Wrapping up 2018

By Josh December 16, 2018

By the time you read this, there will likely be less than 2 weeks left in the year 2018. This is the time of year that I like to slow down, think back and reflect on the past 12 months.

Last week, there was a trending hashtag on Twitter that said #2018in5words and I decided to chime in:

In many ways, 2018 was a dumpster fire. By January 11th, my boss quit for a higher paying job in the private sector and my new boss decided to fire the new guy we had just hired a couple months prior. This suddenly left me as the only State employee covering 468 communities in 67 counties for the material in which I offer specialized support. There was scuttlebutt that my work-from-home situation was going to be recalled, and I would be required to move 400 miles away to Tallahassee or start looking for another job. Thankfully, that did not materialize, but my position was going to be treated as temporary unless I made the move, so in effect, there was truth to the rumor.

In June, my air conditioner froze up and I was left to deal with the 90°+ days without A/C for a weekend. Fortunately, this was resolved with a service call and a couple hundred dollar bill. I wasn’t quite so lucky in late August and early September when my water heater fried itself and I struggled to get someone qualified to come replace it with a tankless water heater system (and the accompanying electrical upgrades that were necessary to make that work). 18 days and about $2,300 later, I finally could take a shower in my own home again.

But overall, it really was the best year I’ve ever had. After 3.5 years in a job with no vacation and no paid holidays, I made a job change in May and I’m accruing 10 vacation days and 12 sick days, plus have 11 paid holidays and 3 floating personal days each year. With my FY2018 floating days, I attended FinCon18 in Orlando and met so many of my wonderful personal finance Twitter friends and many others!

With my new job came a new commute (no longer working from home), so I decided to use those nearly 2 hours per day in a positive way. I’ve been devouring episodes of several podcasts each day, from ChooseFI, Afford Anything, FIRE drill, The FI Show, Radical Personal Finance, His and Her FI, Chain of Wealth, Miles to Go, Do You Even Blog, and many more. It’s always such a treat to hear the voices of my actual friends on this podcasts sharing their knowledge and experience with the rest of us!

Travel was certainly the theme of 2018, with a total of 20 flight segments (and one epic train ride) to visit a total of 10 states:

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In February, I flew home to Indiana for a weekend trip to see my high school’s girls basketball team compete for the State Championship. This was the first time I’d been able to feel like a wealthy, accomplished alumnus, even though the whole trip was paid for with Southwest Rapid Rewards miles and Hilton Honors points for my lodging 3 blocks from the game site.

I had work travel that took me out of state to Atlanta, Phoenix and San Diego, and I had my first opportunity to give a presentation at a national conference (the Association of State Floodplain Managers) in Phoenix.

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Other work-related travel took me to St. Petersburg, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, and Daytona Beach, but I was able to drive to those locations.

In between the two jobs, I took off on a round-the-country trip over 13 days that took me from Tallahassee, to Atlanta, to Los Angeles, then onto the Coast Starlight train to Seattle, a free business class flight to Boston, and then back home to Fort Myers for a few days of relaxation before starting the new job. It was in Seattle that I first met in person with a personal finance friend from Twitter, Ty Roberts from CampFIREfinance.

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I’ve made incredible new friends and forged closer friendships with existing friends. I’ve met celebrities of the personal finance and FIRE space, and I take pride in my own unique position within the space as champion of others’ stories and friend/ally that can be counted on for support.

I quit a soul-sucking side hustle (Ubering) and found other avenues to supplement my day job income. I’ve hammered out thousands of words (sometimes in one post) and restarted my own blog back in January at the behest of Penny. 😉

After 13 years of living on my own after college, I finally cut the cord and went with a WiFi and streaming entertainment option that is saving me over $100/month. Along the same lines of entertainment, I went to the movie theater and watched first-run movies almost a dozen times. In the name of frugality, I had given up in-theater movies for the past several years, but I really enjoy going sometimes, so I finally splurged a little bit on some movies and I do not regret it.

I read a dozen books, which is about a dozen more than I usually read in a given year. Favorites include The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, The Feminist Financial Handbook by Brynne Conroy, and Retire Early with Real Estate by Coach Chad Carson. I’m happy to call these three friends, and I can’t wait for more book launches in 2019 such as Tanja Hester’s book Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way.

Speaking of books and movies, the crowdfunded documentary and book for Playing with FIRE should be released in January or February, and I was pleased to be in a position to donate to the cause. The FIRE is spreading! Another (larger) donation I made was to my state professional organization; I bought a quality projector for use in training courses and our annual conference. I know how much the hotels and convention facilities charge for A/V equipment, so my donation this year will save the association many hundreds/thousands over the course of its useful life.

Speaking of donations, I was able to successfully give blood a couple weeks ago. I’m such a baby around blood and needles, but I overcame my fears and they tell me my donation will save 3 lives. That feels way better than a little bit of fear feels scary.

I set 6 resolutions for 2018 and I smashed 5 of those, so I call it a win.

I have been thinking about resolutions for 2019, but I like the idea of setting intentions instead of resolutions. I fully intend to build upon the successes of 2018 and to forge ahead with new plans. I cannot wait to make so many more new friends at CampFI Southeast Week 2 in January, and to reconnect with my favorite people in the world at FinCon19 in Washington D.C. in September. Travel remains high on my priority list, but I don’t have a whole lot of time saved up, so I might just need to take some long weekends and use up some of my accumulated hotel and airline points to go see some more of this beautiful blue and green marble we call home.

How would you recap 2018? What goals do you hope to achieve in the new year 2019?

Drank the Emergency Fund

By Josh December 6, 2018

There is a widely-cited statistic that 40% of Americans cannot pay an unexpected $400 emergency. Are you one of these people without an Emergency Fund capable of footing that bill? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you drank it?

So before everyone criticizes me for being crass, this is really just another take on examining your spending. I recently realized that almost 30% of my spending at restaurants is related to my choice of beverages; soda, tax and tip for a usual lunch, and possibly much higher if I order a beer or other alcoholic beverage at dinner or in a bar. I already wrote about how I don’t buy lattes or other coffee-based beverages, but I still go to Starbucks when it is cold outside so I can get a hot chocolate or a caramel apple spice.

So let’s break this down. Not every restaurant sells soda for $1 like McDonald’s… some sit-down restaurants are $2.50-$3.00 easily. Then you add sales tax of 5-7% (maybe more, maybe less if you’re in a state without sales tax) and then tip your wait staff as well. That bubbly, sugary soft drink might tack on $4 to an individual restaurant bill.

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Do you ever go out to bars? Beers are one of the cheaper options, but can still be around $4-$8 depending on the style, size, and type. And you probably don’t drink just one. Cocktails and shots can really rack up too, and so does your bar tab. Even everyone’s favorite frugal grandma Penny recently admitted to buying $12 shots of Patron in her younger days:

To round out the list, we have wine. Glasses and bottles (or boxes, I won’t judge) can range from Two Buck Chuck to $20 very easily, and a whole lot more if you have fancy taste.

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So why do we continue to spend good money on all of these drink choices with minimal nutritional value and lots of empty calories?

What if we switched half of our liquid libations to nature’s perfect potion: H2O. Wouldn’t our waistlines and wallets welcome that?  How long would it take to stockpile sawbucks that could save us from small or sizeable squeezes?

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I’m not begrudging anyone their beverage of choice, but am suggesting we could all be more mindful when deciding what to drink. And such a simple change might add up to a whole lot of change when it comes to saving for that starter emergency fund.