My theme for 2019 was: live the good life. This is my Financial Samurai 2019 review.
After a raging bull market since 2009, I've started to get more comfortable spending more on a better life rather than always trying to save and invest as much as possible.
2018 was a bad year for the stock market. At one point in 4Q2018, I was probably down ~$500,000, even with my relatively conservative public investment portfolio. However, we recovered tremendously in 2019. With the rebound, I figured, better to start spending our money than lose it all in the market again!
Here's a review of my goals for 2019. It's a really long post because I can't help but reflect during the holidays. The beginning portion is what I wrote at the start of 2019. The italics portion is my review.
Financial Samurai 2019 Goals
1) No gray hair, no chronic pain. I've learned over the years that our bodies reveal our true stress levels no matter what we do or what we say. My goal is to keep things like sciatica, lower back pain, TMJ, grey hairs, wrinkles, hair loss, migraines, and excessive weight gain at bay in order to live longer and feel healthier. Stress is the silent killer of our generation.
Specific activities for the year include: exercising and stretching 3X a week, taking walks with my son 5X a week, incorporating 15 minutes of meditation 3X a week, and eliminating sugary drinks. I will continue to maintain a bodyweight of between 165 – 170 lbs at 5′ 10″.
Grade: B. I was sick the entire month of January and didn't fully recover my normal breathing until the middle of the year. I suffered from more allergies than normal and probably some asthma for the first time in decades. I saw a pulmonologist who told me kids who had asthma tend to relapse after age 40.
I also got sick for a couple weeks at the end of November and into mid-December. Now that our boy is in preschool, he catches and transfers more colds to us. Bummer.
For about one month, I also had some lower back pain for some reason. Perhaps it was due to too much softball and tennis. But my back held up well for most of the year.
On the brighter side, I've maintained my weight and still don't have any grey hairs at 42. Overall, health-wise, 2019 turned out good, but not great.
2) Remain unemployed until September 2019. My son turns two in April 2019, and I plan to remain a stay at home dad at least until then. Although, I've given myself a green light to find full-time work after two years, my ultimate goal is to remain a stay at home dad until he is eligible for preschool in September 2019 if he is mature enough to attend. If he is not, then my goal is to remain a SAHD until September 2020 for 3 years, 9 months total.
In order to stay unemployed, I need to make sure my risk exposure is appropriate so I don't stress out about losing too much money again. I've also got to get out of the house more often and play some sports. One of my big goals is to finally take a family trip to our vacation property in Lake Tahoe.
Result: A+. I continued to remain unemployed in 2019, although things will probably change in 2020. It's been a great 7.8 year run so far. One of the absolute highlights of the year was finally going up to our property in Lake Tahoe for a week. It's been a dream of mine since I bought the property 12 years ago.
There is no price I can put on the picture below. I'm so excited to go on future family adventures together!
3) Hire help for Financial Samurai. After almost 10 years of running Financial Samurai with only my wife, it's time to get some help with writing and site maintenance. I'll be slowly looking for someone who is WordPress savvy, trustworthy, intelligent, reliable, dedicated, believes in my five core principles, enjoys writing and wants to earn some steady side hustle income. The fit has to be fantastic, otherwise, I'll just continue to operate the site as usual.
I realize many sites my size have 4-10 people working to write content and handle some of the business elements. Now that I've discovered how great it is to hire help around the house, it's only logical to hire help for our business.
Result: C-. I hired one person to do some freelance work for me for a month and another person to help me update some old content for a week. I tried to hire a virtual assistant out of the Philippines, but that didn't work out. As a result, I've been mostly solo with my wife all year. Luckily, I have yet to burn out.
4) Focus on revenue. Since I'm going to hire help for the business, I want to get a return on my investment. To not get an ROI on my capital expenditure would make me a foolish businessman.
I or my new hire will write more review posts, develop more affiliate partnerships, build my blog marketing business, update my severance negotiation book, and maybe create a new Financial Samurai product. I'll still publish my usual style posts 2-3X a week. There will just be more content all around as there is no limit to how many posts and pages a website can publish.
It's going to feel great to finally start seriously focusing on monetizing Financial Samurai after 10 years. I already get the occasional flak from readers who criticize my work and don't pay me a cent. So I now plan to unabashedly take full advantage of my platform to take care of my family, especially if the economy softens.
Grade: B-. My wife and I updated our severance negotiation book and released a new edition. I really didn't focus on monetization more than normal until I wrote the post, The Secret To Your Success: 10 Years Of Focused Work in 2H2019. When I didn't get much positive feedback from the post, I finally got motivated to focus more on monetization.
I did work with some big name financial firms to create blog marketing campaigns and I have developed new relationships with a couple great companies I'm excited to work with in 2020. But I could have easily quadrupled my efforts this year. Despite the lack of focus, because traffic on Financial Samurai grew, revenue has naturally followed suite.
5) Grow the Financial Samurai Forum. For four years, I was a forum junkie in college. It was one of the best ways I learned about investing and finance. But in order for a forum to grow, it needs to be nurtured. Therefore, I plan to continue posting and corresponding at least 5X a week on the forum to build the FS community.
I have a 5-year plan to grow the Financial Samurai Forum into one of the best financial forums on the web. Specifically, I want to double its traffic in 2019. The forum is geared towards people who fundamentally believe that making more money is a better way to grow wealth than mainly through saving. I want to build a community that is open-minded and always curious about new ways to get better. I’m aiming for thought diversity, not groupthink.
Grade: B-. I realized I kind of don't want to grow the Financial Samurai Forum because it's so easy to manage right now. For this reason, I don't advertise the FS Forum on the home page or in my author box after each post.
If it grows big, I'll need to spend more time moderating the boards, deleting spammers, and playing peacekeeper. That said, the FS Forum has slowly grown to over 2,000 registered users.
6) Help my boy reach the following milestones by year-end. Being a full-time parent is an incredibly rewarding job because you get to teach and witness progress on a daily basis. I've discovered that through Financial Samurai, foster youth mentoring, and coaching high school tennis that I enjoy being an educator. Below are some specific goals we are looking to help him develop by 2 years 9 months.
Play and Social Skills
- Sit comfortably in circle time for more than 10 minutes – check
- Enjoy playing with the piano, guitar, and drums – check
- Play with toys without mouthing them – check
- Screw and unscrew jar lids and turn door handles – check
- Build towers of more than 6 blocks – check
- Copy a circle with pencil or crayon – check
- Show affection for friends without prompting – check
- Be away from parents with supportive and familiar people for 4 hours or more to prepare for pre-school – check
- Walk down stairs unassisted – check
- Maintain balance while catching a ball or when gently bumped by peers – seems OK
- Throw and attempt to catch ball without losing balance – throwing OK, but doesn't catch
- Walk and maintain balance over uneven surfaces – check
- Use both hands equally to play and explore toys – check
- Learn to pedal a tricycle – haven't been practicing
- Able to self-calm in car rides when not tired or hungry – check
- Tolerate diaper changes without crying or whining – most of the time
- Has an established sleep schedule of 10 hours or more a night and 1-2 hours of nap time after lunch at least 5X a week – naps regularly, but only sleeps through the night 2-3X a week
- Able to self-calm to fall asleep – check
- Able to tolerate and stay calm during dental visits – yes, after we changed dentists
- Able to brush his teeth without whining or crying 3X a day – brush teeth twice a day, and we mostly brush his teeth for him
- Is potty trained before preschool starts in September – half potty trained before September
- Dresses and undresses self by figuring out buttons, zippers, and straps – 70% of the way there
- Is able to consistently use 3-4 word phrases e.g. “I am hungry,” “The garage door is white,” “Walk with daddy,” “Financial Samurai is the best!” – speaks in 7-9 word sentences no problem
- Uses “in” and “on” – check
- At least 75% of speech is understood by any caregiver – check
- Follows 2-step unrelated directions, e.g. “give me the ball and go get your coat” – check
- Understands “mine” and “yours” – I think so
- Says words like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats) – Confuses “you” and “me” a lot and still refers to himself in 3rd person most of the time
- Understands half of what we communicate to him in English, in Mandarin – Check. Has also learned Spanish.
Grade: A. At 33 months old, his communication skills are A+, but I have yet to teach him how to catch a ball or pedal a tri-scooter yet. We're still working on potty training and he only sleeps through the night 50% of the time. I believe everything will come in time, so I'm not stressing.
7) Spend $1,500 more a month on life. We have frugality disease. We are spending less today than we were in our late 20s, despite having a much higher income and net worth. Our estate planning lawyer sessions really made us realize we will likely die with too much.
We will allocate the extra $1,500 in spending towards more babysitting help, more massages, bi-monthly house cleaning, and quarterly gardening. We will purchase at least economy plus tickets for all our parents to come visit. Further, if we take our first flight as a family, we will purchase economy plus tickets as well.
We are also going to regularly give to two charities all year. One will be to a center for foster kids and abused youth. Another will be for children with nystagmus, a visual condition. I also like supporting public park tennis initiatives.
Result: A. We definitely spent at least $1,500 more a month to pay for a better life. We focused our spending on childcare help before our son went to preschool, house cleaning, and in-home massages. We also upgraded some furniture and consistently donated to a foster youth center, a rehabilitation center for children, and the American Nystagmus Network.
8) Pay off $200,000 of mortgage debt. Paying off my SF rental condo in 2015 felt wonderful. I don't care whether it goes up or down in value because I truly plan to own it forever. Selling my SF rental house and paying off an $815,000 mortgage in the process also felt terrific. No matter how much more I could have made investing in risk assets, I've never regretted paying off debt.
Our ultimate goal is to be debt-free by 2022 when our boy is ready for kindergarten. Paying down $200,000 a year in extra mortgage debt will help accomplish this goal.
Result: C-. We decided not to aggressively pay off mortgage debt because the yield curve inverted and mortgage rates went way down. We refinanced our primary mortgage to a 7/1 ARM at 2.625%. Therefore, it was really hard to aggressively pay down the mortgage when, for most of the year, we were earning an online savings interest rate of over 2%. Further, the stock market kept on going up.
Overall, we paid off about $60,000 in mortgage debt through regular monthly payments and sending an extra $20,000 towards principal pay down. If the economy had been tanking, we would have probably paid down our principal more aggressively.
To get real mortgage refinance quotes, check out Credible. They are one of my new financial partners. Although refinancing can be a PITA, once it's done, you will really feel great saving so much money each month. I'm thankful to be paying less a month to live than I was in 2014 when I bought the house.
9) Aggressively search for a larger house. I dodged a missile in 2018 by not buying a larger house for more money. I wrote two offers for San Francisco homes that both were rejected. I was seriously trying to buy this one expensive SF house in a great neighborhood, but by the time I was going to put in an offer, they had already accepted another offer on November 1 2018, for asking. If I had bought the house I'd be feeling nervous today since the stock market corrected by 20% soon after. It's not unreasonable to assume the house is now worth $200,000 (4.5%) less today.
At the same time, I want a bigger house in SF so my parents, in-laws and sister can come visit for a longer period of time. A bigger house is also important if we are to have another child. One more bathroom and 500 sqft more of space would be ideal.
Result: A. The San Francisco property market was strong in 1H2019, but has since faded. I'm still very glad I didn't spend a fortune on that house in November 2018 because I would have felt silly living in such a big house with only the three of us.
That said, I feel the time to buy a new property is upon us. I plan to use my investment profits to snag a deal on a larger house. I've found a house just a block away with panoramic ocean views at a great price. It's 600 sqft larger than my old house with two extra rooms and one extra bathroom. I'll write more about the house in future posts.
10) Be a voice for ~50% of the population. Due to the high cost of living, there are very few personal finance bloggers who live in an expensive coastal city. This makes rational sense, especially if you are a FIRE blogger. But roughly 50% of the national population lives in expensive coastal cities and other big cities around the country that face slightly different challenges. Therefore, I have an opportunity to establish Financial Samurai as a go-to resource for big-city audiences.
Result: A. I've been very consistent writing about financial issues that are relevant to at least half the population living in more expensive cities around the country.
It's easy to write about such issues because I'm going through them in real-time myself. Due to my focus, I've received plenty of coverage from organizations such as The Atlantic, CNBC, Drudge Report, MarketWatch, and more.
Here are some relevant posts:
- The Importance Of Money And Status For Getting Your Kid Into Private School
- Why Households Need To Make $300,000 To Live A Middle Class Lifestyle Today
- How To Retire Early With Kids: An Almost Impossible Task
- The Amount Of Money Needed To Retire Early And Live In Abject Poverty
- How To Get Healthcare Subsidies Even As A Multi-Millionaire
- The Making Of 529 Plan Millionaires: A Growing Necessity
- Here's When You'll Become A 401(k) Millionaire
11) Be more forgiving of myself. No matter what project I undertake, I always try and run through the finish line. Financial Samurai's finish line is July 1, 2019, after I made a promise in 2009 to publish 3X a week for 10 years. After that, who knows the future.
The funny thing about this finish line is that it is completely arbitrary. There is absolutely no need to put pressure on myself to produce so much content, especially if I'm having a rough week or sick. Financial Samurai surpassed my expectations by 10X long ago. Therefore, I'm going to give myself four weeks where I'll just publish one post plus I'll take it easy the entire month of June when traffic is slowest.
With more sleep and less stress, I hope to improve my overall mental health and happiness. My desire to constantly grind stems from mistakes made in high school, plenty more rejections as an adult, and an indoctrination since I was a kid that I need to try harder as a minority to get ahead in America.
Result: B. I never ended up taking one week off, let alone four weeks off to just publish one post a week. At the most, there were several weeks where I only wrote two posts because I was feeling a little burnt out. But I also published a newsletter during those weeks as well. For those of you who have subscribed, you know most of my newsletters are pretty chunky as well.
After reaching my 10-year publishing goal in July, I just kept on going as usual because there was always something interesting to write about each week. My sleep, unfortunately, continued to be short. No matter how hard I try, I can't sleep for longer than 5-6 hours straight.
Finally, I decided not to entertain an enticing offer to sell Financial Samurai after I reached my 10-year writing goal. Now I've got to make sure my decision was the right one.
12) Celebrate big and small wins. To make the hustle more worthwhile, we will celebrate all our achievements as parents, writers, and entrepreneurs. A celebration can be as small as opening a nice bottle of wine. These celebrations will also help us fulfill our goal of spending more.
Regularly highlight something specific I appreciate about my wife so she always feels recognized and loved. She is an incredible full-time mom who also launched the FS Forum, finalized our revocable living trust, registered the third edition of How To Engineer Your Layoff and the lullaby Cutie Baby with the Library Of Congress, and is responsible for all ongoing business accounting. I haven't done a good enough job appreciating her efforts over the years, which is why I'm committed to doing more for her in 2019 and beyond.
Result: A. We celebrated a lot this year by going out to eat, getting lots of in-home massages, and taking a couple great family vacations. Being able to defend our Northern California Section high school tennis title was also an extremely satisfying personal victory. It showed our first victory ever in the school's 43-year history wasn't a fluke.
Overall, I think I've done a good job appreciating my wife by verbalizing my appreciation, writing out my appreciation publicy, being a stay at home dad for 33 months, and maintaining a high-quality lifestyle for both of us.
My main priorities are to ensure my wife never has to go back to work if she doesn't want to and to give our son a wonderful childhood. I often feel a tremendous pressure to provide, but I've continued to grind it out because I know I've had way more luck than most. I refuse to take my luck for granted because I know it will eventually run out.
One Of The Best Years Ever
2019 will go down as one of the best years ever for my family. Financially, I was hoping to increase our net worth by 5% after a shaky 2018. Instead, our net worth has grown by ~18% according to what I track on Personal Capital.
Depending on how my private equity, venture debt, and real estate crowdfunding investments play out, our net worth might be up closer to 25% in 2019. As of now, all our private investments are valued at cost in my net worth dashboard, which I'm assuming is conservative.
I absolutely did not expect the S&P 500 to do as well as it did this year. As a result, I was too conservative with my public investment allocation with a 40% equity / 60% bond ratio. But thankfully, bonds did quite well as well.
As two unemployed parents, this bull market is a blessing. I don't think I could have remained comfortably unemployed since 2012 if it wasn't for such healthy investment returns. I probably would have aggressively tried to monetize Financial Samurai and find part-time consulting if the markets were flat or down.
The fact that Financial Samurai's visitors grew by double digits YoY according to Google Analytics makes me even happier given Financial Samurai is my passion. It feels much more rewarding to see progress from something you actively work on versus investments you passively invest in.
Finally, I'm just so happy to have my family. My family has given me so much motivation to write, stay healthy, and appreciate every day. There were certainly some really rough times with hours that regularly spanned from 5 am – 11 pm. But I'm appreciative to have the energy to survive. I just want my boy to stay 2.5 years old forever because time is flying by.
Overall, I give 2019 an A. I'm sad it's over. But I'm looking forward to a prosperous 2020.
Thank you everyone for coming along for the ride, sharing my posts, and inputting your thoughts on various issues!
Readers, how was your 2019? What were some of your wins and losses? Thanks for reading and sharing all throughout the year! Check out my 2020 review as well.