My New Year's Resolutions (and how I’m going to achieve them)

In last week’s post I talked about how to create your New Year’s resolutions in accordance with your goals. Part of this involved creating resolutions that speak to your ‘Whys’–as in, what’s the point of anything? Why are you here? What makes you feel that life has meaning?

My Three Themes

In this week’s post, I’d like to explore three of my ‘Whys’ for the new year. These themes will help guide the resolutions I make to live the best 2020 I can. At the end of the post, I’ll share the resolutions I’ve made for the year and how I intend to keep them. 

Theme #1: Recalibrating Enough, but better

The morphing of Enough, but better from an artistic project of self-exploration to a personal finance blog occurred with my six-part series The Thing About Money. The purpose of that series was for me to explore my complicated relationship with money and how past experiences have affected my view about money and comfort with my personal finances in the present. However, one consequence of that series was getting more involved in the personal finance blog-o-sphere and twitter. I think that surrounding myself with content and creators that focused exclusively on personal finance warped my vision for what this blog was supposed to be.

Me too, Tina.

I don’t want to write exclusively about personal finance. Frankly, I think I obsess over it to an  unhealthy amount, and kind of in opposition of what the original goal of this blog was supposed to be–an exploration of the self and a quest to convince myself that I do, in fact, have intrinsic value. However, while there are some ‘normal’ personal finance bloggers out there, the space is overwhelmingly taken up with people making significantly more money than me (hello, engineers and finance people!). As such, it has become just another arena where I compare myself to others and find myself lacking. 

I realize this still stems from the original problem of a lack of self-worth and has nothing to do with personal finance bloggers, but still.

Personal finance is definitely still an interest of mine, and I still intend to post about it (and probably on a fairly regular basis), but I need to expend more energy on pursuing projects and topics that have more value to me personally (art, literature, fitness, etc.).

Besides, what’s the point in retiring early if I don’t have any hobbies anymore? Which leads us to the next goal…

Theme #2: Creating More than I Consume

Y’all, I spend a lot of time on the dang internet. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially since I live in a cold apartment with no insulation and it gets dark at like 4:30 pm now. 

I find myself coming home, sitting down with a mug of tea at my computer with a blanket thrown across my lap, telling myself that I’ll just watch one YouTube video and then I’ll do… something. Clean. Paint. Start a new embroidery project. And then four hours and the entire catalog of Michelle Khare videos later, I realize I’ve wasted my whole evening and I still have to cook dinner, make my lunch, do the dishes, and take a shower before bed.

The same thing happens in the morning. My alarm goes off, I struggle my way into the kitchen to put on water for coffee, and then I creep back into bed and pull up twitter. Or instagram. Or reddit. Or some other way to waste time and clog up my brain before work. And then, when I get to work, I have to pull up twitter again, as if I would have missed something essential in the hour it took me to get dressed and walk to work. 

All this focus on others and what they are creating and putting into the world is making me forget that I, too, have things to say and projects that should be made.

In August, I completed my first project from Learning to Love You More. In that post, I spoke about my love of art, how I miss making it, and how I thought using the assignments from Learning to Love You More could help me rediscover my creative self. I completed Assignment #51: Describe what to do with your body when you die. And then what did I do after that?

Not a damn thing. 

And that’s something I’m not proud of. It’s just so much easier to go online and view images of other fiber artists whose work I love, to read tweets from people funnier than me, and to watch videos of people doing things I imagine myself doing. 

But what the hell’s the point of living if you’re only doing it vicariously? 

I’m getting up there, too. I know 32 is still young in the grand scheme of things, but I’m starting to feel old. I’m tired. My knees hurt all the time. I simply don’t want to do some of the things I wanted to do when I was younger anymore, because everything sounds so exhausting

That’s why I need to change my attitude and habits now, before it gets too late. I’ve spoken before about my health issues and the desire to achieve FIRE so I can slow down and have more time to live. But I need to start slowing down and living now, as well. 

Theme #3: Focusing on Health, Fitness, and Strength Training 

Previously on this blog, I mentioned that one of the reasons I am pursuing FIRE/FIOR is because of my health. This year, I was diagnosed with IBS. The fun thing about an IBS diagnosis is that it’s essentially the doctor saying “Yes, you’re right, there is something wrong with your digestion, but we have no idea what it is.” This has started a really fun exploration of food sensitivities–right now I’m up to not being able to eat eggs, onions, and more than a very small serving of soy, almonds, lentils, and beans (so, not ideal for a vegetarian).

The struggle is very real.

I also don’t have a great relationship with my body (I know, I know–a woman with body issues? How unique!). I’m in my thirties, and my metabolism has started slowing down. I feel more tired than I used to, and I don’t want to. I want to be strong and active, and there are still physical things I want to do–climb V7, complete some really long trail hikes, and maybe even run a marathon. However, I’m not going to be able to do those things (or at least not very easily) without an increased amount of attention to my health and fitness. 

I’ve started tracking my macros and taking my vitamins again, and I have noticed a difference–last Saturday was one of the strongest gym days I’ve had in a long time. However, I want to ensure that I continue to feel this way.

Creating Achievable Resolutions from These Three Themes

As explored last week, resolutions mean nothing if you don’t have a plan about how you’re going to enact them. I took my three themes for the year and created the following resolutions. These take the form of SMART goals (mostly) and, for the most part, quantify my intended results: 

Resolution #1: Each week, I will create at least one creative/non-personal finance post for Enough, but better in addition to any personal finance posts I make. 

As I mentioned in theme #1, I want to get back into my more creative and thoughtful pursuits. By resolving to make one post each week that is not related to personal finance, I am (a) encouraging myself to create more paintings, miniatures, embroidery projects, etc. and (b) increasing the amount of writing I am doing each week. I’d love to get into freelancing eventually, and improving the quality and amount of my writing will help me get there. 

Resolution #2: I will get off the internet by 7:30 pm every night. 

This is a really important resolution for me, as I expressed above. I spend way too much time on the internet, including on twitter as soon as I wake up and on YouTube before bed. I like to watch videos while I cook and eat dinner, so the 7:30 pm time will allow me to continue to do that, even on afternoons I go to the gym. This might not seem like a big deal, but quitting the internet at 7:30 pm will give me about two and a half extra hours each night. That time can be fueled to writing more, making more art, or even just reading a dang book. I also like having time in the evening to make my lunch and pick out my clothes for the following day, but unfortunately sometimes I goof around too much to get those things done. With my 7:30 pm quitting time, I’ll be able to complete those tasks and set myself up for a better tomorrow.  

Resolution #3: I will be active every day.

Every day, no exceptions. However, what I do to be active can differ depending on the day. If I go to the gym? BOOM, active day. If I don’t feel like going to the gym, but do some sets of weights or planks and push-ups at home? ANOTHER ACTIVE DAY. What if my muscles are buckling under the heavy weight of so many gains and I can’t possibly lift another thing? Then 7000 steps counts! 

These penguins know what’s up.

This resolution comes with no exceptions. On a business trip? Well, it’s either take a walk around the airport or try to stay at a hotel with a gym. Not feeling well? Some gentle yoga or stretching can count for those days–anything that gets me out of bed. 

To be honest, I’m not too worried about meeting this resolution. On days I don’t go to the gym and I don’t have to work late, I usually walk, It’s about 25 minutes or a little over 3000 steps each way. So, if I walk to work that day, it’s basically already enough to be an active day. It’s less of a stretch goal, and more of a make-sure-I’m-not-too-lazy goal. 

Why not 10,000? The 10,000 steps-per-day was actually popularized during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer. Some studies have shown that the benefits of walking max out after 7500 steps (although this study centered on older women, and I’m about 40 years shy of that category). I’m also not trying to lose weight, so I can walk a little less than someone with a weight loss goal would want to. 

Resolution #4: I will track my macros at least six days a week and aim to meet my protein goal at least three days a week. 

This resolution is more of a continuation of my current habits. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to track my macros to see if that makes a difference in how I feel at work and at the gym. What I first discovered from tracking my macros is that I was way under the amount of protein I need, especially if my goal is to gain more muscle. I also haven’t been eating enough calories–on days I go climbing, I should aim to eat around 2100 calories. However, I’ve been averaging around 1700 per day. That’s fine for normal days, but when I’m doing a lot of exercise, I need to be fueling my body better.

After I adjusted my diet and started taking my multivitamins again, my climbing performance improved dramatically. I have more stamina now and feel better on the wall. 

How funny, it’s almost like diet and energy levels are related! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!

Meeting my protein goal is going to be the hardest part of this resolution. As a vegetarian with all the food intolerances mentioned above, I’ve had to find different ways to force in more protein, including two protein shakes a day and eating my body weight in yogurt. Probiotics, woo!

Isn’t this…. Excessive? 

Some would say that four resolutions is overkill, and that I’m setting myself up for failure. I say that I THRIVE ON STRESSFUL STRUCTURE. 

In actuality, this is probably excessive. However, these are all goals that I think will greatly improve my life and well-being, and some are just continuations of behaviors I’ve already started in the last month. 

Next year I can work on being less Type A, ha ha ha.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What’s your plan for achieving them? Or have you achieved self-actualization already (and if so, will you tell us how)?

Making Resolutions that Mean Something to You

It’s nearly the end of the year, and this one’s a doozy. The 2010s are coming to an end, and a new decade is dawning. It’s a fresh start; an opportunity to make better, improved versions of ourselves. 

But can we actually achieve these shiny new dreams, these visions of self-actualization that we see in our mind? Absolutely! However, there are a few things we should keep in mind when we’re making our resolutions. 

First, I’d like to reflect on one of my resolutions from last year that was a big fat failure.

A Failed Resolution

One of my resolutions for 2019 was to study more German.

My partner speaks German. Quite well, actually. He’s over in Germany this very instant working, volunteering with a refugee organization, and finishing his second Master’s degree (yes, I’m bragging about him). He’s told me before that it would be great if I spoke German too, so we could tell each other secrets when we’re out and about. 

Additionally, we have several mutual friends who are Austrian, and it would be great if I could also converse with their friends and family whenever we visit. The last time I went to visit these friends in Vienna, one of them had to read the menu out at the restaurant to me to make sure I ordered something vegetarian. At the time, I felt like a little kid depending on their dad to help them navigate the adult world. It wasn’t a great look.

I’m flying out to Munich soon (two days after this post goes up, actually), and I told myself that this time I was going to study and work hard and be able to order my own food like a ‘big kid,’ etc. etc. And guess what?

I still don’t speak German. 

What happened? Well, I studied a bit. But nothing ever seemed to stick.

Frankly, learning languages has never been my forte. It took me an entire summer of four-hour-long classes to scrape together a ‘C’ in French so I could meet the language requirement for getting my ‘BA.’ My high school French teacher mostly told us stories of him being in Vietnam and how one of his daughters was great and the other daughter was a huge disaster. I passed that class with the help of google translate. 

The sentiments of my entire high school French class.

To me, languages in my brain are like water flowing through a sieve. Most of it just goes right on through. Occasionally one word or phrase will inexplicably attach itself to my brain–die katze! der schnee!–but the rest of it just leaves as soon as it arrives*. 

Look at me. I have excuses upon excuses. But what’s the truth? 

The truth is I just don’t care. 

I don’t care about speaking German. Other than my partner and a handful of friends, I don’t know anyone who speaks German. The only type of German I encounter in my work is Middle German, which isn’t what is used now (Modern German). This will be the second time I travel to a German speaking country, and the first time I will be there for more than five days. 

Would speaking German be helpful? Yes. 

Will I be perfectly fine without it? Also yes. 

It takes a huge amount of effort and energy to make a language stick, and frankly, I don’t think the payoff is enough with this particular goal. I’d still like to take a class or something at some point, but the motivation to self-study just isn’t there.

This resolution was bound to fail because I didn’t have a ‘Why.’ 

Finding a ‘Why’

What’s important to you? What type of life do you envision yourself leading?

I’d say the main problem is we haven’t invested enough time thinking about why our resolutions are important to us.

If you didn’t have to worry about financially support yourself, what is the ideal life that you would want to live? 

The answers to these questions can help you figure out your ‘why.’ Those of us in the FIRE/FIOR community may have already thought about this a lot. It’s the reason so many of us are trying to get out of debt and stash money away to become financially independent–we desire a life that aligns with our deepest goals, desires, and beliefs. 

I encourage you to take a long look at your life and pinpoint hobbies or goals that will more closely align your life with the one your heart wishes you could life. 

There are a lot of articles out there that claim early retirement causes early death. However, this seems to be associated with these individuals increasing the amount of time they spend sedentary and decreasing the number of social interactions they have. So, it’s not retirement that kills them, it’s a dearth of hobbies or friends. They don’t have activities or relationships that have significant meaning to them.

What gives you meaning? What makes life worth living? What’s something you always wanted to do? When you find the answers to these questions, you can start forming the basis of your resolutions. 

Supporting Your ‘Why’ with a Plan

Piggy over at Bitches Get Riches wrote a great post two years ago about how she has achieved her resolution every year for the past few years. Her secret? She makes her resolutions SMART goals. For those of you unfamiliar with SMART goals (a staple of corporate and nonprofit growth), these are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. 

If I were to re-imagine my resolution of learning German as a SMART goal, it might look something like this:

“By December 2019, I will have learned 100 German vocabulary words and 20 useful phrases.” 

“Study German” or “Learn German” or “Speak German” don’t really mean anything to me. How can I see progress or stay motivated if I don’t have any concrete indicators? By making a number, I give myself an easy concrete goal to hit. “Speak German” is difficult. Learning languages takes a long time, and making a goal of “Speak German” feels to me like Sisyphus rolling that damn rock up that hill. The task never ends. I will never achieve the goal.

I’ve a very numbers-motivated person. I have about fifteen spreadsheets between my personal finance and fitness hobbies alone, if that gives you any idea of how obsessive I can be with numeric goals. By quantifying my goal, it becomes achievable. 

Quantifying works for me, but may not work for you. Are you more of a visual person? Create a tumblr or pinterest board to help curate images that inspire you to reach your goal. Make a chart or coloring sheet that you can fill in as you accomplish your goals–for example, there are all kinds of free debt-repayment coloring charts online. Print one out and stick it on your fridge to help motivate you to reach your goal. 

Moving Forward

Next week I’ll delve into my personal ‘whys’ and the goals I created that use those ‘whys’ as their framework. 

What are your resolutions for the new year? What are your ‘whys’, and what steps do you plan on taking to achieve them? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

*The only exception to this was Korean. When I lived in South Korea, I picked up enough to get around, go to the dentist, speak with my students, etc. But I lived there for three and a half years, so the exposure rate was pretty damn high, and in my first year and a half only a handful of my coworkers spoke English, so it was basically a do-or-die situation.

Pocketing Away Tax-Deductible Money at the End of the Year

It’s December, which means that the 2010’s are almost over! What else is almost over? This year’s chance of lowering your taxable income by taking advantage of pre-tax investments. Personally, I’ve been crunching my numbers to see where I can throw an extra hundy or two. Here are some places that I’m trying to stash away some more pre-tax money before the end of the 2019 calendar year.

Homer knows what’s up.

Please note that I am 100% not an accountant or tax adviser and that you 100% should do your own research and double-checking before you do any of these things. In other words, take this advice as being worth a grain of salt. I’m not an expert. Don’t listen to me. Don’t do as I do or say.

A Traditional IRA

A Traditional IRA is a retirement account that allows you to deposit pre-tax money. You’re not taxed on what goes in, but you’re taxed on what comes out. Generally, a Traditional IRA is a good choice if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket when you retire. For the 2019 tax year, individuals are able to contribute up to $6,000 if you’re under the age of 50 and up to $7,000 if you’re 50 or older. 

All your contributions to a Traditional IRA can be tax-deductible, if you meet the eligibility requirements. If you’re filing single and have a retirement plan at work, for 2019, you can only deduct the full amount of contributions to your Traditional IRA if your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less. Once you hit $64,000, your deductions start to fade out, and they disappear completely if you earn $74,000. 

This is the category I fall into. If I’ve calculated correctly, my adjusted gross income should fall somewhere within the $62k range for the year (although I may have not calculated correctly, ha ha). As such, I anticipate being able to deduct all my contributions. However, I have not deposited my maximum $6k into my Traditional IRA; I won’t be able to meet that much money, but I’m going to try and squirrel away another $1k before it’s all said and done. Additionally, you have until April of the next year to make contributions that count toward the previous year’s taxes. 

One should keep in mind that any withdrawals made before the age of 59 ½ are subject to tax and early withdrawal penalties. You should be comfortable with essentially saying goodbye to these contributions until you reach that age.

And, please note that, in order to deduct your contributions, you must be making them into a Traditional IRA. Roth IRA contributions cannot be deducted from your taxes (instead, you won’t have to pay taxes when you withdraw from this account in retirement).

Student Loan Interest

Oh, student loans, how I loathe you, let me count the ways… about 42k. There are about 42k tiny green ways I loathe you.

It me.

As I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to mention until the universe puts me out of my misery or I sell a kidney to pay them off), I have about $42k in student loans. This was to pay for a degree to get a job in a field I genuinely enjoy (and has given me a small pay bump). I only kind of regret this degree, although I 100% regret not trying to first get a job at a school that offers this degree so I can go for free (THAT’S A SPICY HOT GRAD SCHOOL TIP RIGHT THERE, Y’ALL)

Fortunately for me, student loan interest payments can be deducted from one’s taxes provided they meet the eligibility requirements. For 2019, the maximum amount that can be deducted from taxes for student loan interest is $2,500. Please note that it doesn’t matter if you’re filing as single or married–$2,500 is the maximum for a return, even if you and your spouse both have student loans (Luckily, I’m still living in sin, so I can keep all the benefits to myself.). 

Student loan interest payment deductions have income requirements as well. Like the IRA deduction, student loan interest payments can only be deducted if an individual has an adjusted gross income of $65,000 a year or less. There are also a few other restrictions regarding who took the loan out, whether or not someone can claim you as a dependent, etc.–check to ensure your eligibility! 

By the time this post hits the internet, I’ll have made $2,500 worth of interest payments for the year, which I should be able to deduct from my taxes. Hooray!

HSA

As I’ve explained before on the blog, a Health Savings Account (HSA) is an account that allows you to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. These accounts are associated with insurance plans that have a high deductible–the idea is that you pay lower premiums in exchange for a higher deductible, but you have the opportunity to save money to meet that deductible. When you contribute money to an HSA, you lower your taxable income.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an HSA–long story short, for the plans my employer offers, the monthly premiums and high deductible more than negate any potential tax-offset I would get from having the HSA plan. As such, I’m sticking with my HMO (although in my opinion all monthly health premiums should be tax deductible, BUT I DIGRESS). 

However, if you have the option of setting up an HSA, you should consider doing it. As stated above, money contributed to an HSA is pre-federal-tax, which lowers your total taxable income for the year. Depending on your state, it may be taxed at the state level (thanks for nothing, California). Optum Bank has a list of states in which HSA contributions and/or earnings are taxed. So, while not available for everyone, HSAs provide one more option for lowering your taxable income. 

Be Amazon

Or you could just be a multibillion dollar corporation/”job creator” (*coughcough* *eyeroll* *finger-in-mouth-to-simulate-throwing-up*) and never pay federal taxes again. If you’re not comfortable being Amazon, harbinger of all our dooms, then consider being pretty much any other super large corporation. Either way, you’ll have enough politicians in your pocket to avoid paying taxes, but you’ll also get to do fun things like take away health insurance from part-time workers

Your Mileage May Vary

Naturally, these tips aren’t for everyone. No student loans? No interest deduction. Already maxed out a Traditional IRA? I’m very proud of you. Already CEO of Amazon? For the love of god, give part-time Whole Foods employees their health insurance back. 

What do you do at the end of the year (and throughout) to reduce your taxable income? Please feel free to put your plan (or suggestions for clarifications!) in the comments. 

As I said in the intro, this is not advice and you shouldn’t do as I say or do. Consult with your own tax genius to find the best ways of making your money work for you.

Open Grocery November 2019

It’s the first Tuesday of the month, and you know what that means–it’s time for the monthly Open Grocery post! What’s Open Grocery? Open Grocery is a series of posts that include detailed information about all of my grocery purchases for the month. The spreadsheet I’ve included has a dated and itemized list of all my grocery purchases, down to the poundage. 

The November numbers have been crunched, and out of my total budgeted $200, I spent: $198.51.

Hooray! I’m in budget for the month!

Hooray for me, indeed.

This is great, because last month I went $18.84 over and spend a total of $218.84. It’s good to see that I’m moving back in the right direction. This month’s total is much closer to September’s, when I spent $196.12.

(I should note that at the end of last month’s post, I put that I had a goal of $175 for November. I then promptly forgot about that goal. Let’s put it on the docket for January 2020, shall we?) 

For a full breakdown of everything I bought, when, and where, please check out the Open Grocery 2019 Google Sheet

So, what changed in the last month?

For one, I bought more alcohol. What can I say? It’s the holiday season. While last month I spent $13.28 on alcohol for the month (from a grocery store, anyway), this month I spent $31.97. 

One major purchase accounted for this change–on 11/26, I bought a box of wine. It was on sale for $18.99 compared to the usual $24.99, and supposedly it contains three full bottles of wine. Now, I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then; however, since I live alone and don’t like to have people over, my problem was that I would buy a bottle and then feel obligated to drink the whole thing before it went bad. The magic of boxed wine is that it can last much longer after being opened than bottled wine. According to the Black Box website, their wines stay fresh up to six weeks after opening. This means I don’t have to chug a glass and a half every evening for three nights straight (more than I want to drink anyway) just to avoid the guilt of throwing away what didn’t get finished. 

I plan on nursing this box for as long as possible and not buying any alcohol for my time at home in December. Uh, we’ll see how well this plan works out…

The biggest victory this month came from avoiding coupon errors! In September, I lost $14.06 to coupon errors. In October, I lost a whopping $27.25 to coupon errors. I count this as “lost” money because most of these products–October and the disastrous carrot cake ingredients in particular–would not have been purchased without the coupons. This month, I avoided this problem by (a) avoiding a lot of coupon-required purchases altogether and (b) reading the coupons more closely to understand if only specific sizes or flavors were covered. 

Me and you, Honey Boo Boo. Only I think you’re referring to success, and I’m just referring to avoiding failure.

Additionally, for the two months I stayed in budget, I made one less trip to the grocery store. In September and November, I made seven trips to the store (which seems like a lot, but in my defense, I eat a lot of fresh veggies!), while in October I made eight. I’m trying to make a conscious effort to ask myself–can I go just one more day?–before running off to the store. I’m trying especially hard to do this for December, since I’ll be out of my apartment for twelve days (and as such need to eat anything that may expire during that time!). 

What can we expect for next month? Well, the budget will need to be adjusted–I will be traveling from December 19th to the 30th, so I’ve calculated a monthly grocery budget of approximately $130 dollars (the usual $200 divided by 31, multiplied by the 19 full days and two half-days I will be home, and rounded up to look better). I’m also trying to purchase zero alcohol and concentrate on mainly buying fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, while eating up all the rest of the food in my house.

That’s all for this month! Shorter than the previous two posts, but honestly, I just don’t have that much to say. They’re groceries, y’all. December will be a lighter month, and then hopefully in 2020 I can discipline myself down to $175/month!