On a cold first of December 2000, my car was totalled during morning rush hour. I was cruising along in the slow lane — I drive like an old man — when a tractor-trailer rig changed lanes into my Geo Storm. According to the guy behind me, the car spun around twice (although that seems unlikely) before slamming into a guardrail and coming to a stop.
The entire accident probably took all of five seconds but it seemed more like five minutes in subjective time. From the moment I felt the first jolt, my mind entered a state of hyper awareness. I could see everything happening around me — the truck looming to my left, the airbag deploying, the chaos as the car whirled about, the traffic in other lanes — but I was powerless to do anything about it.
When my vehicle came to a stop, witnesses pulled over and rushed to see if I was okay. I was stunned, but I was fine.
Over the next couple of hours — and then days — I went about picking up the pieces. The accident itself had been chaos, as I said, and it left a bit of a mess to clean up afterward. I had to have the car towed. The insurance company had to evaluate it. They had to issue me a check. I had to buy a new car. And so on.
Five seconds of chaos, five weeks of picking up the pieces, and then life settled into a new normal.
My 2019 felt much the same, my friends. I’m not trying to be overdramatic (or to catastrophize), but for a lot of the past twelve months, I’ve felt as if I’m stuck in a spinning car, clearly able to see what’s happening but powerless to stop it.
This is, of course, a product of my anxiety and depression. Objectively, my life is fine. Great, even. Subjectively, everything’s been spinning and the airbag has deployed. I know this is all in my head, but that doesn’t make it any better.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that I believe — hope, maybe? — that the wreck has come to a halt. The car that is my life has stopped spinning. Over the past month, I’ve been “assessing the damage”. Things are messy, sure, but they’re not as bad as they might have been. Now, I’ve slowly begun to pick up the pieces, to work toward a new normal.
Fortunately, nothing’s totalled. It’s a mess, but there’s nothing that cannot be repaired.
I, for one, am eager to dive into the new year. It’s almost guaranteed to be an improvement over 2019, which was (subjectively) one of the most difficult years of my life. Things can only get better, right?
But when I look back objectively at the previous twelve months, things were great. Especially financially. After hemorrhaging money during the previous two years, I managed to stop the bleeding. The austerity measures I implemented last January worked. My spending declined. Meanwhile, my investments — in the stock market, in my home — all gained value.
As a result, my net worth grew substantially despite being in drawdown mode (as opposed to “wealth accumulation” mode).
At the end of 2018, my net worth was $1,334,227. This was a 15.2% decline from 2017!
At the end of 2019, my net worth was $1,449,808. This is an 8.7% increase over last year.
In 2020, I intend to continue pursuing frugality. Kim and I have talked about various ways we can both cut our spending even more than we already have (while still enjoying the things that bring us value, such as travel). But my top financial goal is to increase my income with Get Rich Slowly. That means publishing more articles and organizing the existing material so that it’s more useful to new visitors.
As I get back in the habit of writing for GRS, I’ve noticed that some readers have questions. My sporadic publishing schedule has left gaps in what I’ve shared about my life.
“What happened to working at the box factory?”
“Why are you renting an office?”
“Did you ever buy a new car?”
And so on.
In my head, I’ve shared about this stuff. But that’s probably just in my head. Today, as we wrap up 2019, I thought it might be a good time to fill in some of these gaps.
Health and Fitness
From a health and fitness perspective, 2019 sucked. And because my health and fitness sucked, the rest of the year seemed to suck more than it actually did. When you’re not well, everything else seems off…even if it isn’t actually so.
At the start of the year, things seemed fine. I was heavier than I wanted, but I was going to the gym and generally happy.
Something happened in March, though. Every spring, I get deeply depressed as my tree allergies flare up. This year, though, things were especially bad. At the end of March, I went to the emergency room with what I thought was a heart attack. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was probably a panic attack.
As a result, I started attending therapy for the first time in ten years. Over the next few months, I sunk deeper into depression and my anxiety worsened. It sucked. Now, though, things seem to be improving. But I’ve suffered a lot of lost time and productivity.
“A lot of your self-worth seems to come from accomplishments,” my therapist said last week. I hadn’t ever thought of that. She’s right. Work, school, play — a lot of how I feel comes from the results I achieve rather than the effort I expend. Something to work on!
In November, I had a colonoscopy. Cancer runs in my family, and I don’t want to take any chances. The doctor removed nine polyps. Two were hyperplastic (“of no significance”) and seven were adenomatous (not cancerous, but could lead to cancer). So, good news there.
All of this healthcare stuff was expensive. I met my $7900 out-of-pocket health insurance max this year, which boggles my mind. Plus, I ended the year ten pounds heavier than I started it.
Despite all of this, I’m hopeful for the future. I seem to have turned the corner on the depression and anxiety. I’m making progress. And I have a plan for improving my fitness, a plan that involves walking and biking to work every day. Much of my mental state seems to be tied to my physical fitness, so this is all good stuff.
At the start of 2019, I went back to work for the family box factory. I was training to replace my cousin, who has throat cancer and is continually told he has three months left to live. When it came time for him to leave, I’d take over as bookkeeper and office manager. That was the plan.
That didn’t work out.
For one, it was taking time away from this website. For another, it was tough to justify commuting an hour each day, especially when I don’t really need the money. Plus, I felt like working together was placing a strain on our family relationships. So, I stopped working for the family business at the end of June. (Fortunately, Duane is still with us and still managing the office. We’re even talking about taking another trip together!)
At Get Rich Slowly, I struggled to find rhythm and direction. I feel like I’ve managed to achieve a sort of balance now, thankfully. I’m writing what I want when I want, and that takes a lot of pressure off me. Tom and I are still trying to get the stupid redesign finished — it’s only taken two years! — but that’s all on me. I’m the sticking point.
As I’ve mentioned in passing, GRS has increased revenue over the past year. I’d still like to boost income even more, but I’m unwilling to do so in ways that compromise the user experience, so that limits my options. Tom and I will keep experimenting, though.
Meanwhile, I’ve begun working on a project that excites me. I’m creating a five-hours, ten-part introductory course on financial independence and early retirement for Audible and The Great Courses. That’ll be sucking up most of my time for the next four months, in fact.
Lastly, I should point out that I have moved into a new office space. At our family meeting on Thanksgiving, Kim urged me to rent space outside the house. She thought it would give me mental separation between work and home. Turns out, she was right.
In December, I rented a small (129 square foot) office for $325 per month and it’s awesome. It’s a great space that I love. Best of all, it actually seems to be fostering productivity. Yay!
Now, let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s talk about personal finance.
I was relatively pleased with my money management this year. After seeming to vomit money in 2017 and 2018 (from remodeling the house, buying back this website, and investing in other businesses), I buckled down and looked for ways to not spend. I actively worked to reduce my discretionary expenses in 2019, and have plans to reduce them even more in 2020.
Normally, I have lots of numbers to share. I’ll certainly share some in a moment, but my records are spotty for 2019. I spent two months on the road, during which I didn’t keep good records. I stopped tracking at the end of July, and didn’t resume until the end of October. When I did resume, I switched from Quicken 2007 to Quicken 2017. I thought it was time to enter the modern era. I wish I hadn’t.
I’m now left in something of a pickle. My Quicken 2007 records stop in late July. My Quicken 2017 records start at the end of October. After using it for nearly three months, I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not like the modern version of Quicken, and for many reasons. (Maybe I need to do a review?) I want to go back to Quicken 2007.
That said, Quicken 2007 is near the end of its useful life. Intuit no longer supports it. It will not run on modern versions of the Macintosh operating system. So, I’m keeping an old machine to run the program (and to play World of Warcraft), which is silly.
What I’ll probably do is “reset” Quicken 2007 to 31 December 2019. That means manually entering adjusting balances, etc. Long-term, this means I’ll lose six months of financial data, which will make spending comparisons difficult. But it’s probably the best solution.
Anyhow, let’s look at some of my spending for 2019.
In the spreadsheet below, I’ve included monthly averages for three time periods: all of 2018, for the first half of 2019, and then for the two months between October 20th (when I started using Quicken 2017) and December 19th (when I created the spreadsheet). Here’s my average monthly spending on selected categories:
Some intersting things to note:
After forty years of collecting comic books, I sold almost everything in 2013. Since then, I buy funny books only rarely. In 2018, I stocked up on some digital comics (thus the relatively high monthly expense), but nowadays I buy maybe one collection per month…if that. (I just bought the To Kill a Mockingbird graphic novel yesterday, for example.) Progress!
As you may recall, I was very concerned with my iTunes spending when I crunched the numbers for 2018. I was shelling out over $250 a month to buy movies and TV shows. Holy cats! During the first half of 2019, I worked to bring that number down. And over the past couple of months, it’s fallen even farther.
One of my big goals for this year was to reduce my food spending. It’s absurd that I spend so much on this category. In 2018, I spent $1038 per month on food, which included $619 per month on groceries and $390 per month on restaurants. To cut costs, I decided to try the meal service HelloFresh for the year. It didn’t work. My combined spending on groceries and HelloFresh increased instead of declining. This week will be my last order from the company. (I have another article in the wings that explains more about this decision.)
Finally, I’ve made some progress on my “sin” spending, but not enough. My sin category includes alcohol and (legal) marijuana. I should note that I don’t use pot recreationally very often, but I do use it to sleep almost every night. Anyhow, I’m spending $8 per day on “sin”, and I feel like that’s too much. This is something I’m working on with my therapist, so let’s hope that when I do my 2020 summary, we see some progress here.
Looking at my numbers for the last two months, I spent $10,987.24 between October 20th and December 19th. Of this, $3817.81 went to property taxes, which means I spent $7169.93 (or $3585.97 per month) to support my lifestyle. Not bad. Not bad.
If we amortize the property taxes across twelve months, we get $4221.27 of spending per month, which is $50,655.26 per year. I think $50,000 seems like a resonable spending goal. Let’s see how close I can get to that in 2020!
To wrap up our look at my financials, here’s how my end-of-year net worth has progressed over the past few years:
2016 –> $1.58 million
2017 –> $1.58 million (does not include the value of this site)
2018 –> $1.33 million (does not include the value of this site)
2019 –> $1.45 million (does not include the value of this site)
That huge loss in 2018 still stings, but I know it wasn’t money frittered on fast cars and loose women. It was money spent remodeling the house and buying back Get Rich Slowly.
Oh yeah. I forgot to answer one common question. Did I ever buy a new car? No. I’m still cruising around in my 2004 Mini Cooper. Plus, last January I spent $1900 on a 1993 Toyota pickup, which I love. (“I know this is a piece of junk,” I told Kim as we were driving to IKEA yesterday. “But I love it. I’d give up the Mini before I’d give up this truck.”)
When the Mini Cooper dies, I do intend to replace it with a new one, but I hope that won’t be for several years yet. Meanwhile, Kim is actively looking to replace her 1997 Honda Accord. We’ve done one test drive, and she may do another while I’m here at the office today. She’s a big fan of J.L. Collins, so she plans to take a similar approach to how he bought his new car.
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