Thursday, December 21, 2017

Our Biggest Budget Wins in 2017

2017, y'all. Where to begin? It's kind of crazy to think about how this year started versus where we are now. At the beginning of 2017, we had two dogs and two incomes. I worked at a marketing agency and my husband was a paramedic. Our big financial goal was to save $10K for a down payment on a house. 

Now? After a steady six months of searching, I have a swanky new job that I love. My husband went back to school and is working part time on the weekends. Our beloved older dog passed away in February. We're slowly rebuilding our savings after a rough few months, and I spent most of that down payment on a new-to-me car instead of a house. In the end, a mix of highs and lows, set backs and steps forward. Not much different from most years, if you think about it. 

That said, there were a few things we did right in 2017. Here are our biggest budget wins over the last twelve months, and here's to many more in 2018. 

1. We did not adopt a new dog.  

A few months after our best boy passed away, friends as well as strangers started asking us the inevitable: "Are you going to get a puppy?" It was an understandable question - we'd been a two-dog household for the last seven years, and I think dogs are the most precious beings on earth. That said, our answer was and has remained, "Nope." I loved sharing a home with Seamus and Calvin, and we were lucky they got along as well as they did. That said, having one giant dog is a whole lot easier and cheaper than having two. And during a time in our lives when funds are limited and time is a scarce, one dog is more than enough. 

2. We rekindled our love for camping. 

We managed to go on two camping trips during Wilmington's brief window of perfect weather. We were avid campers in Texas, but fell out of the habit after we moved to North Carolina. As it turns out, camping is the perfect low-budget activity - especially since we already have all the necessary gear. Cooking over a fire, hiking on trails, reading books, and playing board games because there's nothing else to do? Yes, please. We're already looking forward to more trips in 2018. 

3. We cut way back on wine and beer. 

I was in the habit of having a drink or two basically every single night. For me, it was less about the buzz and more about unwinding after work - pouring a glass meant the day was done and I could finally relax. However, I often imbibed more than I meant, which made waking up early to write unpleasant/impossible. In October, I set a goal to skip booze entirely two nights a week, and the habit has not only stuck, but grown. I'm drinking less than ever and, as a result, saving more than ever. I also sleep better, write more, and feel fitter. My new trick for telling my body it's time to relax is to sip a cup of herbal tea while watching Jeopardy!, which means I've finally become the senior citizen I was always meant to be. Lean all the way in, y'all. 

4. We did not use our credit cards once. 

After we made the final payment on our credit cards, paying off a total of $13K in debt, I was determined to never live outside my means again. Despite a lot of life changes, a wedding in Nebraska, a new car, and traveling for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we've stuck with that goal and left our credit cards alone. This meant we paid for everything in cash, and that was an incredibly good feeling. It required a lot of planning and budgeting (thanks, YNAB) and the key was looking ahead, setting small goals, and putting aside money each month. Not exactly rocket science, but something we'd never been able to achieve before this year. While we did incur some new debt (a small car loan and some new student loans) I feel good that we paid for our day-to-day living expenses in cash, saved up for bigger things, and did not borrow from the future for any extras. 

5. We found a great deal on a used car. 

I wrote all about my new car saga back in September, but here's a brief update: the car runs like a dream, gets great gas mileage, and remains an amazing deal. One of my 2018 goals is to pay it off completely by the end of next year, a full 18 months early. I'm optimistic that this is possible, especially if I funnel all my freelance income toward it. Fingers crossed! 

6. I landed a new job. 

The best financial decision I made was to look for a new job. This was difficult, because my previous job was mostly fine, the job market in Wilmington is fairly dismal, and applying for jobs is time consuming and demoralizing. It would have been easy to settle and stay where I was, but I knew I deserved more, so I kept trying until I got it. As a result, I've been happier at work and our budget is in much better shape, thanks to my new and improved salary. I'm really glad this new job came towards the end of the year, because it means I'm ending 2017 with a win. And after a year like this, I needed one.

How did your year go? Did you make strides in your financial goals, experience set backs, or - like us - a little of both?