It’s my birthday. Or rather when I wrote this it was my birthday. My publishing schedule is such that you might see this well after the date. But that is besides the point. My birthday got me thinking about important dates in general and the human tendency to do goal setting around those dates.
There are many important, or one would say sentimental dates, in life. There is your birthday of course. We also celebrate all kinds of other key dates. There is your anniversary (heaven help the poor person who forgets this date and their significant other notices. Yes, I remember dear wife), Christmas, and even Labor Day.
Goal Setting by Important Dates
We as humans are often prone to take advantage of these important dates and holidays to evaluate our lives. In fact some are even known for their reflection and goal setting. Who can think of New Years without remembering resolutions? We talk about mid-life crisis evaluation around our later birthdays. The holidays are times to consider charity and giving. In each case the event at least in popular culture leads to an evaluation of your life and finances. The outcome is often portrayed as goal setting.
The problem with this culture of goal setting is how easy it is to fall into the trap of only doing these evaluations around important dates. It’s almost a cliche to picture the New Year’s Gym Resolutions. The first few weeks of January the gym is packed with everyone executing their resolution to get in shape. The problem is a few weeks later the Gym becomes potentially even more deserted then it was before the holidays. I am sure gym owners love all the people who pay for a year and then never return thus increasing their profit margins. However the underlying societal impact and the impact to those who never return is less than positive.
I set some goals on this blog back at the turn of the New Year. Unlike those who packed it in on their Gym Commitment after week 3, we continue to plug along. Whats the major difference? Well the big one is I realize while an important date can be a good reminder to reflect on your situation, it should not be the only time you reflect. There is a famous saying “That which is measured improves”. This is popularly known as Pearson’s law. In general just keeping an eye on something can cause it to be more efficient. Keeping an eye on it and working to improve it can doubly help. That requires regular short-term monitoring and work. These are the antithesis of setting and monitoring goals based only on important dates.
But why then did I do goal setting at New Years if I monitor regularly?
Well some of the reasons I did goal setting on New Years was for the benefit of a clear cut time to document my plans all at once. Some of it was also because I am human. I do regularly monitor many of my goals and set new ones. But, sometimes I need a reminder to sit down and evaluate certain areas. A date like New Years, or my birthday, is a good nudge to remember where I may slip. I would say about 3/4 of my goals at New Years I was already monitoring. The other 1/4 became new goals that I now regularly monitor. Now you do not have to, and shouldn’t wait for an important date to nudge you to do evaluation and goal settings. Perhaps you can even use this post as that nudge to review. But, if the worst you can do is to remember to set new goals at New Years, you are better off then the person who never does. Just be sure once you’ve set in motion the means to monitor and continue to drive it to achievement.
On to my New Years Metrics
The other reason I like the nudge of my birthday as a reminder to check my progress is it just so happens to be approximately the half way point from New Years. At least in my case a reminder at New Years and my birthday sit far enough apart that they give me a kick in the pants if I forgot something. Sure both are largely artificial constructs of society and self, still they give good way points of the passage of time. So where are we with those goals:
- Save 1X Our Expenses – Currently right on track with about 1x our expenses saved to date. Given my wife’s recent change in employment it is now possible our savings will exceed our expenses. I cannot predict my wife’s income beyond her current contract, but given what is already in place I suspect this will move to about 1.2x our expenses. I have adjusted my goals accordingly and will continue to track to achievement.
- Reduce Our Mortgage by 10% – If you recall our normal mortgage payments would cover 9% so we only needed an extra 1% to clear the bar. So far we have cleared half the extra. Not a bad start with half the year past. Good progress but because of our third goal we will be stopping at our current 9.5% trajectory and redirecting the remaining .5% elsewhere.
- Invest New Money in a way that achieves no less than 3% return over the long run –We have completely stopped new bond and bond fund purchases this year. We have also stopped extra payments on our mortgage, as the mortgage reduction above indicates. This is partially because of the poor return on these options. Our mortgage rate is 3.12 percent and ten year bonds are returning less than 3% as of this writing. So based on this goal it would make no sense if I invested significant funds in either fashion. Our overall accounts and the market have returned far more then 3% to date, as such we are on track to declare success.
- Use Credit Cards to fund travel to 1 international destination and 2 domestic locations without an impact to our finances. – We revised this metric slightly in favor of 2 international destinations and 1 domestic location. So far we have completed the 2 international destinations. As of the time of this writing the impact has been 768 dollars out of pocket. We have now signed up for the Schwab Amex Platinum card which I expect to provide another 600 dollars in travel hacking credit, bringing our exposure to 168 dollars for the year. Our last destination is a family get together of sorts and usually amounts to food and driving costs only. More on that will be written when the time comes. Anyway, we are right about where we need to be.
- Donate at minimum the equivalent of 5% to charity. – Full admission, we are a bit behind here. The last few years we have been regulars at places like good will. At one point it was so common the workers knew our names. This year though we’ve been a bit busy and slower at culling the accumulated stuff we no longer use. Beyond that our cash giving has also been down as we adjusted to being down one income. Ironically my wife going back to work has also had a negative impact as we give in raw dollars and goods donations per month not in percent. More income means more giving to achieve that 5%. The numbers indicate without the income bump up we are approaching 1.5%. We will be actively working to step up the pace here between now and the end of the year. That being said we will also be reducing our goal to 4% of our new total income given how far we are behind. This does not change our total expected donation dollars. I do like to under promise and over deliver so 5% is not impossible at this point, but it would be harder now at the new income level since most of the additional funds are already ear marked for a SEP 401K.
Overall 4 out of 5 is not a bad start. That being said other than the charity I have been watching these monthly. Those that I have measured are doing well. Those that I did not, not surprisingly, have lagged. I will be making a better effort to monitor our charitable giving more closely for the rest of the year to better effect change.
How are you doing on your goals year to date? Any adjustments needed? Do you practice setting goals by important dates?