It’s always fun to do a year in review post because it’s interesting to review all the failures! I’m always so enthusiastic about my goals during the beginning of the year and I inevitably lose steam towards the end. Does this happen to any of you?
For 2016, I had 15 goals divided into business goals, personal goals, and personal financial goals. If we can do just one important thing a month, we’ll all become superstars over time.
I didn’t believe this year would be any good due to my less than enthusiastic outlook for the stock market, real estate market, startup ecosystem, and my own personal business. After all, 2015 eked out just a ~1% total return if you include dividends. But of course as we all now know, everything turned out lollipops and cotton candy!
Let’s go through why it’s always better to be lucky than good.
1) Test out a new layout for FS so that more articles can be seen above the fold.
Pass. I went from a two column layout to a three column layout with just titles and no snippets to get more articles on the homepage. Having three columns and multiple different category blocks has also given me more flexibility to play around with what gets shown on the homepage. Thanks Eric from Personal Profitability for helping me with the redesign and Colleen from Kong Savage Art House for a cool new mask and banner design.
2) Produce another FS product e.g. book, course, subscription product.
Fail. I’m not sure why I didn’t get this done. Laziness is the most obvious reason. I do have a new FS Forum with a subscription section for accredited investors ready to go. But I’m hesitant to launch it because managing a forum takes a lot of work. Forums also open up my site to vulnerabilities and attract thousands of spammers.
Producing online products is a more efficient way to generate passive income than amassing capital to invest for an equal amount of passive income once you’ve developed a platform. For example, it will take $250,000 in capital to generate ~$10,000 a year in gross passive income through a California muni bond portfolio. Or I could very easily generate $20,000 a year in gross passive income by spending three months writing another book, with no downside except for my time. Time to get to work!
3) Inject more humor.
Probably a fail. I used to be funny once, I swear! Now, it seems like I’m getting a little saltier with age because I see so many more head scratching situations that make me go hmmm. The funny posts such as, Stay At Home Men Of The World, UNITE!, have all but gone away for more serious subjects. I like to poke fun at serious trends while offering some solutions as well. Feel free to let me know what other topics you’d like me to write more about for 2017.
Here are some posts with humor:
Predicting The Future To Get Rich – Who doesn’t love a good Back To The Future reference?
Things I’ll Teach My Daughter: Ignore His Car, Find His House – Instead of the classic overprotective dad with a shotgun image, I decided to go a more intellectual route to save all females from heartbreak and financial disaster.
How To Get A Job You Do Not Deserve – Everybody knows these three archetypes at work. But now I’ve got names for them!
4) Open up a digital wealth management (roboadvisor) account and publish its performance.
Fail. I was told I was not allowed to open up an account and write about the performance. Given I already researched and wrote about Wealthfront and Betterment, it would have been a shame to take down my work. But if I did invest capital with either firm, I would have been up a decent amount because of the ramp in the stock market.
I hope you guys who are using digital wealth advisors are enjoying the low fees and the simplicity of building an after-tax investment account through regular automatic contributions. If I was in my 20s and early 30s, using a roboadvisor to invest 20%+ of my after tax, after 401k maximum contribution is exactly what I would be doing. I wasted too much time trying to pick individual positions that either didn’t make money, distracted me from my job, and/or gave me a lot of stress when I was younger.
Building wealth is all about having a regular contribution system over a long period of time. Allocate no more than 10% of your investable assets to trying to pick individual stocks if you must. The biggest problem retail investors have is not knowing how to manage risk.
5) Focus on profitability, rather than growth.
Pass. Because private startups were getting crushed in 4Q2015, I took a very cautious approach to running my online business for 2016. Instead of spending aggressively, which I hardly do, I decided to optimize what I had instead. Think about an online business like a train with 10 empty carts. You can load as much or as little as you want. Either way you’re burning the same amount of fuel and you’ll get to the same destination at roughly the same time. You might as well optimize by loading up them carts!
My quarterly business off sites in places like Oahu, Hungary, Budapest, Austria, France, and Palm Springs this year really paid off. On every offsite, my team and I focused on what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we need to improve upon. The decisions have led to roughly a 35% increase in revenue based on existing traffic compared to expectations for flat to negative 10% growth.
I’m always surprised by the revenue upside from many bloggers of different genres. Here’s a real example of a food blogging couple who are absolutely crushing it.
6) Live in Asia for one month. Target locations: Chiang Mai, Beijing, Taipei, Saigon.
Fail. My team and I had a great time visiting Malaysia, S. Korea, Cambodia, and Taiwan in 2015, but we didn’t return to Asia this year. Instead, we went on the Hapsburg Trail (Prague, Vienna, Budapest) and ended up in Paris for the French Open thanks to a friend’s generosity.
I wanted to check out Chiang Mai because that’s the most cited place to be amongst digital nomads. Beijing or Taipei would have been nice because I could practice my Mandarin. Saigon would have been cool because I’ve never been. Oh well. Maybe sometime in the future.
Prague was a wonderful little town where I met up with a reader over some cold brew. Vienna was a pleasant place that felt extremely wealthy and a little artificial. Budapest was much more gritty, but had some amazing outdoor baths. Out of the three cities, I would choose Budapest as a place to live for several months a year.
7) Finish the deck off the master bedroom and do some landscaping to improve curb appeal.
Pass. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve weirdly dreamed of having a deck facing the ocean off my bedroom. There’s something about being able to wake up, walk outside, and stretch to the heavens while breathing the crisp morning air that I just love. And of course, there’s nothing more pleasant than watching the sunset with a glass of wine. In 2016, I finally was able to fulfill this little dream. The deck turned out much better than expected.
I decided to delay professional landscaping for a year given the deck, retaining wall, new header, and sliding doors took six months to complete because my contractor is an organizational mess. I’m still waiting for final inspection from the city if you can believe it. For landscaping, we did plant some nice succulents in the front and back of the house, decorated the deck, and removed some old shrubs on the side of the house.
8) Get rid of all the old clothes I haven’t worn in over a year.
Pass. I continued to give plenty of clothes and other things away after downsizing to my current house in 2014. I recently sold three Persian rugs over Craigslist because we’re trying to have a beach theme since we have ocean views. They were just sitting there collecting dust in my garage. I was able to get this beautiful blue tonal rug from Pottery Barn that actually matches the color of the ocean. Score!
Even though I’m dreaming of a sweet house in Honolulu one day, I’m all about enjoying the simple life now. Downsizing to my current smaller house in 2014 was the right move. It’s a joy to travel for weeks on end with just my backpack. It feels wonderful to have less stuff. Giving away things I don’t often use to people who would use them more often is a better allocation of resources.
Related: Always Dream Of Living The Dream
9) Attend at least four world class tennis tournaments.
Semi-pass. I went to two world class tennis tournaments. The first was attending the BNP Paribas Indian Wells tournament with two other couples. We rented a house with a sweet pool and hot tub and went out every evening for some good eats. I hope we get to do more couple retreats in the future.
The second world class tournament was the French Open, even though the tickets cost $550 each for the second round! We got there right before the floods. Finally, I attended three other tennis tournament events around the SF Bay Area as well. I decided to skip the US Open in NYC this year because I was tired of traveling.
10) End the year at under 163 lbs and win at least two 5.0 level tennis matches.
BIG TIME FAIL. I went from around 167 lbs at the beginning of the year up to 173 lbs. Now I’m back to where I started at about 167-168 lbs. My doctor says I should be closer to 150 – 155 lbs at 5’10”. I think I’ve got to get over my desire to be as thin and ripped as I was in high school and college. We ~40 year old men aren’t supposed to be ripped, unless we’re unemployed and have nothing better to do than to workout for three hours a day. Wait a minute…. that could be me! So long as I’m feeling healthy and can play 2+ hours of tennis at a time, I’m happy.
In the greatest losing streak of my tennis career, I ended up not winning a single match at 5.0 this year after seven tries. It was pretty disheartening because I was always partnered with a 4.5 player or a weak 5.0 player against two solid 5.0s. But I came close to winning with a couple tie-breakers and three set matches. I could have given up after my first two matches when I realized the team I joined wasn’t going to be filled with 5.0 players as the captain promised. But I kept on battling anyway because I just love to play.
The crazy thing is, even after all my losses, the computer system still didn’t bump me down to 4.5! They argued that because I had very close matches with a 4.5 against two 5.0s, I am indeed a 5.0. If you guys say so. Now I’ve got to do some selling this year to try and get on a legitimate 5.0 team to get better partners. Post coming as this failure truly got me down.
PERSONAL FINANCE GOALS
11) Don’t go back to work full-time unless the work AND pay are amazing.
Pass. Due to perpetual worry the good times can’t last forever, I got in the habit of looking for new jobs in the 4th quarter for the past four years. The idea was to find suitable work at a reasonable salary in case my finances fall apart. But this year, I only interviewed at one company for a full-time position after a headhunter pinged me out of the blue. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time. I obliged to meet up so I could network, learn more about the life insurance startup space, and find a new story to write on FS. Too bad a couple of the founders turned out to be pricks. I’ve got a great post coming about my terrible experience you won’t want to miss!
I’m happy to say my desire for going back to work has continued to fade even more. At the end of 2015, I had roughly a 20% desire to go back to work to do something fun and new. Now, this desire has declined to about 5%. I always keep the window slightly open just in case a great opportunity comes my way. But this life insurance startup I met with really turned me off to full time employment.
Perhaps now that I’m complacent about the new year, doom will follow! Sorry folks if the world falls apart in 2017.
12) Increase net worth by $500,000.
Pass. I thought 2016 was going to be a slightly negative year for the stock market, and it was for several months when the S&P 500 was down 10% in February and sold off again post Brexit. I was anticipating a ~$300,000 decline in the value of my existing assets, which required an $800,000+ increase in new income and business growth to get to my net worth growth target of $500,000. But 2016 turned out to be another bull market! Therefore, about 25% of my net worth went up about 10% thanks to the stock market.
For real estate, Zillow revalued a rental property up by $350,000 alone. The weird thing is, you can’t see the $350,000 jump in the chart below. It’s as if the entire algorithm changed without telling anyone. I didn’t edit any of the details all year either. Sadly, Zillow is wrong about this property’s valuation. Instead of $3.3M, I’m thinking the realistic selling price is only about $2.5M. So perhaps the property appreciated from $2.35M to $2.5M in 2016 for a 6.3% gain. But it definitely didn’t appreciate from $2.98M to $3.33M this year. If it has, I need to raise the rent from $9,000 to $10,000 a month when the lease is up!
Zillow then downgraded another property I own by about $130,000 without showing the drastic fall because a neighbor with a similar layout recently sold for my new Zillow estimate price of ~$1.57M. It had been showing ~$1.7M until October. The thing is, the neighbor needs about $400,000 of work to get to my house’s condition because it is a total dump. I checked it out twice because I was considering buying it to remodel, but there was just too much demand so I didn’t bother. You can’t trust Zillow and its estimates because they don’t know the condition of your house.
Overall, my real estate portfolio increased about 5% as the SF property market slowed down given a dearth of liquidity events. I’m anticipating continued softness until Uber, Airbnb, or Pinterest goes public. Then it’s off to the races again because San Francisco is one of the cheapest international cities in the world. Based on my debt level, 5% return is more like a 9% return on cash. In other words, it would have been better if I levered up more.
If I was a corrupt foreign government official trying to extract money out of my homeland, I’d be buying San Francisco real estate all day long. Starting pay packages for 22-23 year old college graduates are now ~$100,000 a year. The incomes here support our real estate prices, unlike in places like Vancouver.
13) Finally achieve my $200,000 a year passive income goal.
Pass. I estimate about $211,000 in passive income for 2017 after consistently earning about $17,600 a month in passive income in the second half of 2016. It was looking shaky in May because I had to find new tenants for my 2/2 condo rental property. My existing tenants of three years decided to give me their 30 days notice two weeks before I was going to Europe for three weeks. Bad timing!
I was strongly considering selling the condo to simplify life back then. Now that I have tenants, I’m less restless about selling, but still undecided on whether I would have been happier if I had sold. I’m weird because I actually like visiting the condo every time there’s an issue because it gives me an excuse to physically enjoy my asset instead of just collect a rent check.
It makes me happy to see an asset I bought around my 26th birthday. The period between 1999 – 2003 was very stressful due to the long work hours in NYC, the trauma of 911, the move to SF where I didn’t know anyone, the move to a new firm, and the constant layoffs in the financial services industry after the dotcom bust. This rental condo represents perseverance. Every time I visit, it always reminds me that good things generally come out of hard work.
From now on, I’ve decided to do a mid-year passive income update because it motivates me to do more things. I’ve already got two things I plan to accomplish in 1H2017 that may boost passive income by $2,000 a month.
14) Start hacking away at my vacation property mortgage.
Pass. I paid down an extra $21,000 of my 4.25%, 30-year fixed, Lake Tahoe vacation property mortgage. The amortization table says there’s 20 years, 4 months left to go (sigh), but I plan to pay it off in 10 years or less. I’ve stopped aggressively paying down my two other mortgages because the rates are at 2.5% and 2.375%. With the 10-year bond yield at ~2.5%, it doesn’t make sense to pay down mortgage rates that are lower than the risk-free rate.
15) Set up a new car fund.
Pass. I created a mid-life crisis fund at the beginning of the year so that I can buy my mid-life crisis car in 2017. The fund is almost fully loaded and I’m just waiting to find that perfect vehicle for a great price. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a mid-life crisis for at least one month before I turn 40 where I’ll go vegan, start working out 5X a week, and look for validation that I’m still a desirable man. Then I’ll turn 40 and realize life is the same as it ever was.
For those of you who went through a mid-life crisis, let me know how it went and what you did to deal with such a funny scenario. With Carrie Fisher dying at 60, George Michael dying at 53, and Prince dying at 57, it’s worth living it up if you have the means.
BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD
Out of 15 goals, I failed at four, and was unsure about two. That means I got a grade of 60% – 73%, or a F to C-. Whoo hoo! Now you know why I couldn’t get into a prestigious private school. I’m so happy with mediocrity!
The main financial takeaway from this report is that it’s better to be lucky than good. I thought the stock market would be down marginally and robotic Hillary would win the election due to demographic trends and freebies for the middle class. Instead, Trump won, the stock market is up more than 10% and there’s potentially a huge corporate tax cut down to 15% in 2017, just in time for my business to take advantage. Further, interest rates finally spiked after I locked in my refinance, so I can finally build a municipal bond portfolio to live for free. What luck!
When you invest for the long term, you start getting luckier with your investments. When you keep on grinding with your business, you’ll inevitably stumble across business opportunities you could not have possibly foreseen. Out of my existing 2016 business revenue, roughly 25% of it was created without any anticipation.
What I’m most happy about for 2016 is that I didn’t quit writing. It’s so easy to slack off when you’re already content. Conversely, it’s so much easier to work hard when your back is against the wall and you’ve got no safety net. I’ve got to figure out how to create that consistent sense of urgency as I grow older.
Finally, things are going well on the family front. My parents are alive and healthy, home life is good, and I’ve strengthened existing friendships. Good relationships are priceless. I’m not sure why my restlessness and boredom have faded away, but it no longer gets old having lots of freedom like it did when I was 35.
Almost every other day, my wife and I go through this silly little skit. We know what we are going to say, but we say it anyway.
Me: Hey guess what?
Me: There’s no work tomooooorrow. There’s no work tomooooorrow.
In unison we start singing and dancing: There’s no work tomooooorrow.
Then we hug and figure out our day. I know it’s silly, but laughing every day while doing silly stuff is what happiness means to us.
Here are my goals and outlook for 2017.
Readers, share some of your hits and misses for 2016. Are you happy or sad the year is over?