2015 Year, Part 4: The Big Picture

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from the practical (several moves to new places) to the emotional (a lengthy bout with depression), I had been pretty withdrawn for two or three years.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.

14 thoughts on “2015 Year, Part 4: The Big Picture

  1. Michelle says:

    Definitely sounds like 2015 was a big career year for you! Good luck with finishing your book. I’m in the very beginning stages and it can be so time-consuming and tiring!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yup. Basically, the problem is all about organizing, which sounds simple but is exhausting to think through. (I think it helps to understand how much work it is if you compare it to the task of pulling up at a new house with an 18-wheeler full of stuff and having to figure out where it all goes, hang the pictures, patch the drywall in the basement, etc.)

  2. I love that you talk about friendship, community, volunteering, and spirituality. Those are such an important part of a rich life, but sometimes are under-covered in the personal finance community.

    Also, congrats on nearing the end of a book draft! I’d be excited to read a book by you.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks. I’m more “invested” (as it were) in living a rich life, than I am in riches — I’ve just realized in the last few years that I’m actually more likely to do that if I have a secure financial base, because then I spend less time panicking. Thanks for the congratulations, too. I’m not sure you’d be excited to read this book (which is in my academic specialty) — although maybe! I like to think it’s pretty engaging and well-written, as academic books go 🙂

      1. Haha, I put together that part about the book later on when my coffee kicked in! But mostly I said that because you are a good writer, so I’ll stick with it.

  3. Hannah says:

    Is your book fiction or non-fiction?

    I think it’s great to focus back in on how your finances fit with the rest of your life. It’s tricky to try to find where finances intersect with what really matters in life, and I think at least an annual review is very worthy.

    Also, I think it’s super funny how you think you’re so late in saving for retirement. Every dollar you put in today, is probably going to be in the market for 30-60 years… you’ve got plenty of time for compounding growth to do its thing.

    http://awealthofcommonsense.com/underestimating-the-power-of-compound-interest/

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I spend too much time looking at articles with titles like “how much should you have saved for retirement at X years.” I’m always pretty far behind where they tell me I’m supposed to be. But I know you’re right and actually I’ll be fine, especially since I’m very creative about living a decent life on relatively little money.

      The book is non-fiction. It’s a revision/expansion/rearrangement of my dissertation book, so it’s written for an academic audience. I love this project, but I will also be very glad to get it off my plate so I can work on some other things I’m excited about.

  4. That’s quite a full year. Way to go on the savings rate — and on putting yourself out there more. As a depressive, I definitely have the tendency to hole up. My poor husband gets serious cabin fever while I’m happily sitting around in my PJ pants.

    But much like exercising, once you start making an effort, it slowly requires less effort on your part. Good luck with your book!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! It’s been a positive year.

  5. Congratulations on a very positive year. 🙂 I’m glad to hear that the depression has subsided. I imagine that must make a huge difference in a lot of ways. I also think it’s pretty cool to reflect on these different aspects of your whole year. I feel like I should do this too, actually. It seems important to actively think about progress and growth in different areas.
    What about plans/goals for 2016? Or will you be writing a whole post about that soon?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yup, a whole post. The thing is I haven’t quite decided what my goals are yet. I wanted to go through this whole reflection process first. But I will do a post, probably next week in the pre-Christmas lull 🙂

  6. I’ve loved all of your year-in-review posts, but this one is my favorite. I love that you talk about some of the more holistic aspects of your life. As someone who has had some rough times with anxiety, I’ve recently started to really embrace – and appreciate – how all of the pieces of my life interact and impact each other: worry about money disrupts my sleep, makes me want to be a hermit, and eat poorly, etc. Similary, forcing myself to be social and eat more healthily makes me feel better, which makes me better able to address financial (or other) challenges, which helps me sleep better!

    Cheers to an even better 2016!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! I totally agree — it all works together. I feel so much better with my money in order, and conversely, I feel better about money and everything else when I’m getting enough exercise and sunshine and etc…. It really is holistic. And yes, cheers to a better 2016!

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