I am still surprised how fast 2019 flew by. It seems time goes by faster with each year. The great thing about the start of a new year is that one can reflect on the goals that were laid out and the goals that were actually accomplished.
Before starting this blog, I never actually took a detailed inventory of my past years and goal setting exercise for the next. This is my first time to look at those things and see what worked and didn’t work in 2019 and set up new goals for 2020.
My 2019 Year in Review
1. Student loan debt
We finished paying off our daughter’s student loan. She got into Suffolk University in Boston undergraduate program in 2003. We didn’t have any money saved for her college, so we accumulated around $75,000 in student loans by the end of her graduation.
Ksenia helped us to pay down the loans when she got her first job. But, three years later, she enrolled into a 2-year master’s degree program and then a 6-year PhD program. During her eight years of being a student she could not help, and it was all our responsibility.
It took us 12 years to pay off that debt, but I am very happy to say that we did our best to pay it finally in full. Last check was sent out on December 15th.
2. Credit Card debt
Unfortunately, Roman and I had some medical procedures which came with higher than expected out of pocket medical bills. Overall, we have accumulated $5,400 in medical debt for the past two years.
We decided not to pay it off with our emergency fund money, but rather spread it out between 2 credit cards with 0 percent interest on each. With this strategy, we are not going to dip into our savings, but rather slowly pay it off by the end of 2020.
3. Retirement accounts
In the beginning of 2019, I increased the contribution to my 401(k) plan up to 15 percent. My company matches 50 cents for each dollar up to 3 percent. It’s a great benefit of essentially free money going into my pocket every month.
After meeting with a financial advisor, I decided to split my retirement plan contribution 50/50 between 401(k) and Roth 401(k). I like to know that with retirement coming closer every year we take advantage of money growing in pre-tax and after-tax funds.
In April, Roman and I also added $3,500 each to our Roth IRA accounts. It’s nice to see our after-tax money growing in both accounts with additional funds. When we retire, we can take money out of the Roth IRA without worrying about being in a higher tax bracket.
4. Emergency fund
Unfortunately, our emergency fund savings dropped to $14,000 this past year. We had some unexpected expenses and had to take money out of the emergency fund. We also used some money from this fund to pay for our Caribbean vacation.
Roman set up a separate saving account for vacations, but we didn’t have enough money saved there for the planned trip and dipped into the emergency fund money. I don’t like us depleting our emergency fund for travel expenses and need to come up with new strategies for managing our money but also not saying no to travel in the future.
5. Home mortgage
We bought our home in 2002 and did several big and small renovation projects that increased the value of our house. However, we accumulated $120,000 in construction loans. I am happy to say that we finally paid off all construction loans.
Our mortgage was refinanced several times. Right now, we are trying to stay away from any additional upgrades or renovations and just focus on paying off the mortgage. In 2019, our mortgage was reduced to $241,000.
I started blogging in 2019. My first post got published on January 17th. It was a very important moment in my life. Looking back at the last 12 months, I have to admit that I struggled managing a full-time job and regular blogging.
I never realized how much work I need to put into researching, writing and editing blog posts, searching for images, writing emails, and more.
The technical part of blogging is the hardest one. I spent hours trying to set up my website, and making it work. Creating signup forms and social media accounts, dealing with plug-ins and updates from Word Press, and more. It basically takes up all my spare time and I hardly make enough content to publish it bi-weekly.
Being a non-English speaker adds to the challenge. But I am not planning to stop blogging any time soon! I try to be better with time management. It’s getting easier with a routine and having a designated time for publishing and writing posts, and posting on my Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts regularly.
2019 was an exciting year in travel! In March, we traveled to the Caribbean island St. Martin for 7 days. You can read all about that trip here:
This tropical paradise vacation cost us $5,600
In September, I had to go and see my younger sister who lives in Lithuania. I stayed with her for 3 weeks. Roman traveled with me, but first visited Belarus for 10 days and then joined me in Vilnius for the rest of a visit. We spent $4,500 on our European travels.
Overall, we stretched our finances too thin to pay for the Caribbean vacation and then travel to Europe in the same year. We paid for all our air tickets, resort and hotels far in advance, and got some price discounts. But looking at our budget, we need to do a better job saving money for our vacations.
My New Year 2020 goals:
1. Credit Card debt
The goal is to finish paying off $5,400 of our medical debt by September 2020. I want us to be debt-free as we are getting closer to our retirement. It’s hard to predict the unknown, but I don’t want us to accumulate any additional medical debt. We need to try to budget any future medical expenses by maxing out our healthcare flexible spending account (FSA).
The FSA is a pre-tax benefit account offered by my employer each year. We use this pre-tax money to pay for our medical or dental expenses that are not covered by our health plan insurance. In 2020 I will sign up for $2,600 in my FSA.
2. Retirement accounts
The goal is to increase contributions to our 401(k) plans. I try to bump it up at least by 1 percent every year. When I get a bonus or salary raise it goes straight to my 401(k) plan. That way you don’t notice the change with your take-home paycheck. I wish we could max-out our yearly contributions to $24,000 each. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening next year.
Another goal is to put an additional $3,500 each to our Roth IRA accounts in April.
3. Emergency fund and savings
Our emergency fund savings need to be increased. The goal is to have minimum of $30,000 saved in that fund for emergencies.
We opened a separate savings account and called it “travel”. But so far, we have only managed to save $100 per month, which is not enough for our travel expenses. If we want to continue our travels and don’t pay for them out of emergency fund, we need to make some adjustment to our budget. The goal is to find ways to save more money in our “travel” fund.
4. Home mortgage and other bills
The 2020 goal is to continue paying off our mortgage and bring the balance down to under $230,000.
Every year we try to spend less on our groceries, transportation and other bills. Recently Roman and I started carpooling. Using only one car significantly reduced our transportation expenses including gas bill. I want us to keep doing it. It saves us a lot of money.
The same applies to our groceries. We have tendency to shop at local Wilson Farm and Whole Food supermarket. The cost of shopping there is high. But I like to buy fresh and good quality ingredients, so I can cook home-made meals all the time. We save a lot of money on eating-in and not buying our lunches.
Two ways to reduce our grocery bill even further, without sacrificing quality, would be to buy less meat or expensive fish and buy more seasonal.
When I launched the Save, Invest & Retire Blog in 2019, I didn’t realize that the blogosphere changed so dramatically over the years. According to the stats there are 500 million blogs in the world today. That’s a lot of competition to deal with for a new blogger.
But 2020 is going to be a year where I challenge myself and push myself harder to improve my blogging skills.
Blog content goals
- Longer blog posts take more time to create, but they produce more results and favored by Google. I want to commit to creating posts with longer content up to 2000 words.
- Keep creating and publishing new posts every 2 weeks. I need to get at least 3 new posts ahead on Save, Invest & Retire, so I will have enough time to edit and add graphic before publishing them.
- Make more research on popular topics using SEO keywords.
Goals for list building
- Start working on e-mail list
- Learn more about e-mail marketing and come up with my own strategy
Goals for traffic building
- Focus on growing Save, Invest & Retire blog traffic. By the end of 2020 I want to have 50,000 pageviews.
- Stay active on social media. Come up with a detailed strategy how to grow blog traffic using Pinterest and Facebook accounts.
Since I started the blog, I have learned so much on all fronts and need to keep doing it.
Roman and I talk a lot about traveling. We like to travel and dream about being full-time travelers. So far, we don’t have enough money to fulfill our dream.
In 2020 we are planning to go to Greece. We have already booked a 7-day cruise around the Greek islands in May. Celestyal Cruises is a small cruise ship line, so the price is relatively cheap to compare with mega cruise ships.
Our plan is to fly to Athens, stay there for a few days at a hotel, then hope on the cruise. The cruise is all-inclusive, which means we don’t need to buy an alcohol package or spend extra money on excursions.
I always wanted to go to Greece. I hope it will be an interesting voyage with the different atmosphere of a smaller ship. We already pre-paid for the cruise, booked a hotel in Athens, and bought air tickets. We budgeted $7,500 for everything.
What are your life, work, and travel plans for 2020?