The Year In Review: What I Have Learned

As the old year draws to a close and a new year is about to dawn, I like to take a few moments to look back on the past year and to reflect on what went right and what went wrong, how things have changed and whether those changes were for the good. I am sure that most of you do the same, especially those of you who, like me, are old enough to realize that if we do not adapt and adjust how we approach our lives, our lives tend to get out of hand.

A year ago, I was gainfully employed working for a $2 billion company. I held a respected position and was highly paid. As this year ends, I am unemployed and trying to find a comparable position in an economy that is far from healthy and where layoffs are far more common than hiring. My home is worth at least 20% less now, as compared to a year ago and probably close to 40% less than it was at its peak value about 2 years ago. My retirement account is worth about 60% of where it was back in April and the stock market is still not showing signs of revival.

From a financial perspective, it has been a bleak year but in so many other ways, it has been a good year. I have been able to spend the past year clearing my mind of all of the clutter that had accumulated over 15+ years of practicing law. I know that when I do find a new position, I shall be able to go into it in a healthy frame of mind, ready to take on new challenges. Because my wife and I had a large amount of our assets in savings accounts, we are still comforted that we have enough money in stable investments that we can live securely for a few more years, knowing that I shall find new employment well before our resources run out.

We have also learned from the past year that we had been far more wasteful than we realized during all of the years in which I had been employed (and especially during the years when my wife had also been practicing law). Just by following my own advice, we have saved hundreds of dollars each month. Some of the savings have been small, as when we use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and others have been more substantial, as when we saved a couple of hundred dollars by participating in a program offered by our utility company. What we have learned, however, is that we can save a lot of money by being intelligent and not have it affect our quality of life in any meaningful way.

The New Year will bring new changes, and I both hope and expect that they will be for the good. When, the fates willing, I sit down to write about 2009, I expect that I will be recalling the adventure of beginning a new job and the challenges of being with a new company after having spent so many years with my past company. I also hope and expect, however, that my wife and I shall not forget the lessons that we have learned this year. We will continue to be thrifty, but not selfish, and frugal, but not Spartan.

Our economy will improve, whether that has already begun to happen or it takes another several months to begin. When we return to a strong economy, how will you react? When raises and bonuses are more common and growth prevails over layoffs, will you spend less frugally? Will you forget the lessons learned in this year of greater economic adversity? For that matter, have you fully embraced a life of smart spending or do you still have steps that you can take to stop being wasteful?

With the New Year upon us, what are your savings resolutions for the coming year? Will you strive to save more or to find ways to spend more? Have you become so frugal that you do not enjoy life to its fullest or do you still find yourself spending in ways that you regret? When a strong economy returns, as I feel it must, what will you have truly learned – and remembered – from the current economic downturn?

And to all of you good people who visit, I wish you the very happiest of New Year’s and offer you my most sincere wishes for a happy and prosperous 2009!

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19 Responses to The Year In Review: What I Have Learned

  1. Michelle says:

    Wow – very, very good post. It is so humbling to read about your experience and refreshing to see your perspective in what was a really no-good, very bad year. I’m hoping that 2009 will find you employed at a job where you will find professional fulfillment and that you and your wife enjoy your time spent with one another.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Ann says:

    One of my goals for the coming year is actually to MAKE money… or get things set up so I’ll see increased cash flow in the coming years. LOL

    I took this past year to examine my life on all levels — financially, spiritually and physically. When I re-examined my life during the past year about a week ago, I was joyfully surprised at how my underlying beliefs and goals had crystallized and how better directed my life is now.

    I realized that, for my new business, there are certain things I don’t want. That means that, when I have the website built this winter, it will be more focused and I know how I will respond to inquiries. That’s big because I enjoy doing a number of things creatively and I don’t want to lose the edge and joy that comes from letting my imagination loose.

    Spiritually, I’ve found my niche. I don’t like organized religion for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t stop me from being a very moral and spiritual person. Now I know how to best work what I do believe into my everyday life… and I’m a happier person for it.

    Physically, I recognized that I no longer have saboteurs or circumstances that stop me (or can be used as excuses) for not being the healthiest me that I can be. I’ve started exercising and eating better (during the summer actually) and am working on what works for me to adjust lifelong bad habits. I recognize that I hadn’t developed physically destructive habits overnight and reversing the process will take some time but I’ve made a tremenous start and will continue it on into 2009 and beyond.

    I haven’t been profligate with my money in years, but even that is more focused now.

    Overall, I’d say that 2008 has been a year of great accompishments that will carry over into the future and serve me well!

  3. Pingback: The financial end-of-year reviews: 2008

  4. MizPat says:

    I learned this year that I am a human being and I have options. I am not trapped. This has been amazingly freeing to me, after years of being in a very controlled and abusive marriage.

  5. Carol says:

    Well, I for one cannot wait to wave “buh-bye” to 2008! Unfortunately, my husband (and main breadwinner) is also unemployed now. We both have part-time jobs, but they don’t bring in nearly enough money. However, because of my time spent here at “Saving Advice” I feel we are somewhat better prepared. If anything, reading all the different blogs firmly convinced me of the evils of too much credit card debt, so at least we don’t have that scourge to deal with.

    As far as my hopes for 2009, I resolve to be more grateful for the things we still have, such as a warm house we can afford to pay the mortgage for, food to eat, more time together as a family since dh isn’t working like crazy anymore. We are relatively healthy, still have health insurance. I am working to adjust my attitude so that I remember that we have everything we need, instead of lamenting that we don’t have everything we want.

    God bless and Happy New Year to all!

  6. Karthik says:

    Well said in this blog! I am a solid reader of this blog. Thanks to many writers and care takers of writing this blog. I strongly beleive economic will be back soon. But things learned should be a Lessons learnt for all!

    Happy New Year to all readers!!

  7. Ann says:

    MizPat, you made the biggest accomplishment of all in 2008!! HUGE pats on back, hugs and kudoes! Hope 2009 is your best year ever!

  8. Ann says:

    Carol, you’re WAY ahead of a lot of people!

    I don’t have insurance and now have a $20K plus “irregular” left hand, due to an accident in 2008. Luckily, I had the financial cushion to cover it! Shows how important that insurance is.

    The more positive your attitude is, the better 2009 will be. I hope your 2009 is filled with abundance, health and harmony.

  9. David G. Mitchell says:

    Mizpat — Bravo! May 2009 be a wonderful year for you!

  10. mizpat says:

    Thank you so much for your encouragement.

    May this be a year of growth, self-sufficiency, health and joy for all of us

  11. Persephone says:

    I had my epiphany about the value of money several years ago. I think of it as my “Coach” moment.

    I needed a new wallet. Coach was where I felt I had to buy it (because that’s where I had been buying all my leather accessories for years). I picked out a simple red wallet. Bonus — it was on sale for $100.00. Very quickly, though, I learned that it scratched so easily I couldn’t use it.

    Something changed in me after I accepted that my $100.00 wallet was worthless. I bought a new wallet. A simple black wallot that looked every bit as attractive as the red wallot. This time, though, I bought it at an outlet store only after making sure that it didn’t scratch. It cost $20.00. I still carry that wallet today. It hasn’t scratched yet.

    As for the red wallet. It’s prominently displayed on a shelf in my closet. I see it everyday as a reminder to think before I spend.

    When the crash of 2008 hit I was ready.

  12. Ann says:

    Persephone, love the Coach story!

  13. Gail says:

    Very good post. So glad to know that some people are still walking around with a thinking head on their shoulders!

    Also best wishes to MizPat, I know very well the relief from being free from a man who was so emotionally abusive and I am now in a wonderful marriage with a guy who takes his marriage vows seriously.

    2008 in the beginning was very emotionally and physically rough on me as my arthritis was out of control for the first few months and many family troubles, but the year ended with peace and a change in the way I take my meds and a CRAVING for salads and better foods has left me feeling healthier than I have felt in years.

    Financially 2009 started out with a bang! Got an unexpected check in the mail from the state that is part of the old/disabled home tax rebate. Unfortunatley, it comes from the proceeds of gambling in our state and I wonder how many people throwing their money in the pot thought it ‘isn’t much’ or ‘I can afford it’ or ‘maybe this time’ or whatever reason that gamblers use to continue on that slippery slope. I thank you! Do I approve of gambling, no way, but I thank them anyhow. Our propane delivery had come that day and the check covered 2/3 of it.

    Looking forward to a good year and wish the same for all of you.

  14. mizpat says:

    Dear Gail: Thank you for your kindness.

    This year i’m starting a massive budget. My worse case scenario for my divorce would be to pay him alimony of 828 a month. So I’m trying to save $828 a month. If it happens, I’ll be acclimated and have savings. If it doesn’t I’ll still have savings, and paying him less alimony will be a blessing instead of a shock. I feel sort of empowered. I sat down and inventoried my freezer and cupboards and organized a good deal, and realized I have tons of things stored. I cooked ahead today, some things to eat this week, and others for future weeks. I’ll try to make ahead dishes weekly and stagger them for variety.

    I’m sorry to hear about the arthritis. I have some of that too. Ah the joy of getting older.

    May this be a blessed year for your and your husband, and successful as well.

    Take care

  15. Gail says:

    Mizpat, I wonder why the men who treat women the worst, seem to come out so well in a divorce? Obviously I don’t know the circumstances, but it seems odd that a grown man should be getting that kind of alimony in this day and age. My ex, who was mentally ill, managed to get custody of the kids (plus child support) for about 2 years till I fired my lawyer and took him on myself as I had no money to keep paying for legal representation that appeared to be working for the ‘other’ side. Keep your chin up.

    On our honeymoon, hubby and I cooked like maniacs getting lots of meals ahead so when I went back to work I wouldn’t have the chore of having to cook every night. Thank God that we did as I got sick 3 weeks after we got married and was totally and thoroughly incapable of standing most of the time much less cooking. Those meals saved the day! Now with treatment I’m doing well enough to cook a couple times a week, but don’t have the energy to ever do a massive cook ahead except for something like spaghetti sauce.

    Everyone’s reasons and needs for saving and being frugal are different. I have found that many ‘frugal’ things I used to routinely do as impossible now, but also some spending activities are out of the question. For instance I haven’t been to the movies in 7 years–can’t handle the sitting with my feet down that long. We occassionally buy DVD’s that we watch more than once so the cost of entertainment is very low. I check out the best sellers out of the library rather than buy them, that type of thing.

  16. Gail says:

    Mizpat-As a disabled person, I find it interesting that he can work out 2 hours a day! Oh well, if you ever need a sounding board, you can reach me through my website (by clicking on my name here). I know how rough and frustrating it can be.

  17. MizPat says:

    Since my husband has rarely worked consistently and now claims to be disabled, he’s probably going to get alimony. I find it fascinating that he’s able to work out for 2 hours a day, and spend hours on line, but the truth is, he’s a malingerer, and has been using me as a meal ticket for most of our marriage.

    My lawyer is a woman, and hopefully on my side. She certainly was a goddess in court when we got the restraining order.

    Whatever happens, the worst part is over – getting away from his influence and learning to be independent.

    Sounds to me like you are very frugal. I’m trying to do things that are free, like go to the street fair with a thermos of drinks and munchies. We have art shows around and things like that and for the price of admission you can walk around all day with a friend, and its very easy to pack something nutritious for lunch.

    Best sellers at the library are a joy. I sold a bunch of my unwanted books to a book store and now have $6 credit on used books.

    You’re very encouraging to talk to.

  18. Ann says:

    Mizpat, I know how you feel about the alimony! I had to plan my divorce for a year and a half (decades ago) to make sure that my ex didn’t qualify. Glad I did ’cause his second question (after would I change my mind) was “what about alimony?” I was extremely glad to tell him he didn’t qualify!

    How a man can work out for 2 hours a day and claim disability is outrageous! I actually qualify as being handicapped and would never even think of filing for disability ’cause my problems don’t preclude my mind and fingers from working and there are lots of jobs that don’t involve physical labor. You really were married to a guy who’s lower than whale poop!

    BTW, I had a mutual friend tell me that one of my ex’s comments after the divorce was “yup, lost my meal ticket.” Sheesh.

    I am sooooo glad you’re out of all that!

  19. MizPat says:

    Yeah, I think he spends more time getting out of work than actually working, and I do believe I was only a meal ticket.

    I so respect your strength and courage in dealing with disabilities and continuing to work. LOL – I love the “lower than whale poop” concept. I must remember that one ….. so appropriate.

    Take care and thank you for your comments.

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