An Update on Life: Student Loans, A Half-Marathon PR, and Cheap Toilet Paper

Hello world! It’s Sunday evening in Wisconsin, and I’m finally taking the time to post an update! Let’s get to it, shall we?

Student Loan Progress

If you read this post, you know that I’m dying to pay off my student loans. I graduated college in 2006, and until recently, never really felt the burden of that $38,000 debt. Long story short, I had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment over the summer, and realized I want that debt to go away now.

As of July 14, I owed $27,748 to an unnamed financial institution in Missouri. I am proud to report that today I owe $15,958! Not to toot my own horn, but that’s a reduction of $11,790 in just over four months! I’m pretty excited about that!

Unfortunately that level of progress isn’t sustainable much longer. (And it definitely hasn’t come without the short-term sacrifice of other financial goals.) You see, a good chunk of this money came from selling stocks/funds housed within my taxable brokerage accounts. I originally funded these accounts in hopes of them sustaining me in early retirement, so watching them dwindle to almost nothing is somewhat demoralizing. Luckily there is an equal and opposite feeling of gratification that comes with watching the number on my student loan debt go down.

[Side note: I’m not touching any money in retirement accounts for this purpose. Student loans suck, but early withdrawal penalties suck worse.]

I have also drained a couple different savings accounts to help the cause. I haven’t completely decided whether or not this is a smart move, as it’s a tad anxiety-inducing. But, as with most things, being a little uncomfortable is generally a good thing. Plus: 1) my husband has an emergency fund separate from mine, and 2) I hate this debt more than I love the comfort of a fat savings account.

Beyond that, my not-so-secret formula for paying off the remainder is: earn more, spend less, and throw every extra dollar I have at my stupid debt. Thus far, I am only driving my family a little crazy with my ruthless frugality. (“Sorry honey, there’s no room in the grocery budget for chips and salsa. You get one or the other. Take your pick.”)

I’ve had a successful few months chipping away at this goal, but given the sad state of my savings/brokerage accounts, I need to get a little more creative from here on out. I’m currently applying for part-time jobs to turbo charge my repayment, but haven’t landed “the one” yet. (I don’t need anything too specific. Just a high-paying, low-stress, work-from-home job that has completely flexible scheduling, and lets me work whenever I feel like it. Any takers? 😀)

A Half-Marathon PR

One of my goals for 2016 was to set a personal record in a half-marathon. I am happy to report that I accomplished this on two separate occasions – once in August, and again in October. My current personal best is 1:55:23, which is a pace of about 8:48 per mile. For me, this was comfortably challenging for the entire 13.1 miles. I’m no Speedy Gonzalez, but I’ve definitely improved from the days I used run every mile on flat courses at a relaxed 10-minute pace. (Newsflash: running faster during training helps you run faster at races! I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out.)

After completing a marathon this spring and two half-marathons this fall, I’m taking a break from running to focus on some strength training by way of P90X3. I’m hating just about every second of it, and would prefer to do a 60-minute run over a 30-minute weight session any day of the week. But while running is my passion, it doesn’t transform my body the way strength training does. Thus, I’m begrudgingly dragging myself through 90 days of hell once again.

While I’m on the subject of fitness, let me just go ahead and make one of next year’s goals public. In the spring of 2017, I’d like to run a 1:48 half-marathon, which is a pace of ~8:15 per mile. For anyone who may care, this is slightly faster than the 8:23 pace I need to qualify in my age group for the Boston Marathon (someday…).

Random Updates/Musings

  1. I opened a 457B in October. I’m pretty excited about it, even though it’s effectively killing my dreams of paying off my student loans by hijacking a lot of disposable income.
  2. I recently started travel hacking, and it’s awesome! I can’t believe I waited so long to jump on the bandwagon.
  3. I’m going through a major transition at work, and am on an emotional rollercoaster because of it. It’s heartbreaking and amazing all at the same time. Many tears have been shed over this, but I know I’m on a better path now.
  4. I suck at blogging on a regular basis. This is not news to anyone. I’ll try to do better.
  5. I’m trying to resuscitate my very limited Spanish-speaking abilities by listening to podcasts on the way to work. (I’d love to be fluent someday.) It’s proving to be a nice way to distract my mind from the crappy work commute.
  6. My 9 year old daughter is straight-up obsessed with Michael Jackson right now. (She even dressed up as him for Halloween!) I’m not upset about this.
  7. After 7 years of marriage, I can say this for certain: a man never putting the toilet seat down is not nearly as a bad as a man never putting it up to begin with. Think about that for a minute.
  8. More so than ever before, I am inspired to keep working towards financial independence. And while I’m constantly wishing for a lottery win or unexpected inheritance, it looks like another decade or so of earning more/spending less is the best way to get there.
  9. Speaking of spending less…I can out-frugal just about anyone this side of the Atlantic, but cheap toilet paper? No. Just…no. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago after scoring what I thought was a killer deal on a bulk purchase of Angel Soft. Go without paper towels or Cheetos if you must balance the budget, but never put yourself through the misery that is cheap toilet paper. Life is hard enough already.

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What’s new in your world?

What small step did you take to reach one of your goals today?

P90X3 – Pilates baby!

 

Goal: Pay Off My Student Loans

Hello world!

I was up at 5:00 this morning to attend my first-ever Body Pump class, so I’m in an especially chipper mood today.

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And now to bring this party to a screeching halt – I’d like to discuss my student loan situation. The first time I blogged about this subject was roughly 10 months ago, when I had about $33,000 of debt.

At the time, my plan was to pay just a little extra each month and continue contributing aggressively to my savings and investment accounts. My rationale was simple, and not unsound: my student loans carried the low interest rate of 2.07%, and I could probably make more than that investing in index funds.*

Fast forward 10 months ——> my philosophy has changed. I want that debt to go away. Right now. 

Why the sudden change?

Two reasons:

  1. My interest rate just increased to 2.4%. Because this is literally the first time my rate has changed since I graduated college, I was under the impression I had a fixed rate (stupid rookie mistake). After playing around with a debt repayment calculator, I realized this “small” increase would result in paying almost $1,000 more in interest over the course of repayment. And of course, the federal government has the power to change my rate each year, so who knows where it will go from here? I don’t like any of this.
  2. This blog: No More Harvard Debt. This guy paid off $90,000 in student loans in 7 months!  His approach was extreme: he liquidated retirement accounts, took on roommates, and sold prized possessions, among other things. His razor-sharp focus on the goal of paying off his debt has inspired me to do the same.

For the last several years, my student loans have been paid via automatic bill pay. This is generally a good thing – I’ve never been late on a payment, and I don’t really have to think about it.

But on the flip side – I don’t really have to think about it. Sure, I budget for it faithfully every month, but that only requires 1.8 seconds of thought. Until last August, I never took the time to dig into the numbers and consciously track my progress. Lacking consciousness about it meant that I never really felt the burden of the debt. 

My, how things have changed. This debt now feels like an anchor weighing me down, sabotaging my path to financial freedom, and ultimately holding me back from the life I dream about.

(I’m only being a little dramatic, I swear.)

The Nitty Gritty

Here are some hard numbers/facts:

  • I started with $38,290 of debt in August of 2006.
  • I have 10 separate loans ranging in amount from $852 – $4,123. (Yes, I have pursued consolidation, but was told my interest rate couldn’t be beaten.)
  • In August of 2015 – when I got motivated to pay it down faster – I owed approximately $33,000.
  • Since August, I have paid $4,062 extra toward my student loans. This is in addition to my automated payment each month.
  • I currently owe $27,748.
  • I’m on a graduated repayment plan. I began with a monthly payment of $118 upon graduation, and currently pay $153. This number will steadily increase every two years to $452 in the year 2027.

Okay, stop right there. There is no freakin’ way I’ll still be paying on these loans in 2027! I’ll be 45 years old for Heaven’s sake! No. Just…no.

So What’s The Plan?

Naturally, the plan is to pay these suckers off as soon as humanly possible.

Based on my current income, I could pay them off in three years while maintaining the quality of life I’m accustomed to. (For perspective: I’m already super-frugal, but I do budget for a yearly vacation, a few fun weekends per year, and the occasional dinner out.) This would mean paying $500 each month in addition to the automated $153 payment. That’s a decent goal: it will definitely hurt to see that money flying out the window, but I won’t have to feed my family ramen noodles every night for dinner.

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But that’s not good enough. Three years is a little too long. I need a stretch goal.

I’m setting a deadline of December 31, 2018 to pay off my student loans. This gives me about 2.5 years to pay off $27,748 on a (paltry) teacher’s salary. To accomplish this, I will need to pay $153 (regular payment) plus $800 extra each month.

That’s a scary number for me.

So Much Cognitive Dissonance

These are all thoughts running through my mind right now:

“But I want to take a trip to San Francisco next summer!”

“But I need to spend $120 on a gym membership so I can go to fitness classes!”

“But my daughter wants to start gymnastics!” (“And she needs cute new clothes for 3rd grade!”)

“But our TV is about to kick the bucket, our couch has seen better days, and our basement is a cold gray dungeon that needs some serious TLC.”

“But I’m 34 years old – I should be able to afford wine that costs more than $6 a bottle!”

“But I want to advance my career and/or learn a new skill. It’s going to take money to do these things!”

“But, but, but…”

…..

Sigh. “But I really need to pay off my student loans.”

To Make Matters Worse…

  • I got an awesome new job, but it comes with an awesome new pay cut. To the tune of $5700 per year.
  • In September we’ll have to start paying for before/after-school childcare for my daughter. To the tune of $400 per month. (I now realize how spoiled we’ve been by not having to pay for this the last three years.)

But On The Bright Side…

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Okay, I’ve complained just about enough for one post. Life is good, and I am very blessed. My husband is going to benefit from a decent salary increase soon with his new job. And while I have to take a pay cut this year, it’s only temporary. If I stay the course, I will get a raise of about $10,000 per year next September. Plus, how stinkin’ spoiled am I to have a 2.4% interest rate on my loans?!

I’ve set my deadline, and now I can’t ignore it. Now – how do I actually plan to pay my debt? I’ll save that for another post…

Do you make minimum payments on student loans, or do you try to pay extra?

Do you currently have any “stretch goals?”

What small step did you take to reach one of your goals today?

I made a $1,090 payment toward student loans!

 

*Some people will disagree that paying off student loans should take priority over saving for retirement and building other assets, particularly when the interest rate is low. That’s okay – I actually share that sentiment. But I feel so burdened by this debt right now that it’s eating away at my soul. And that’s never a good thing, so I just need to get rid of it ASAP.

What I’ve Been Up To Lately

In cased you missed my last post, here is a rambling explanation and lame apology about my recent 5-month absence from the blog.

Enough of that, though. Let me catch you up on to what’s new/exciting in my life these days:

I got a new job!

I recently switched teaching jobs, and will officially start my new position in August. This is a huge change, and has come with a lot of mixed feelings on my part. My previous job was extremely fulfilling and I loved it, but it was taking over my entire life. This change will afford me the time and space I need to focus on more of my personal goals.

It’s summer!

And I’m a teacher! (One that doesn’t have to work all summer due to the aforementioned job change!) I’m excited to have a lot of time over the next several weeks to focus on whatever the heck I want. Namely: family, reading, writing, learning, running, traveling, dreaming, and expanding my wine palate.

[Side note: a lot of teachers work really hard in the summer to develop themselves professionally and work on projects there is no time for during the school year. Oftentimes, this is volunteer work that they take on for the good of their students. (Just had to throw in this little PSA.)]

I just came back from an amazing vacation.

My family and I recently traveled to North and South Carolina for several days. We spent a lot of quality time relaxing, eating, and frolicking on the beach. I’m now convinced that Kiawah Island, SC is one of the greatest places on the East Coast, and that I need to retire there.

This picture doesn't do it justice.

This picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

My husband and I seriously considered expanding our family.

For the better part of a year, my husband and I wanted to have another child. In fact, this was the primary reason I switched jobs. But recently – for some reason I can’t pinpoint – we’ve both fallen out of love with the idea. Don’t get me wrong – another child would be an incredible blessing to our family. But there’s also the fact that life is really freakin’ amazing right now! While this has caused a roller coaster of emotions in the past year, I feel at peace knowing that my family is perfect and complete as is.

I improved my marathon time by 27 minutes.

It’s nothing to write home about – I went from 4:48 to 4:21 – but I’m happy with the improvement nonetheless. I’m still chasing a 4-hour marathon, and hope to find success with this goal in the fall.

I bought P90X3 a couple weeks ago, and am dabbling in it now.

I probably won’t commit to the entire program until October or November, but I’m currently using it for cross-training as I train for a half marathon in August. The workouts are 30 minutes long, and I really like them thus far! (Full disclosure: I’ve only tried Yoga and Pilates. I’m sure I’ll experience “push-up hell” soon enough.)

My philosophy on training for a race is evolving.

Long story short: more speed work, more hills, more cross training, fewer junk miles. I want to start getting more bang for my buck during workouts. For me, this means separating myself from the desire to run a ton of slow, easy miles that won’t necessarily improve my fitness level. (I, unfortunately, tend to gravitate to this type of workout.)

I started regularly eating seafood.

I guess this classifies me as a pescetarian rather than a vegetarian. Regardless of the label, my eating habits are constantly evolving as I try to find the diet that works best for my body. At this point, consuming less dairy and more fish seems to be working wonders. (I still eat too much sugar though.)

I’m experimenting with intermittent fasting.

In a nutshell, this means I don’t eat from 8:00 p.m. until lunch the next day (give or take an hour or two in either direction). I’m not really a breakfast eater to begin with, so the biggest adjustment I’ve made is eliminating all snacks after dinner. It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how much better I feel in the morning when I skip the late-night eating. (Please note: my 8:00 cut-off is for food only. I refuse to place such restrictions on wine consumption.)

I’m currently reading The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. (It’s awesome.)

Some of the claims in the book seem a little sensational, but I’m loving it anyway. Ferriss forces you to think outside the box and question whatever is conventional and/or popular. There are numerous experiments I’d like to try from this book – right now I’m incorporating cold therapy into my daily routines. (I’ll keep you updated on how it goes.)

I hate my student loans, and I want them gone NOW.

In this post, I wrote at length about why I’m not in a hurry to repay my student loan debt. In recent weeks, my philosophy has changed. A week ago, Uncle Sam raised my interest rate from 2.07% to 2.4%. I get that this is a still a very low rate, and I have nothing to complain about, but whatever. I despise the thought of throwing even more money away to interest payments.

I also stumbled upon the blog No More Harvard Debt, and am in the process of binge-reading it. This guy has an extreme approach to paying down his student loans, and it’s highly motivating.

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*****

What’s the best vacation you’ve taken?

Have you ever read The 4-Hour Body? (What did you think about it?)

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I made a $685 payment on my student loans!

I’m Back!

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So…remember that time I accidentally fell off the face of the earth for about five months? (Hint: it just happened.)

I’m really sorry about that.

And I know I’ve apologized for this type of thing before, so my words are now meaningless to you.

Again, I’m sorry.

Okay, but let’s be real…who am I actually apologizing to right now? The answer is nobody. Google Analytics is reporting that my site views have flatlined, and that precisely 1.38 people are visiting/reading this site on a regular basis. (I made that number up, but you get my drift.) I’m not upset by this news.

If nobody is reading, does that mean we can forget this five-month hiatus ever happened?

I think so.

Here’s the deal: the wonderful team at Blue Host just emailed me stating that they’ve auto-renewed the hosting services for this website for another year. True, I could probably call them up, complain about how I was irresponsible and unaware of the auto-renewal date, get a refund on my $89, and shut this whole operation down. That seems like a fairly logical step. After all, I haven’t posted anything in five months, and my one and only loyal reader is my sister in Charlotte. (Thank you Angela!)

But I’m stubborn, and I’d like to give this blogging thing another shot. Not because Blue Host charged my credit card (although that certainly lit a fire under my tush), but because I’d like to give it a real chance to succeed before I decide it’s a complete and utter failure.

How am I defining success at this point? Quite honestly, I have no idea. Once upon a time, it meant building an audience of thousands of regular readers to share interesting stories with. As it turns out, that’s really hard to do these days. Impossible? No. But with millions of other blogs in existence, it’s definitely an uphill battle.

(Also – there’s the tiny problem that I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say yet.)

This forum – although vacuous at this point – is still public, and therefore brings a degree of accountability with it. Even if only 1.38 people are reading, I don’t want to publish complete and utter crap (there is plenty of that on the web already!). If nothing else, a blog provides a great outlet to practice writing, which is something I aspire to get better at.

There’s also the fact that I have all sorts of goals I want to accomplish, and I believe in the power of writing them down. The process of documenting them somehow makes them more real, and thus harder to ignore.

What exactly is the point of this rambling post?

  • I’m alive, and I’m back.
  • I haven’t stopped chasing my goals and dreaming big, despite radio silence on the blog.
  • I want to become a better writer, but don’t care to do all the leg work involved with building a successful blog at this point.

I hope to post on a (more) regular schedule here, but I’m sure it will ebb and flow with life at times. Right now though, it’s summer, and everything is flowing. 😊

How do you stay motivated with side projects? Do you force yourself to work on them consistently, or just when the spirit moves you?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

P90X3 – Pilates!

Stay Inspired, 2/3/16

As I discussed in this post, I believe in the power of staying inspired. In fact, I believe in it so much that I’ve started a “Stay Inspired” series as a regular part of this blog.

Today’s dose of inspiration is brought to you by Pinterest. What can I say? I love it! Sure, if I’m not careful, I can easily be sucked into it for 2-3 hours at a time. But in my my experience – unlike other social media sites (ahem, Facebook) – this time is not usually wasted. Pinterest adds real value to my life, and I visit my pages there over and over again. Whether I need a new recipe, I’m planning my family’s next vacation, or I just need a good laugh, it never disappoints.

I often find myself visiting Pinterest when I need the motivation to get off my butt and accomplish something. Here are a few of my favorite inspirational pins (I hope one of them resonates with you!):

 

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Do you find Pinterest to be more useful than other social media sites?

What has inspired you lately?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I ran 4 easy miles as part of my marathon training plan!

(I also set up a Twitter account for this site! But I have no idea how to use it yet, so please stay tuned. 😀 )

 

My Goals For The Week Ahead (2/1-2/7)

For the last few years, I’ve made a habit of taking a few minutes each Sunday to mentally map out my week. Most of the time, this includes: 1) thinking through my work week and evening commitments, 2) planning my workouts and meals, and 3) dreaming about things I’d like to accomplish to propel my life forward (and subsequently taking action).

While the first two are helpful and necessary, number three is where the magic happens.

Unfortunately, this is the area that gets the least of my attention. I get so “busy” (read: sidetracked) planning for the daily grind that I neglect to put much thought into the things that really matter. Rather than coming up with an actionable plan to do these things, I have this conversation with myself: “It’d be so nice to do ____, ____, and ____ this week!!” And then I leave it up to fate to determine whether or not I have the time/motivation to actually do it. 

As it turns out, fate is pretty unreliable.

In an attempt to break this cycle, I’m going to try posting weekly goals here each Sunday. If nothing else, this will force me to consciously think about and plan the small steps I need to take each week to get closer to my goals.

Here are my goals for this week:

  1. Complete all of my marathon training runs/workouts: 6 miles easy, 6-mile tempo run @ 8:47, 4 miles easy, 12 miles @ 10:02, 1-2 cross training sessions
  2. Run/exercise before work (3+ days)
  3. Spend time writing before work (1+ day)
  4. Spend 20+ minutes writing every day
  5. Improve SEO scores on 5+ blog posts
  6. Set up my email subscription
  7. Finish the book I’m reading
  8. Invest $300+ in an index fund/ETF
  9. Evaluate my progress on these goals and set new ones for next week

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What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I created my first weekly goal list! (I hope this becomes a habit.)

Just For Fun – Finding Humor In Winter

It’s stupid cold right now. The air temperature was -14 this morning when I went grocery shopping.

(Pausing to let that sink in for a minute…)

-14!!!!!!

That’s without the wind chill factored in!

For as much whining as I do about the cold weather, I don’t actually become a complete cranky-pants until we get into the sub-zero category (like now). Needless to say, I haven’t exactly been Suzy Sunshine lately.

Sometimes when we have cold snaps like this, I like to go on Pinterest to find my favorite cold-weather memes, quotes, pictures, etc. (I also try to finagle my budget to accommodate an unplanned trip to Tahiti, but that never really works.) Just for fun, I’m going to show you some of my favorites that make me laugh on these miserably cold days.

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This conversation happens daily in my house.

 

Me yesterday after 5 minutes outside

 

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Yep, from about October through May

 

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Obligatory cute animal picture

 

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Obligatory grumpy cat picture

 

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Blame it on the lack of Vitamin D?

 

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Or just never going outside to begin with

 

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Yep.

 

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WI weather, summed up in a neat little pie chart

*****

In the winter months… do you prefer to do outdoor activities or stay inside and hibernate?

What small step have you taken today to reach one of your goals?

I ran 6 miles at an average pace of 9:10 in preparation for marathon training! (Which starts next week!)

 

Documenting My Small Steps

The whole premise behind this blog is to use myself as a guinea pig to prove that (almost) anything is attainable when broken down into small, manageable steps. My original vision was to lay out my goals and then document each daily step I was taking to reach one of them.

Let’s be real – 2015 was a huge failure as far as that’s concerned. Sure, I took a bunch of small steps toward goals, but I didn’t document them in a meaningful way. And on the days I was too (tired / lazy / lame / cranky / etc.) to work on my goals? I let myself off the hook altogether, reasoning that my small steps only needed to be accounted for when I posted a couple times a week. Not cool.

Clearly this needs to change.

My plan moving forward is to actually do what I intended from the beginning by tracking my small daily steps on this page. No more letting myself off the hook when the couch is calling my name (at least not without holding myself publicly accountable!). It’s time to get to work.

Not me

Not me

 

(Please follow this link to see the most updated version of this list.)

January 30 – I paid $50 extra toward my student loans.

January 29 – I invested $575 in VOO.

January 28 – I did 6 mile repeats (8:34 pace) in preparation for my marathon.

January 27 – I made my career change official. (This change will allow me to pursue my personal goals at a much faster pace.)

January 26 – I ran 5 easy miles in preparation for my marathon.

January 25 – I paid $100 extra toward my student loans.

January 24 – 😔

January 23 – I squeezed my workout in by running at midnight!

January 22 – 😔 <——- Ashamed face (no step forward today).

January 21 – I woke up early to run before work.

January 20 – I made time to do some blog writing during my lunch break.

January 19 – I invested $500 in VDE (Vanguard Energy ETF).

January 18 – I woke up early to exercise before work (and meditated, made green juice, and generally had an awesome morning).

January 17 – I ran six miles at a 9:10 pace in preparation for marathon training.

January 16 – I spent time working on the back-end of my blog (fixing links, etc.).

January 15 – I paid $25 extra toward my student loans.

January 14 – I drafted future blog posts.

January 13 – I got off my tush and went for a run when I reeeeeeally didn’t feel like it.

January 12 – I woke up early to run before work! (I also meditated, made green juice, and did a little blog work.)

January 11 – I researched and printed my marathon training plan.

January 10 – I opened a new bank account to better facilitate my financial goals.

January 9 – I registered for a marathon in May.

January 8 – I made a huge change at work that will positively affect my personal life.

January 7 – I invested in VOO (Vanguard S&P 500 ETF).

January 6 – I researched index funds/ETFs to add to my portfolio.

January 5 – I came up with a potential business idea.

January 4 – I fleshed out a 2016 budget to help me stay on track throughout the year.

January 3 – I created a quiet workspace in my house.

January 2 – I made the decision to switch my investing strategy.

January 1 – I paid $35 extra toward my student loans.

 

 

 

 

 

My Goals For 2016

It’s January 10th, and I’m just now posting my new year’s resolutions. Does that mean I’m doomed from the beginning? 😮

The truth is, I’m taking this process very seriously – I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking about my resolutions. What can I say? I’m determined to make 2016 the best year ever!

The List

1. Take one business idea and develop it

I don’t have any experience in the actual business world, but I believe my current career is preparing me quite well for a possible transition into it. Right now I have 5-7 business ideas floating around in my head that I would love to develop. I just need to pick the best one and set aside time to work on it.

2. Write every day

I am discovering that I love to write. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as disciplined as I’d like to be in this area. I get inspired to write 2-3 times per week, which just isn’t enough. If I really want to hone my skills, I need to do it daily – even if it’s just for just five minutes. Creating the habit is the most important part.

3. Blog 1-3 times consistently each week

This should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. My motivation definitely comes and goes on this, so staying consistent is a challenge. I think the keys to success here are: 1) setting a regular schedule for working on the blog, 2) having a backlog of posts ready to go at all times, and 3) giving up my perfectionist tendencies.

4. Run a marathon in 4 hours or less

This is a lofty goal for me. I’ve only run one marathon, and I finished it in 4:48. Furthermore, it was not an uplifting experience for me – quite the opposite, actually. I’m ready to find my running mojo again and stop with the self-limiting beliefs. (“I can’t run that fast!”  “I’m not a real runner!” etc.)

5. Set a personal record (PR) in a half-marathon

I’ve only run one half-marathon, and my time was 2:05. I feel pretty confident that I can beat this by at least a few minutes with some consistent training. I’m not sure if I’m going to run one as part of my spring marathon training, or push it off until the fall. I guess we’ll see how well the weather cooperates (if it’s a cold/snowy/stupid spring, I’ll probably wimp out until fall).

6. Do P90X again

Despite my love/hate relationship with it, P90X ended up being a great experience for me. It opened my eyes to the benefits of strength training, which is something I’ve fought my entire adult life. While I saw amazing results from the workouts alone, this time around I’m hoping to focus more on diet so that I can get the full effects of the program.

7. Pay off at least $1200 extra in student loans

I got a decent start on this during 2015, but I need to ramp up my efforts. I’m aiming to pay at least $100 per month extra toward my student loans. The one self-imposed condition here is that I can’t sacrifice my other financial goals in the process. This means I have to get creative and either pinch more pennies or earn more money (or both!).

8. Save/invest at least 40% of my take-home pay all year

I’d like to be financially independent someday, and this is a very important step in paving the road to get there. I can hit this number pretty easily for a few months at a time, but I’ve never tried it for a full year. It will probably require more long-term budgeting than I’m used to, but I’m up for the challenge.

9. Improve my net worth by at least 20%

I recently started tracking my net worth via Personal Capital. Let me tell you – having all the numbers laid out in front of you in one spot is pretty sobering. While my net worth is somewhat depressing at the moment, I’m more motivated than ever to improve it.

10. Become a morning person once and for all

There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of successful people wake up early to maximize the day. I really want to be one of those people. I’ve battled my natural night-owl tendencies my entire life, and it’s time to kick them to the curb for good. After all, I’m more likely to reach all my goals by changing this habit.

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These goals will not come easily, but I believe they are attainable with consistent effortWhat I love about this list is that many of them feed each other. For instance, if I train properly for my marathon, a half-marathon PR should come without much extra effort (provided that I’m smart about how I schedule my races, of course).

The Less Important List

In addition to the goals listed above, there are a few other things I’d like to work on in 2016. They didn’t quite make the official cut, so I’ll probably choose to work on them in smaller, random doses (or not at all). Nevertheless, I think they’re worth mentioning, as they may become focal points in the future:

  • Use my gratitude jar
  • Create weekly goal lists and post them here
  • Practice eating like the French
  • Give up dairy for a specified amount of time
  • Give up alcohol for a specified amount of time
  • Read at least one book per month
  • Attempt to declutter
  • Put more effort into promotion and back-end work on the blog
  • Complete a sprint triathlon

The Big Picture

No matter what 2016 brings, I’d like to look back on it a year from now and say, “I’m a better person than I was a year ago.” I am so blessed to have the opportunity to make positive changes in my life, and I don’t intend to squander it.

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What are your new year’s resolutions? How are they going so far?

What small step did you take today to reach one of your goals?

I changed banks to help facilitate my financial goals. (In doing so, I get a $200 bonus in April, which will go directly to my student loans!)

Reflections on 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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What can I say? I’m a total sucker for the proverbial “clean slate” that comes with the start of each new year. Here’s me:

  • The sky is the limit!
  • The possibilities are endless!
  • It’s time to chase my dreams!
  • I’m going to become the best version of myself!

(At least until January 20th or so.) 😜

But before I yammer on and on about my new year’s resolutions, I think it’s important to take some time to reflect on 2015.

The Good

Resolutions I kept, things I accomplished, and other changes I made in the name of self-improvement:

  1. I ran my first marathon. (2015 resolution)*
  2. I completed P90X. (2015 resolution)
  3. I quit Facebook. (2015 resolution)
  4. I decided to start down the path toward financial independence.
  5. I started this blog.
  6. I began tracking my expenses and keeping a detailed budget.
  7. I invested at least $650 per month from August-December.
  8. I started listening to podcasts.
  9. I paid at least $56 extra per month toward my student loan debt from August-December.
  10. I took the first steps toward building a sustainable career path for myself.
  11. I experimented with dividend growth investing (and then promptly realized how little I actually know about it).
  12. In the process of doing #11, I determined a better long-term investing strategy.
  13. After 10 years in my career, I finally let go of the masochistic need to stress about work.
  14. I stopped cleaning my house obsessively every weekend.
  15. I opened my heart and mind to the possibility of a different future.**

*Whoa! I actually kept some of my resolutions from last year!

**I’m being intentionally vague about some of these – I hope to write about them in a detailed way in the future.

The Bad

Resolutions I didn’t keep, things I didn’t accomplish, and other ways I generally slacked off (plus my lame attempts to justify my behavior):

  1. I didn’t read at least one book per month. (2015 resolution)

My excuse: I was too busy reading the whole internet.

     2.  I didn’t do a better job of staying in touch with friends and family. (2015 resolution)

My excuse: This resolution was too vague to begin with! (Read: I made no efforts to improve…not cool.)

     3.  I didn’t max out my IRA. (2015 resolution)

My rationale: I switched my investing strategy midway through the year to accommodate early retirement. I’m not sure if this was a good decision or not, and question myself regularly about it.

     4.  I didn’t save at least $5,000 toward my next car.

My rationale: I don’t want to ever have a car payment again. But, with adequate care and maintenance, I think my current car has several good years of life in it. As such, I didn’t prioritize saving for my next vehicle, and instead used the money to begin funding a taxable investment account.

     5.  I didn’t become a morning person.

My excuse: I made a valiant effort in the fall, but reverted back to my lifelong night-owl tendencies at the end of the year. There’s always 2016, right?

     6.  I stopped juicing on a regular basis.

My excuse: I definitely had this conversation with myself on multiple occasions: “Juicing is an awesome way to start my day! Coffee is also an awesome way to start my day, and requires much less effort!” 

     7.  I made a gratitude jar but didn’t really use it. (2015 resolution)

Confession: I used my gratitude jar on one occasion – to state that I was thankful for the snow days we got in January. Yep, that’s it.  

The Ugly

Random musings about stuff I really wish had gone differently:

1.  I ran my first marathon.

The abridged version: Yes, I finished, but man was it U-G-L-Y! I experienced the full gamut of emotions during that 4 hour and 48 minute period (a pace 35-40 minutes slower than I trained for) – and unfortunately most of them skewed toward the negative. There was happiness and elation for about 5 miles, and then everything took a turn for the worse.

(More on this topic later.)

     2.  I did a lot of procrastinating.

The abridged version: See this post: My Month-Long Visit To Lazytown. This happened more times than I care to admit throughout 2015 (although not usually for a month at a time). I slept in, lazed around in bed reading articles about nothing, skipped my workouts for no good reason, and generally made excuses for myself. Sure, it’s nice to be lazy once in a while, but I definitely should have hustled a lot more.

     3.  I worked too much.

The abridged version: True – I was able to let go of most of my work-related stress, but unfortunately that didn’t translate into working fewer hours. The older I get, the more difficult it is to endure long work days away from home. I have a sinking feeling that this will be my major regret in life. (Luckily, I have been blessed with another opportunity to make changes.)

     4.  I stopped washing my hair as much.

The abridged version: Okay, so this is actually awesome. As it turns out, washing my hair 8 times per week (what I’m accustomed to) isn’t good! So, I reduced that number to about 2 times per week. I love it; my husband hates it. (To his credit, my hair does get a little wonky after about 4 days, but that’s what ponytails and buns are for!)       

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As with all things in life, I have to take the good with the bad (and the ugly). And all things considered, I’m pretty happy with what I accomplished in 2015. A lot of self-discovery happened along the way, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Onward and upward in 2016!

How did you do with your 2015 resolutions?

Do you take time to reflect on the past year around this time?

What small step did you take today to reach one of your goals?

I fleshed out a 2016 budget to keep myself on track financially for the year!

(Also – I installed an emoticon plugin, which, in my opinion, greatly enhances this blog.) 😊