First off, New Year’s Resolutions are stupid. Why do you have to wait until you tack up the new calendar before you start trying to improve your life? When exactly in 2018 did you stop caring about making a better you? How many cookies did you eat on December 30th because you had two more days to be a fat slob?
Anyway, I digress. Happy 2019. I thought it would be fun to publish some goals for the new year, as a way to force myself to track my progress. This fits in nicely with my theme of continual improvement.
I will divide my goals into 3 categories: Financial, Business/Professional, and Personal. I will make “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) so they’re not too amorphous, and I’ll update on my progress periodically.
1. Increase savings rate to 65%
The Brewing FIRE household’s savings rate in 2018 was 58%. Obviously this number is pretty good, but I know it can be better. And the higher we can drive our savings rate, the faster we can pull the ripcord on our FIRE plan.
As I’ve detailed in my path to FI, I’ve spent many years optimizing my finances. The proverbial low hanging fruit has already been plucked. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to optimize, and grow the gap between our income and our spending.
One key for us is live more intentionally in 2019. What I mean by this is that we are going to try to be more cognizant of our decisions, and make sure our spending (both time and money) aligns more closely with our values.
2. Build cash balance to $25,000
I feel like I am always having an internal debate over how much money we should keep in cash. Letting money sit in an account that doesn’t earn much interest doesn’t seem too prudent. However, I’m going to build up a little more cash this year, for three reasons.
- Cover short-term cash flow needs. When I simplified our finances last year, I automated almost every monthly money transfer, payment, and investment. However, we do have some large expenses periodically during the year, such as our semi-annual property taxes and insurance premiums. By having a chunk of cash sitting in a separate savings account, we can draw from here for large bills, and then replenish it during the following months.
- Create a sinking fund. A sinking fund is a separate account established and funded in order to pay a future debt obligation. Mrs. BF has a sizable amount of student loan debt from graduate school. Since she’s enrolled in a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, this debt should be forgiven in early 2024. However, I’m a little skeptical about whether this program will actually work. In the event that she does not receive loan forgiveness, I want to have the assets available to aggressively wipe out whatever debt remains at that point.
- Build up our FIRE cash cushion. In the event that Mrs. BF’s debt is forgiven in 2024, we should be in a position to consider some form of early retirement at that point. If we do, I want to have at least 1-2 years of expenses in cash, so that we can weather any potential sequence of returns risks.
Business / Professional Goals
3. Outperform expectations at work while shirking further responsibility and mentoring junior chemists
I know – this goal is not very ‘SMART.’ How exactly does one quantify “shirking responsibility”?
So here’s my situation. I have been identified as an “up and coming” chemist in my department. It’s amazing that I have a 15 year track record of providing value to the company and I’m just now joining the lower rungs of management. But that’s how it is- a bunch of gray beards on top, and not much in the way of upward mobility.
Last year I received a long overdue promotion, and I was made a manager. I had been pushing for the promotion, but not the manager role. As I begin to glimpse FIRE way off on the horizon, I have less appetite for responsibility.
A major goal for me now is to make sure that the junior chemists here receive proper treatment, possibly even better than I did. Much like Freddy Smidlap’s series of advice for young professionals, I’m trying to do what I can to get the youngin’s on their own path to freedom. If they succeed, then I succeed. And hopefully we can have some fun along the way.
4. Test a side hustle strategy or two, earn $500
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about side hustles, and the search for my perfect side hustle. In 2019 I hope to make strides in narrowing down some potential strategies, and test out a couple options.
Depending on the side hustle(s) I decide to pursue, I may have to develop some new abilities, such as the coding and/or more DIY skills. At this point I’m keeping my scope broad, and hopefully I’ll start to find my niche.
5. Blog – publish 36 posts
When I think about the blog, I see it as a way for me to develop my FI strategy in real time, track my progress, and further develop my writing style.
My goal is not to monetize this site. If I wanted to make money with this blog, I’d probably need to post 3x a week and spit a lot more bullshit. That’s not really my interest.
However, I do think that continuing to develop my blog and sharing my thoughts on here will eventually lead to other opportunities. I see it as part of my side hustle strategy, even if it is not a side hustle in itself.
That being said, I will try to publish 36 posts this year, which works out to 3 per month. I have a quite a few ideas brewing already (see what I did there?), it’s just a matter of finding the time to write.
6. Walk 3,650,000 steps
For those of you who didn’t major in math, that’s 10,000 steps per day.
I’ve been thinking about how to create a fitness goal without making the metrics too rigid. Being physically active and healthy is very important to me, but I’m fairly disciplined already and I don’t see myself requiring too much change.
I already run at least 4x per week, we do weekend hike/bike/swim activities whenever the weather permits, and I play softball in the summer. I’m within 10 lbs of my ideal weight. The steps goal will just be a gentle reminder to ‘keep moving around,’ especially during the moments of inertia in the winter.
7. Win a homebrewing competition / medal
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I take a new interest, I dive headlong into it and learn everything there is to know.
I took up homebrewing in a serious way in 2013. I read a number of books on the topic, delved into the science behind beer and fermentation, and assembled my home “brew lab.” It took some time, but I eventually was turning out good beers.
In 2017 I started submitting to homebrew competitions. I placed 2nd in the first competition I entered (with a Saison), and got an ‘exceptional’ score on the next competition I entered (a Brett beer), though I didn’t medal.
Then life happened. Baby BF was born, I started brewing for a brewpub, and my homebrewing obsession has fallen off the wagon.
My goal this year is to focus on brewing new styles, and further hone my abilities. This objective should provide (liquid) enjoyment either way!
8. Read 12 books
In my previous position at my company, I used to travel up to 10 weeks per year. Although it was not the path for me, I certainly had lots of free time on flights and in hotels. It was easy to read at least one book per trip.
It’s a little harder to find the time now. It’s like that parable with the rocks, pebbles and sand- I keep thinking my life is full of activities/responsibilities, yet I keep finding ways to carve out time for the important stuff.
If I can read for just 15 minutes most days, I should be able to finish one book per month. And if I have to, I’ll throw in a couple short ones to reach my target, just like in high school!
9. Kill the noise: quit social media and the 24 hour news cycle
If 2019 is the year of intentional living, then this goal is an imperative. Social media, and media in general, is rotting our brains. I think we will look back on this period, some years from now, and say, “that’s when the decline of the human race began.”
I’m not saying I’m immune. I actually don’t spend all that much time on social media platforms. However, I’ve been a news whore for years. For a while, I thought that consuming as much news as possible made me ‘informed’, and made me sound more intelligent at parties. It’s good to know what’s going on in the world, but there’s a limit. Watching CNN (or MSNBC, or Fox News) on endless repeat will assuredly make you less informed as time goes on.
This year, I will no longer listen to CNBC when I’m in the car; I will consume podcasts instead. I have the “screen time” function on my phone, set to turn me off at 15 minutes every day. Outside of catching up on my Twitter feed, I’m planning to stay off other platforms almost entirely.
10. Break the routine / do something new every week
This is my ‘fun’ goal, but I have a feeling that it could be the most meaningful accomplishment of the year. Let me explain.
I’m a creature of habit. I stick to the things I know and like, and rarely do things that make me uncomfortable. But it’s often said that the path to growth and self-discovery involves going outside of one’s comfort zone.
So in 2019, I’m resolving to get uncomfortable. Whenever I have a chance, I will break my routine. I will say “yes” to certain opportunities that I would normally decline. I’ll make an effort to learn more about people who are just acquaintances right now, and try to forge new connections.
At the very least, I hope to hike new parks, volunteer for a cause or two, and learn some new skills this year. As I said, I hope this will spur some personal growth, and could also lead me to my perfect side hustle.
What do you think? Are these good goals, or did I sandbag it? Did I miss anything?