27,000 light-years from the galactic center of a barred-spiral galaxy known as “The Milky Way” is a massive concentration of gas and dust known as the Orion Arm. On the inner part of this arm is a G-type dwarf star known as “The Sun.” Four-and-a-half billion years ago this ball of hydrogen and helium was formed via the gravitational collapse of a giant molecular cloud. The remainder of the matter within its gravitational pull collapsed into a disk of planets known as a solar system. A dense, terrestrial sphere coalesced 93 million miles from “The Sun.” This sphere of iron, oxygen and silicon came to be known as “Earth.”
Between 1.1 and 1.9 billion years after the condensing and cooling of “Earth,” inorganic processes brought single-cell organisms to life. Through the following 1.1 – 1.9 billion years, replication and mutation adjusted the biological diversity of earth. Bipedal, dextrous life forms began to take on a familiar shape around 225,000 years ago. These organisms came to be known as “humans.”
As humans grew in collective intelligence, they became self-aware of this planetary structure and its orbit around its life-giving star. Around the time of Homer, humans developed a lunisolar calendar which aligned the lunar phases with the elliptical orbit of earth. Over the following centuries, these intelligent tool-making organisms began to place greater significance to the moment that “Earth” completed a planetary orbit of “The Sun.” Recently, the passing of a calendar year has been seen as a moment of reflection, rebirth, and anticipation for what lay ahead. Today, you will read about this moment of reflection and anticipation for a budding little personal finance blog called “Retire29.”
So, let us look back on the year that was, the year that will be, the success and failings of past goals, and new goals to come.
Looking Back at 2015
How can I sum up a whole year of life in such a way that doesn’t look like a tired old Christmas letter. Answer: “Briefly.”
Retire29 had it’s first real year in 2015. While I had been blogging for the last few months of 2014, posts were sparse, largely unread, and somewhat odd and directionless. I recall being excited when the entire Retire29 website had more than 10 page views in a day. Now, an average new post gets about 100-times that many views. I’ll never see that kind of growth again…
I feel that I became a far better writer as the year went along, which was really fun to see and bodes promise for the future. As far as writing quality and readability, my favorite three posts this year are here, here, and here. If you’re new here, consider these a “Best of 2015” sort of thing.
The Retire29 family began 2015 in Manhattan, living a life that wasn’t even close to affordable. So, we left. We stuffed the car to the ceiling on my 30th birthday and never looked back. Even though the financial underpinnings of the NYC experiment probably added a year or more to my working life, the industry experience, life experience, and family growth we had throughout it all made it worthwhile. Never once can I say about Baby29, “Wow, I can’t believe she is almost 2!” Because I feel like she’s 13. I say that because her whole life has been a crazy patchwork of apartments, houses, changing doctors, bus travel, plane travel, freezing weather, hot weather, upside-down schedules, and everything else. The lack of routine is what slows down life. In that way, New York was a positive experience for us. Such is the case in life; every day is a give and take, pros and cons, ups and downs. Perception is, quite literally, reality. Far more important than what you do in life is how you feel about what you do in life.
Financially, things have been decent. The unreal and prolonged drop in commodity prices has crimped passive dividend income pretty severely in recent months. On the upside, that means dividend growth going forward will be better than previously thought, although it will be against a lower base. A flat/slightly down 2015 stock market has resulted in an unremarkable investing landscape. However, I did pretty well:
All Figures Represent 2015 Total Returns (i.e. Including Dividends)
S&P 500: 1.29%
Roth IRA: 13.92% – My largest holding at the start of the year was Netflix, which so happened to be the #1 performer in the entire S&P. Another holding is Activision, the #3 performer. The huge drop in a large holding, Kinder Morgan, offset a lot of these gains. The Roth IRA is about 35% of my investment assets. Of course, you can see all of portfolio here.
Taxable Brokerage: 11.98% – Despite all the worry about rising interest rates, my high-yield corporate (JPS) and municipal (CMU) bond ETFs did very nicely. This account is about 10% of my investment assets.
Dividend Growth Investing: -4.49% – Yikes. The rout of energy/commodities really took this portfolio to the woodshed. The dividends paid couldn’t make up for the huge losses in names like Textainer, Hi-Crush, Atwood, BHP, and Potash. This account is about 40% of my investment assets.
Thanks to $10k in consumer debt paydown, another $10k in mortgage paydown, around $8k in dividends, and maxing my IRA and 401k, my overall net worth still rose by almost $60k (about 17%). That’s incredible to me. The first part of this year we were still spending twice my income. I didn’t work at all for two weeks (between jobs), and we moved (again). The market was flat/slightly down. I guess that’s the power of dividends and always adding new capital. And, looking at things year-over-year vs. month-to-month really changes perspective. I really thought I was making very little progress.
I only netted around $650 in “side hustle” money this year from writing. That’s a combination of Retire29 and SeekingAlpha. That’s really not much at all, and paid for about two months of groceries. However, that’s just the start. I’m not much of a “hit the ground running” sort of person. If I can see consistent growth of that number for the next five years, then it will end up being quite large.
Looking Ahead at 2016
Progress. That’s what most of us want in any year. Lower weight. Healthier diet. More family interaction. Better financial footing. More books. Less TV. More church. More appreciation for what we have. Less desire for what we don’t.
My new goals (further down) will give you an idea of where my ambitions are for 2016. But, in general, I’m really happy with how things are going. I know that if I just hold pace that I’ll be retiring in about 7 years. With some very minimal additional effort I can pretty quickly drop that to 5 years. By “additional effort,” I’m talking about additional side income via the web, a rental property, and some tax consulting work later down the road that will go above and beyond the lifeblood of dividends (which is the bulk of my passive income).
On a personal level, we’d really like to have a second child in 2016, and that will be a definite priority for us. I’d like to get to be a better photographer (using my great Christmas present!). I’d like to finish up my CPA courses and, after almost 400 credits, be officially done with college. I’d like to be a better dad, and spend less time on my phone. I’d like to be a better husband, and show more appreciation for my wife. Lastly, I’d like to procrastinate a little less, and work a little harder. It’s good for me.
2015 Goals Recap
Expenses: Cut monthly expenses to $5,000/mo from $9,000/mo. In December, finally with just one car payment, you’ll see (next week or so, when the monthly report is out), expenses of just about $5k.
Passive Income: Increase passive income to $925/mo. This was looking promising in late summer. However, the protracted drop in commodity prices put the kibosh on this one. I’ll end the year just above $800/month.
Possessions: Sell the Corvette. Didn’t happen.
Debt: Cut non-mortgage debt to $16,000 (from $33,000 at start of year). Nope. Got to $22k. This goes along with selling the Corvette (which, by the way, hasn’t been driven in over a year). When we sell the car, that loan will be paid and the remainder will wipe out most of the remaining debt.
Retire29: Reach 60,000 page views. Got 79k views. It really is too bad that I basically took December off. Otherwise, this could’ve been at least 5-10k higher. Ah well, such is the freedom of running a blog.
Retire29: Reach $120 in blog revenue. Got $265. About half from Adsense and half from BlueHost.
Retire29: Write 100 blog posts. Let’s see…month by month—11, 7, 8, 6, 7, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 4. Total: 82. Darn December slouch. Wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.
Retire29 (New Goal Made Mid-Year): Reach <500,000 Alexa.com Ranking. Didn’t happen. December killed this dream. I expect a nice rebound in January. I ended 2015 at 798,000.
Personal & Family Goals
Kids: Have Another Baby Nope.
Vacations: Take Four Real Vacations. A cruise in May, a wedding in September, Seaworld in October, a week in Atlanta over Thanksgiving.
Relatives: See all members of both our families twice. Yes with parents. But only made it for siblings once.
Fitness: Get body weight to 170 lbs. I’m honestly going to the scale right now….wish me luck. Scary, 199. Man, that’s really disappointing. The only silver lining is that it will be very easy to drop.
Education: Complete four accounting courses enroute to CPA. Done.
Occupation: Find a new job in Virginia at 20% increased salary. Done.
Writing: Publish 12 Seeking Alpha premium articles. Nope, just five.
Writing: Make $1,200 on Seeking Alpha. Nope, $429.
Goals for 2016
Well, first would be to not fail at so many goals. But, I digress…
Mortgage: Get Balance to $420,000 (from $438,000 today).
Passive Income: $1,100, a 37% rise from the $800 today. Call it 17% from new capital, 11% dividend growth, 4% from dividend reinvestments, 2% from covered calls, and 3% from reallocation of my no-dividend growth stocks.
Expenses: Drop to $4,500/month. One less car payment and a couple hundred less in dining/travel (more home cooking, more usage of travel rewards from hacking).
Consumer Debt: Drop to $0. If we sell the Corvette and make some reasonable payments on our interest-free credit card debt, then this is doable. I’m happy to slightly fail here.
Content: Write 100 Posts.
Facebook: 300 Facebook Likes. From 61 today. Like Retire29 On Facebook!
Subscribers: 500 Subscribers. From 183 today. Help me out by subscribing here. You probably won’t regret it!
Twitter: Reach 1,000 Twitter Followers. From 159 today. Help me out, Follow Me on Twitter!
Page Views: 200,000 page views. That’s about 3x this year. I can do it. More guest posting elsewhere, better social integration (I just set up Pinterest yesterday 🙂 ), and consistent, helpful posts should go a long way.
Revenue: $1,000 in blog revenue. More affiliate income by creating helpful tutorials on things I do in my everyday life will make up half of this. The rest will be from advertising.
Credit Card Hacking: How much more can I actually push this? $5,300 last year. Well, let’s find out. I’m shooting for another $3,000 in cash and rewards. I already have $400 lined up for the next two weeks. Not a bad start.
Selling Stuff: There’s still so much stuff sitting around here. I think $2,500 for the year is very doable ($50/week).
Writing: Let’s shoot for an even $1,000 for the coming year. That’s about double my 2015 earnings.
Personal & Family Goals
Kid: Have another one. Second time’s a charm.
Interaction: Call my parents 36 times. Yep, 3 times per month. That’s about 31 times more than this year.
Health: Run a 5-minute mile. This will be just about impossible. However, I decided that I’m not making any more weight goals. This goal will actually be fun to fail.
House: Get our basement finished (finally).
2016 should be our best year ever. Luckily, I’ll have one extra day this year (Leap Year, Baby!) to accomplish all of these goals. I’ll update my Goals page and will periodically update how I’m doing against these new goals throughout the year.
So, now its your turn. Have you made any goals this year? Reply in the comments below with a link to your own 2016 goals, or just let us know! It’s great trying to keep each other accountable!
Here’s to a healthy, happy, prosperous year ahead!
Eric, Wife29, and Baby29