The Year I Couldn’t Have Planned For

2015-huge-year

Every year, I’ve used the same format for my review posts: there’s typically a theme, and then a list of highlights from my finances, career, health and travel. At the bottom, I’ll share the goals I’d set for myself, cross off the ones I achieved and include reasons for all the ones I didn’t. When I looked back at my list of goals for 2015, however, I immediately knew I couldn’t follow the same format, because I barely crossed any of them off. In fact, if 2015 taught me anything, it’s that a list of goals can only take you so far. I couldn’t have planned for the things that happened this year…

January

The year started like most others: not with a resolution, per se, but with a challenge. On top of the shopping ban, I attempted to go 31 days without watching television. It wasn’t entirely successful: I watched some TV when I was in Toronto for work (the only trip I took that month). But in those 31 days, I also managed to workout 15x, read 4.5 books and step up my freelance game – so it wasn’t a complete fail. In fact, if we tack on the fact that I also saved 56% of my income that month, I’d say it was a very successful start to the year.

February

In February, I took one of the first real vacations I’d had in a couple years, and spent 5 glorious days offline in New York City. I coordinated the dates with my friend Leanne, who lives in London, so we could finally meet-up and spend time together in our favourite city… and it serendipitously aligned with the same dates David was there, so I got to see him too. Despite the fact that it was one of the coldest weeks they had all winter (temps as low as -25ºC/-13ºF), I had an amazing time. And I still managed to save 53% of my income, despite the trip (and the exchange rate).

March

After years of budgeting, and spending/saving nearly the same amounts every month, I decided to switch up my strategy in March and… well, not budget at all. I trusted myself enough to spend within my limits (especially with the shopping ban in-place) and it worked – I lived on just 51% of my income and saved 34% (the rest went to taxes and travel). Unfortunately, despite the fact that my finances were perfectly on-track, March was a really tough month for me. I’d been growing increasingly unhappy at work, and cried what seemed like every day that month. When I wasn’t working, I was in bed crying…

April

In April, things got worse. Anything could set me off. A phone call, email, message… One sentence could result in me throwing a mini temper tantrum and then immediately bursting into tears (thank goodness I worked from home). And please know that it wasn’t the company’s fault. I had outgrown the position and was creatively unfulfilled. But I was so unhappy, and cried so often, that I eventually told two friends I was genuinely worried about my mental health. And it got worse, yet again, on April 22nd; that’s the day I found out my parents were getting divorced.

I never thought I’d write about that, because I want to protect and respect my family’s privacy – but I can’t recap this year without mentioning the most life-changing part of it. Just two days after I launched the Mindful Budgeting Program, I learned the news about my parents and was so distraught that I went MIA for a few weeks. On top of the sadness I was already experiencing, I had to grieve the loss of the family I’d known and all the plans I’d had for our future. Things have gotten better, and we’re all figuring out what this new normal looks like together… but I cried a lot in March and April.

May

I travelled for 90% of May, which was a good distraction from everything else that was happening in my life… but I had two panic attacks, before I left for all my trips. The first happened when I was driving down the Malahat – an extremely dangerous one-lane highway that has no shoulder to pullover onto (took 5 minutes to drive down, park and get out of my car). The second was in a parking lot. Both had me gasping for breath, with sweat dripping down my neck and back, and cold goosebumps racing from my feet up to my head. I took them as a sign that I really needed to get away from it all.

My first two trips were to Toronto for work, and then home to Victoria; if you think about the two areas of my life I was most unhappy in, you can imagine I wasn’t excited about either trip. After that, I took a full 11 days off work and went on an epic adventure with Sarah. We flew to NYC, took the train to Boston, went back to NYC, then rented a car and drove to Philadelphia and Washington, DC. We made random stops along the way, visited with Jay, the Frugalwoods and Amanda, and had a great time. I gained so much clarity on our trip, and came home knowing only one thing could make me happy…

June

On June 3rd, I quit my full-time job. Again, I’ve been scared to write about this, because I didn’t want anyone to think it was a reflection of the company. I genuinely miss working with my old boss, and am so grateful for everything I learned from her. She took a chance on me, without ever meeting me, and we tackled so many projects in the nearly 3 years I was there. But, ultimately, I knew that working for someone else meant making their dreams come true. And when you work for a startup, you don’t get a lot of extra hours to make your own dreams come true; that’s what was missing in my life.

My last day was June 26th. Rather than invest the money I saved in April (39% of income), May (24%) and June (42%), I added it to the buffer in my chequing account which largely serves as my emergency fund. All-in-all, I had about $14,000 in cash, two contracts lined up and confidence that I had enough work to get me through to the end of the year. It was a calculated risk, and one I never could’ve made if I’d still been in debt… but I knew that no paycheque was worth the amount of tears I was shedding every day, so I said goodbye to steady income and made the leap into the unknown.

July

July offered the exact change of pace I’d been needing, after feeling as though I was working two full-time jobs (work + the blog/freelance) for a couple years. Truthfully, I barely worked and went on not one but two vacations. First, Sarah and I drove down to Portland for WDS. Then I went to Salt Spring Island for a bachelorette weekend. In between those two trips, I moved back to Victoria, which I can now admit was largely based on what was happening within our family, but is still a move I’m glad I made. Island life has been the cure I didn’t know I needed, until I got here.

I also turned 30 in July, which was not only a huge milestone personally, it also marked the end of my first yearlong shopping ban – and the beginning of the second! Forbes did a feature piece recapping the first year, which resulted in an extraordinary amount of more press that kept me busy. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve kept up with it, if I’d still been at my full-time job. Of course, if I’d stayed at it, I probably would’ve saved a lot more than $0, which is what I saved in July… but I earned enough to live/travel and not touch my cash buffer, so I was happy.

August

August was relatively quiet, in comparison. After a fairly unproductive month in July, I was ready to get down to work – and that’s basically all I did. I didn’t even travel once (for the first time all year!?) although I did pay for my flight to Charlotte for FinCon. I basically just worked a lot and was a bridesmaid in my best friend Emma’s wedding, in August. (Oh, and I saved 25% of my income!)

September

In September, I put in even more hours than I had in August – and I had almost no social life to prove it. I managed to earn close to $7,000, and saved 27% of what I kept after setting aside money for taxes… but I was exhausted, by the end of it. I did take 5 full days off, when I flew to Charlotte for FinCon, and that was nice. But I knew by the end of September that I didn’t want to have to hustle that hard for $7,000 again. I quit my job so I could make some of my dreams come true, and that didn’t include giving all my time to my clients; this is when I got serious about the Mindful Budgeting 2016 Planner…

October

By October, I realized I hadn’t been writing much about the shopping ban (which is still going great) so I decided to challenge myself + anyone who was interested to buy nothing new for 31 days. The challenge was a huge success! I did have a short list of toiletries I needed to buy on November 1st, but I went an entire month buying nothing but food. It helped that I was away for the second half of the month, first in Toronto for a conference and then Vancouver to see friends. But the travel didn’t help my productivity, which meant I couldn’t put in as many hours (and saved just 5% of my income).

November

In the first week of November, I flew back to Toronto for a Financial Literacy Month Event with Tangerine, then made a pit stop in Winnipeg on the way home. Aside from the event, I took almost that entire week off… and it was the first time I truly paused to realize how extraordinary that was. I didn’t have to ask for time off from a job, check my email or do anything else related to work. On the flights, I didn’t open up my laptop like I used to… I just watched movies and slept. And even with that week off, I still managed to earn enough that I could save 32% of my income.

Behind the scenes, I was finalizing, proofing and printing copies of the Mindful Budgeting 2016 Planner; this was truly a dream project that I’d had for a couple years and finally had the time/resources to bring to life. Once everything was done and ready, though, I was almost too scared to launch it; scared no one would want it, or would hate it; scared I’d have to pour more capital into it, or even take a loss. The planner is the biggest personal project I tackled this year, and it graduated Blonde on a Budget from just a blog to a real business. I had skin in the game… and it was worth every penny and risk.

December

The planner was my full-time job in December… I lived and breathed it, and I loved it. There were some stressful moments, like when I thought the print shop lost 150 copies… and I couldn’t have planned for that. I also couldn’t have planned to sell 350 copies. I truly thought I might sell 100-150. You guys basically made my dream come true almost threefold – and the positive comments from everyone who has received it, so far, are a constant source of inspiration. I couldn’t have asked for a better first run at this, and am so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.

And in two days, I get to use the thing I’ve been wishing existed for years! I wouldn’t be able to say that, if I’d stayed at my day job…

I realize this probably sounds like all I’ve done since quitting my job is work and go on a few trips – and it should sound like that, because it’s true. I’ve worked, travelled and not achieved nearly as many of my original goals for 2015 as I would’ve liked. I didn’t put $15,000 away for retirement (needed some more cash before I could quit), I didn’t go to the UK or France, I didn’t take a pottery class or write a book (unless we count the planner?)… and I certainly didn’t put roots down in Vancouver. I couldn’t do it all, because the future held things I never could’ve planned for…

When I wrote my list of goals for 2015, I couldn’t have told you my parents were going to split up. I couldn’t have guessed that I’d spend two months in bed crying. And I definitely didn’t know I was going to quit my job… it wasn’t in the plans. Instead, this year, I learned that sometimes life will take your list of goals, crumple it up and force you to move forward on your own – with no guidance and no plan, but just your willpower and strength and the courage to take the first step.  Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing… but every day, I take another step forward.

And I don’t cry anymore, which means I’m on the right track.

A few other things I couldn’t have planned for, but which I’m extremely grateful I can say: I became more intentional about my media consumption. I discovered floating and finally started meditating on a weekly (not quite yet daily) basis. I went on some great trips. I was able to connect and build great new relationships with some wonderful bloggers, both in the personal finance and minimalism space. I got to team up with some of them to piece together another round of the Simple Year course, which I am so excited to take and learn alongside everyone. And for you number-loving bloggers: I doubled my traffic this year (from 180,000 unique visitors and 1.5 million pageviews in 2014 to 345,000 unique visitors and 3.12 million pageviews in 2015).

As you can probably imagine, I’ve decided to stop setting resolutions or goals for each new year ahead… it’s not that I think they are unnecessary or a waste of time – I just know that you can’t always plan for what’s ahead. (It also feels crappy to review a list of goals and see that you didn’t accomplish most of them.) Instead, I’m going to take one day off every quarter to map out what I want to accomplish in the next 90 days – both personally and professionally. I did this for the first time on Monday and it was a powerful experience. My first big goal for 2016 is to setup systems so I can make everything work and keep growing my business. There are dozens of mini goals underneath that umbrella, but that’s the goal and I think it’ll be the most important thing I do all year.

But we really can’t say that kind of thing, until we get to the end of December, right? So for now, that’s my plan… and we’ll see where life takes me.

How was your year, friend?