At the end of 2014, I labeled 2015 The Year of Consistency, and it was. We consistently tracked all of our spending and mostly stuck to our budget (Full year budget assessment coming soon!). However, I think I’d like to rename the year 2015 as The Year of Refinement.
As Steve mentioned in his Reflections post, we slowly refined our retirement plans from our original retirement date of 2020 to our new retirement date of this time next year (for Steve) and our dream of full time travel in our Airstream took shape. We also slowly refined our spending and budget which I will mention here but will go into more detail in an upcoming article.
On a more personal note, I refined my eating. I am now gluten-free and dairy-free. We already cooked mostly vegan in the house but these changes have taken a while to get used to. By refining my diet I’ve managed to eliminate most of my migraine problems, though this is still a work in progress. We refined our stuff. We’re slowly getting rid of anything we don’t use and don’t love. This is in preparation of our big move into the Airstream sometime next year but it has helped us understand what is truly important to us.
I refined my activities as well. I’ve cut out anything that – while sounding fun – dragged me down. Again, I’m trying to focus my life on the things that lift me up.
Anyway, 2015 was an amazing year and lovely to reflect on.
What I did Right:
- Tracking our spending. I started tracking our spending last year but wanted to buckle down and make sure every cent was accounted for in 2015. Success! Us signing up for Personal Capital and receiving the daily emails of our transactions certainly made the whole process easier. I also had my excel spreadsheets all set up and everyday when I got to work I would input anything new. We also saved all receipts. This sounds a little daunting but it actually wasn’t so bad. Steve would leave any of his receipts out for me near where we store my purse and I had a special area in my wallet where they would go until I entered them in the appropriate spreadsheet. By doing this every morning, it only took about 5 minutes and we stayed on top of everything.
- Budget. The first step is figuring out where the money goes. The second is to create a budget to help steer where the future money goes…or at least for us! We look at our budget as a yearly summation, so while it worked great to keep us on track, we didn’t beat ourselves up if we went a little over one month as long as we’re on track for the year. Aside from mostly sticking to our budget, the flexibility built into it was also very important. I changed categories as we learned more about how we spend. Since we were fairly new to the business of budgeting, we had to guess in quite a few categories. Some guesses were high, some were low. Once we established what the true spending level looked like, we adjusted the budget accordingly (though we did keep trying to find ways to get some of the higher categories down).
- Personal Reflection. In line with refining our dreams and lives this year, I spent quite a bit of time in personal reflection. What is important to me? What makes me happy? What stresses me out? Why? This lead to quite a few changes in my life as well as Steve’s and I think all for the better. Sometimes we just keep on going because change is difficult and we don’t know what we want. Well, I’m determined to figure out what we want – and make our lives reflect that. We’re not waiting until we retire to live the best possible lives we can.
- Health. One of the things that came up in my personal reflections was that health is very very important to us. Not only that, our gym and healthy eating habits needed to be prioritized and continued, and it was also time for me to get serious about figuring out the causes behind my migraines. I can honestly say I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life right this moment, and I’m not stopping. I still get migraines and sinus headaches and I’m not strict about some of my known triggers. So this is a thing I did right but also something I could have done better this year. I’m determined now. I want to live my life without pain and I’m going to do everything possible to make that happen.
- Daily Cleaning Schedule. We started a chore schedule this year. I took care of a quick clean in a different room every night while Steve did the dishes. Then Steve kept the floors clean (my LEAST favorite chore) on assigned days and I did other bigger tasks a couple times a month. It worked out great. Even on weeks we didn’t quite do everything because life got in the way, the house stayed clean and neat overall and I never had to worry about doing a deep clean before people came to stay. So much less stress.
What Didn’t Work:
- Diet Changes. As I mentioned above I wasn’t as strict as I needed to be this year. In fact, while I went gluten-free earlier in the year, I ended up giving it up in July. Why? Because I wasn’t serious about sticking things out to really figure out what’s going on. I’m committed now. Hopefully Diet Changes will be solidly in the What I Did Right category next year.
- Grooming our Dogs Ourselves. While grooming our Boxer mix was no problem, we failed at grooming our Poodle so we wouldn’t have to take her to the groomers every 6-8 weeks. We groomed her twice this year. Both times turned out okay but took a LONG time and was stressful for all of us. Patti our Poodle gave us the death glare the entire time. We could have gotten better with more practice I’m sure but neither Steve nor I really wanted to. We also rationalized that once in the Airstream it will be much much easier to take her to a groomer than to groom her ourslves given storage and water rationing. So we failed here. Oh well, all money saving measures aren’t for everyone.
- Article writing. You may have noticed that there was a lot more content on the blog from me earlier in the year. I had high hopes for contributing more but even the Friday Feast became too much for me and so Steve graciously and splendidly took it over. Work is too full right now for me to get any writing done there and my days are full with other important activities. So for now my article writing is confined to a few hours on the weekend and that’s okay. Very soon I’ll have a lot more time on my hands! 😉
What I LOVE:
- Meditation. I started a meditation practice the last quarter of this year which is going wonderfully. It means that Steve and I now wake up at 5:00 am every weekday so I can get my 15-minute meditation in but it is totally worth it. I have noticed I am calmer, more focused and more mindful during the day. I don’t let things effect me as much – in fact, Steve has even noticed that I give fewer shits about little things. I resisted meditation for a long time and I’m certainly still a beginning practitioner, but I cannot wait to see how I feel after a year of consistent practice. Now that I have a schedule that supports it, I am ready to rock in 2016.
- Minimized House. We’ve done a lot this year to minimize our belongings to the things that are used regularly or that truly matter to us. It is still definitely a work in progress but I would say that we’ve probably gotten rid of 30-40% of our stuff at this point. And we don’t miss it. In fact we feel better! Not being surrounded by things has made me calmer. It makes it easier to clean our home, pick what we’re going to wear, decide what we’re going to do with some cherished free time. It has made it so I smile when I walk into our home or when I see that picture or smell that candle (we’ve had one burning daily). While the process is being done out of necessity (for our huge downsizing next year) it is making our current home a peaceful enjoyable place to live.
- Minimized Commitments-> more time with Steve and the girls. There are certain things we all do even though they don’t make us happy. Some we cannot avoid. Some we can but it takes effort. I decided this year that the effort was not worth it. I stopped attending monthly events that may have been fun in principle, but actually stressed me out more often than not. I felt guilty for a while since I am friends with the people involved but it was the right thing to do for me and didn’t hurt anyone. In fact it gave me more time to spend with Steve and the girls and that I love. Steve and I also realized that while the idea of entertaining is awesome, we hate it. I get way too stressed when I am the one hosting any kind of event. Participating, I’m golden, but hosting I can be a wreak. So no more. Yes we have the house that’s made for summer BBQs. But we won’t be having anymore of those.
- Travel. If you’ve followed us for any length of time you know we love to travel. We revel in the new experiences, fabulous places, cool people and especially the food (even with my new sensitivities). Glacier National Park was definitely my favorite trip this year. It was actually breath-taking. I can’t wait until we go full-time and get to visit all sorts of wonderful places.
- Family. Family is very important to us and we are lucky that we both love each other’s. We got to spend multiple weeks with both Steve’s parents and my parent’s and even managed almost a whole week with all of our siblings and nieces. Pretty incredible and we will cherish those memories forever. That is one of the things I look forward to in our post-retirement lives. We will be able to pick up and go to support family much more easily then we can now. No more worrying about having to get back to work.
Anyway Happy New Year to you! In 2015 we refined. In 2016 we take action!
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.