A Year of Good Habits: End of Year Reflections

Happy New Year! As this post is being published, it is now 2018. I hope you’re having a great year so far!

Just under a year ago, I started writing this blog in earnest. I published a few posts in the fall of 2016, but had done absolutely nothing to promote them. In January of 2017, though, I started commenting under others’ posts and listing my website. Mrs. Frugalwoods, who lives close to me, graciously met with me, and she filled me with inspiration and practical ideas, as she is wont to do. I went home from that meeting with a lot of ideas percolating, one of which was to start blogging about the habits that could help me in achieving our family’s goal of doubling our net worth and becoming location independent in three years, which I dubbed “A Year of Good Habits.”

A Year of Good Habits End of Year Reflections: www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The idea came in part from Charless Duhigg’s infinitely practical book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessDuhigg is great at telling stories, and one of the stories he told really stuck with me: there was a young woman named Lisa who was overweight and a smoker. She was in debt and had never held a job for longer than a year. Her husband had just announced he was going to divorce her, so she took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Cairo, because she hadn’t yet maxed out her credit cards and had always wanted to see Egypt. One morning on her trip, after feeling helpless about the life she faced back home, she got in a cab and rode by the Pyramids. She decided, as she saw The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, that the only way to change her life was to set a goal to work toward. So she decided to come back to Egypt in a year and trek the desert.

In order to do that, she knew she would have to quit smoking. So she went back to the US, gave up cigarettes, and started jogging. Replacing that one bad habit with a good one led to a series of new habits that changed how she ate, slept, exercised, worked, and organized her day. She eventually started running half marathons, then marathons, then went back to school to get her masters, bought a house, and got engaged. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: End of Year Reflections”

Notes from Chile: Entertainment and Food

Hello readers! The ThreeYears are currently in Santiago, Chile, for Christmas and New Year’s. It’s summer here, so the weather is hot. Our family of four has been busy visiting family, traveling to the driest desert in the world, and generally enjoying ourselves.

Notes from Chile Entertainment and Food---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Santiago is a city of about 6 million people, roughly one third of the total population of the country, located in the very center of the long and narrow string bean that is Chile. It’s nestled in a valley between several mountain ranges–the Andes to the east (mountains known as the Precordillera–not quite as tall as the Cordillera of the Andes a few kilometers away) and the Chilean Coastal Range to the west. More mountains, a small range called the Cordón de Chacabuco, which is part of the Andes, are to the north, and to the south, there’s the Angustura de Paine, another thin mountain range that extends toward the coast. So there are giant mountains everywhere you turn. It’s one of the reason people hypothesize that Chileans are want to end so many words in “ito,” the Spanish ending that makes things little, because when you’re constantly staring at giant mountains everywhere you go, you feel smaller.

Santiago is organized into neighborhoods, or comunas. There are 37 official comunas in the city, and some (the best neighborhoods) extend into the foothills of the mountains that surround the city. Those neighborhoods can get to around 1,000 meters in elevation.

Santiago has a thriving economy that leads Latin America–its economy is the second most competitive in the region. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Santiago the second best city in which to live in Latin America, after Buenos Aires.

For this reason, immigrants have flocked to the country in the last two years. Continue reading “Notes from Chile: Entertainment and Food”

How to Set Great Goals for 2018

One thing is clear to me as we ride out the end of 2017: if you set great goals for 2018, it will make a huge difference in what you’re able to accomplish next year. The world we live in today is practically designed to distract us from keeping our eyes on our most important goals and work (for example, as I’m typing this, I’m trying to ignore the loud cartoon my kids are watching across the room). So focus is key. And great goals help you keep your focus, all year long.

How to Set Great Goals for 2018--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

But how do you figure out the best goals to set for the upcoming year? Maybe you have fifteen burning desires that you’d love to achieve, but you don’t know how to prioritize them. Or maybe life is motoring along just fine, and you know you’d probably like to improve something, but you’re not sure what.

I found myself asking those exact same questions several years ago, and here’s what I’ve figured out really works when it’s time to goal set for the upcoming year.

  1. Get crystal clear on your values

It’s hard to prioritize your goals if you haven’t defined your values. What are your values, though? Values are what you judge to be the most important things in your life–the things that deep down, you care about the most. Given that definition, it seems like it would be easy to figure out your values. But it’s not always.

Sometimes, you want to value something that you actually don’t care about that much. For example, when I was in my 20s, I lived in Santiago, and Mr. ThreeYear and I were figuring out where we should go next. I was offered the opportunity to become part of an MBA program where I’d complete half in Chile and half at a great school in Texas. But I declined, ostensibly because I wanted to get into a top-10 MBA school, like Wharton. In the end, though, we moved back to the US and I didn’t go to an MBA school at all. To the shock of almost everyone in my family, I became a stay-at-home mom for seven-and-a-half years. It turns out that what I thought were my values–getting an MBA and climbing the corporate ladder–weren’t really my values at all. I really valued family, which was the real reason I didn’t stay in Chile to start an MBA, because I missed my family back in the US and wanted to go home. And I really valued motherhood, and making sure my children had a secure start in life.

One of the best ways I’ve found to figure out your real values is the “What do I want?” exercise. It’s fairly simple. You take out a sheet of paper, and at the top, write, “What do I want?” Now, all you do is list the things you want. They can be as small and insignificant, or as large and pie-in-the-sky as you want. Anything that comes to mind goes on the list.

When you start this exercise, your first few wants will probably be fairly trivial and perhaps materialistic. Continue reading “How to Set Great Goals for 2018”

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh

After getting up today, for the second day in a row, at 5am (okay, it was 5:09; I pushed the Snooze button once), I’m reminded of why habits are so important in my life. When life gets busy, I can fall back on my habits to help me cope. And life has gotten really busy. We are racing toward the finish line with our to-do list to get ready for our trip to Chile. It feels like every second of my day is booked with something to do.

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So getting up at 5am, which I’ve been moderately successful at over the last month, has given me time and space that is unscheduled. I can write, think, make goals for next year, and all that nerdy financial stuff my family rolls their eyes at.

It’s amazing that this is the last month of my A Year of Good Habits year-long experiment within our larger three-year experiment. Focusing on a different habit each month has brought me awareness of how important these rituals are to my short- and long-term happiness. I’ve undertaken eleven habits so far, some for the whole year and some for just a time, but they have all helped me realize how my life has improved by changing my behavior.

I’ve also undertaken a few habits I haven’t written about in my Year of Good Habits, for one reason or another, mainly because I thought they wouldn’t apply to a wider population of readers. I stopped drinking alcohol at the end of June and started intermittent fasting at the beginning of August. I had been having some health problems, and changing what (and how much) I eat and drink has radically changed my health for the better–plus I’ve lost fourteen pounds! The health problems, including my stomach and lower back pain, have virtually disappeared. I’ll write about both topics in future posts, because they’ve contributed to our Three Year Experiment in major ways.

December’s Habit

Inspired by Amy at Life Zimplified, I’m going to make it a habit to Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Laugh”

November Net Worth Update

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). This year has been a year of fixing our house (the roof) and paying off debt, plus saving as much as possible. As of October, we were roughly 24% of the way to doubling our net worth. 

At the ThreeYear house, we’re in the midst of colder temperatures (it’s currently 21 F/-6 C). Our Christmas decorations are up and we’re enjoying the few weeks of winter until we pack up and head to South America for a few weeks, where we’ll enjoy delicious summer weather.

November Net Worth Update--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

It’s hard to believe that the end of the first year of our experiment is coming to a close. It’s been amazing to document this journey on the blog.

November was a month of higher expenses. We had my family in town, so we did some home improvement projects related to that. And we stocked up on food. My mom very generously donated money to our food costs, which I put into our savings account. Yay for extra savings! We started buying Christmas gifts for our family in Chile. We had a second month of high medical bills. For next year, we’ve switched our insurance from the high deductible to the higher cost, everything-is-covered policy. 2017’s experiment with the high deductible healthcare didn’t work for our family. Between physical therapy, psychologist visits, braces, and managing our sons’ ADHD, we pay a lot in medical costs. It would have been cheaper to pay the higher bi-weekly premiums and have less to pay out-of-pocket. Mr. ThreeYear will also rest easier knowing that whatever medical issues life throws at us, they’ll pretty much be covered by our healthcare plan. When he developed tennis elbow and decided not to pursue any more physical therapy because of the cost, it was a pretty frustrating situation for him to be in.

Thanksgiving turkey--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our Thanksgiving turkey. My sister and I made a low-key, low fuss meal, and her turkey turned out beee-uu-ti-ful and delicious.

We know that December will also be a very high spending month, because of our Chile trip. We’ll also pay the remainder of our church tithe (which doesn’t show up in our monthly spending report, because we want to keep our giving on the downlow). We’ll pay off the Prius and the apartment in Chile, pay a little extra on our mortgage, and pay our house taxes.

We’re grateful that we only have one more month of monthly payments for our apartment in Chile and our Prius!!

Continue reading “November Net Worth Update”

October Net Worth Update

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). This year, we’ve got some major goals, including paying off our outstanding debt (car and apartment in Chile), replacing our roof, AND saving around $70,000. As of September, we were roughly 22% of the way to doubling our net worth.

October is gone! Stick season is here! Run for the hills! Oh wait, I live in the hills…

October Net Worth--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Soon, snow will be blanketing the ground. But for another month and a half, we’ll get to enjoy colder temperatures, overcast skies, and the bare brown silhouettes of hardwoods. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone and we wake up and come home to darkness. Luckily, the dark cocoon only lasts until December 21st. It also ushers in true colder temperatures and gets us ready for the coming winter.

What’s up with the ThreeYears? We’re looking forward to a few long weekends this month (Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving) and the arrival of the entire extended family clan (my side) at Thanksgiving. The junior ThreeYears are enjoying school (for the most part) and I’m continuing to work a lot, as is Mr. ThreeYear. Luckily, we both have jobs that allow for work/life balance, so we’re home early every evening (I’m home at 3:30pm each day). We both remind ourselves often how grateful we are for the privilege of time.

Two weekends ago, I went on another weekend trip (that’s a record because I hardly ever travel alone) to Rhode Island to run a half marathon. I’d never been to Rhode Island and it blew my expectations out of the water (coastal state, water–get it?). I stayed with a friend at her parents’ house, and they not only housed us, but took us out to an absolutely delicious lunch at their local yacht club (locals join only in the winter when they drop the prices) and fed us home-cooked meals the rest of the time. I was floored by both their generosity and how beautiful their home town was.

Rhode Island coast--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Rhode Island’s coastline was rugged and rocky. It is a beautiful state!

Our spending in October was relatively low, despite some medical bills. We find that when we’re well ensconced in the school year/work routine, our spending goes down. October’s been a relatively low-spend month for the three years I’ve kept detailed records.

We’re rounding the corner on the end of the year, and thanks to the continued rise of our investments, it looks like we could be above 30% for the end of the year. Anything could happen in the last two months of the year, but for now, it looks like the markets continue to help us inch toward our goal.

Continue reading “October Net Worth Update”

A Year of Good Habits: Get Up at 5am

My family has launched a three-year endeavor to double our net worth and become location independent. This is the first year of our plan. This year, in an effort to help myself develop good habits to keep us saving and investing, and generally developing efficient uses of our money, time, and energy, I’ve taken on one habit for each month of the year (if you want to read them all, starting from January, click here).

A Year of Good Habits: Get Up at 5am---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

I’m down to the final two months, and two habits, of the year. Some have been successful, some have been abysmal failures; all have taught me something about myself. I learned that making your bed everyday really is a key ingredient to starting the day successfully. I also learned that writing down the top three things I’m going to tackle in a day doesn’t work for me–I tend to plan and think along weekly, rather than daily, lines.

So what habits should I undertake for November and December? Sometimes, getting back to the basics is key, and for November, I decided to resurrect a key habit that brings contentment and completion to my days.

The ThreeYears are reacquainting ourselves with electricity after not having any for several days. A wind storm took out the power for most of the residents in our town, and crews from Maine and Massachusetts usually deployed to help us out during power outages were busy getting lines up in their states. Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Get Up at 5am”

Effort, Achievement, and FI

As educators, wrote an article I recently read, we must teach our students the relationship between effort and achievement. That is to say, there is a direct correlation between the effort we expend on a particular endeavor and the likelihood that we’ll have success in said endeavor.

Effort, Achievement, and FI--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

This may sound like a basic concept, but, like so many basic concepts, once you take a minute to unpack it, it has profound implications.

The more effort I put into something, the more likely I am to have good results. 

Many times, I water that advice down in my head. I pretend there’s not a direct correlation between my level of effort and my achievements: “I’ll just run three times this week instead of four. I’ll skip the mid-range run.” Every time I skip a mid-range 6-mile run, my longer 10-12 mile run is super painful and I’m slower. Over an entire training period, that means I’ll run (even) slower on race day.

“I’m tired, so I’ll wake up at 6am instead of 5am. I can still write a blog post.” That’s when I publish 2 posts per week, not three. Over time, I notice my page views slipping and readership going down.

“I’ll just wing it in class, instead of preparing a lesson plan for the week. I can prep before class each day.” My classes are not as good, I’m scrambling for activities to fill the time, and over time, my students don’t make as much progress learning English.

The truth is, consistent, daily effort pays off. It pays off in life, and it pays off (literally) when you’re working towards financial independence.

Making More Money

In the past two and a half years, I have expended a great deal of effort towards my new career–ESOL Teacher. When I started teaching in September of 2015, I knew very little about teaching English. I worked very hard to network with other teachers, observe their lessons, ask questions, and take copious notes. I started a Master’s Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and many nights and weekends were spent reading, on our online classroom, or in class, an hour and a half away. Continue reading “Effort, Achievement, and FI”

A Year of Good Habits: Quarter Three Update

We have officially completed the first quarter of the year! We’re calling this year, which is Year One of our family’s plan to reach location independence, the Year of Good Habits. Each month, I focus on improving or developing one new habit. Sometimes the habits are directly related to personal finance and sometimes they’re related to general self-improvement.  At the end of each month, I have been continuing the last month’s habit (or trying to) and adding a new habit in. (But, just for totally transparency, I would not recommend starting so many new habits in one year for the average person. This is more an experiment for the blog. In real life, I try to add in one or two new habits a year).

A Year of Good Habits Quarter Three Update: www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

In his book Happier, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar talks about creating rituals. He takes an idea from The Power of Full Engagement and recommends that “instead of focusing on self-discipline as a key to change,” we should instead develop rituals. Developing rituals involves  “defining very precise behaviors and performing them at very specific times, motivated by deeply held values.” For example, brushing your teeth is a ritual and doesn’t take any special self-discipline to complete. Hygiene is a deeply held value for many of us, so brushing our teeth is something we do each day. Making an activity part of your daily life and making it value based, rather than discipline based, is an excellent way to create a lifelong habit.  Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Quarter Three Update”

Is Focus is More Important than Intelligence?

I recently stumbled across this quote in an old journal, “Focus is more important than intelligence.” Is focus more important than intelligence? I certainly believe so, and I think the more I live and navigate smart phones and the beginning of the internet revolution, the more I realize that focus is essential to having a good life and making progress towards your goals. I’m sure I wrote it down because it resonated with me, and I felt it in my bones to be true. Also, focus is a struggle, each and every day, for me. I have two jobs, a husband who travels, kids to take to activities and appointments and help with homework, a Masters course, lesson plans, and this blog. It’s a lot of code switching.

Is Focus More Important Than Intelligence?

Why is focus so necessary nowadays and what can we do to get more?

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, argues that focus is intelligence. He states that “focus is the new I.Q. in the knowledge economy, and that individuals who cultivate their ability to concentrate without distraction will thrive,” in his bio. His theory is that workers who will be most sought after in our new economy will be those who can quickly master hard things and those who produce at an elite level. Both of these qualities require focus, he argues.

Newport is an author and professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and he’s fairly young, young enough to have had social media around in college. But he’s always been very careful where he puts his attention, shunning social media from the start.

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction,” he says. For Newport, standing in line at a supermarket is a chance to practice letting our minds wander, rather than checking our social media accounts. The more we wean ourselves from technology and constant distraction, he argues, the better we’ll eventually get at working at a deeper level. Like anything, he argues, it takes practice, and in today’s highly distractible world, it is not a common commodity to have.

No More Social Media?

If you don’t wean yourself from a dependence on your smart phone, or something else that distracts you constantly, then you won’t be able to perform at such elite levels of focus. But how? Continue reading “Is Focus is More Important than Intelligence?”