, fun. eventually.
  • It’s a goal that flexes. Once you get the hang of it, so many things can be fun. I foresee this as less of a goal and more of a frame of mind I’m adopting. Some of my chores, some of my work, and a hell of a lot of my free-time activities already feel like they’re more readily at hand, and more life-enhancing.
  • Finally, it’s time for my finances to be a little more fun. In this case, it’s not so much that they themselves have to be fun, but that they need to take up less time. I don’t want to go back to my pre-2010 days of procrastinating and hiding from my money, but I do want to reduce the self-imposed drudgery — one might even say addiction — involved in how I’ve entangled myself in detailed spreadsheets for about a decade now. This past year, keeping track of those plus my 19 crazy-specific goals was fundamentally exhausting, and sometimes dispiriting.

Money Mash-up: One Big Goal

I have begun to realize that for me, the most important figure at the end of the day is how much I owe versus how much I have. I can continue to cut the numbers a bunch of ways if I choose, but only one will really matter.

Increasing my net worth embraces virtually every other important goal: whether I reduce debt, save a bunch, or most probably both, the thing I want to get to is a wider positive margin between what’s going out the door and what’s coming — and staying — in.

The most important figure at the end of the day is how much I owe versus how much I have.

This year I like the distinction that Josh Overmyer has drawn between resolutions and intentions. I need a gentler year, a year in which I set simple intentions that cover a lot of ground, so I can improvise, live more in the moment, and heal a bit financially and emotionally without such a glaring light on exactly how I am doing it — or how I am failing.

How AM I Failing? I’m Glad You Asked.

Let’s run the numbers one last time, for auld lang syne, and then hand these 19 goals their hats and show them the door.

How’d I do?

Not bad, actually. Not good, and not bad.

  1. Increase our saving rate to 10% by the end of the year (with a goal of 20% by the end of 2020). I got us to around 5%, so this remained a distant aspiration. That 5% did represent an increase in my previous rate. WIN.
  2. Make sure that every single debt goes down each month, if only by a dollar. I was going gangbusters on this until sometime in the fall. The 1/3 reduction in our income for three months in summer, coupled with some unexpected expenses, torpedoed this goal for the rest of the year. I did, however, discover an interesting dynamic: My fixed debts have gone down consistently, and by quite a lot, due to their relatively lower interest rates compared and the age of some of the debts, meaning that a larger proportion of each payment goes to principle. So although I am dismayed about where we are ending the year with consumer debt, I understand better where our strength lies: in reducing fixed debt. WIN.
  3. Get my credit card debt usage to 50%. As of today, we are squeaking by at 49%. Started the year at 66%. I’ll take it. WIN.
  4. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt. This is where it gets tricky. In conventional terms, I did some good in both categories, but the combined burden of a $16,000 roof repair and about $29,000 in new loans for my son’s schooling put the first goal out of reach; our continued difficulty with simply earning enough put the second one out of reach. That said, I will take this as a WIN because even in such a year, our final additional debt is a little over $43,000, meaning that we have managed to pay down $2,000 in the same year we took it on. I need this encouragement badly, so again, I mark this a qualified WIN.
  5. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each. Done! WIN.
  6. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year. Not possible without a gift from a family member, but still a WIN. A collaborative, takes-a-village WIN, but still a WIN.

7. Get a raise at work. We’ll see. I may need to find a different path.

8. Find the best possible solution to two goals that could stress us further: a roof replacement and keeping my son in college. DONE. We took out a HELOC at about 6% for the first wave of major debt so that we could attain a better credit rating and qualify for the $16,000 roof debt at zero interest until later this year. We took on a Parent PLUS loan for our son at 7%, deferred until he leaves school. Deferral is a dangerous drug, and if I did have specific goals for the year, paying down principal would be one of them. But I don’t. So, WIN.

9. Incur no more debt this summer, which is our most difficult time. This was fantasy. Completely impossible. FAIL.

10. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring. Mmmm, not enough. NEITHER WIN NOR LOSE.

11. Get more of the 3 M’s: Music, Museums, and Movies (the one splurge we have kept is the trio of Hulu/Amazon Prime/Netflix; we’ll see if all three survive our budget hacking; for now, I plan to maximize our vice). Also not enough. Mmmm, not enough. NEITHER WIN NOR LOSE.

12. Perfect my handwriting, using the Spencer method, essentially a form of meditation for me. Complete bust. NOT A WIN. I did, at least, practice a little on New Year’s Day. I remember both why I thought it would be a good idea and why I avoided it all year.

13. Read more women, queer, and trans writers of color. ALMOST TOTAL FAIL, not only because I just did not keep up with this promise, but because I scarcely read at all, all year. I barely kept up with my New Yorkers.

To the extent that I managed anything at all, here is what I read (affiliate links to IndieBound):

Citizen, Claudia Rankine. — I had experienced excerpts of this as searing, especially when read by Rankine. Reading the work as a collection felt more distanced, fragmented, sometimes hit or miss. I’d like to return to it again.

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson. — I’m barely a third in, so I have not yet really experienced the lives Wilkerson explores through in-depth interviews with participants in the Great Migration. Part journalism, part sweeping, novel-like saga, the book becksons from my bedside table and I vow to take it back up this year.

In Search of Lost Time, Volumes 1 and 2, Marcel Proust. — I originally intended to finish the entire seven-book series, and still do. I’m setting March 1 as an arbitrary deadline to get back to it.

14. Memorize two poems I have loved for years, which is way harder than you’d think. They are Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness” and Jane Hirshfield’s “Rebus.” Nope. FAIL. I have a few lines of each down (see below). And did discover that memorizing blank verse is way, way harder than I ever imagined.

Happiness, by Jane Kenyon
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
Yep, that’s it, I’m out.

Rebus, by Jane Hirshfeld
You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after
Again, that’s where I hit the wall

15. Have a holiday fund that includes money to give to charity and to have a New Year’s Day party in 2020. Nope, none of it. Next year. FAIL.

16. Prepare a financial advice document for my son that is relevant to his needs and puts him on a smart path to not fuck up like his mama did. Still nope. FAIL.

17. Articulate and keep alive the ideas of one day dedicating time to teaching ESL, teaching in prisons, teaching to people who are caregivers, teaching to people without homes, studying herbal medicine, practicing mindfulness, and perhaps learning Reiki at last. Sure. I think about it. So, kind of enough of a WIN and whatever.

18. Have a garden plan and budget for spring 2020. No plan, just gardening. WIN. SORT OF.

19. Repot all my houseplants. I actually did this! Full disclosure, though: I changed this goal late in the year, to something more financial in nature, which I still have not accomplished: I was supposed to start contributing to my HSA at work. WIN + FAIL.

That’s it guys, nothing else about 2019 to see. I salute you in your efforts and wish you an updated Wild New Year via the Eh Bee family:

Need to start a budget? Check out these different approaches.

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I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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