I almost didn’t write this post. I pretty much failed all of my 2014 goals and didn’t want to even think about how to set goals that I wouldn’t fail at this year.
It’s a wonder that I’m even trying to set goals for 2015, given the miserable failure that was my intention to achieve a few personal finance milestones. Yet, here I am — ready to set myself up for failure again!
No, no … I won’t set myself up for failure this time. And I didn’t do it last time. You may remember that, in addition to setting goals, I declared that my word of the year would be Growth. And grow I did! I gained a lot of weight and added another human being to our family. I may have failed in our financial goals, but I kind of helped create a miracle. So, I’ll call it even.
Let’s get the year in review and goal-setting started, shall we?
First, Let’s See My 2014 Goal Progress:
- Make as much $$ this year as my annual salary last year: SUCCESS! Based on my rough estimate, I only made 85% of my 2013 annual salary. If I hadn’t taken an unpaid maternity leave, however, I would have met this goal. When I made these goals, I didn’t anticipate taking maternity leave at all. So, I’ll call this one a success.
- Pay off 2 student loans: FAIL! We didn’t achieve this in 2014; we only paid off $6,000 in addition to our regular monthly payments. There is hope on the horizon, however, now that Mr. Stapler has a higher-paying job and I am back to work.
- Make $11,000 in 2013 IRA contributions: FAIL! We did not make a 2013 contribution, but we may be able to make our 2014 contributions. We have until taxes are due to make a Roth IRA contribution, and Mr. Stapler took a side job that will more than pay for our contributions. That is — if we don’t use that money for a down payment instead.
- Grow our small business enough that it’s self-sustaining: FAIL! Didn’t happen. Instead, Mr. Stapler decided that he would prefer the stability of an established company. We made a paltry $1,500 last year. The work was not in vain, however, because Mr. Stapler recently picked up a $15,000 side gig because of our side business — a 1000% increase in revenue. Not too shabby!
- Grow my blog so it justifies the amount of time I spend on it: FAIL! I miserably failed this goal, but I have come to realize that I enjoy blogging. It’s a nice hobby, and these past two months of maternity leave and baby busy-ness have shown me how much I miss it when I can’t write. Sure, it would be great to make a few bucks on this site, and I could prioritize it higher on my “to do” list if I did. Not making any money blogging, however, isn’t going to stop me from continuing.
Oh boy. Well, I have to tell this to myself all the dang time:
There’s nothing I can do about the past.
The only thing I can have any control over is the future.
Second, Let’s Set Some 2015 Goals:
- Save for a down payment, even if the savings is in our Roth IRAs. It’s ambitious, but I would like to save $20k – $40k more. It still won’t get us to a 20% down payment, which would be ideal, but it’s better than the $40,000 we have now.
- Buy a home if the opportunity is right. If not, move into a rental in the town where we will eventually buy, and continue saving for a bigger down payment. I know you all told me not to buy in my hometown, but I have already priced out three-bedroom apartments there. They are not sustainable long-term, but they can work for a year or two.
- Pay off Mr. Stapler’s private loans. Right now, there is $17,000 left on them. This is something we won’t tackle until we buy a house, however, because a bigger down payment is a priority. If we buy this summer, then we can use our monthly savings to pay off his student loans. If we wait to buy, then this isn’t going to happen.
- Grow my estate planning practice so it accounts for as much income as my litigation freelancing. Right now, it’s just supplementing my freelancing but I would like it to be my primary income eventually. There are a lot of things I can do to grow my income here, and for one reason or another I haven’t been doing them. One reason is “I don’t have enough time.” More on that later.
- Earn more income this year than I did last year! (And put it towards our down payment and/or student loans)
As I learned last year, simply setting goals is not going to make them happen. Although writing down your goals has been shown to significantly increase your likelihood of success, it’s not the end of the journey. It’s important to stay accountable to yourself and, as I have learned with my mastermind group (a monthly meeting of blogging professionals), to others. Every month, a few days before my mastermind meeting, I find myself pushing to complete the goals I said out loud at the last meeting!
Another essential technique for achieving goals is to plan ahead. Last year, I went with the flow and just expected us to have the extra income or savings to achieve those personal finance goals. This year, I need to forge ahead with a plan, and be open to revising it if it’s not working out — instead of just throwing it all out the window.
I have cinched down our expenses pretty well at this point, so the key to meeting our personal finance goals is to increase my income. Ever since my layoff over a year ago, I have worked as a freelance litigator for a small business firm and taken on a few student loan defense cases and estate planning clients. I make four times as much money when I work for my own clients as when I freelance for the firm. So, you know where I’m going with this … I should focus on getting more clients. Yet, the freelancing takes up a lot of my time because the payoff is almost immediate.
Why haven’t I gotten more clients? I tell myself that “I don’t have enough time.” But the truth of the matter is that I don’t have enough time to waste it by not getting that lucrative business. Why am I piddling away with the freelance work when I could quadruple my income with my own clients?!
To achieve goals 4 and 5, which relate to increasing my income by increasing my caseload, I need to set aside time dedicated to business development — regardless of whether I make money while I’m accomplishing those tasks. I also need to understand which tasks are going to give me the greatest bang for my buck and prioritize those first. Lastly, in order to make time for business development, I need to be efficient with the time that the kids are in daycare and preschool. I will admit that I did a fair amount of dilly dallying when Little Stapler was in preschool full time and I was working part time. To be honest, I don’t know where that time went, I just know that it went.
Last year, I set daily resolutions — behavior to modify every day. Instead of trying to change too much and do too much all at once, I decided instead to set some resolutions each month that will help me achieve my 2015 goals. I have the first half of the year planned out, and will re-set my resolutions mid-year so I can update them for any changes that happen in the next six months.
Third, Let’s Establish Some Resolutions:
- February: Set aside time for business development. Beginning in February, when Baby is in daycare full time, dedicate one day per week to my business, not my freelancing. Work at least 3 hours that day on business development, and spend the rest of the day on paid work.
- February: Establish a list of tasks to do that will help develop my business and prioritize those tasks in order of what will produce the most results for the least amount of time and money.
- March: Understand and solve my dilly dallying. After a one-month trial of a dedicated business development day, evaluate how I spent my time and identify areas where I can be more efficient and/or reduce my distractions.
- April: Evaluate the efficacy of my attempts to drum up business and to reduce my wasted time. Be open to reconfiguring my priority list and/or instituting other measures to solve the time-wasters.
- May: Take a hard look at our personal finances and whether there are areas of expenses that could be reduced.
- June: Time for a mid-year review! Establish month-by-month resolutions to support my 2015 goals. Or, heck, establish new 2015 goals if these have gotten stale. (I should have done this in 2014!)
How about you? What did you learn from your goal-setting in the past? What are you goals and resolutions this year?
PS: I’m still working on what my word of the year should be. All I can think of is that, after all that physical growth, I really need to shrink a little. But I don’t want to shrink our finances! So, I’m still debating. Do you have any suggestions?
You could aim for “fitness” which would cover both you and your money 🙂 Seriously, though, if there’s that much income potential in your business you should by all means set aside the time for it. On the housing dilemma, if there are apartments (or house rentals?) available, then I’d lean towards that rather than buying now, I think. It would give you time to be in a much better position to buy and not be struggling. Does it absolutely have to be a 3-bedroom? Could you have two instead and save more that way?
I like “Fitness”!
We could definitely work with a two-bedroom, especially once baby hits 6 months and (hopefully) sleeps through the night. But the 2-bedroom apartments I’ve seen haven’t had enough space generally. Buying a 2-bedroom would be fine, too, because we can add on to it later. That’s the ideal plan, but I’m not sure we’ll see that kind of house hit the market in the next few months.
I’m glad I work in government because I don’t think I’d be able to get many clients. I don’t think I have the personality for that. We just bought a co-op here in the NYC area…I think a house in a decent school district is $600K plus so I can empathize. The place we got is a “junior 4” which is slightly smaller than a 2 bedroom. I think small spaces are fine when kids are small…even when if the family grows…bunk beds can work for awhile! Growing up…I think I’m used to tighter spaces though.
Andrew, I think you could get clients — it’s all about being helpful, and you do that on your blog all the time!
“we only paid off $6,000 in addition to our regular monthly payments.”
Only? ONLY?!?! C’MON! That’s awesome! That’s a huge chunk you’ve saved hundreds of dollars of interest just in this year. Most likely thousands over the life of the loan.
That’s some kicking ass right there.
Thanks Chris! You’re right — I should celebrate that achievement!
It sounds like you guys are doing great! You didn’t reach all of your goals, but you are working toward them. And it’s awesome that you made 85% of your income while also taking maternity leave! I would count that as a success for sure.
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