My last two posts have been focused on relatively small things: habits, tools, strategies, practices. Now, part of the thesis of personal finance is that it is a good idea to sweat the small stuff, at least sometimes. Anyone else remember the old musical The Pajama Game? It’s about the workers in a pajama factory organizing for a 7.5 cent raise. One of the big numbers is called, of course, Seven and a Half Cents.
I figured it out
I figured it out
With a pencil and paper I figured it out
Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot
Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing
But give it to me every hour, forty hours every week
and that’s enough for me to be
living like a king
Obviously Excel didn’t exist in 1954.
Anyway! I got a little sidetracked: my point here is that I want to think about the year in terms of small strategies that worked, but also in terms of where I was twelve months ago versus where I am now.
The year of savings. If 2014 was the year of paying off debt (student loans and credit cards both), then, I said last December, 2015 was going to be the year of saving. Although I did end up with some unanticipated expenditures, I still managed that approximately 50% savings rate. I’ve talked enough about that lately, so I’ll leave it alone, except to say that I found it both easy and hard — I could certainly have spent much more on books, music, food, and a million other things. But I didn’t, and I’m proud of that, and that I now have both some retirement savings (better late than never!) and the beginnings of a respectable cash cushion. Although it was composed of a number of “little” moves, it added up to being a major focus of my life in 2015.
Investing in friendships, community, etc. For a variety of reasons, ranging from the practical (several moves to new places) to the emotional (a lengthy bout with depression), I had been pretty withdrawn for two or three years. I didn’t abandon friendships altogether, but I was more isolated than was healthy for me. In 2015, I invested significantly more time in individual friendships (traveling to see people, talking on the phone) and in my local community in general (volunteering, church.) I also lived with pets for the first time in many years, since my housemate has a dog and a cat, and while it may seem weird to put them in the same place, they had the same effect on me: I put forth caring effort, and they “repaid” me with warmth and companionship. While I am still up in the air about where I’ll live in the future, I do feel like putting this time in with people and institutions (and animals) this year was very good for me (and I hope for them too!)
Career. This was a really big year for me, career-wise. I haven’t talked about specifics too much on the blog, but I completed one major project in the late summer and early fall that, as I suspected it might, ended up solidifying my position here. I’m also this close to finishing a first draft of my book and getting it officially under review at a major press. My goal is to get that draft done by the end of the month, in fact. But 2015 was a big year not only for working my way through enormous projects I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but for setting myself up for a future I want to be part of. When you’re getting out of grad school after eight years, there is such enormous pressure to take any job you’re offered. It comes from your advisors (who mean well), from your peer group (who also mean well), and from yourself (because you’re probably broke and have loans.) I really felt that pressure, but it has been majorly alleviated both by the combination of good luck and good sense that let me rescue my financial situation, and by some realizations about the direction my sector of academia is headed in. Namely, the jobs I thought I was particularly interested in, which used to make up for low salaries with long-term commitments, are increasingly unstable. So I have to act like it: I can’t take a quiet job at a small college and figure, ok, I won’t make much money but it’ll be stable good work for thirty years. I have to analyze the financial situation of any college that offers for me, and to make moves based on what offers me more of what I want. Or, alternately, I have to find work in other sectors. I feel much more prepared to make these choices now than I did in December 2013, or even December 2014.
Health and spirituality. I’m not sure how I feel about sticking these two in the same category but they do seem to be interrelated for me, so here we go. I am mentally healthier now, by a lot, than I was at the end of last year. It’s just been a process of recovery from that long depressive episode. I feel pretty good most of the time now. The rest of my body is so-so. I didn’t exercise as much this summer and fall as I did last year; the bike mostly stayed in the garage. I did more baking. I still feel pretty good mostly, but I weigh a few more pounds than I did, and if for no other reason than to keep wearing all my clothes, I badly want to take them off in 2016. Spiritually, I’d say it was also a good year. A lot of that had to do with my regular practices, volunteering and church. Perhaps it’s that I’m a lifelong Catholic, but I’m not much of a “I find God in the sunsets” person. I am spiritually much happier when I have a church I vibe with and I make the effort to go often, and when I get myself out of the house to do things for other people.
By any measure, I’d say 2015 was a pretty good year. Detours and bumps and rough patches, yes, but also a lot to be pleased with.