Annual Review: 2013 Edition

Annual Review: 2013 Edition

Well, it’s that time of year again.  As many of you know, each December I spend a few days reflecting on the previous 12 months and planning for the coming year.  Going through this exercise helps me to reflect on past successes, fix problems, set priorities and generally be more intentional during the year ahead.

I write about the process here in the hopes that some of you might find it helpful as you make plans and set goals of your own.  As in years past, I will use a simple, three step process: 1) Do a quick annual review (i.e. what went well and what didn’t go well), 2) Set specific goals, 3) Outline strategy and tactics.

Review: What went well in 2013

Work.  As many of you know, I’m a financial planner.  The primary focus of my practice is helping people plan for retirement.   I work with clients in about 25 states and, for the most part, business was good this year.  The markets had a great year as well and it was nice to finally regain the level in the stock market where things abruptly fell apart five years ago.  One other milestone: earlier this year I passed a major exam that I’ve been studying for and was awarded the CRPC® designation (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor).

Writing.  In addition to writing for this site and my local newspaper, I also started to write for Dow Jones MarketWatch this year.  That has been a rewarding experience, because it gets my writing in front of a much broader audience.  In fact, many of you probably found your way to Intentional Retirement from one of my articles at MarketWatch.  For the year I wrote about 35 posts for Intentional Retirement, several dozen articles for the aforementioned news outlets and one manifesto called A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss.  I hope you all found something from that list that was entertaining, informative and helpful.  More good stuff is on the way for 2014.

Travel.  Travel is one of my top priorities and I made it to a few cool places this year.  Inside the U.S. we made it to Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Minnesota.  There wasn’t much international travel this year, but I did manage to make it to the Cayman Islands and Canada.  The high point of all of these trips was getting to spend time with family and friends, but we also managed to do some fun activities like scuba diving, beach volleyball, hiking, camping, biking, horseback riding and rock climbing.

50 State Challenge.  While we’re on the subject of travel, I have a goal to get my daughter to all 50 states before she graduates from high school.  We made it to three new ones in 2013: Kansas, Missouri and Washington.  So far we’ve done 18 plus Washington D.C.  32 to go.

Subscribers.  I enjoy writing, but I primarily see it as a vehicle to spread my ideas about retirement and living an interesting, rewarding life.  Viewed that way, it’s important to me to get my writing in front of as many people as possible.  One metric I use to track that is subscribers at my site (that’s you!).  I set a big goal for new subscribers this year and ended up surpassing it by about 60 percent.  Thanks so much for the part you played in that.  If you find anything interesting, helpful or entertaining at Intentional Retirement, I would really appreciate it if you’d pass it on to people you know so that we can continue to grow our little community.

Review: What didn’t go so well in 2013

As you might imagine, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns this year.  Here’s a few of the things that didn’t go so well.

Consistency.  I had a lot on my plate this year and I feel like one consequence of that was a lack of consistency in several key areas.  For example, posts at the site were sometimes irregular, my learning challenges were up and down and I didn’t do a great job keeping my regular date night with my wife.  Some of this busyness is unavoidable, but much of it is self-inflicted and the result of poor planning.  For 2014 I’m going to try to cut, simplify, focus and delegate so I can be more consistent with the things that are most important to me.

Physical fitness.  Speaking of inconsistency, my physical fitness was up and down this year.  I had periods where I was working with a trainer and doing great, followed by periods where I took lethargy to new heights.  I’m hoping that simplifying my schedule a bit will help correct this problem.  I’ll keep you posted.

New Products.  I had a goal to launch The Ideal Retirement Design Guide before Christmas this year.  That self-imposed deadline turned out to be a bit optimistic.  It’s coming along, however, and it’s turning out even better than I’d hoped.  Stay tuned.  It should be ready early next year.

Helping others.  I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about how to live a full life.  If you’re not careful though, constantly looking for ways to suck the marrow out of life can leave you feeling self-centered and narcissistic.  Yes, I want to enjoy life, but I also want to use my time and resources to help others and leave the world a better place than I found it.  Next year I want to do a better job in that regard.

So that’s my list of what went well and what didn’t.  I’m sure I could add more (especially to the “didn’t go well” list!).  I’ll spend time over the next few days outlining some specific goals for 2014 as well as my strategy for accomplishing them.  I hope you’ll do the same.  Don’t just leave your year to chance.  The type of life you want to live—one filled with meaning, accomplishment, and purpose—does not happen by accident.  You need to be intentional.  You need to know what kinds of things you value and work toward making them a reality.

A few things to keep in mind as you plan…

Dream Big

When you dream big, something happens.  It changes how you think and how you act.  It changes the types of questions you ask.  It inspires and changes those around you.  Dreaming big has led to things like cures, computers and space travel.  Don’t limit yourself to those things that seem “reasonable” or “probable.”  Take a risk and dream big.

Start small

Someone once said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.  That is so true.  Don’t put so much stuff on your to-do list that you don’t know where to begin.  Big goals (like retirement) can take years to plan and execute.  Don’t try to do too much too soon or you’ll just find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged.  Outline your strategy and then take the smallest step possible to get started.  Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Before you know it, you’ll have some real momentum.

Allow room for serendipity

Goals are great, but don’t be a slave to them.  Be open to opportunities that you hadn’t anticipated or planned for.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Have a vision for your life

Imagine trying to put together a puzzle without the picture on the box.  It would be incredibly difficult because you wouldn’t know the end goal.  The same is true of your life. Your goals are important, but you need to have a vision for where you want those goals to take you.  What are your dreams for the future?  What is the vision you have, not just for retirement, but also for the rest of your life?  If you can’t answer that question or if your answer doesn’t really inspire you, then stop everything else you’re doing and really think that through.  It’s your life.  No one else is going to know more about it or take it more seriously than you.

Celebrate along the way

Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.  Take time to enjoy your incremental progress and reward yourself for a job well done.

Good luck with your planning!  Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.

~ Joe

Mini-retirement update: And the winner is…

Mini-retirement update: And the winner is…

As many of you know, I took a bit of a risk recently and committed to taking a mini-retirement sometime before the end of next year.  I say “risk” because I hadn’t talked to either my wife or my boss before I wrote this post, but sometimes ready, fire, aim is the best approach.

Since then, we’ve spent many nights at the dinner table discussing the how, where and when (and if!) of mini-retirement numero uno.  Early on, those discussions revolved around convincing my wife why a month in a foreign land was a higher priority than that kitchen remodel that she’s been wanting.  She loves to travel as much as I do, however, so the discussion quickly shifted to “where are we going?”

For this first adventure, she thought it would be a good idea to go somewhere English speaking.  Language hasn’t been a huge barrier on previous trips (although China was a bit of a challenge), but since we’re going for a month and we’re taking our daughter with us, minimizing potential stressors seemed like a good idea.

After throwing out a variety of options, we quickly settled on Ireland and England.  I’ve always wanted to visit the land of Guinness and my wife has always wanted to visit an area of England called the Cotswolds.

The Planning Process

Step 1 was doing some research.  We stopped by the bookstore and picked up travel guides for both countries as well as Lonely Planet City Guides for Dublin and London.  We started going through the guides and listing out things we wanted to see and do in each place.  That gave us a good idea of what our trip itinerary would look like, so we started looking for places to stay in each destination.

I’m not a huge fan of staying in hotels on longer trips.  Not only are they expensive, but they don’t give you much of a local flavor for where you’re visiting.  If we’re staying for more than a few days, I prefer to rent a small house or apartment.  There are only three of us in my family, so it doesn’t need to be anything large or extravagant.

I typically use a site called Vacation Rental by Owner, but for this trip I also used a site called Airbnb as well as a company that specializes in renting cottages in the Cotswolds.  So far we’ve booked a small cottage in the Cotswolds for two weeks, a cool old barn that’s been converted into a house in Ireland, and a hotel in Western Ireland because we’ll only be there a few days.  No turning back now!  We still need to get places in London and Dublin, but because those are large cities, there are plenty of options.

I haven’t booked the airfare yet, but I’ve been using the Kayak App to track two different options.  Option 1 is buying an open-jaw ticket that goes from Omaha, to Dublin, to London, to Omaha.  An open-jaw ticket is where you leave from a different city than you originally arrived.  Option 2 is to just buy a round trip ticket to Ireland and then either use our British Airways points or low cost carrier Ryanair to book a round trip between Dublin and London.  I’m leaning toward Option 2 because it’s about $500 cheaper per ticket, which translates to $1,500 for the three of us.  I’ll probably pull the trigger on that soon.

We’ll need a car for part of the time in each country, so I reserved (and prepaid because it’s cheaper) for those as well.  I typically use Avis.  They have a program called Avis Preferred that costs nothing, but saves a huge amount of time and hassle.  If you sign up, it allows you to bypass the rental counter (i.e. Dante’s 5th circle of hell) and go directly to your car.

What I’ve Learned

So that’s where we’re at so far.  Here are a few takeaways from the process:

1)     I was reminded again about the importance of deciding.  Big goals can be challenging, scary, complicated and overwhelming.  Because of that, it’s often tough to get started.  Once you commit to do something however, the tough part is over.  The rest is just logistics.

2)     Planning early has allowed us to digest the expenses over time.  I’ve mentioned before that we are by no means a wealthy family.  We live on a single income and have what I have referred to before as an extravagantly modest lifestyle.  We spend on key things that are important to us (e.g. travel), but keep a tight rein on the rest of the budget.  Starting this process early has allowed us to pay for things like housing, transportation and plane tickets as we go rather than buying all those things at once and then facing a huge credit card bill.

3)     There are some amazing tools available to travelers.  I mentioned some of the sites I use for booking as well as travel apps that I’m fond of, but that’s just scratching the surface.  Researching and planning a trip has never been easier.

4)     I have some great readers!  I’ve heard from quite a few of you who are putting the mini-retirement concept into practice in your own lives.  Keep at it and let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.

How about you?  Is there something you’ve always wanted to do?  Don’t save the best for last.  Get started now.  Feel free to share your plans in the comments section and we can be cheering you on.

I hope you’re warm wherever you are.  It’s a beautiful negative 3 degrees in Omaha this morning.  If I hadn’t already committed all of my vacation time in 2014 to this other trip, I’d be researching an island getaway right now.  Have a great weekend!

~ Joe