One of my goals when I started this blog in April was to document my journey to design, implement and live a better, simpler and more content life. The idea behind this was to build forward momentum, hold myself accountable and, where possible, help and inspire others.
It’s been a year of discovery, finding the Financial Independence movement and minimalism. It was like waking up and uncovering a new reality. Both topics felt grounded in commonsense and immediately rang true for me. They became my new compass and focus. These areas seemed worth exploring in depth, which has also naturally led to broader interest in personal finance, mindfulness and sustainability.
Insight and new knowledge isn’t really helpful unless you take action. So let’s see what I got up to in 2019, and what lifestyle changes I implemented.
Optimized our finances
Not suprisingly, this was an area of intense focus this year given our Financial Independence ambition. I read countless books, listened to hours and hours of podcasts and devoured numerous blogs on how to earn more, save more and invest more! What we then did:
- Dramtically cut expenses – more on that later
- Maximized 401k contributions (which is the US tax advantaged retirement fund)
- Maximized Health Savings Account contributions
- Started tracking our savings rate and net worth
Despite big medical expenses this year, we are on track to finish the year with a savings rate of ~48%. While there is still plenty of scope for improvement, this was a major shift in the right direction from our previous norm, where we didn’t spend recklessly but we often spent unthinkingly.
This discipline meant we built up a nice lump sum of savings and allowed us to transfer money back to Australia at a very favourable exchange rate, further multiplying the impact of our new financial habits.
Downsized our housing and living expenses
As noted above, we cut our expenses in 2019. This year we:
- Sold our large family house and moved to a much smaller home
- Changed auto insurers, saving 55% on our monthly premiums without impacting coverage
- Cancelled our seldom-used gym membership
We also cancelled cable. Unfortunately the lure of live sports pulled me back in and we re-signed up for a service a few month later. Not the most frugal decision we ever made, but at least the new provider costs half of what we were paying previously.
Created Simple Life Compass
Establishing a website, running a blog, connecting with the community and building an audience are new skill sets for me. It’s been a fun process but I acknowledge there is still lots to learn and improve on.
In the spirit of self improvement and as a way to mitigate work-stress, I’ve established a daily meditation practice this year. As a beginner, I’ve been using the Headspace app and have found that taking time out each day to practice meditation has been very beneficial. We took advantage of the Black Friday sales to re-sign up on a family plan for next year, saving us money for what I think is a great service and one I’ll gladly pay for.
This year I also took the decision to stop watching the news. The lack of political leadship, especially around social equality and the environment, was just too frustrating and infuriating. Maybe this is simply burying my head in the sand, but I feel better for avoiding the political circus and sensationalim of the nightly news.
Rejecting consumerism and embracing frugality
In my mind Financial Independence, frugality and Minimalism are all interrelated and mutually beneficial. Partly the result of our house move, but also because of a desire to be unshackled from the physical and mental clutter of stuff, we donated bags and bags of possessions to charity in 2019.
Getting rid of things is a wasted exercise though if one simply then goes shopping and buys new things. With this in mind I committed to a No New Stuff challenge in October.
For those who read that blog post, I did allow myself one key exception to the no spend challenge, that otherwise broke my self-imposed rules, which was to buy a new guitar. I ended up getting a beautiful Taylor acoustic guitar, which brings me joy every day when I pull it out of the case to practice. It was expensive (and will be my Christmas and birthday present) but totally worthwhile, and an acquisition which will hopefully last a lifetime. Other than that pre-planned blemish, so far so good two months into the experiment. I know that isn’t long, but I did survive the Black Friday through to Christmas endless sale cycle / marketing push.
Looking forward, next year will continue the theme of change. As alluded to in previous posts, I have decided to leave my corporate job. I’ve already given notice to my employer and will be wrapping up work in June…..can’t wait !!!
We have also decided to leave the US and are hoping to slow travel for at least the 2nd half of 2020 and maybe longer. After that we need to decide where we are going to live, so everything feels a bit in flux, but there also are endless possibilities (if we are brave enough).
Along with these significant changes, my ambition is to further reduce our ecological footprint. We plan to get rid of one of our cars and only have one going forward. We also will move to even smaller, more sustainable accommodation. The virtuous cycle of these changes will in turn help contribute to our Financial Independence goal.
The ambition for 2020 is to continue simplifying life – less possessions, less financial worries and more freedom. Less is more.
Thanks for reading and being such a fantastic community.
Mr Simple Life
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