For 2015, I created seven personal goals and five financial goals to achieve. I revisited these goals at the mid-year point to make sure I was on track, and now it’s time for a full on written review.
The writing in normal font was written in January 2015. The writing in italics is what I’m reflecting upon today. This is one long post so get your coffee ready!
PERSONAL GOALS FOR 2015
1) Take 100 hours worth of intense Mandarin classes. There was a time I used to be fluent in Mandarin. I could read 3,000+ characters, write, and speak business Mandarin. After living in the US for 23 years, I’ve become soft and it’s damn frustrating. It will take me 25 days at four hours a day to achieve my goal. I will achieve this goal by taking a two week study abroad class in Beijing or Taipei, listening to hours of online and podcast lessons, and watching at least one full season of a Mandarin drama. Maybe I’ll even do a 15 minute podcast on FS in Mandarin.
Why is mastering Mandarin a financial goal? Because when you’re able to fluently speak another language, your business world opens up massively with a new demand curve. There are over one billion Mandarin speakers in the world. It’s much easier developing relationships with others who take an interest in their language and culture.
Result: Pass, but not really. I didn’t take 100 hours of Mandarin class, but I did watch 20 hours of the Korean drama, Secret Garden, dubbed in Mandarin. There were 20, one hour long episodes. I’d record words I didn’t understand and look them up using the Pleco Mandarin/English translator app. Then I’d memorize them, practice using them in a sentence, and then rewatch most of each episode. Total hours spent studying came out to roughly 50 hours.
In June, I spent five days in Taipei, Taiwan speaking only Mandarin. 5 days X 24 hours = 120 hours! But, 30 of those hours were spent sleeping, so it’s really only 90 hours. 90 hours + 50 hours on the TV drama series = 140 hours! But, who am I kidding. I failed, but there’s still time left in the year!
On Dec 16 I interviewed with a senior employee at one of the largest Asian-based banks that has aspirations of growing its business in China. He specifically asked about my Mandarin language abilities from my resume, and I told him with confidence that I have no problems speaking Mandarin with Chinese clients exactly because I spent time this year brushing up. Everybody should try speaking a second language at a conversational level. Your options tremendously expand if you do.
2) Win at least one official 5.0 USTA match (tournament or league). Chances are slim that I’ll be able to win a 5.0 match given the 5.0 level is filled with ex-Division I college players who are still in their 20s and early 30s, but I’m sure as hell going to try. Age is almost always the enemy of an athlete. In order to achieve this goal I will practice for at least 1.5 hours at least twice a week. I’ll also do at least one session of stretching/yoga a week to improve my flexibility.
Result: Pass! I went 3-3, with one close loss to the ex-Cal Berkeley tennis team captain and his Emory University playing partner. If you believe you belong, you will do better. So much of competition, making money, and getting ahead is mental. You can read more about the experience here: Some Things Money Can’t Buy – How About A USTA 5.0 Tennis Rating
3) Feel hungry after at least one meal every day. Portion sizes are massive in America compared to everywhere else in the world. To save money and help stay in shape, I plan to eat up to 75% full every lunch or dinner every single weekday and save the rest for leftovers. If I eat up to 75% full for lunch, I’m not going to make up for the hunger during dinner by eating 125%. I’ll keep dinner at 90%-100% instead. The other reason to feel hungry after at least one meal every day is to be more appreciative of what I have. It’s too easy taking life for granted in the United States.
When I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a middle school student, my Muslim friends would practice Ramadan. They’d fast from dawn until sunset, refraining from consuming food and drinking liquids. Their commitment to being mindful and more spiritual for 29-30 days until the crescent moon appeared always inspired me.
Result: Fail. As someone who plays competitive tennis, it’s important to stay in shape because there’s so much running around the court. You need to be both mentally and physically in shape to win. But since I went from 162-165 lbs to 169-172 lbs for two months of the year, I obviously didn’t eat less than I should have because I was not inactive due to an injury this year.
In order for me to achieve this goal, I need to post written reminders on my mirror and laptop to always be mindful there are millions of people out there who are hungry every day. Here is the ideal weight for men and women as a reminder. My ideal weight is 151 – 163 lbs for a medium frame man who is 5’10”. I’m currently at 167 lbs. Find yours!
4) Do one live interview or presentation. I don’t think I’ll have a problem talking in front of a live audience as I’ve done it before. I just haven’t done so in a long while. Maybe I can be a guest lecturer at a school, or maybe I’ll give a presentation at a conference or speak to someone on TV. One of my main goals for starting a podcast is to practice my speaking skills. The other goal is to just connect with readers in a different way.
Result: Pass! In December, I co-hosted a ~85 person Millennial money game show event at Capital One 360’s downtown SF offices. The event lasted for two hours and it was a blast! I’m even supposed to get paid a nice chunk of change for my time. This experience makes me want to do more live speaking events for 2016. How cool would it be to get paid several thousand dollars to speak for an hour in different parts of the country with all your expenses taken care of? Future speaking opportunities all depends on whether I go back to work FT or not. But maybe I can do both.
5) Live more adventurously. The one thing that bummed me out in 2014 was that I didn’t do anything risky or go on any adventures. I guess after one leaves a job of 13 years and goes traveling around the world for 10 weeks a year, it’s hard to one-up such an adventure. A large part of me felt like I was getting sucked back into quicksand, working for money instead of working for the love of learning and networking.
As soon as I stop learning new things or taking on new challenges, I have this immense desire to move on, partly because I can. This is one of the reasons why I’m proud of myself for sticking things out in my consulting job for one full year. The adventures I seek almost always have to do with exploring new countries and meeting new people. I will be traveling for at least six weeks once again in 2015.
Result: I think so! Deciding to book a trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia as soon as I paid off a mortgage was pretty vicarious. It was a bucket list experience I will never forget. It was also great to see my friends in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on the way. I hadn’t seen them in 24 years and we decided to take a road trip across the country to the Taaras Resort at Pulau Redang for some good R&R and diving for five nights on a whim. Then there was the trip to the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula, which was pretty dang exciting!
Dropping two out of three consulting jobs to be more free, while not looking for any new opportunities also felt pretty vicarious. I forsook almost $20,000 a month in consulting income just because I wanted to travel. Oh yeah, does rocking out until 4am at an Empire of The Sun concert count? Seems like young folks do this on a regular basis nowadays.
6) Increase output on Financial Samurai by 28.5%. I’ve been averaging about 3.5 posts a week for the past 5.5 years. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers decrease their output because their readership has grown. No longer do they need to write as much to reach a certain target figure. Instead of fading, I want to raise output to 4-5 posts a week (4.5) from now on by introducing new writers and new styles of writing. I love reading guest posts from the community and being an interactive commenter on my own platform. Building a large site is about long-term consistency.
Result: Fail. Writing 4-5 posts a week is too much for me. My posts tend to be very thorough, and therefore, time consuming. Then there are the comments after the post is published, which requires additional time to address. It feels like a shame to publish a new post the very next day after so much work, but I have a solution for 2016. My output did increase slightly from 3.5 posts a week to 3.75 posts a week because I’ve been on a M, W, F, Sun, Tues, Thurs, Sat, M, W, F etc publishing cycle vs. just M, W, F, M, W, F.
7) Visit my parents four times, and my sister and nephew two times. A couple years ago, I almost sold my house to move back to Oahu and be closer with my parents. I didn’t pull the trigger because it felt too early to leave booming San Francisco. Hence, the solution is to just travel to see my parents more often. There were years where I’d only see them once a year. With my added freedom, I expect to see them at least four times a year for a week at a time. I’ve got my house ready to go for my parents and for my sister and nephew to come visit for as long as they want.
Result: Failed, but passed. With the home remodeling, travel to Asia, and consulting, I didn’t visit Hawaii once until December. Instead, I got my parents to come visit me three times, and my sister and nephew to see me twice. I also went out to NYC to see my sister and nephew for a week. Therefore, the end result of seeing each other a certain amount of times was the same.
FINANCIAL GOALS FOR 2015
1) Generate recurring charitable income through a new low-cost book. Two years ago (2012), I wrote a book that helps people learn how to negotiate a severance package in order to provide a long enough financial runway to do something more meaningful with their lives. The book has led to personal finance consulting clients, more FS brand awareness, and the ability to speak with media outlets as an authority on career exit strategies. Now I plan to put together a new book that will leverage the Amazon platform and my own platform with a price point under $10. The book’s target audience is anybody who wants to achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later. I hope that many existing readers will buy the book and gift it to friends and relatives. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to a charity that focuses on helping our youth. It takes an elephant-sized effort to put a book together, but I plan to get it done by the first half of the year.
Result: Success! Before my trip to Asia, my partner and I worked for three months to put together The Best Of Financial Samurai. We combed through the 1,000+ posts over the past 6.5 years to pick 30 posts which we feel will help people achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later. I strongly believe anyone who reads this book will benefit immensely. We priced it at only $9.88, and are donating 100% of the proceeds to charitable foundations (instead of a portion) that focus on helping our youth stay in school and off the streets. I’ll also donate the money specifically to people I know who need help getting by.
In addition to the new book, I also expanded my original severance package negotiations book by 50% to 150 pages and launched the second edition for 2016. The process took another three months to complete, but now the book is better than ever before!
2) Pay down my first rental property mortgage already. My first rental property was purchased in 2003 and I thought I’d be done with paying off the entire thing by now. The interest rate is only 3.375% for a 5/1 ARM with two years left at the fixed rate before it adjusts. I started my renewed focus on paying down debt last year by paying down around $100,000 in principal through some debt arbitrage. I now plan to slay the remaining $96,000 mortgage by methodically paying down an extra $7,000 a month in principal plus my normal $1,100 in principal mortgage payment.
Result: Pass! I took on three consulting jobs in January, February, and March with the primary goal to use 100% of after-tax proceeds to pay off this 3.375% rental property mortgage. I was already two years past my original target of paying down the mortgage in 10 years. See: Mortgage Payoff Fees And Procedures To Know
A lot of people questioned why I paid off this mortgage with a property value over $1M. Isn’t locking up so much cash in one asset not particularly wise? The simple answer is I’ve got three other mortgages. Four mortgages just felt like way too much, and real estate is a minority part of my net worth. If this rental by itself was more than 50% of my net worth, I definitely would not pay it off. Here’s a post on why I think paying off a mortgage is not a bad idea.
3) Make one more passive income move to get to $200,000. I made a very significant $50,000 a year passive income move in 2014 by renting out my house of 10 years. The problem is I’m still around $45,000 away from my goal. After two years of experimenting with P2P lending and receiving a completely passive 7.4% return, one strategy is to invest $600,000 into several hundred P2P investment notes. The other option is investing about $500,000 total in the venture debt fund that has a 9% preferred return minimum. In order for me to make these types of investment moves, I’ve got to build up another large cash reserve from my various active income streams because I don’t want to simply swap investments from my structured notes or CDs into P2P lending or venture debt. I want to generate new money to invest.
Result: Made one more move, but failed at achieving the $200,000 target. I did a passive income write-up for 2016 after locking in new tenants, and I came up $25,000 short at $175,000 a year. That was a $20,000 / year improvement from the beginning of 2015, but still short of the $200,000 goal I set in 2012 when I first started to document my passive income when it was at ~$80,000.
I’ve taken steps to generate more passive income through referring drivers for Uber. It took a lot of work to gain experience and write all those gig-related articles this year, but I believe it will pay off over time. In fact, I got a $750 check this week for referring someone to drive in SF while doing zero driving for the past month because I was in Hawaii. I’m getting another $750 referral bonus next week as well. I may expand into Postmates, Instacart, Lyft, and any other gig economy opportunities in 2016. Anybody can make money through these jobs if they have a desire to hustle.
Every additional $25,000 – $30,000 in passive income is like adding $1M in net worth given where interest rates still are today.
Check out: Income Profiles Of Financially Free People
4) Build up a steady $100,000 liquid cash pile. 2014 tested my limits because I spent so much on a house, remodeling, paying down rental property debt, and investing. I thought having just $25,000 in liquidity would feel OK, but with the addition of another mortgage, my desire for more cash has gone up.
I often forget that I don’t have a steady job any more. Who knows whether the stock market will finally go negative in 2015? Who knows if several business verticals go bust. I’ve got property taxes and freelance income taxes to pay, not to mention expensive health care premiums for the first time ever.
Result: Pass. It was difficult to get to $100,000 cash because I kept on investing any new savings like an investment junkie the first half of the year. But after the 15% correction in August (I deployed $30,000+), I decided to go into savings overdrive and ratchet down my monthly investing plan. But then the Netflix 14% yielding structured note came up in 4Q, and I had to invest $40,000 again!
After the market rallied intraday post Fed rate hike on Dec 16, I decided to sell about $160,000 in my naked long VYM ETF position. The idea was to take advantage of a relief rally, and redeploy the capital into hedged positions for 2016 because I think returns will be very hard to come by (I’ve already redeployed $50k into a structured note with a 15% downside buffer). I’ve got to admit, it feels very good sitting on more cash than I need. I’m going to take my time looking for investment opportunities. Cash could very well outperform again in 2016.
5) Grow net worth by $1 million. I’m focused on increasing income, but I’m more focused on growing net worth. Every $1 million in net worth growth is roughly $30,000 in relatively risk-free interest income. Although I mentioned the first $1 million might be the easiest since we’ve got a lot of energy and a higher risk tolerance when we’re younger, once you get to a very significant figure like $10 million, it only takes a 10% increase to build another million. How do I plan to achieve this goal? Mainly through working on things I think I can control e.g. my business.
For example, if I can grow recurring revenue by $333,000 in 2015, I’ll achieve the $1 million goal if current valuations call for a 3X revenue multiple on online media companies. It will be nice if my investments and real estate grow by 10%, but I’m not holding my breath as the effort (asset allocation, investment selection, purchases) has already been made and there’s not much more I can do.
Result: Depends on how you value my illiquid assets. My main goal was to focus on things I could control e.g. my business, savings rate, rental properties, and deployment of capital. Here’s what I’ve written so far about various parts of my net worth:
- Paid off $96,000 of mortgage debt for a rental property.
- Paid off about $60,000 in principal on three other properties based on normal monthly Principal + Interest amortizing mortgages.
- Spent $58,000 creating a luxury master bathroom and another $2,500 creating a sanctuary.
- Invested $100,000 in a Venture Debt fund.
- Invested $5,000 – $20,000 a month based on my normal investing game plan.
- Invested an extra $30,000 during the August 15% correction.
- Invested $40,000 in a Netflix structured note when the stock was at $102 in November.
- Grew my online business by 50% (down from 120% in 2014).
- Saw San Francisco real estate rise anywhere from 10% – 18%.
- Eeked out a 1-2% return on my public equity exposure.
- Saved roughly 70% of my after-tax income.
The amount of new money deployed to pay down debt, fix up property, and invest was around $386,000 due to aggressive savings, multiple consulting gigs, and side hustling. Not bad for an unemployed guy. Even the launch of the second edition of my severance negotiation book during the Fall helped a bit. Everything adds up, so don’t count out the little things!
The other $614,000+ was due to the growth of my business’s valuation, returns from real estate, and cash in 7-year CDs still yielding 3%-4%. San Francisco real estate’s median price supposedly went up 17-20% in 2015. If that’s true, I reached my +$1M net worth goal. But I’ve taken a more conservative approach by modeling a 10% increase because selling alone still costs 5%! Being long three prime properties in San Francisco has not only helped my net worth, but also my cash flow given one property now rents out for over $100,000 a year gross. Even my Lake Tahoe vacation property is showing signs of life, finally, after amazing winter conditions so far.
Given my online business’s revenue grew by 50%, I estimate that I’ve grown the value of the business by at least 20%. This double banger of increasing revenue while also increasing the value of the asset is one of the best reasons to own a business. With a job, you can only make income by selling your time. Selling your body is not a great option. With a business, you can actually sell the business one day as well! The easiest way to start a business is to start a site for your consulting business and then go to LegalZoom to register as an S-Corp or LLC. I went the expensive route and hired a lawyer years ago. I’ll write a whole post about this in the future.
So did I achieve my net worth goal? According to my online net worth tracker, the answer is yes. But it doesn’t really matter because they are just numbers on a dashboard. The important takeaway is to actively increase the portion of your net worth growth that you can control. Don’t just idly let the stock market dictate your future. Do more!
I just realized a very important pattern about myself that I didn’t realize until writing this post. I’m always afraid of the future during the end of the year!
In December 2014, I was looking for new consulting work because I was partly worried about my online business going negative in 2015 after a great 120% year in 2014. I met up with a couple people at Motif Investing in San Francisco, and decided to work with them as a content producer. I’ve contracted with them for a year now, and it’s been a very pleasant experience. I also worked with Sliced Investing for three months as well. My business in 2015 slowed, but didn’t go negative as feared.
In November 2013, I was also fearful that my online business would decline in 2014 because growth in 2013 was huge, largely due to a smaller base. A year and a half passed since I left Corporate America and I was also getting a little restless and lonely working on my business myself. As a result, I joined Personal Capital in their marketing department for 25 hours a week to help them with their content marketing, affiliate marketing, and social media efforts. Through this two year experience that officially ended in November, 2015, I learned everything about digital marketing and Silicon Valley culture. I even got stock options, which I purchased. My business in 2014 didn’t collapse as feared.
And now, in 4Q2015, I’m interviewing for full-time roles for 2016 because I’m somewhat bearish for 2016. I’ve taken my online business as far as it can go by myself and I still have energy to give elsewhere. I have no desire to take on investors, hire lots of employees, and build a billion dollar fintech company. Heck, I can’t even get into an incubator! Surely, my business will decline in 2016 after two prior years of getting extremely lucky right? With ~1,100 articles published on Financial Samurai, if I maintain my pace of publishing another 160-180 articles next year, the most I’ll grow is 17%, all else being equal.
Writing this post has helped me realize no matter how much I have, I’m always looking to build a new income buffer, just in case my other income streams falter. A 50%+ after tax savings rate will continue forever due to the unknown. This must be the “curse” of the entrepreneur or financial freedom fighter, always going through life a little paranoid that the good times won’t last forever. But having this fear will better ensure your financial success long term.
Looking back, I don’t regret consulting for any of the companies. It was a blast learning new things and meeting new people. Therefore, I don’t think I’ll regret working / consulting for a new company in 2016. Work becomes so much more fun when you’ve got a creative outlet.
SPEND TIME TO REFLECT
I encourage all of you to write out your goals so you can review them at least once a year. The epiphany of finding a pattern of always being fearful in the 4Q is something I didn’t realize until now. I do believe that 2016 is going to be one of the most challenging years to make money, more so than any year in the past five years. Hopefully, I’m just being my paranoid self, but I don’t think so!
I’m most proud of creating my low-cost financial education book for charity, not slacking off on my posting schedule, winning three matches at the 5.0 tennis level, and having some really nice times with my family.
In terms of areas for improvement, it’s always going to be a struggle for me to get down to ideal weight given my crazy love for food. Finally, I should have written and spoken more to my mother.
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