The past few years of my life have been full of changes. In 2009, I transitioned from married to separated to divorced. I spent 2010 getting used to single mom life – taking out the trash myself, having no one to reach the stuff in the top cabinets, and being the sole organizer/taxi driver/homework helper/chef/bill payer. (Oh wait, none of that is really any different than when I was married! Anyway…)
2011 has been all about my financial transition from spendaholic to spendaholic in remission. And now, weeks away from 2012, I realize I’ll be spending yet another year in a state of change, as I move from miserable employee to (hopefully) happily self-employed. I have to learn all kinds of new things, like how to deal with months when I may have very little income, how to deal with taxes and health insurance now that I don’t have an employer doing it for me, and how to keep my writing interesting enough that people are still willing to read it.
And I’m just tired.
I’ll be 29 years old in a few months. In my 11 years as an adult, I’ve grappled with more than some people deal with in 20 or 30 years. I’ve learned EVERYTHING the hard way, and that trend doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. I just keep wondering when and if my life will reach some kind of stability.
Transitions Are Hard on Goals
No matter what goals I’ve set for myself at any point in my life, something always came along to derail them.
When I think back to the end of 2008, I remember the goals I set for myself for 2009 – goals that had nothing to do with getting divorced, remodeling a house, and moving. Yet that’s what happened. At the end of 2009, I had just moved into my house and had several goals for 2010, none of which I accomplished (except buying living room furniture).
This time last year, I made goals to stop overspending and start getting out of debt. And while I’ve accomplished that for the most part, the specific financial goals I set for myself last spring? Not so much. Changing jobs, which resulted in getting paid much less than I was initially promised, killed any chance I had of meeting my goals for 2011.
Time to Give Up?
I already know 2012 isn’t going to be very steady. I have no idea what my income will be or what I’ll be doing to earn that income – at least not for sure. How do you plan for something when you have no way of knowing what lies ahead? You don’t.
But one thing I will not do is allow myself to float along, spending money carelessly because I’m not sure what will happen. I did that for years and it didn’t work out too well. I know next year is going to be yet another year of transition, but that knowledge alone is enough to help me make some loose plans.
I will save as much money as possible. I know what my basic expenses will be each month. Once those are covered, I need to throw as much into savings as possible. I don’t have a guarantee that I’ll make enough to pay the bills every month, so I have to be prepared for that.
I will weigh opportunities before I accept them. It’s easy to freak out and say yes to everything, just so I know I have some money coming in. But if something is going to take up all my time and pay very little, it’s not worth it. I will NOT act on impulse just to make a buck.
I will continue to look for ways to minimize expenses. I’m not going to become frugal anytime soon. But I can keep an eye on my spending just the same. It will be easy to say, “Oh, I’m not using a ton of gas to commute to work now, so I can go out to eat!” But I have to remember that giving up full-time employment is a huge risk, not a ticket to do whatever I want.
I will keep my head above water. I do not intend to be homeless, hungry, or certifiably insane in 2012. And I’ll do whatever is necessary to prevent those things from happening. I may have to be very creative at times, but I will not let life get the best of me.
The Point (Which I Always Get To, Eventually)
A lot of personal finance bloggers are setting goals for 2012 lately, and if you read those sites like I do, you may be stressing out about your own goals. You may be in a state of transition yourself, trying to figure out how to make ends meet or survive on much less than before.
In a perfect world, all of us would have steady income, stable expenses, and no surprises. If you live in that world, please let me know how I can get there. Otherwise, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I see all these posts about maxing out retirement accounts and taking vacations in 2012, and it makes me feel like I live on a different planet. Those are luxuries right now, not things I can reasonably expect to attain. At least not this year.
Set goals that make sense for your circumstances. Don’t compare yourself to everyone else, because they don’t live in your house or walk in your shoes. And don’t let transitions get the best of you. Changes aren’t always welcome, but sometimes they’re necessary to get to where you want to be.
Is 2012 going to be a transition year for you? What kind of goals have you set, despite the uncertainty ahead? What goals have you given up for now?