For the first time in several years, at the beginning of 2014, I shared my personal and financial plans for the year. I had navigated away from sharing personal data on Consumerism Commentary, leaving an opening for Naked With Cash. Over the course of the past two years, eleven readers shared their financial goals and progress with monthly updates, much like I had done from 2003 to 2011.
I wanted to share my financial and personal goals for 2014 because I had gotten away from some of the more personal aspects of life while business need prevented me from sharing some of the details, like income and net worth. It was time to regain some control, so in 2014, I shared more than just my financial goals, but peered into my life for some thoughts on personal development in addition to some new business goals.
My first goal for the year was to grow my consultancy business. I started the year off with a bang, with a few bloggers who were looking to grow their websites — to generate income. I am not interested in marketing myself in this sort of fashion, but I let the community know I was available. I may have taken the wrong approach — rather than setting a high value on my time as a “blog business coach” and pricing my time at a rate commensurate with the fact that I grew a website into a multi-million dollar business in a very competitive environment, I presented myself as someone who would be willing to work with anyone’s budget.
One particular client lasted only two sessions, until he realized that the type of coaching I was offering was not what he wanted. And then he never paid the invoice. And then I ran into him at a conference. And he said he wished he had listened to my advice in the first place. People don’t seem to want to talk about the big picture and look at their overall approach to their business — they just want a checklist. That wasn’t what I was interested in providing, so I moved on. I decided to focus on other areas of my life.
So in terms of income for 2014, my primary source has been writing for Consumerism Commentary. Since I sold the website in 2011, I’ve moved from an employee of the company that purchased the site, writing and advising on a variety of matters, to a paid-by-word freelancer with a responsibility for writing several articles a month plus a flat monthly fee for managing the website’s editorial system. And as the company’s budget for the website continued to shrink, I wrote less. Because I had committed to the second series of Naked With Cash, those four posts a month became the bulk of what Consumerism Commentary had to offer readers in 2014. Unfortunately, several of the Naked With Cash participants and experts did not match my commitment for whatever reason, and for me, the series was a big let-down this year.
That’s the main reason I’m not bringing it back in the beginning of 2015.
Another goal in 2014 was to explore forming a nonprofit organization. I’ve made some progress. I put together an initial board of directors (or trustees) and we’ve had a few meetings. I’ve formed the business entity, registered with the State of New Jersey, and successfully applied for 501(c)3 status. The mission, at least for now, is to support the development of young people into financially capable human beings through effective behavioral education, behavior modeling and reinforcement, and advocating for industry responsibility.
Here’s the issue: we can all agree that financial literacy is a problem in the United States. And as more and more newly-graduated adults find themselves starting their “real lives” in more debt they could possibly handle, there must be some type of education that could be provided to all children of a certain age in this country so they can avoid making poor choices with money and see financial success much sooner.
That theory has been proving wrong. Curricula in financial literacy aren’t ineffective. They have an effect, but it’s not a positive effect. Children who have the “benefit” of financial literacy in their education actually perform worse when managing their own money as adults. There have been a number of studies that come to this conclusion, but other studies conclude that even at best, financial literacy education doesn’t improve financial conditions later in life.
So the goal of my nonprofit is to take another path, recognizing that people don’t learn financial behaviors from courses in school or class trips to a bank. Children learn financial behavior from their role models. And the children at the most risk for future financial distress don’t have positive role models. How do you get positive role models into communities where that might not exist in a family setting? One possibility is working with organizations that all ready provide role models, like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Any other attempt to introduce community-acceptable role models into low socio-economic status neighborhoods might be too much of a challenge.
There is a long path ahead for this nonprofit idea. I’ve also concluded that I have no interest in spending the rest of my life fundraising, so that is one concern. But in the coming year, I’ll explore this further.
At the end of last year, I set aside some money as a donation to my alma mater. I strongly feel that my college education played an important role in forming my identity as an adult, even if like many people my degree and course of study aren’t related to what I do today professionally. I mixed my passion for personal finance with my undergraduate major in music education and came up with an interesting solution. Because I believe that degrees that require internships can be somewhat unfair for students who can’t afford to spend a semester working for free, I took the first step in establishing an annual stipend for an internship. This way, a student who has an opportunity who work with one of the best arts organizations, most of which are located in expensive cities, doesn’t have to worry as much about how they’re going to pay their bills during that internship period.
My interaction with the university also provided me with an interesting opportunity. Last year, I visited my undergraduate college’s new entrepreneurial program and gave a talk to a number of students, sharing my experiences as an “accidental entrepreneur.” My story was significantly different than those of the typical business leaders invited by the university, so it may have helped the students think a little differently about their potential path as, well, mostly start-up founders.
This past year, I continued my personal training and improved my nutrition. This year, I’ve seen some physical improvements. This hard work, working with a personal trainer three times a week and changing the way I eat, is starting to pay off. I thought I would have seen results faster, but I’ll take what I can get.
I wanted to spent more time this year focusing on my personal relationships. When I wrote these goals, it was just a few weeks after a long-term, long-distance relationship ended. It was a couple of months before I entered a new, even longer-distance relationship. I spent a lot of time traveling this year. And I found myself really needing to be the best partner I could be. We’re very happy together, but distance in a relationship can be very painful. Besides a romantic relationship, there are other people in my life, friends and family.
When I set these goals at the end of last year, I intended to do a better job maintaining some of those relationships. Balancing that has been difficult as I try to spend as much time as possible with my girlfriend, as time with her is too rare.
With whatever time I had left for myself, I intended to spend the year working with photography. I did, and my skills are ever improving. I even sold a print of a photograph of San Francisco’s AT&T Park before even trying to sell prints. I still spend most of my effort on portraiture, and you can see some of my work here (and buy prints if you are so inclined). I don’t intend to make a living from photography, mostly because I would hate to do wedding photography, and that’s where the money is. But it has provided me a nice artistic outlet.
I have also begun volunteering with a local nonprofit organization that runs a drum and bugle corps — a highly competitive marching band consisting of only brass, percussion, and color guard that places very high performance demands on the young people who participate. I’m getting back to my roots in music just a little bit.
Financially, my struggle this year was to live off of income from working rather than income from my investments. I barely made it. I’ve depleted my cash-based savings, but I’ve managed to leave my investments alone. The investments come from income before selling my business and proceeds from the sale of that business. I’ve only withdrawn from those accounts for taxes, for sales broker fees (for the sale of the business), and for legal fees. Since inception, the account has grown over 25% even taking those withdrawals into account. I’m in a position where I can just live off the income from the investments for the rest of my life, and starting in January 2015, I may need to begin living partly off these investments.
Some of my friends can’t understand why I haven’t been doing this already. I’m successful, financially independent, yet I’m continuing to work and live mostly like I did several years ago when my business was first starting to grow. I haven’t figured this part of my life out yet. Maybe that will be a goal for next year.
Published or updated December 29, 2014.