I don't normally do New Year's resolutions. But last year was such a big year in so many ways that there's a lot of stuff that kind of got tabled as we dealt with more immediate things. So now, this year, there are several things I'd like to get done. I'm pretty excited about all of them. As you'll see, many of them are relatively big things--my resolutions aren't so much in the vein of "clean the bathroom regularly." Though of course I'd like to do that stuff too.
1. Get our finances in order. Financially, we're relatively well-off. We both have good jobs and we earn more than we spend. Our only debt comes from our mortgage and our car loan, and we are paying both off aggressively. I have an automatic 403(b) contribution from my employer. So we aren't doing too badly.
However, there are a lot of things we could be doing better, and I want to make that happen. I want to start by meeting with a financial planner to help us figure out how to balance our spending and saving priorities. Off the top of my head, the things we could/should be funneling money into include retirement funds, college savings funds, an emergency fund, and house upgrades (new windows, new blinds, proper furniture, etc.). Plus, there are things we'd like to spend money on, like travel, and I think it's OK to make that a priority, but I'd like some advice on balancing priorities.
I'd also like to hear some input on things like how much life insurance we should each have, whether it makes more sense to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible or put more money into retirement accounts, what types of personal retirement accounts we should open in addition to our work-managed accounts, whether there are any estate tax issues we need to worry about in relation to Torsten not being a U.S. citizen, and so forth.
Basically I want some advice on being a grown-up and having our finances reflect our grown-up status. We'll see.
2. Start working on obtaining a child. Yes, I know it sounds crass the way I've phrased it, and yes, the phrasing is partly a joke. However, it's also a nod to the fact that pregnancy is not the only way to become a parent. I want to explore our options, select one, and begin moving down that path, whichever path it may be. And I want the path to be selected and the movement down it to begin this year.
3. Help Torsten advance in his career. I am very happy with my job. It's progressing in the direction I want, I feel valued, and I love the work that I do. Torsten's job is a bit more complex. He's doing the type of work that he wants to be doing but faces more obstacles and hurdles, and also more work than he's really able to handle. His boss seems to be open to trying to improve things, so hopefully that can start to happen. It would not take that much for Torsten to be much happier and more relaxed when it comes to work. I see my role here as the support, encouragement, and occasional outside voice of reason for when he's too close to a situation. I really think things can improve here, and I want to help make that happen.
4. Spruce up the house. The things that we want to do to our house are beyond the realm of what is feasible in a single year. If we had gobs of money we would start by replacing the windows and blinds, landscaping the front and back yards and building a water feature/goldfish pond in the backyard, getting a hot tub, and buying nice furniture for every room in the house, specifically the dining room and the guest room. There are many other things on the list as well, but those are the staples. Obviously we are not going to spend that kind of money this year, and certainly not just on the house (see Resolution #1 re: competing priorities), but I would at least like to make progress in this arena. Like, say, obtain more than four dining room chairs so we can actually host more than two guests for dinner.
5. Be more deliberate about our food. We both try to eat relatively healthily. We focus on lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains, and try to avoid high amounts of cholesterol, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and sodium. But we aren't super extreme about it and do certainly eat processed foods as well. And honestly, we're OK with that. But what is not OK is how we don't plan our meals. When I was on Weight Watchers I was really good about picking out recipes for the week, figuring out what groceries we needed to purchase, and buying only those things. However, in the past few months we've devolved into more of a day-by-day habit, always needing to go out and get something, and often that something is pre-made which means it is both more expensive and less healthy than cooking for ourselves.
We just bought a chest freezer, and made good use of our Costco membership filling it with healthy foods. We tried to be realistic about our lifestyle, and not buy only ingredients but also some reasonably healthy frozen or refrigerated dishes that can be thrown together quickly on nights when we are too tired and busy to cook. We need to plan in advance what we're going to cook, and shop deliberately just for the ingredients we need. This can also allow us to clip coupons and pay better attention to sales. We have really slacked off in this department, which goes back to resolution number 1, as well. I think with careful planning and more time devoted to cooking, we can reduce our grocery bill by at least a third.
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