In December, I like to reflect on the year before it comes to a close, review the lists I track throughout the year, compile favorites lists, review my financial data for the year, and track my progress against the goals I set the prior December. I then use all of that information to look ahead to the upcoming year and identify areas where I would like to continue and others where I want to make changes. It’s also fun to review published lists on other sites to discover content I may have missed. In my world, it’s list season so let’s get into it!
Reasons I Like Lists
- They’re fun to make
- They help me evaluate what I like best
- They’re a tool I use to track progress, accomplishments, and areas for continued improvement
- I can look back on them and recall what I was into and doing during a given year
- They help me feel gratitude and appreciate all I’ve done throughout the year
- I find when I track things I more fully appreciate everything I’ve done and don’t wonder “where the time went” or ask myself what I did all day or year
- Lists are also a helpful way to create a snapshot of your year without too much writing or time
I’ve also written a previous post about the benefits of lists as they related to a specific experience I had one summer.
Examples of Lists I Track
- Books Read Each Year
- Ranked Lists of New Movies I Watched in Theaters
- My Favorite New Movies of 2017 – Ranked from Least Favorite to #1 (this was the first year I did this, thanks to MoviePass)
- You can expect another ranked movie list for 2018 after the Oscar nominees for best picture are announced on January 22nd…but this might be the last year because I recently canceled MoviePass
- States Visited
- Countries Visited
- Weekly Exercise
- Trips Taken Each Year
- This is a great one I’ve talked about on the blog before because I find it really puts into perspective how many adventures I’ve had throughout the year (in addition to local adventures)
- From that post in 2016: “When I first started reading Mr. MM’s articles on [extravagance], I counted a whopping TWELVE weekend trips in one calendar year. I was shocked! Sometimes just writing things down and reflecting helps us realize just how much we do and how blessed we are.”
- My Favorite Album of the Year
- Looking Back: My Favorite Album of Every Year from 1987 to Today
- I also like to review Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 Albums and Top 50 Songs annual lists to discover any music I might have missed throughout the year
- Spotify also does a great job of compiling my top artists, songs, and genres listened to during the year
- Annual Spending by Category
- And since this is a personal finance blog, let’s talk about this one in more detail below!
Annual Spending by Category
The first key to tracking how much you spend across various categories is to have a system in place. Depending on your personality, financial goals, self-discipline, and preferences, your system might look very different mine. That’s okay! My hope is simply that you use a system that works for you and provides the right level of detail you’re looking for, allowing you to fairly easily track your spending. Whether you need to monitor it weekly or annually, having a system in place is the first crucial step.
I use Personal Capital and update categories occasionally and as needed throughout the year, export a CSV file with the click of a button at the end of the year, and then run a quick pivot table to organize this information. If you’re not comfortable with Excel this might sound overwhelming, but people who love Excel love talking about Excel so ask someone or use this article. It’s a very helpful tool to make reviewing your budget – or any large data set in Excel – much easier and faster. Again, use whatever works for you!
Once I have this data organized I can easily review how much I spent in total and across various categories:
- Car expenses
- You get the idea
By taking a little time to review my spending throughout the year and then doing a more detailed review at the end of the year, I am able to track where my money is going and what I’m spending money on. Then I can see if I need to make changes during the upcoming year. Of course, if you need or want to do this every week or month you can!
I also like to track how much I saved and how my net worth changed over the year. Taking this time to review my finances helps me acknowledge my progress, recognize areas of improvement, and have concrete numbers so I really know where I stand – no fuzzy math here!
I also emphasize measuring progress against what you can control (how much you spent and how much you saved) as opposed to what you can’t control (what the markets did). Remember, diversified, low-cost investments have positive expected returns in the long run, and saving each year will have significant positive impacts on your overall wealth. Compound interest is a powerful thing!
Celebrating the End of a Year
The end of the year can be an especially fun time with friends, family, and loved ones. Among the parties and treats, I find it valuable to make some time for myself to reflect back on the prior year and begin to look ahead to the next year. With some fairly simple lists and tracking tools, I am better able to evaluate progress, capture the highlights from my year, remember and revisit my favorite trips, books, and music, and feel gratitude for the experiences I had throughout the year.
‘Tis the season! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!