With the end of year comes many opportunities for reflection. Today I’m looking back at my first year of My Early Retirement Journey – both virtually and in real life. It’s the first year I tracked my income and expenses. It’s the first year I maxed out my 401k. It’s the first year I invested in a brokerage account (and subsequently lost money). It’s the first year I followed other personal finance (PF) blogs. It’s also my first year blogging (update included).
Tracking my income and expenses
I tried at least three different spreadsheets this year. I eventually defaulted to the Google Sheets for tracking my income and expenses because it was portable via an internet connection. I use a home-made Excel sheet for tracking my savings and investments.
My issue with Google sheets was that the default sheet had way too many categories for my spending habits. So for 2019, I decided to stick with it but streamlined the categories going from about 100 line items to just a few categories.
Doing it the way I did in 2018 I knew would be useful because I wanted to track transportation and housing costs for future use and help justify my decision regarding both – own a car, but not own a house.
Using less categories in 2019 will make it easier to trend broad categories especially since I have some version of early retirement where I just make a run for it. Thus I need a round number of what is needed to cover basic expenses in my head. Right now that number is 18-20k/year. Making my FIRE number = $500k.
Tracking income and expenses is helpful and to a certain extent necessary but not always enjoyable. Because my expenses don’t vary that much, I don’t see myself updating my spreadsheet anymore than quarterly, and I think in the future I could do annually, if at all. But for now, I’ll keep updating semi-regularly.
Read more: 11 Months of Income and Expenses in 2018
From the looks of it I saved as much as I had in 2016 (50%+) before I was even pursing FIRE intentionally. No surprises there, I suppose. I didn’t change much since then. However, it was a curious experiment to see what I really was spending my money on. I like data so that was beneficial in that aspect. No real surprises overall. It was nice to have a sum total of what I spent on Aunty MERJ ($5k+).
I noticed too I was not spending as much on groceries and eating out as I thought. There is probably room for improvement but not enough to warrant any drastic life changes. I recognize that food/dining out and cable are my everyday luxuries. Conceivably there are probably a few categories in which I can trim back a bit, but that would require quite a bit of effort both in thought and execution. While it may save me a bit of money it wouldn’t really up my timeline, but I could be convinced otherwise.
If you recall, I stumbled upon FIRE because around this time last year (2017) I was really wondering do I really have to do this job for the next 30 years? The answer: NO.
I could reasonably escape in 15 years (with just maxing out 401k contributions) or less. Better. But when I did that fateful Google search in Dec 2017, I was looking for a now solution. Fifteen years just isn’t soon enough.
In fact, I originally thought I can save half my salary for 10 years and take a break for 10 years and then just repeat. FIRE has presented me options but hasn’t changed that line of thinking completely. It’s still in the back of my mind. As I type this, I still don’t know which way I’m definitely going to go. The effects of compound interest require a longer time horizon than my eagerness allows. I’m still looking for a secret door and ultimately I haven’t found it. So on the leaving the workforce NOW front, I’m still mentally eons away. So, takeout and tv it is.
Subscribers. Even on my highest pageview day, I got maybe one or two new subscribers. In total, the addition of the pop-up gave me nine new subscribers over two months. It’s better than any other two month time frame before the pop-up but it’s still a pretty low conversion rate. Also, it’s pretty annoying and I don’t like having to worry about maintaining the subscriber list. I got rid of the pop-up (and ads on the sidebar).
Pinterest. Pretty done with creating pins. It’s time consuming and I don’t enjoy doing them right now. At first I was seeing no traffic, but I have seen some traffic year to date. I have about 100 old pins that get pinned daily via Google calendar. It’s actually more work to stop them, so I’ll just leave them.
Submissions. My best traffic days have been after a guest post publishes. It is by far easier when something I’ve already published is reprinted on another site such as The Financial Diet or Women Who Money. Most notable guest post was my feature on Think Save Retire. It produced my highest pageview day to date – over 1k pageviews. I have one previously published post left that I plan to submit soon to some external sites but likely not many more in 2019.
Facebook. Facebook is a fun indoor activity for the most part; I feel no pressure to heavily market blog there. I have come to appreciate the groups on my lazy weekends. Chiming in on the group posts reminds me of the original AOL chat rooms. I miss those.
Twitter. Twitter is easily forgettable. I’ll keep the automatic posts through WordPress. Not sure how much engagement I’m willing to commit to on that platform. TBD. It’s not something I was using prior to blogging.
Wednesday Weekly. I started a weekly roundup a few months in. I’ll likely not continue the Wednesday Weekly roundup in 2019 although I do like sharing things I read. I suppose I may do a sprinkling of roundups here and there if some interesting posts pop-up on my radar.
Comics. I do find myself wishing I could draw. I had at least one good idea for a comic that was too difficult to figure out how to illustrate with the available templates. I really like the comics and I think if I can find an easier way to get my ideas across, I could flesh that out more. Those are fun.
Inner Blogger dilemma. I have mixed feelings being back on WordPress. It was the promise of monetization that sold me. Since that’s not a salient goal of mine at the moment, it seems kind of pointless to be on WordPress. (Read: I’ve made no money and I’m tired of trying.) Plus there was just less pressure on Blogger. I now desire a simpler layout. I’m even getting tired of selecting images to go with each post. So some days, yes, I do regret leaving Blogger.
2018 Stats (via Jetpack for WordPress and or Google Analytics)
Sessions: 6,695 (Oct = 1,433, Nov = 1,157)
Jetpack Top Referrers (views): Rockstar Directory (335), Pinterest (321), Search Engines (318), thinksaveretire.com (285), Facebook (209), Twitter (188)
Google Analytics Top Referrers (views): thinksaveretire.com (1,035), treadlightlyretireearly.com (801), Rockstar Directory (543), financesmiths.com (535), Pinterest (429), strugglingtobedebtfree.blogspost.com (356), Facebook (292)
Email subscribers: about 20 (4 on WordPress, 8 on MailerLite, 7 on Feedburner, 1 on MailChimp)
Milestones. I’ve been blogging since February, so technically that puts me about 10 months into this foray. My milestones with the blog are as follows: quite a few guest posts on other sites; hitting 1,000 users in a month; Rockstar newsletter feature; 3 featured posts on The Financial Diet; someone actually approaching me to submit to their site. And overall connecting with a few other bloggers and sharing my story and reading theirs! I’m here for the stories and that’s been wonderful!
If there are any highlights I missed or lingering questions, let me know in the comments below.