Something funny happens on the path between setting audacious goals and realizing you will achieve them, prosperity. While we traditionally think of prosperity in terms of wealth, the prosperity I experienced in 2018 was that of health and happiness.
In the early days of 2018, I set financial goals for our family that I thought would be just beyond our family’s ability to reach. Hard work and determination gives your goals purpose and meaning.
Easy goals are meaningless but surpassing difficult goals is sublime.
Maybe it is the self-torturous, delayed gratification part of me that enjoys the path from setting to achieving. Because of my character flaws, I can turn almost any aspect of life into a game. Here are a few of my favorite games that my wife thoroughly detested in 2018.
- How long can we eat from the pantry before going to the grocery store?
- $150 per week food budget. You can read about our food budget here.
- And my personal favorite. How many different dinners can we make from one turkey?
Goals = Happier
For each month in 2018, I set one financial and one fitness goal. As the months of 2018 progressed and I checked off the boxes of the goals I had successfully completed, I grew happier and more motivated.
As a nurse, part of my college degree required me to take a quarter of entry-level psychology. Admittedly this is one of the classes where I frequently caught up on sleep. Maybe if I would have paid attention, I would know why the simple act of checking off my completed goals throughout 2018 brought me escalating levels of happiness.
There were a couple of months in 2018 where I was lazy or forgot to set goals. Quite frankly, those months were not as enjoyable as the months where I was engaged in the mental game of tracking and achieving my goals.
Some of my favorite fitness goals this year were:
- February Plank Challenge
- June weight loss challenge
- 5 million step challenge
- What Running Every Day in July Taught Me About Myself And My Finances
While my fitness goals do not make me wealthy or help me to retire early, they do bring me improved happiness and quality of life.
Years ago, Tom Cruise gave a tongue lashing to Brooke Sheilds for taking medications for depression. Cruise suggested, simply taking vitamins and exercising could replace her medications. As you may well remember, this caused quite the media shit storm.
While I doubt I share many beliefs with the Church of Scientology, anecdotally, I feel much better when I exercise. Most days I don’t feel like running or doing my simple strength training routine, but damn if I am not happier when I finish.
Unlike Donal Trump, I don’t feel like exercising drains the body’s finite energy resources. Quite the opposite! Exercising make the human body stronger. I am fighting age and a family history of cardiac disease. Keeping an increased level of fitness, I hope will give me more years on this earth to enjoy my financial independence.
The financial goals I set in 2018, really could have been called, stretch goals. By that I mean, I set goals that I didn’t really anticipate I would reach, or at least, not without some very hard work. Keep in mind, in 2017 I had no financial goals.
You can read my post, 2018 Financial Goals, in its entirety here.
January first I laid out my 2018 financial goals:
- Max out both Mrs. Smartfi’s and my 401 k’s = $37,000*
- Max out both Mrs. Smartfi’s and my Roth IRA = $11,000**
- Max out family HSA = $6900
- Contribute $10,000 to taxable brokerage account at Vanguard for my Hybrid Mortgage Payoff Plan.
- Add $300 dollars per month to the mortgage payment for principal reduction. This gets me to $20,000 of mortgage debt pay down per year.
* 401k contribution limit increased $500 to $18,500 per spouse in 2018.
** HSA limit increased $150 to $6900 for a family for 2018.
Let’s add this up
37,000 + 11,000 + 6,900 + 10,000 + 3,600 = $68,500
Quite a handsome sum of money, that at the time, I had self-doubt about being able to save. As the months of the year progressed, I found ways to increase the gap between what our family was earning and what we were spending. The difference between those two numbers (income and spending), is what we were able to put towards savings.
Throughout the year there were several savings hacks that helped our family grow the savings gap.
4 Savings Tips
In September my wife and I implemented our first grocery budget to help us become more mindful of how much we were spending on groceries. We set a fairly conservative weekly allowance of $150 per week. We were able to sustain this level of spending for 8 weeks. Click the link above to see why I was forced to quit the food budget.
You ever have secret goals you don’t tell anyone about? Saving my raises for 2018 was one of those goals. At the beginning of 2018, any money that I saved for my taxable accounts had to be manually pushed to a savings or investing account. There was friction involved in the transfer of money from my checking to my savings. As crazy as this sounds, the friction was enough that sometimes the money would linger long enough in my checking account to be spent. That was all about to change.
With each raise, my wife and I received in 2017, I would increase the amount of automatic savings that was pulled from our checking account on payday. It started innocently enough with $25 dollars each paycheck, then $50. Next, I negotiated a $10 dollar decrease in our internet bill. Then I canceled our cable television. Before I knew it we were saving $150 per paycheck.
And so it continued, the accumulation of small increases. By September, we were having $200 per payday ($400/mo) pulled from our checking. I am now in the position to automatically save $5,200 next year. That is powerful.
This kind of mental game helped us to save more this year than ever before. You can read the link above to see how we used DCA (dollar cost averaging) to help us save even more.
Back in the Spring, we used religious holiday Lent, to give up some creature comforts in an attempt to be more frugal. My wife gets most of the credit. She gave up wine and iTunes song downloads. I estimated this would save us $100 for the month of April. Not an earth-shattering sum but we applied that savings to the mortgage principal and never looked back. You may ask what I gave up for Frugal Lent? Well, you are going to have to read the link above. Spoiler alert, I failed.
My wife and I work for the same hospital corporation (she is a nurse too). In June we had our first 3 payday month and we had big plans for that “extra: money. Our goal was to take the net earnings from this third paycheck and apply it to our mortgage principal.
The most wonderfully stupendous fact about our third paycheck is it is a benefits free paycheck. The hospital does not withhold money for benefits like health insurance or HSA from these paychecks. They are big and fat ready to be put to work to pay down debt or build wealth and that is exactly what we did. You can read all about the finer details by clicking the link above.
Exceeding Our Financial Savings Goal for 2018
- Max out both Mrs. Smartfi’s and my 401 k’s = $37,000 √
- Max out both Mrs. Smartfi’s and my Roth IRA = $11,000 √
- Max out family HSA = $6900 √
- Contribute $10,000 to a taxable brokerage account √
- Pay an extra $3,600 to mortgage principal√
Here is what we actually saved
- We successfully maxed out 2 X 401(k)’s = $37,000
- We successfully maxed out 2 Roth IRA’s = $11,000
- We maxed out a family contribution to an HSA = $6,900
- We saved $19,000 to a taxable brokerage account
- Pay an extra $3,600 to the principal mortgage balance (1.5 payments)
Grand total for 2018 = $77,500
Original goal exceeded by $9,000.
Achieving this level of savings, while astounding for me, is bittersweet for one reason. I don’t believe it will be repeatable in 2019. I have thought about the steps that lead me to save this amount of money.
It all started in January with a busy flu season. The pediatric emergency room where I work, as a nurse, sent daily text messages asking for extra nurses to help care for an influx of sick children. And almost daily, I would go to work for overtime pay. This played out until the flu season ran its course in early spring.
While working this large amount of overtime hours, I set my 401(k) to withdraw nearly 40% of my pay. By June I had maxed out my 401(k) for 2018.
Read my article, How I Maxed Out My 401(k) In 6 Months.
With my 401(k) maxed out, my paychecks became larger, $711 larger to be exact.
$18,500 ÷ 26 paychecks in a year = $711/ paycheck
Making the conscious choice to avoid lifestyle creep, I skimmed off the “extra” money from my paycheck and began to save. Having maxed out my tax-advantaged accounts, the 401(k) money flowed to my taxable brokerage account and extra principal payments on my mortgage.
This snowball effect was responsible for the larger than normal savings this year. Filling up py 401(k) fast and early freed up cash flow to save in taxable accounts.
Why I Want To Earn Less Next Year
Maybe the 2019 flu season will be worse than last year, and maybe it will not. Either way, I am not counting on working as many overtime hours as I worked last year.
I may have pushed too hard last year. I worked any and all overtime I could get my hands on during the busy winter months. This year, if the overtime opportunity presents itself, I plan to take a more measured approach. A couple of extra shifts a month will help me max out my 401(k) while maintaining my sanity and family balance. I may not earn as much money in 2019 but that is fine by me. In the world of nursing shift work, you really can burn yourself out by biting off more than you can chew.
Looking Towards 2019
Later this month I will sit down and craft my 2019 financial goals. Undoubtedly I will set my savings mark higher than last year. In spite of my possible reduction in income, I want to try to achieve the same level of savings through pay raises and cutting household expenses. It would not be much of a game to set my goal lower and after all, the game is what makes this life fun.