January is all about making goals and getting motivated for an awesome new year. It represents a chance to start fresh and focus on moving forward, instead of worrying about setbacks from the previous twelve months. We all have tons of things that we would like to accomplish, but some things belong on a fill-the-bucket list, for some indefinite point in the future. My plan for 2017 is to set a few specific goals, one for each quarter. Then, we have a bunch of more-general, aspirational ideas for how to stay true to our top priorities throughout the year.
Our focus has been on fixing our finances for the past several years, and we still have work to do if we ever plan to reach our goal of financial semi-independence (all debt paid off and some passive income, so we only have to work flexible part-time employment to cover living expenses). Our continued progress is dependent on meeting a lot of different goals – which can make it difficult to focus. I was contacted by Earnest, who made helped me set one specific financial goal for my family, for each quarter of the the year. They also created these little graphics for me, with my goals and some other ideas and information.
I had really hoped to pay off our last credit card by the end of 2016, but it just didn’t happen. There is a balance of approximately $1,600. Our first financial goal of the year is to pay off that credit card by the end of March. After that, we’ll be down to the consolidation loan, student loans, and the mortgages.
As far as other tips suggested in the graphic, I have to agree that skipping coffee shops is a great way to save some cash. I buy flavored coffee grounds and creamer that taste really good. I have some travel mugs from college. It’s been part of my daily routine to make a cup of coffee to go for so long now, that I don’t ever find myself thinking about stopping anywhere.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve found tons of ways to cut back on spending. However, to really get ahead, you have to do more than just save money, you need to find ways to increase your income. We’ve used a variety of side hustles to bring in a little bit of cash here and there. One thing that I continue to talk about doing, but have yet to do, is participate in the community-wide garage sale that usually takes place around June. Somehow, I always forget about it until there are tons of cars and signs everywhere. We have so much stuff and it would be wonderful to free up some space, especially as we become a family of five. And, of course, the money would be super helpful with our financial goals. I want to sell not only our old stuff, but also a few DIY products, snacks, and bottled water to make as much as possible.
Last year, we used all of our tax return to pay off debt. I couldn’t really justify spending a third of it on a “treat” when we still owe so much. This year, we have that money earmarked for purchasing a “new” vehicle for our family. We’ve been making do with our paid-off vehicles and using my father-in-law’s Grand Marquis for family outings. But with five kids, we have to face the fact that it’s time for a new vehicle.
Another thing that’s been discussed at length, but never acted on, is our goal to refinance the mortgage on our rental property. We do not have a good interest rate. But we have excellent credit scores since paying off so much of our debt. This is something that we want to start working on right away, but I’m giving us until the third quarter to finalize everything. We’re hoping to not only get a better interest rate, but also decrease the amount of time we have left on the mortgage (currently about 17 years).
We’ve found that consolidation loans have really helped us pay off the high-interest rate credit cards a lot faster. I definitely recommend regular reviews of your debt to see if there is anything you can do to make is disappear faster, besides just making extra payments.
At first, we wanted to set our fourth quarter goal as completely paying off the consolidation loan. But then we looked back at how much debt we’re actually paying off each year, including the student loans and mortgages. I don’t want to set us up to fail. A more realistic goal is to get the balance under $10,000 by the end of the year. If we’re really good with money this year, then our “stretch goal” will be to pay it off completely.
I am pleased to see that we’ve been keeping our Christmas spending well below the average amount. We will be sure to find more DIY ideas for gifts at the end of 2017.
Family Time: In 2016, Goofball had a day off from school when the other two were in daycare. Mr. Smith and I took him on a special outing, just the three of us. It was partly a birthday present. We went out for lunch, played mini-golf, and enjoyed the arcade. He still mentions how much fun it was to have that special day. We want to try to include some of these special kids dates in our crazy schedules this year. I don’t think we can commit to doing them with any set frequency, but it would be nice to give each child a little extra attention, especially with the impending arrival of the twins.
Giving Back: I’m looking forward to having more time to volunteer and give back once we reach semi-retirement. While I don’t have much extra time or money right now, it would still be nice to find some ways to help others. This will probably just be small acts of kindness, but I want to make sure to what I can in 2017, instead of putting it off entirely for the future. One thing that I have planned, is to donate a crocheted baby blanket from my disastrous craft sale.
eBook: I’m working on setting aside some blocks of time to finally finish the eBook for all of my readers.
Swagbucks: Mr. Smith and I were both raking in Swagbucks during 2015. We slacked on this easy way to make extra money over the past year. You can run videos on this site while using the computer for other activities, to earn Amazon gift cards. These cards help with the purchase of things like diapers, and we’re going to need a lot of diapers this year. One thing I like about Swagbucks is how they set a daily goal for you. If you meet the goal, you earn bonus points for each day and then, more bonus points for streaks of 7, 14, 21 days, or the whole month. If I hit my daily goals for the whole month, I usually receive around 600 bonus points for the month. So far, I’ve met my daily goal every day this year 🙂
Wake Up Earlier: I’m a night owl and have adjusted my schedule to make the most of my most-productive times. However, I’ve started to use this proclivity as an excuse to slack off in the morning. Everyone seems to be saying how much of a boost they get from waking up earlier and getting something accomplished in the morning. The plan is to wake up just a little bit earlier in the morning, hop on the computer do some blog stuff, check emails, etc. I tend to include some of these “extracurricular activities” in the beginning of my workday at the office, so getting that stuff out of the way will also help me focus more on my job responsibilities.
Do A Little More At Work: It’s no secret to all of you, that I really dislike my job. However, it is a necessary evil for the next five years. The problem is that my lack of engagement is starting to become apparent to my employer. They mentioned at my yearly review how little I progressed during 2016. Not good. I need to focus a little bit more on the primary employment.
Other Debt: We will continue to make the monthly payments on our mortgages and student loans.
Increase Freelance Writing Income: I didn’t start my freelance writing work until almost the middle of 2016. Now, I’m established on Upwork, with experience and good reviews. I even have some already existing work that should continue in 2017. Of all my side hustling, freelance writing pays fairly well for the time and work involved . . . and I enjoy it.
Open Etsy Shop: For now, I just want to get it open and list the things I already crocheted for that craft fair that didn’t go so well. If my creations actually sell, I may work on new project to add to the site. Crochet is not the best money-making side hustle, but it’s enjoyable. I find it relaxing, so if I’m going to do some crochet anyways, I might as well make some money. The key is not using the Etsy shop as an excuse to crochet instead of doing better-paying work.
Ultimately, most New Year’s resolutions are pretty pointless because they usually involve some drastic change in your daily behaviors. I try to see the New Year as a chance to set new goals for yourself, a chance to start fresh. My focus is more on reaching new milestones in our journey to financial semi-independence, while keeping the big priorities in mind, instead of trying to change myself “for the better.”
Our list is done . . . now, it’s time to get to work 🙂