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  • Late Start Earner

๐Ÿ—“ Monthly Snapshot: January 2021

How well did I track against my goals this month?

I plan to write a post at the end of each month that tracks my health and progress towards goals. These cover the following main categories:

  1. FI (Financial Independence) Contributions

  2. Monthly Discretionary Spending Budget

  3. Monthly Flows Breakdown

  4. Self-Care

1. FI Contributions


I've set out some annual goals this year regarding how much I would like to have contributed towards financial independence ("FI"). When I track my FI goals, I am grading myself against whether or not I was able to make good on the contribution goals I set out for myself, rather than how well those contributions performed in the market. There will always be market swings in the positive or negative direction, and sometimes these market swings can sustain over a multi-year period. My goal is to be consistent with contributions that move towards increasing my net worth, and allowing market performance averages and compound interest over a 10 year or longer time horizon work its magic. Therefore, I want to judge the success of my FI journey against the part that I can most effectively control: how much money am I putting towards increasing my long-term net worth?


Let's say I had a goal of contributing a total of $100,000 towards FI. And at the end of the year, I indeed contributed $100,000. I would consider my FI contribution goals to be a success if

  • ๐Ÿ˜ŠI contributed $100K, annual market returns were -6%, and my EOY contribution was valued at $94K.

  • ๐Ÿ˜ŠI contributed $100K, annual market returns were 12%, and my EOY contribution was valued at $112K.

  • ๐Ÿ˜ŠI contributed $100K, annual market returns were 20%, and my EOY contribution was valued at $120K.

I would consider my FI contribution goals to be a failure if I did not meet my $100K contribution goal:

  • ๐Ÿ˜”I contributed $80K, annual market returns were 40%, and my EOY contribution was valued at $112K.

  • ๐Ÿ˜”I contributed $80K, annual market returns were 15%, and my EOY contribution was valued at $92K.

The meta-point is that I measure success or failure of what is in my control, and I don't want to punish myself or falsely pat myself on the back due to market fluctuations. Of course, I am interested in optimizing my investment portfolio, however, it doesn't matter how much you optimize if you don't have money in your portfolio to begin with!


Here is how I did at the end of January:

  • Roth IRA: โœ… Exceeded YTD goal --> Success! I set up an automated direct deposit contribution into my Traditional IRA account so that every two weeks, my employer automatically funds my Traditional IRA account with $250. When that $250 is available to withdraw a few days later, I rollover the money into my Roth IRA account. In January, after learning that expected auto and home repairs would be below my estimates, I additionally took $3K from savings and dumped it into the Roth IRA. In retrospect, with the recent market crash, it may have been better to wait or maintain the dollar-cost-averaging approach. But 20/20 is always hindsight!

  • Pre-Tax 401k: โœ… YTD goal: On-Track. I maintained the per-paycheck retirement percentage contribution that meets my annual goals for both paychecks this month.

  • After-Tax 401k: โœ… YTD goal: On-Track. I maintained the per-paycheck retirement percentage contribution that meets my annual goals for both paychecks this month.

  • Emergency Fund: ๐ŸŸฃYTD goal: On-Track. I currently have $2K of liquid cash savings in the bank. This is far less than I should have for a proper EF ("emergency fund"). My plan at the outset of the year was to divert parts of my performance bonuses towards the EF, which I am still on track to do.

  • FI Investment: ๐ŸŸฃYTD goal: On-Track. The FI Investment bucket captures contributions towards financial independence. This is where I will count contributions towards a standard taxable brokerage account, early mortgage payoff, and any other non-retirement investment or debt payoff that directly increases my net worth and allow me to either generate liquid earnings or reduce fixed expenses. My goal at the beginning of the year was to pay off the second property, which is where the $60K figure comes into play. I plan to save/invest my quarterly RSU (Restricted Stock Unit) vests this year towards this goal. My current outstanding vesting balance is $0, and I expect to vest next month in February.

Overall, my January 2021 FI Contribution goals were โœ… On-Track (5/5 goals).

My goal is to be consistent with contributions that move towards increasing my net worth, and allowing market performance averages and compound interest over a 10 year or longer time horizon work its magic. Therefore, I want to judge the success of my FI journey against the part that I can most effectively control: how much money am I putting towards increasing my long-term net worth?

2. Monthly Discretionary Spending

At the outset of the year, my annual goal allowed for $20K in discretionary spending, split about equally between food and other spending. On a monthly basis, this allows for $1666.67/month of total discretionary spending, which I have rounded down to $1600/month to make it easier to track.


Here's the thing: I don't think it is beneficial for me to count every single penny because my mental energy would be far better used productively to, for example, increase my earnings by producing higher quality work. Most of my expenses go through my primary credit cards, and I know that I personally have two spending buckets that tend to go out of control if left unmonitored: 1.) Food, and 2.) Things.


How do I measure success? If I spend less than $1600/month, no matter the actual breakdown, I'll be happy. The reason why I track the breakdown is that if I don't, I'll easily spend upwards of $1K/month on food and/or spending alone. Also, my $1600/month budget nets out employer reimbursements, shared expenses with my boyfriend (e.g. splitting the grocery bill), and expenses that are categorized outside of my typical discretionary spending budget. In my Discretionary Spending chart below, I perform an easy sum of what my credit card company categorized as food/groceries, and then dump the remainder of my credit card transactions into the "Spending" bucket. This is where I get my "Unadjusted" number from, since it is the raw transaction totals coming from my credit card. From there, I deduct out reimbursements, shared expenses, and alternative spending categories to get my "Actual" number for the month. Finally, the "Budgeted" category is simply what I allowed myself for the month.


Here's how I did in January:

  • Food: โœ… Below Monthly Spending Target --> Success! We had takeout 4 times this month (~$40/takeout for 2 people), took 2 large in-city grocery trips at Trader Joe's ("TJ"), 1 large in-town grocery trip while at our getaway property, and a handful of smaller grocery runs. This is exactly where I want to be! Here are some of our home-cooked dinners: store-bought refrigerated ravioli in marinara/alfredo sauce with homemade bread, TJ's pre-marinated Harissa Chicken, Pork Loin, BBQ Kielbasa, Pizza, Homemade Chicken Adobo, Homemade Pasta Bolognese, Quinoa Burgers and homemade fries, Spicy fried tofu, Kimchi Fried Rice with Miso Soup, Asian Dumplings.

  • Spending: โœ… Below Monthly Spending Target --> Success! I'll be honest, I don't even remember what I spent money on this month, and that's okay. I know that I conscientiously restricted myself from several impulse purchases, and also selectively allowed a few others (like another $10 eyeshadow makeup palette!). The main reason why there is a huge difference between the "Unadjusted" and "Actual" number is I put my $3K+ auto repair on credit card (which is accounted for in a different spending category). Beyond that, there are a few hundred dollars' worth of employer reimbursement and shared expenses with my boyfriend.

Overall, my January 2021 Discretionary Spending goals were โœ… On-Track (2/2 goals).


3. Monthly Flows Breakdown


This section breaks down all the money coming out of my checking account for the month. It may not match up all the way with money in any of the previous sections, since I sometimes pay the entire previous month's credit card bill and/or pre-pay my credit card to reduce the ultimate monthly balance.


The benefit of having this birds eye view of the month is to take in the overall percentage breakdown between net worth improvements, fixed expenses, and discretionary spending. It is also worth noting that some of the outflows this month came out of my savings account, like planned auto repairs, but no unexpected savings drawdowns. I'm happy with this month's breakdown, and overall felt like I was not spending extravagantly nor denying myself. It also feels like an accomplishment in itself to have diverted half my outflow towards net worth improving endeavors!



I would love to reduce my fixed expenses, land, and debt categories. I have hope that after this year, I will be able to cut out at least $1K/month. This will come from 1.) paying off that getaway property and 2.) completing some of the more necessary home improvements projects (that's where the $800/month "Land" category goes towards). My boyfriend and I have talked about targeting mid-summer as a project milestone after which we can reduce the monthly land contributions.


Overall, my January 2021 Monthly Flow was โœ… On-Track.


4. Self-Care

I honestly believe there is no point in pursuing FI if you're not simultaneously building the life habits and experiences throughout the journey to learn how to enjoy FI once you get there. When thinking about self-care, there are a few categories I keep in mind:

  • Stress levels: Work, Financial, Personal

  • Physical Fitness (3x/week)

  • Daily Habits: Sleep, Walks, Meditation, Yoga/Breathing or light exercise

  • Mindfulness: Mindful eating, drinking, intentional time spent

January was a stressful month at work, and towards the end of it I started to offset stress by consuming more alcohol, which ate away at my sleep quality. I was also excited about launching this blog, and started over-consuming books, blogs, and podcasts on personal finance/FI/FIRE topics that it elevated my stress levels a lot higher than simply writing blog posts themselves!


I made some positive changes to my daily routine, such as having a "morning coffee" in a separate area of the condo to gather my thoughts for the day before plopping in front of my desk in the office, which is where I spend at least 10 hours of my day. With colder weather, however, I stopped taking outdoor walks, giving me a bit of cabin fever build-up since I am fully WFH and stay-at-home during the pandemic.


As far as exercise goes, I let work stress eat away time from the gym, and if I were honest with myself it would not have mattered if I went to the gym or had that extra hour or two at work. I want to be more consistent about leaving the house to work out, and if I choose to work during my normal gym time, to build in a contingency plan of light exercise - even if it is just 15-30 minutes.


Overall, my January 2021 Self-Care โ›”๏ธ needed improvement.

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