I didn’t write a post for 2018, and I don’t really intend to. Mostly because I don’t have much to say about it. It was a quiet year; we largely just saved money to buy a house and worked. Even work was a quiet year for me; I focused on the Google Cloud Platform provider for Terraform, and helped make a bunch of changes that, while important and valuable, don’t lend themselves well to things I can point at and say “look, I spent my year on that”. I spent my year on making the provider better, and I think the talk I gave with Dana at HashiConf and the closing keynote both offer evidence that we did make the provider better.
But it was a quiet year, and so rather than looking back, I want to look forward at 2019.
I don’t want to make resolutions. Mainly because I’ve never been good at resolutions. I don’t know how much I can reasonably achieve in a year. I don’t know what’s going to happen during the year. I also want to make decisions about what to do with my time in the moment, when I have the most information possible about how many spoons I have available, how my sleep schedule is working out, how our finances are actually working out, and what’s important to me.
Instead, I want to talk about priorities. These aren’t things I plan to get done in 2019, these are things I’m entering 2019 carrying in the back of my mind, the projects I’m devoting active mental space to instead of putting them on the backburner. I’m also going to limit these to things that aren’t work-related; work is its own beast and its own brainspace, and fluctuates on its own rhythm.
Buy a House
We spent 2018 saving to buy a house. It didn’t work out the way we had hoped–we had been talking to our landlord about buying the house we’ve been renting since before we got married, but as we tried to sit down with him to agree on a final purchase price and draw up the paperwork, he decided he didn’t want to sell after all. Which is a bummer, and put us in an awkward spot with regard to timing, because it meant any house we found at that point would likely have us moving in during the holidays, which we didn’t want.
So we decided to wait until after the holidays, and buy a house in the first months of 2019. We took some of the cash we had stockpiled and used it for a different financial goal–exercising some of the stock options I had vested–and used the months spent waiting for the holidays to end to replenish our cash on hand. We’re nearly back at the point where we have enough cash on hand to be able to afford a down payment, so I’m excited to find the house, make the transaction, and move on with our lives.
I’m frustrated that the real estate market in our area is exploding and everyone is losing their damn minds, but what can you do? Roughly half the available housing in our market sells for $400,000+ right now, and the median income for the area is like $60,000. Houses that sold for $120,000 five years ago are selling for $300,000 now. Which doesn’t make sense to me, and smells and feels like a bubble. So I anticipate we’ll buy a house only to have its value crash, but… a house is a place to live, not an investment, and I will die on that hill.
What can you do? Timing sucks. The options are to suck it up and deal with it, or wait for the timing to be better. I have other things I want to be doing with my life, and I’m tired of ten years of renting, so we’re gonna suck it up and deal with it.
Start Pulling Together Money for Kids
I talked earlier this year about how we’re looking at having kids, and we spent a good amount of 2018 reading, learning, and researching the topic until we arrived at a plan we’re comfortable with. And while I anticipate I’ll be doing an update post on that effort in just under two weeks, a year after the first post, the short version is that we’re looking at adopting through an infant adoption agency. I’ll post more details about what that means, how and why we chose that, and some of the new questions it raised in that other post, but for the purposes of this discussion, here’s what’s important: we’re gonna need to pull together $50,000, submit an application to an agency, the agency will show us to prospective birth mothers who are interested in finding adoptive families for when their children are born, and we’ll wait for someone to pick us. When we’re picked, we need to wire the money to the agency within three days. So we can’t really start until we have the money, because we could be chosen the day we apply. On average, it looks like families are waiting 3-12 months after applying before being chosen.
Once we’re done with the house shenanigans and our budget has settled, we’re going to want to turn our attention on this next step, to try and get kids as quickly as we can. $50,000 is a lot of cash to have on hand, and we’re not going to be able to get it all in 2019. I’m hoping we end up with like $10,000 on hand at the end of 2019, which will set us up nicely to be ready in early 2021 to start the process.
And that’s just the first kid. We’re hoping for two. Clearly, the next three years or so will be spent scrounging up every dollar we can get our hands on, without tiring ourselves out by being in frugal mode for five years straight.
I have something like 36 books on my to-read list, things I’ve been meaning to get around to, and I’d like to try to read as much of that as I can. The books range a lot of topics, from racial justice, to adoption ethics, to communication and collaboration, to community, to queer history. And there’s a healthy amount of fiction thrown in there, too. I don’t expect to get to all 36 this year, but I’d like to pick up a Kobo Forma and start making a dent. I miss reading; it’s unapologetically an investment in relaxing. Video games, TV, and movies are all easy forms of entertainment for me because they’re discrete chunks; I can kid myself that I’m taking a two hour break and then will go back to being productive. A book feels more like an undertaking, something that I will invest many hours in for no reason other than I want to. I need to get better about prioritising unapologetically taking time to do things because I feel like it, and reading seems like a nice way to work on that.
Deprecate My Budget Spreadsheet
Since January 2014, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of every transaction I’ve made, to keep my budget balanced and to be able to keep track of monthly expenses. Knowing my monthly income and expenses has let me forecast my finances, allowing me to reasonably estimate how long it will take me to pull together money to move across the country, get married, and buy a house. As we move on to having kids, the tooling is showing its age. We have to manually sync it back to our bank account, transactions that come in out of order are a bit fiddly to adjust, and recurring expenses that don’t have a fixed amount (e.g., buying groceries every week, buying gas for the car, eating out) aren’t forecasted, leaving us to guess about them.
I’ve been thinking about tooling for a while that will automate large portions of this, syncing our bank accounts, detecting trends, and forecasting into the future. In 2018, I finally started writing it, and have the syncing and trend detection largely working. I’ll write another blog post about my approach to budgeting and how the tooling works at some point, but the software should get some attention in 2019 so we can retire the spreadsheet and move on to a real database. As we start saving for our largest amounts yet, having more accurate information with less maintenance work will be useful.
Take a Vacation
Ethan and I haven’t taken a real vacation since our honeymoon, and we… should? We’ve talked a lot about driving down the western coast with our friends, doing our own big gay roadtrip, so maybe we’ll try to do that. We’ve also talked a lot about spending a month or two in Spain, seeing Europe and practising our Spanish, so maybe we’ll do that. Who knows. Maybe we’ll do neither, and I’ll take time off work to write budgeting software or read a lot of books. Maybe we’ll take a cruise. I don’t know yet. But if we’re going to spend 2020 saving up to have kids, and 2021 in the adoption/new parent process, our window of opportunity for some of these things that we want to do is shrinking. So may as well see if we can make them happen in 2019.
Those are the projects I’m carrying into 2019 with me, the things that are occupying the front burners of my attention. I want to continue to be a better coworker and employee, too, and a better and kinder friend, and to get more involved with my local community, and to keep my house cleaner, and to write on my blog more, and finish a million software projects, and learn more about cooking, and work on my confidence and self-esteem, and do a slew of other things that I think will make me a better person. And maybe I will! But when people ask me what’s up this year, I expect I’ll probably be talking about the above five things.