End of Year Appraisal

We’re quite forward looking in the FIRE community, projecting into the future on our financial and personal goals. What income we’re going to have. What books we’d like to read. What tasks we’d like to complete, and so on. When January 1st comes ‘round, the whole population joins us in the goal setting process when asked to make a New Year’s Resolution. Although I bet 99% aren’t SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and with a Time horizon) at least it’s a start! I’m not going to knock anything that encourages people to think positively about the future.

Over the years, however, I’ve found myself more reflecting back over the year as it draws to a close. Generally this is on quite trivial stuff, such as what was the best book I read? Or the best film I watched? What was my best and worst investment? On those, I’d probably note a “Top Three”. No idea why.

What I’ve tended not to do is to review the year from a “personal development” point of view. Maybe that smacked too much of the dreaded and futile “Annual Appraisal” at work, which Ricky Gervais brilliantly captured in his meeting with Big Keith in The Office:

I also felt that by writing a daily journal, it meant that I was in constant personal appraisal mode anyway. Within that, I tend to reflect on the previous day and note down specific things that I may have done or felt I might want to remember. I take that information and park it in writing before going on to think and write about the day to come. In this way, I kind of hope that the journal serves as a continuous learning process that captures a lot of what I’m learning from the past.

A lot of people in the FIRE community will use the end of year to assess their investment goals and I used to do this too. This was largely because it was generally positive due to the amount of money I was putting away on a monthly basis. The regular savings tended to outweigh the negative fluctuations in the markets. Most years I could look at significant progress over the previous year and readily admit that much of the gain was due to simply saving. It’s a big message that’s often lost in many of the FI sites that I visit. The most important single thing about saving and investing is to just regularly do it. Save something – anything – every month. Get into the habit and make it the first thing you deduct from your wage packet before anything else.

This year, however, I’ve personally not been able to practice what I’d like to preach. I’ve earned nothing and therefore saved nothing while all the markets my investments are in seem to have added nothing to the pot. Meanwhile I’ve kept my expenditure pretty much unchanged from previous years. When I tote up my savings and investments on December 31st this year and compare them to what I had in December 31st last year I suspect (no, I know) there’s going to be a big year-on-year deficit. Even the thought of this is making me twitch in my seat as I write!

If I’m probably not going to enjoy reviewing the year in terms of investments, I need to look for other things to reflect back upon. I thought about this as I listened to the latest Tim Ferriss podcast where he is reviewing the things he’s learned from his guests this year. He mentions this “annual self appraisal” as a suggestion one of his guests made, and it struck a chord with me. Ferriss briefly rattles through some of the questions he might ask of himself in such a review, but to be honest I can’t be bothered to go back and find out what they were. I caught enough to get the gist of it, I think. Questions such as:

What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself over the year?

What was the best decision you took, and why?

Who was the most influential person you met with (or spoke to or listened to?)

What was your biggest mistake? What did you learn from it?

What habit or thing should you do more of next year?

What habit or thing do you want to cut out next year?

I could go on, but I’d be more interested in finding out what other people tend to ask themselves if and when they review the year that’s gone by. So what do you reflect back upon?

9 thoughts on “End of Year Appraisal

  1. I don’t bother with reviewing the year just gone, or making resolutions for the year ahead – far too much like being at work. However, on your point about not being keen to check how much your net worth has gone down since last year, I don’t think you should worry – you’re living off your savings, so they will obviously reduce. As long as you reckon you have enough to last you then why worry? What would be the point of hoarding a load anyway?

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  2. Since this is my first retirement year, I found I did need to look back and assess what I “accomplished”. It was actually a nice review…made me feel good about where I have been spending my time, and realized that I am starting to really “live”. I used to work. I have not yet done the year end financials, but I expect, like you, to see a slight down since no money going in! But, I will remind myself that I am enjoying living now….not just working until. And that is good. Happy new year to you.

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  3. “Most years I could look at significant progress over the previous year and readily admit that much of the gain was due to simply saving.” I’m with you on this. The savings effect has been one of the biggest learnings of my entire FIRE journey thus far and it just isn’t talked about enough in the financial blogs and press IMHO.

    Personally, I’m towards the back end of my FIRE journey with only a year or so to go. Savings have added 69% to my total wealth with investment return only adding 31%.

    Save 10% per year and even if you beat the average investment market then FIRE is always going to be a long way off. FIRE is all about living well below your means. Unlike investment return living below your means also brings another FIRE accelerator. Not only do you approach the goal posts because of savings (and investment returns) but the goal posts come to you because the FIRE pot is smaller.

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  4. My wife and I have used the week between Christmas and New Year’s to get organized. It is when we go to the eye doctor, meet with our financial advisor, and take care of anything in our lives that needs to be put in order. This isn’t a formal appraisal, but serves to meet the same purpose. It is nice to start the new year very organized. Thanks for including the clip from The Office. Very entertaining!

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  5. Just before I retired, I (with the help of a good financial planning firm) created a “drawdown” plan for my savings. This plan charted various parameters: what my savings should be at the end of each year, taking into account my spending, (conservative) projected rate of investment income growth, pensions, etc.

    I have not tracked my expenses so I cannot tell if I am on track with that or not (I suspect I am very close) but I can tell how the growth has progressed and, more important, how my overall “money to end of life” ratio is doing.

    Bottom line: I don’t feel the need to measure how much I save because, well, what’s the point of that? The thing I measure is how well I am doing against assumptions I made just before retirement. (I suppose it would be useful to revisit all of the parameters each year….

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