• In 2019, I set money resolutions for the first time in my life. I wanted to save more, boost my income, and start investing.
  • I almost doubled my income as a freelancer, and I did build up a generous emergency fund, although I didn’t quite hit my original savings goal.
  • In the final month of 2019, I finally took the plunge and started investing. I chose Betterment to invest for short-term goals, like a portion of my emergency fund, and Vanguard for long-term goals, like retirement.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

I used to scoff at New Year’s resolutions. My least favorite type of resolutions were anything related to fitness or money. But as 2018 turned a corner into 2019, I felt myself experiencing a change of heart. 

I’d recently paid off all my debt and gotten to a place of relative stability in my freelancing career. I even had some money saved up for the first time. Suddenly, I could see a whole world of financial freedom — one in which I could buy things that I value without going into debt, invest in opportunities for my future, and even save for retirement — come into focus on the horizon. 

I realized that I never set money goals because I never believed they were possible for me to achieve, and now that I’d hit some big financial milestones, I finally felt like I had a chance.

So, in January of 2019, I set financial New Year’s resolutions for the first time in my life: I wanted to increase my income, build a healthy emergency fund, and start investing. Here’s how it went.

I nearly doubled my income

I quit my job to travel in 2015 and started freelance writing in early 2016. The first couple of years were rough, but I was excited in 2018 when my freelancing income finally reached what I’d been making at my old full-time job: $40,000 per year. After that, I set a goal for 2019: to make significantly more than what I was making in my old job.

In the end, I nearly doubled the income from my previous job as a freelancer. In 2019, I made about $75,000 before taxes. This is more than I ever could’ve made by now in my old job, considering a typical raise was around 3%. In four years, I’ve achieved a raise of almost 100% through self-employment. This solidified my hope that a career change would increase my income potential.

I fell short of my savings goal but still built a one-year emergency fund and a ‘self-investment’ fund

At the beginning of 2019, I started with $13,000 saved in an emergency fund, most of which came from a $10,000 inheritance I received when my grandfather died. It felt good to finally have some money in my high-yield savings account and not have to worry that something as simple as a car repair would put me into debt.

That feeling I got from seeing my savings account grow only motivated me to kick my savings habit into overdrive. I wanted to beef up my emergency fund a bit, since self-employment means my income fluctuates from month to month. But I also wanted to save for things like additional schooling, retirement, and investment opportunities.

I set a stretch goal for myself: to have $50,000 in my savings account by the end of 2019. I knew it was a long shot, and I didn’t quite hit it. But I did get to $40,000 in savings. 

I set up automatic deposits into my savings account of $3,000 per month for the first nine months of the year to reach that goal. I canceled the automatic deposits in October because my partner finally got enough time off work to go on a long trip to Europe, and we wanted to spend that money traveling for five weeks since he rarely gets time off.

I probably would’ve reached $50,000 if I hadn’t spent five weeks in Europe this fall, but I’ve decided not to beat myself up about falling short of my goal because that trip was well worth the money. I still saved more money than I thought I could.

I took the plunge and started investing

My final goal was to start investing, something that has always made me nervous. I didn’t take the plunge until the last month of 2019, but it finally happened.

Since my emergency savings is in a high-yield savings account with Betterment, I decided to open an investment account with Betterment to invest a portion of my emergency fund. I chose to invest 50% in bonds and 50% in stocks for some added security, since stocks are riskier and I might need to draw on this money in the event of an emergency.

Then, I wanted to invest another $10,000 of what I’d saved into a retirement fund. I went with index funds at Vanguard and followed the three-fund portfolio strategy, with the great majority of those funds invested in stocks since they’re being saved for a long-term goal.

My financial resolutions for 2020

For 2020, my financial goals involve doubling down on my savings and investment plan with a focus on building my retirement fund. I do feel behind on that given that I’m 30 and just now getting started, but luckily, it’s never too late.

I also want to rebuild my emergency fund immediately, as I had to take a few thousand dollars out of it when my car’s transmission died right before the holidays. So I’ll prioritize that before I funnel my savings into investing.

Finally, I want to set a stretch goal for my income: hit the six-figure mark. I don’t know if it’ll be possible, but I like to set goals for myself that go a little past what I think I can achieve. It’s like that old saying — shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars.

While I don’t always meet my money goals, I realize that’s just a part of life. We can’t plan for everything. But having a plan does make goals I once thought were impossible come to fruition.

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