I’ve been fortunate over the past few years. I’ve managed to get out of debt, quit my day job to write full time, build substantial savings, and am now able to do what I want when I want. I still work hard, of course, but I do so on my own terms. I’m a lucky man.

Next year, though, is going to be a year of changes. For one thing, my income might actually decrease. (And if it doesn’t do so in 2012, it will almost certainly do so in 2013.) At the same time, for a variety of reasons, my expenses are going to increase. I’m in no danger of deficit spending — I refuse to live beyond my means! — but this does mean I’m going to have to be more conscientious about budgeting.

Practicing what I preach
Because I’ve done relatively well over the past few years, and because my expenses have stayed low, I’ve been able to buy the things I want without much worry. There’s a reason I preach the virtues of conscious spending. If I don’t, I often find myself making spur-of-the-moment buying decisions. Well, I feel like it’s once again very important that I weigh every purchase before I make it. I’ve created a fine lifestyle; I don’t want to jeopardize this lifestyle through silly spending.

As a result — and this comes as a shock even to me — I’m swearing off comic books. (Mostly.) The thing is, it doesn’t even really feel like a sacrifice. Right now, there are other things in my life that I value more highly. Most of you know about my expensive gym membership and how important that is to me. But there are also my Spanish lessons, which I’ve been taking since June. I’d rather pay for one-on-one meetings with my tutor than to buy comics. I get more enjoyment from learning the language. (The truth is, I’d even forego my Portland Timbers tickets to continue with Crossfit and/or Spanish. Fortunately, that’s not yet necessary.)

Soon, I’ll probably also give up my office. It’s been nearly three years since I worked from home, and I think my work habits have changed. If I can find the discipline and focus to write from the living room, that’ll free up $335 a month that I can use for other things. (I won’t know if this is do-able until the middle of the year, but it’s something I definitely want to try.)

But perhaps the biggest change in my future is that I’m finally becoming interested in non-profits and charities.

Thinking of others
For years, I’ve taken a lot of crap here at Get Rich Slowly (and deservedly so) because I donate very little to charity, and I rarely volunteer my time. I was raised in a family that didn’t value charity, and as an adult I’ve been unable to find any cause I feel passionate about.

Lately, though, that’s changing and in a variety of ways. We’re hard at work planning next year’s World Domination Summit, for instance, and we’d like to tie a service theme to this leadership conference. I wasn’t that interested at first, but now I’m on fire for the idea. I think it would be awesome to recruit the power of 1000 attendees to do some good for Portland — and the world.

But on a more personal level, I’ve discovered there are causes I’m passionate about. My trips to southern Africa and to Latin America have helped me understand better the important role education plays in improving people’s lives (and especially in improving the lives of women). I find that I’m willing to donate both time and money to improve education around the world. (I’d love to find the time to work with an organization like Edge of Seven, for instance.)

In fact, I’ve realized that it’s possible for me to tie my passion for learning Spanish directly to this goal. There are several Portland-area organizations that work to provide educational opportunities for low-income Spanish-speakers in the community. In March (after I return from next trip to South America), I plan to volunteer with one of these groups, such as Adelante Mujeres. In the meantime, I’ve offered my services to one of my friends. She teaches a Spanish/English blended second-grade class, and she says she can use my help twice a week for two hours at a time. I’m both excited and nervous about this new adventure — the second-graders are going to mock me for my miserable Spanish!

Other plans
I have other smaller financial goals, as well. After my upcoming trip to Chile and Argentina, my travel fund is going to be completely empty and will need to be replenished. And since I’ve borrowed from my new-car savings to make these trips happen, I’ll need to boost account too. Plus, I’d like to find one or more small sources of recurring income — another magazine column perhaps?

My financial life continues to be rosy, largely because I follow my own advice. (Especially my own advice about finding ways to make more money.) But I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I don’t want to become complacent. I want to continue striving toward a brighter financial future — and I want to bring you along for the ride.

What about you? How was your 2011? Did you improve your financial situation? Did you earn more? Spend less? Or were you less successful than you’d hoped? And what are your plans and goals for 2012? What do you hope to do with your money?

This article is about Planning, Real-Life