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A Look Back at the Ups and Downs of 2013: Joan’s Mid-December Financial Update

in Joan's Posts, Our Financial Journey, Pay Off Your Debt

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Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

This marks the end of my first full calendar year of updates here on Man Vs. Debt! (Though I’d done three-quarters of the year in 2012.)

At the same time, our family is in the process of job transitions, personal changes and decision-making.

Seems like a good time to take stock of where we’ve come this year. Next month, when I share our financial update, I hope I’ll be in a position to share some particular news about where we’re going in 2014, but for now, I want to showcase some of the awesomeness (and the less-than-awesomeness) that was 2013, and give you some ways to take a look at your own year in review!

Our six big financial wins for the year

  • Total debt INCLUDING mortgage: Down $10,484.76 this year, from $263,103.53 in December 2012 to $252,618.77 this month. I don’t often include our mortgage in our debt totals, but as we hit a milestone in it this year, dropping our total owed below $200,000 AND, finally, not being underwater on the expected resale value, I wanted to celebrate this!
  • Total credit-card and loan debt: Down $7,057.32 this year, from $61,366.50 in December 2012 to $54,309.18 this month. This isn’t even close to some of our past averages, but I’m proud of it. I fought for every penny of that – including the month where I was so proud that I ended $3.29 to the good from the previous month! When you factor in super-rough times like that, I’m incredibly proud of how far we came against this debt.
  • (The hated) Bank of America credit card: Down $4,557.61 this year, from $19,809.70 in December 2012 to $15,252.09 this month. This is the card we’re passionate about tackling, the one we throw anything extra against, and the one we most desperately want to be rid of. Since we started, we paid off more than $25,000 on this card, so seeing the remaining balance at “only” $15,000 makes me feel like the end is actually in sight!
  • Total money in liquid savings: $15,821.49. For those who read Man Vs. Debt regularly, you know that much of this came from a decision for which I took a LOT of heat, but looking back on the year behind and ahead to 2014, this money, where it is, is probably the only way I’m staying sane about some of the changes we intend to make! It was hard to make the decision to cash out my 401(k), but I’m more certain than ever that it was a win for us personally.
  • Tracking our progress: I’m serious when I say I consider this one of the biggest wins of 2013. We kept track, every month, even when things looked ugly. We shared our story here on MvD, and kept even more detailed records for ourselves. We had regular planning meetings with our accountant to be sure we were on solid tax footing. All in all, I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I can say that even when it’s not ideal, I’m ON TOP of our financial situation, and I love it.
  • Our family bookstore: Realizing a longtime goal, we took our first step toward owning a brick-and-mortar family bookstore. It’s not huge by far, but we ended the year in the black, learned a lot about bookselling beyond Amazon, and, I think, found a way to better use the space in our home by removing a large inventory of books from it. So that’s pretty amazing!

Three ickier parts of 2013

  • Rearranging debt: I’ve mentioned before that I am not a fan of debt consolidation. At all. For many people, it’s a sideways move at best, and I have seen plenty of cases where it did more harm than good. In our case this year, we have two accounts that ended the year with a higher debt balance, both done intentionally and from moving money from other accounts, not through any new purchases. I’m calling this an ickier part not because it was awful, but because I should have trusted my gut. We dabbled in it, and as expected, it didn’t do anything much except save us a handful of dollars on interest and confuse my tracking spreadsheet. Lesson learned.
  • The job market: So in good news, I’ve had several offers of work since I made it known that my husband was leaving his job to freelance, and I was looking to take on full-time employment (in addition to keeping some of my contract work, which currently takes up more than full-time hours). In bad news, many of these offers were also for contract work (and not benefitted, which is a key for me); some would not allow me to keep the contract jobs I have because of competitive arrangements; and yet others had distance or hours conflicts that were insurmountable. The good news is that I don’t “need” to take a job, so I can be choosy; the bad news is, it’s a rough job market, and I’m learning just how rough first-hand. I can honestly say that of the jobs I’ve applied cold to – not ones where I’ve tapped an existing connection – I’ve had almost NO response. That’s humbling – and it makes me glad that my self-employment income is more than sufficient for our needs!
  • Stress-related decisions: We’ve had a rough year – some fairly decent-sized family health problems, some unexpected expenses, some personal worries and a lot of big decisions to make. Through it all, my stress level skyrocketed – and I’m sad to say that anything that I truly view as a “bad” financial decision came out of that. Everything from an impulse-purchase of silly earrings to too many lunches out because I didn’t plan my menus as closely as normal, instead of reducing my stress or feeling like a “treat,” made it a little bit worse. Individually, that $5 or $10 isn’t a huge deal, and I’ve been working hard at giving myself room in the budget for those unexpected odds and ends. But when it adds up to a behavior pattern, it’s a bit more worrisome. I’m pleased to say things are on a fairly even keel now, and I’m doing as much as I can to keep my decisions healthy, but it’s still a low from this year.

A few highlights regarding non-money stuff

  • Fitness: I earned my first-degree black belt in tae kwon do in July!
  • Homeschooling: Our daughter, Sarah, who is 13, is now more than halfway through what would be her eighth-grade year if she were in public school and doing great. We’re in the process of rebranding our family homeschooling website (a big part of our vision for 2014, which you’ll hear more about next month) and we’ve had a ton of learning fun together.
  • Friends: I specifically went into 2013 attempting to make new friends. And I did – several, all of whom are amazing in ways I can’t describe, and all of whom are introducing me to tons of new things and experiences (which was what I was hoping for). This might be the part of 2013 I’m happiest about.

Here on Man Vs. Debt

Your year in review

So I got to talk about me a lot here. That’s fun. I guess. Maybe not for you, and if not, well, thanks for bearing with me!

But I say all this to get you thinking. So many of us focus on New Year’s resolutions and goals for the coming year. That can be fine – but there is value in a look back, too.

I think the thing I’ve realized after taking a look back at the past year is how many directions I’m changing in. Professionally, financially, personally, and with regard to particular relationships, health… so many things! It’d be easy to limit myself to a review of one area, but really, my life has grown in SO MANY directions that I can’t even begin to encompass them all. Your life will be very different than mine – but here are a few questions that I truly hope you’ll ask.

  • Where did 2013 take you? Where did you start… where are you now… and where are you going? This can be related to a particular topic or life area, or overall. My short answer is that 2013 has taken me more toward “being me” and knowing what makes me truly happy.
  • What were your five biggest successes this year? Don’t overthink it – just pick the things that immediately stand out, no matter how big or small.
  • What were your three “icks” this year? I don’t call them regrets, and I don’t call them failures. They’re just “things that weren’t super-great.” And there are fewer of them than successes in this line of questioning for a reason. They’re important, but they can’t be your focus.
  • What did you create? Was it an amazing blog post, a beautiful piece of art, a system that made things easier for your coworkers, a welcoming entryway in your home, or something else? My goal is for everyone to be able to point to one tangible thing and say, “THAT. I made that happen.”
  • What image or moment from the year sticks in your mind? Again, don’t think too hard about this. What one picture or memory immediately pops into your head? Whatever it is, good or bad, think about the time surrounding it and ask yourself what it tells you about what’s important. If it’s a happy moment, how can you bring more of that type of happiness into your coming year? If it’s a less-happy one, what made it so hard, and what can you learn about yourself through it?

I could give you dozens of questions. But the point is not to create an endless set of journal-writing prompts (unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case, carry on!) My goal, though, is to get you started thinking back on your year. I hope your mind will wander. I hope you’ll start thinking of things not even close to the things I’ve posed questions about. And I hope as you’re looking, you’ll find the good in 2013 and be ready to put the bad parts to rest.

Because, you know, next month, when we vision and shape our 2014… you’ve got to be ready for it!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on 2013 – financially and otherwise – in the comments today. 

Are you in?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah December 16, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Thanks for sharing your growth in all the areas of your life Joan! I always try to take and whole picture view of things, and encourage my clients to do the same, especially when dealing with big goals. It has seemed like a powerful year following your updates, I really appreciate your sharing all these details and seeing the way you help others and reach out for support.

2013 was huge for me personally. I started the year working full time on my business as a health coach, but that wasn’t moving as quickly as I expected it too and money was getting tight, so I went back to work full time as a massage therapist and continued to do my health coaching business. This is my first position that pays me a living wage and provides full benefits so it was a huge blessing to get this job. I have recently been moved to step out of health coaching and into personal finance coaching in 2014- because I love helping people heal their relationship with money, and I also love making spreadsheets!

Due to my job we moved an hour west and rented the most adorable house with a wood-stove and large yard and fantastic neighbors.

My partner of 9 years proposed to me in March. We are getting married in August and planning a great zero debt wedding (zerodebtwedding.com is purchased, but the website still only exists in my head.) Our beloved cat was diagnosed with cancer in early June and we had six months with her until it became clear her time had come.

Oh, in in 5 days I turn 30. I am so so so freaking grateful for everything.
I look forward to reading everyone else’s comments!

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Leah December 16, 2013 at 11:14 AM

I forgot to mention that we have $5000 saved for our wedding AND have paid off about $17,000 in debt. All those meals of Broccoli Mashed Potatoes (http://onlearningtolivewell.tv/2012/01/broccoli-cheddar-mashed-potatoes/) and Corn Meal Mush (http://onlearningtolivewell.tv/2011/12/mamaliga-the-traditional-family-cornmeal-mush/) have certainly paid off!

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Alexa December 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM

I’ve just discovered this site, and reading your post warmed my heart. It just gave me a sense of “not-aloneness” in the financial ups and downs of life. 2013 was a year of massive change for me. I got a divorce after 15 years of marriage and became a single mom with 90% of the responsibility of raising my 10 year old daughter. The upside of all that is that I am a zillion times happier than I’ve been in years. The downside is that making ends meet has been close to impossible. But, I am perservering. I keep working at it. I feel like the financial piece is the last piece of the puzzle to puttting my life back together. I have taken Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and am working on the steps. I am reading Kate Northrop’s lovely book, Money, A Love Story. I plan on taking Barbara Stanny’s course, Overcoming Under Earning next year. I am educating myself as best I can, and am determined to get in control of my finances. I look forward to using this blog as one of my resources. Keep up the good work!

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pt December 16, 2013 at 1:18 PM

i found your post so inspiring. I am glad i found MvD this year!!

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pt December 16, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Where did 2013 take you?
I was released from my 2 year least on an apt I overreached for in 2012.
I now have an extra $600. I had to move out of a studio and moved into a roommate situation. With the exception of the roommate’s cat, I like it. With the extra cash I managed to put myself in credit card debt ($4412).

What were your five biggest successes this year?
I got real with money. I had to think hard, why is money in and out with me? I found MvD and figured out the excel worksheet (I am excel ignorant.) I kept my dead end job. I set some personal goals: a dream European trip which I am saving for in the summer, and also most likely going back to school if I don’t find a better paying job. I am in good physical health, started going to the gym religiously. I still need to do better with food expenses.
What did I create?
A nice, more affordable home in a great neighborhood for myself.

What image or moment from the year sticks in your mind?
I was on a surf board for the first time in my life! and realizing, by being very anxious and depressed, that i will never want to pay more rent ever and that I do not need to buy a home (unlike what my parents insisted all successful people do.) I have met some amazing friends and made contact with an artist I respect. I take care of myself…no one is going to be responsible for my happiness (I’ve read this all my life but only this year did I truly live this experience.)

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Mary Ann Clifford December 16, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Joan, thank you for an inspiring year, up or down. It only means you’re human and are living a normal day to day existence out there. I like that you are sharing the road with us, it means a lot! I’ve been on my particular journey for 5 years now and am proud (if not debt free yet) of how far I’ve come, some downs but definitely some ups. I’m looking forward to continuing with you on your journey in 2014!! Thank you and Merry Christmas!

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FrugalTeacher December 16, 2013 at 8:33 PM

Awesome year in review! I’ll be posting my full year in review in the coming days, but I was lucky enough to pass my $5k debt reduction goal in November and will ultimately surpass it by about $1,500!!!

Onto 2014 and a much more ambitious student loan paydown goal!

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Martha December 17, 2013 at 1:59 AM

This has been a good year. It had some realy great great moments, but also some icky ones.

*I quit my “Real” job at that BANK you hate so much and jumped into the life of an entrepreneur. And I ain’t never going back!! (the good) My business did ok this year – but I am poised for it to really take off in 2014. I had to have surgery last month, and my right hand is in a cast up to my elbow (the icky) which is very painful and very limiting – My business would have done much better if not for that.

Something else good – and you mentioned it briefly in your good things. My house (which I did not live in) finally become not underwater (barely) and I was able to sell it in a regular sale (not short sale) without bringing any cash to the table. It sold really quickly, making me finally debt free (woohoo!!) and bringing my monthly expenses way way down, so that I can now live on a very small budget. Which in turn helped me to jump into the afore-mentioned self-employment with alot less angst.

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OC Budget December 18, 2013 at 2:24 PM

It looks like you made good headway this year even though you have had unexpected outflows this year, i.e, medical, etc. Congratulations!
You’re an inspiration, joan!

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Mary December 26, 2013 at 7:14 AM

Thank you for sharing about your difficulties in “cold-calling” for jobs. In the past, I’ve had good results in sending in my resume “cold” and then getting called for interviews. Recently things have been different for me, too. Out of 9 resumes sent in where I didn’t know anybody, I got one call. I just read in Money Magazine’s December 2013 issue that in 2007, 28% of jobs were filled internally. Now 42% of jobs are filled internally. That old saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” seems even more true today.

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Kris December 31, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Joan, thanks so much for all your hard work, the thoughtfulness of your essays, and your bravery in being radically financially transparent! You are a major reason why I follow this site! I hope 2014 brings you and your family vibrant health, new professional opportunities, and continued major progress on getting debt free!

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