My 2020 in review: Steps in the right direction

Are you all ready for this? It's one of my favorite days of the year! I just spent an hour entering data in Quicken, then another thirty minutes analyzing it. It's time to run some numbers.

How well did I do with my financial goals last year? Was I able to cut back on dining out? (Hint: There was a global pandemic. What do you think?) Did my net worth rise or fall? Let's take a look.

First, let's review where I was at the end of 2019.

Quite simply, I was a mess. Objectively, my life was good, but subjectively it was a disaster. My mental health was in shambles. Depression and anxiety were crippling me and truly affecting my relationships with other people. I felt like I was in the middle of a prolonged car crash.

The good news is that, for the most part, 2020 was much better from a personal perspective. Yes, I understand that 2020 sucked for a lot of people. And it was the most tumultuous year our country has seen in a generation. But for me, personally, the year was mostly good. I'll explain why this is in a bit, but first lets look at the Big Picture.

My Net Worth

Here's my end-of-year net worth from each of the past three years. (These numbers do not include the value of my business or this website.)

  • At the end of 2018, my net worth was $1,334,227 — a 15.2% decrease from 2017.
  • At the end of 2019, my net worth was $1,437,543 — a 7.7% increase from 2018.
  • At the end of 2020, my net worth was $1,373,233 — a 4.5% decrease from 2019.

Now, on paper a decrease of net worth amounting to $64,310 might seem scary. Maybe it's because I'm in a better mental space than last year, but it doesn't bother me. This may also be due to the fact that I realize most of that drop comes from Zillow's valuation of our home.

At the end of 2019, Zillow said our country cottage was worth $495,749. At the end of 2020, the home was valued at $437,127, which is a drop of $58,622.

Yes, I realize using Zillow to track our home value is...erratic. And it leads to fluctuations like this. Still, I feel like it's a solid enough source for home values, and it gives me some sort of number to go on.

That's one way of looking at it. But looked at another way, things are a little dicier. You see, I currently live off of my investments. Most of those investments are in retirement accounts, which I can't touch (unless I want a tax penalty) for another eight years. At the start of 2019, my regular taxable investment accounts contained $269,264. Today, they have $197,117. That there could also be my drop in net worth.

One thing is certain, though. That $197,117 isn't enough to get me to age 59-1/2 at my current level of spending. I need to spend less, earn more, or (preferably) both.

Now, let's look at some of the numbers in greater detail.

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Introducing “Morning Musings”

Update! I've had a couple of people email to ask if I plan to host these videos here on the blog. The short answer is "no". The long answer is "maybe eventually". But I realized that I could make it easy on folks by embedding the Morning Musings playlist at the top of this article. So, here it is. In theory, this should get updated whenever I post a new video. This is an embedded playlist, and the most recent video should appear at the top. (In theory.)

For years now, I've wanted to start a Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.

Well, I guess that's only partially correct. I have a GRS channel on YouTube; it's just not very active. So, I guess what I mean to say is that I want to have an active GRS channel on YouTube.

There are lots of barriers, though, all of which are purely mental. I worry about how I look. I worry about how I sound. I worry about production quality. I worry about the amount of time this will all take. Basically, I'm paralyzed by the need to be perfect.

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Which financial apps, products, and services should we review?

Every Monday morning, Tom and I have a Zoom call to discuss the coming week's priorities for this site. For the past couple of months, we've been focused on behind-the-scenes stuff as we prepared to launch the redesign. (That, and I was working on my course for Audible.) Now that the redesign is (mostly) finished, we've begun talking about content. What sorts of articles do we want to write in coming weeks?

"You know," Tom said this morning, "it wouldn't kill you to write about the financial tools you use. You love your credit card, right? And you use Personal Capital? If you were to write about this stuff, we could make more money."

As I've mentioned many times, Get Rich Slowly earns little compared to other sites its size -- especially other financial sites its size. Expected earnings for GRS are probably on the order of $20,000 per month; we bring in about $5000. (And right now, because of the coronavirus, our revenue is lower than this even.)

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A short list of useful coronavirus resources

Believe it or not, the current coronavirus crisis is affecting Get Rich Slowly too. Things are slow around here. Traffic is down. Revenue is down. Production is down. Plus, I have a big deadline at the end of the month. My project for Audible and The Great Courses is due on March 31st.

So, just like the rest of the world, we're going to press "pause" for a couple of weeks. I will return next Wednesday with my annual birthday article, but you'll have to scroll down to see it. I'm going to pin this post to the top of the front page.

The break will allow me to focus my full attention on the FIRE course. Meanwhile, my partner Tom can work on behind-the-scenes stuff (including the nearly-completed site redesign!) without worrying that I'll mess things up haha. And, best of all, maybe we can get ahead on our publication schedule for once. We have two new staff writers. I have some articles planned. Tom has some articles planned. It would be great to resume in a couple of weeks with a backlog of material!

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Five short anecdotes about money

What a long, strange couple of months it's been for me. On the blog, things have been quiet. Behind the scenes, I've been as busy as I've ever been.

The good news is that this busy-ness will (eventually) lead to a number of interesting articles. I've been reading Cal Newport's Deep Work, for instance, and have some thoughts on it. I've been thinking about the concept of "no speed limits". Shocking but true: I'm going to write an article about my primary credit card. And I've been reading and writing a lot about "doing nothing".

Today, though, I want to clear my head (and my inbox) by sharing five short financial anecdotes.

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FinCon 2019 and the future of Get Rich Slowly

After twenty-four days on the road, I'm back home in Portland. It feels good.

In mid-August, Kim and I flew to Italy. For the first week, we visited Florence and Rome on our own. We rode trains, drank wine, toured museums, ate gelato, and explored ancient Roman ruins. We also got sunburned. And we sweated from dawn to dusk.

J.D. and Kim at the Colosseum

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This blog is now a teenager: Thirteen years of Get Rich Slowly

Thie middle of April is a Big Deal in my world.

The trees have nearly finished blossoming, which means my allergies will soon go away. We're seeing more of the sun, which means the worst of my seasonal depression is behind me. Yesterday, on the 14th, Kim and I celebrated seven years as a couple. And today, on the 15th, Get Rich Slowly celebrates thirteen years of existence.

That's right: This blog is now a teenager.

In the Beginning

When I started Get Rich Slowly, I had no idea what it was going to become. I had no grand plan or vision. I just wanted to write about money while accomplishing three goals.

  • My primary goal was to document my own journey as I dug out of debt and (I hoped) eventually learned how to build wealth.
  • My secondary aim was to help my family and friends get better with their money too. (Although, truthfully, in my entire social circle, I was probably the person with the worst personal finance skills.)
  • And, third on the list, I wanted to make a little extra money with the site. I figured if I could make a few hundred bucks with it, I could pay off my debt a little sooner.

On 26 April 2005 -- a year before I started this blog -- I published an article called "Get Rich Slowly!" for my personal site. Here's what I wrote:

Today's entry is long and boring. It's all about the keys to wealth, prosperity, and happiness. Over the past few months, I've read over a dozen books on personal finance. Recurring themes have become evident.

These books have embarrassingly bad titles, seemingly designed to appeal to the get-rich-quick crowd: The Richest Man in Babylon, Your Money or Your Life, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, Wealth Without Risk, etc.

Some of the books out there — most of them? — really are as bad as their titles. Others, however, offer outstanding, practical advice. The best books seem to have the same goal in mind: not wealth, not riches, but financial independence.

According to Your Money or Your Life, which I consider the very best of the financial books I've read, "Financial independence is the experience of having enough — and then some". More practically, financial independence occurs when your investment income meets or exceeds your monthly expenses. Financial independence is linked to psychological freedom.

How is financial independence achieved? Again, the best books all basically agree. (To some of you, this will be common sense, stuff you've known all your life. To others, like me, this kind of thinking is a sort of revelation.)

Here, then, is my personal summary of the collected wisdom found in these books.

"It's nearly impossible to get rich quick without luck," I concluded after summarizing all of these money books. "Getting rich quick is a sucker's bet. There's only a slim chance that you'll have the sort of luck that's required. You might as well play the lottery."

Instead, I thought the underlying message of these books was simple: "It is possible to get rich slowly, however, with no risk, and with no luck. All that's required is patience and discipline."

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The modern wealth index

Charles Schwab has released its 2018 Modern Wealth Index, a survey of the saving and investing habits of 1000 Americans. Here's how the company describes its methodology:

The Modern Wealth Index...is based on Schwab’s Investing Principles and composed of over 50 financial behaviors and attitudes. Each behavior or attitude is assigned a varying amount of points depending on its importance, out of a total of 100 possible points...Quotas were set so that the sample is as demographically representative as possible.

This survey divides respondents into two categories: those with a written financial plan and those without a written financial plan. About 25% of people are "Planners"; the rest are "Non-Planners". Continue reading...

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The optimization trap

Since returning to Get Rich Slowly in October, I've begun to receive more and more email from readers with questions about what they should do with their financial lives. I love reading what people have to say, and I love trying to help (when I can).

Often the folks who write to me are focused on frugality. They want to make the most of their grocery trips, their book budgets, and so on. Sometimes the questions come from people who want to know which index fund to choose: Is it better to buy Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX) or Fidelity's Spartan Total Market Index Fund (FSTMX)?

In other words, many of the emails I receive -- regardless the sender's financial situation -- are about what's best to do with their money.

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There are pros and cons to everywhere

Kim and I moved to our new home in West Linn on July 1st. Although we're only 8.5 miles (and about twenty minutes) from the condo we owned in Portland, I haven't been back to our former neighborhood since we moved. Yesterday, I decided to spend a few hours hanging out at some of my old haunts.

I stopped at the "pot shop" to pick up some sleeping aids. I bought Tally new chew sticks from the pet store. I spent half an hour browsing at the used book store for sci-fi classics. And I stopped to drink a glass of wine at the bottle shop. It was fun to be back in Sellwood once again, if only for a few hours.

While I was sipping my pinot noir, a friend came in. "It's good to see you," she said. "How's life in the new house? Do you miss Sellwood?"

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