I am a strong advocate of reflecting on many things in life whether measured by time, event, or experience. It is an integral part of learning and being able to make better informed decisions in the future, and this usually works as long as the reflection is honest and focused on things that are well structured and within our control. This past week we spent several hours reviewing and reflecting on 2019 together so that we could be better informed when setting some goals and plans for 2020. While most of this post will look back at 2019 inside the framework of our financial independence project, I will also highlight a few things outside of money and finance.
I will start with the easy part, a financial review…
2019 Financial Summary
We had a great year in 2019 in many areas including our income, savings, and investment growth. While we realistically only have so much control over how quickly and by what amount our investments grow in one year, it was still nice to see, and unlikely to happen again.
In 2019 our net worth grew to $1,010,980 marking the first time that we crossed over the million dollar mark. It is an important psychological milestone that neither of us thought we would achieve earlier in our life before we started thinking about financial independence. Our investments grew by over 22% in 2019 and that is not including new contributions.
We hit and slightly exceeded our savings goal and saved $50,414 with most of that saved pre-tax in a mix of tax advantaged accounts (403b, 457b, ORP defined benefit, etc.). At the beginning of 2019 I honestly thought that this savings goal was a bit too ambitious, but we did it. Considering the amount we spent on pre-school and travel it seems even more amazing.
Our income for the year was approximately $128,750 which is our after-tax income plus the amount saved in our retirement accounts pre-tax. Right now I say approximately because I think we may owe a little bit more in taxes to the state that I have not calculated at the time I am writing this post. At most that may be a few $100 more in taxes to subtract from the total above. There is no question that this is an amazing amount of money to have as income in one year!
Spending for the year totaled $78,336 which was over the budget we set at the beginning of the year of $73,800. Interestingly we also had more income than we anticipated this year that turned out to be pretty close to the amount we overspent our budget. For us this is ok because we use our budget as a flexible guide since income for us can be highly variable, and often we have to make adjustments mid-year. Outside of housing ($23,136 including utilities and maintenance) and food costs ($11,208 groceries and eating out) some notable categories where we spent money were pre-school ($10,958) and travel ($13,503). The pre-school costs were actually much lower than last year since our oldest child started attending a public elementary school in August of 2019. Travel costs were about what we expected them to be and you can read more about our travel philosophy in a previous post, as well as a couple quick highlights below. The rest of the spending fell into health care (a fairly large amount), transportation (gas, tolls, insurance), kids activities, streaming services (Netflix, Hulu), and several smaller personal categories (clothing, hair, makeup, etc.). We spend a lot more than most, less than some, but it is all intentional and thought through. It is also important to note and acknowledge that we are in a very privileged position to be able to cut back significantly on a lot of these expenses if we needed to do so to decrease our spending. Most do not have that option.
I wrote an article a few months ago about The Joy of Travel, and why we make it a priority. In 2019 we traveled as a family for 102 days traveling to six different countries, a few Caribbean islands, seven different states in the US, and took two Disney Cruises. The 102 days of traveling does not include two personal trips that I took to Fincon and Cents Positive. We were away from our home for almost a third of the year, and it was fantastic!
Some of the places we went to include England, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, France, Aruba, California, and the Azores. In many of these places we were able to spend a significant amount of time allowing all of us, especially our children, to have a more immersive experience with other cultures and countries. It is probably clear by this point that we derive a lot of joy traveling and we expect this to continue as long as we are able. Sure we could have easily saved all of the money we spent on travel ($13,503), but for us we have found a nice balance between now, the future, and our path to financial independence. It is important to note that because of some serious travel hacking (not sure if I like this term) we were able to do a lot more with the money we spent.
Standing up for Others
One big personal component of 2019, that I mostly talk about in a very peripheral way on this blog, is my advocacy work. Because the nature of this work lately involves a federal lawsuit fighting for the rights of transgender equality, especially in health care, and eliminating discrimination I can not openly talk about a lot of details at this point. Believe me there is a lot I want to say often about this issue, but it is far more important for this fight and work to happen in the court systems right now rather than on my blog. Needless to say this work in 2019 has consumed a lot of my time, and I am completely ok with that, especially if we are able to make progress through the legal system.
Work in 2019
This past year I have thought a lot about my career and job as I am getting closer to leaving my profession in a little over two years. Getting so close to the end, changes your perspective on the work that you do and things you are willing to take on. I have started to say no a lot more often to extra work and tasks (mostly committee work) that does not actually benefit me, my field, or my students.I am not checking out of my job, in fact I would say I am more focused on my work and the work that is important. Still, I am looking forward to leaving academia, but I do have mixed feelings at times that still cause an internal struggle. I think most of this comes from the part of my work that I think has potential societal and scientific impact in my field. It is after all the reason that I pursued an academic career, but the reality is so much of my job gets in the way of actual pursuit of knowledge and change. The numbers and time part is easy, but other parts are still a bit of a struggle to think about letting go of in a few years.
For my partner, work in 2019 went fairly well. Because of how far we are into our financial independence journey, she is able to be very flexible working on her own terms. She has the capacity to do more work, and make more money, if she wanted, but she has found a nice balance between the amount of time she works and the amount of time she is able to spend with the family. Sure she is up late some nights working to finish a project for a client, but that is balanced with a significant amount of time with the family, including all of our amazing trips together.
Some final thoughts on 2019
This year is the first time in a couple of years that I have been more reflective about my life and our financial journey which is why I relaunched this blog. During the previous two years a lot of things at best were on autopilot, some of this came from dealing with health and medical issues, loss of family members, new jobs, and raising two young children. 2019 really marks a change in this pattern, and I think for the better. Writing on this blog, and engaging with communities of passionate people (in several spaces and areas) has been very helpful for being mindful and more aware of our circumstances and path moving forward.
I am looking forward to this year, and hopefully will have a post in a few days about our goals and plan for 2020.