Money Lessons (and Others Learned) from 2016

“We become aware of the void as we fill it.”
― Antonio Porchia

Full disclaimer, this post is going to come across somewhat grim at times, but stick with me here. 2016 was one of our biggest earning years ever, but it also had some decent setbacks in it as well and reflecting over some lessons learned, I’m realizing why financial planning and accountability were such an important topic for me to focus on at the start of the new year: I’m starting to plan bigger.

For a long time the goals we were working towards had a specific timeline and time frame–graduating high school, graduating university, getting a first job, etc.. Our biggest goals were moving to London and start careers there, which we’ve done and are proud of, but even that was achievable in a specific (relatively short) time. Nothing on the future list is really short term any more. We’re thinking about the next thirty to forty years of our working lives, the pros and cons of buying property, whether or not we’re going to try to have kids, if we want to retire in this country or somewhere else…the big stuff.

Even though most people are already working on their Big Plans in some way, 2017 feels like a year where we’re starting to be much more intentional about it. And therefore, some of the biggest lessons learned from last year have been…

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Sh*t happens. From our landlady deciding to sell our relatively cheap apartment to deaths in the family, financial curveballs were thrown. We’re fortunate that we’re young, able to work, willing to work hard, and making enough to cope with hiccups. But being able to cope is not the same thing as assuming from the outset that hiccups and curveballs are coming and being prepared.

Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off and sometimes plans fall through. Not to throw shade on parents, teachers, and any number of self-help gurus, but I no longer believe in the simple, “work hard and everything will work out” line. Not that this means I’m allowed to throw in any towels, the onus is still very much on me to put my all into everything I choose to do. But what I’ve learned is that sometimes, no matter how much work you put into something, it simply will not go the way you want. Projects fail, jobs don’t work out the way you hoped, people disappoint you, freelance gigs fall through, pitches die on the slushpile.

Related to this point, setbacks and failures are not critical. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m getting older and more wise, or just more practical, but failing at things no longer affects me the way it did in my school years and early 20s. Time was that a rejected pitch would sucker punch my confidence in a bad way. These days with experience and the wisdom of veteran friends, I know that an ignored pitch is not a crisis so much as a typical Tuesday.

That being said, what working hard and working through those typical Tuesdays does ensure is that opportunities keep coming. And even though some of those opportunities end in the slushpile, lots and lots and lots of other don’t! The successes come intermixed, not unadulterated.

Being busy is not being successful. If you are working round the clock and not any better off for it (in terms of your paycheck, health, balance, ambition, or growth) then what you’re experiencing is not success. It’s a quick route to burnout, which is no good because…

There typically is no big payoff, life just goes on. One of the most interesting aspects of the adult world for me was that it doesn’t stop. There is no summer vacation or end of term, there is no finish line or final project. There is no break until retirement, and for my generation even that is up in the air. Meaning that financial plans, career aspirations, skill development, and goals need to have a longer term view than they used to. See opening paragraph.

Being able to afford an indulgent night out with friends, a good apartment, the ability to go visit family in a crisis…those are small, everyday, but important victories that matter and mean we’re mostly on the right track.

Discussion time in the comments. What big lessons, financial or otherwise, did you take out of last year?

7 thoughts on “Money Lessons (and Others Learned) from 2016”

  1. I am working around the clock on the road to burnout, but the end point is in two years when I’ll be a fully qualified accountant and can hopefully then get a better paying job with some balance (which is better for health, etc.) That for me will be the payoff, and I certainly hope there is a payoff or I’ll never make it through this.

    1. My husband is on a similar track. He qualified last year and we’re working towards long term bigger pay off, but still very much on the slog for the foreseeable future.

      1. Ah really? No good. Did he stay with his firm or has he moved on and still no better? You don’t have to answer on the blog if that’s too personal. We seem to be in very similar places in our lives and regarding financial goals. Honestly though I don’t know if we (meaning my partner and I) will be able to make a lot of progress unless we leave London, but for now we’ll have to keep doing what we’re doing and will keep trying. Including my email here if you want to discuss more: caliraejones (gmail). 🙂

      2. No worries, he’s at a firm by choice. I believe some of his coworkers have left for other opportunities at other companies or in other locations, but for us the right decision has been to stay in London for now. He’s making the progress he wants..it’s just busy season now and everyone is grumpy!

      3. Ha ha oh yes, I can totally relate! Just counting down the weeks until life is normal again. But yeah there’s some good opportunity to be had at the firms if a person is just willing to stick it out for long enough! Congrats to him on qualifying.

  2. “There is no break until retirement, and for my generation even that is up in the air. Meaning that financial plans, career aspirations, skill development, and goals need to have a longer term view than they used to”.

    Yes! This strikes such a chord with me. I’m in my early twenties — too young to be thinking about retirement? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: I don’t want to have to work into my seventies (or even eighties, as one article I read suggested). So it’s really important to plan early and tuck money away — my workplace doesn’t have a company pension scheme yet but I’m going to ask.

    1. Nope, NOT too young to be thinking about it at all. My last company didn’t have a pension scheme either and it got me really thinking about retirement as a result. I’m keenly aware that Jeff and I are 31 and 30 respectively and between us have only one line of retirement savings (his pension). Like you I don’t want to work into my 70s/80 unless is by choice, but the jobs that have been available to us, where we’ve lived, the state of the economy, etc. have all made it much harder to begin saving properly! Hence my aim to buckle down on investment and savings this year–we need to think 30-40 years ahead and we’re already behind!

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