This Is the Year of 19 Goals (and Some Blood, Sweat, and Tears)

2018 was a hell of a year at the Traumatized Manor (I say that every year). It started off with illness and medical bills, took a subtle turn toward true insolvency, and finished out spectacularly with the need for roof repair, which led to a personal epiphuckme.

In the wake of that, I began to put all my shit in one bag.

Image: Viola Davis is having none of my shit.

Considering our family only started saving on October 1, I am amazed to have a host of boasts for the last quarter of 2018. Plus, inspired by Kevin and Erin at Debt Free Happens, I also have a pile of wishes for the new year.

Here we go.

My Host of Boasts

Image: Supersnail with a rocket launcher.

We have no new credit card debt. Since we put away the credit cards on October 1, 2018, my family has subsisted on a cash basis for the first time that I can remember. Ever.

October was brutal, I won’t lie. We had to wait two pay periods to be able to afford a broom. I watched the checking account dwindle to eight dollars without touching the sixty I’d set aside at the beginning of the month. And I had to contemplate at leisure why I’d decided to launch this experiment in frugality at the most consumer-oriented time of year.

By some miracle, we paid down $1,465 in debt.

Image: David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, freaking out.

No more paycheck-to-paycheck terror. For the first time since I started my full-time job, we have a cushion each pay period. This did not gel until the end of month 2, so be patient; it takes a little while to build up a reserve.

We have emergency savings. They’re modest, but we are 1/3 of the way to the $1,000 “baby steps” emergency fund recommended by Dave Ramsey for the early days of turning your finances around. It could take another seven or eight months to assemble the full $1,000, although I’ll be doing some things to accelerate our earning this year.

A boosted saving rate. I have increased our saving rate from a passive 5% paycheck deduction to about 7%, which includes actively setting aside money for emergencies.

I already feel the wind picking up, and the “snowball” effect beginning. I know our saving rate will be much higher by the end of the year. I’m planning to — carefully, kindly — apply the “1% principle” discussed by Apathy Ends, until we reach 10 percent this year and maybe 20 percent by next year.

A healthier relationship to “stuff.” With more awareness and care in our spending choices, we are learning to savor the small things that come into our lives — a box of tea we can throw in the grocery cart, a pair of snow boots I saved up for.

An appreciation for every dime — literally. I’m learning that even the smallest side work can pack an enormous punch. Through a combination of tutoring students on weekends, evaluating websites for in the evening, and working for actual pennies at Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (yes, I’m powering the robot revolution), I’ve been making $100 to $200 per month. I have plans for bigger hustles in the new year.

I’m also hacking my consumer behavior to save money, with no illusions: I know I’m sacrificing privacy for points. This isn’t your mama’s couponing: services like our grocery store app are tracking spending behavior, and receipt trackers like iBotta and Receipt Hog are real incursions on our privacy, as you upload photos of receipts that might actually have your name on them (in an eerie turn, at Amazon Turk I frequently read and type up data from photographed store receipts, so I’m basically cashing in both coming and going. One day I expect to see one of mine. Receiption).

I am sleeping better. They say sleeplessness could be the number one factor in early deaths. All I can say is, my repeated waking at 4:00 AM to worry about money was making me want to die. Even though I still have the occasional sleepless night, most of the nightly terrors are gone, so that I can keep up my strength for the next day’s battle, AND not die young. Win-win!

Image: Person showing off “No Ragrets” tattoo, from We’re the Millers

A Few Regrets

The holidays were sparse. The holiday season also coincides with four family birthdays. We just couldn’t maintain a budget and buy or even make gifts for everyone, so our giving was modest, to say the least. At home, we focused on making one good meal and giving one present apiece. We also did not have our customary New Year’s Day party. That hurt. We gave nothing to charity. That needs to change.

The only good thing I can say is that it has taught me that I don’t want this to happen again in 2019, and so we’ll need to factor in some extra savings for a nice gathering and a few modest things for family and community.

Changing the income-spending ratio takes me away from family and friends and cuts into unstructured “me” time. As empowering as the side gigs have been, they take up my evenings and weekends. In fact, the whole act of tightening our belts so far has meant giving up simple things like meeting a friend after work for a drink or taking my son to lunch when we’re shopping (or shopping at all). At the same time, giving up extras has shown me how much I have defined my connections to people in terms of spending money. Living in a region with the most amazing free museums and cultural attractions in the country, and living in a nice home in a neighborhood that has a trail through some modest woods for walking, I’m rather appalled that I have to retrain myself to enjoy literal free time with those I love. I’m getting there, but it’s not as easy as I hoped.

Image: Astonished birthday child with candles

Big Wishes

I have taken inspiration from Debt Free Happens’s blend of financial and non-financial goals here. My favorite on DFH’s list is “Hang Pictures” — I thought I was the only one who’d have to make that a New Year’s resolution).

Here are my goals for 2019, in fairly random order.

  1. Increase our saving rate to 10% by the end of the year (with a goal of 20% by the end of 2020).

2. Make sure that every single debt goes down each month, if only by a dollar.

3. Get my credit card debt usage to 50% (it’s 66% right now).

4. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt.

5. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each.

6. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year.

7. Get a raise at work.

8. Find the best possible solution to two goals that could stress us further: a roof replacement and keeping my son in college.

9. Incur no more debt this summer, which is our most difficult time.

10. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring.

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).

12. Perfect my handwriting, using the Spencer method, essentially a form of meditation for me.

13. Read more women and trans writers of color, starting with Claudia Rankine’s clear-sighted, wrenching Citizen (affiliate link to IndieBound).

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.”

15. Have a holiday fund that includes money to give to charity and to have a New Year’s Day party in 2020.

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.

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.

18. Have a garden plan and budget for spring 2020.

19. Repot all my houseplants.

I know. I left the low-hanging fruit for last.

Say, drop me a line and tell me what you’re planning for the new year. I’d love to hear your goals. Keep going — and don’t lose your nerve!

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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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