As you may have noted, I’m in a reflective mood around here lately. I’m not terminally ill or anything – I just am looking back on stuff. So let’s take a dive into the past year of my life and see what I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Marriage is hard work, and always will be. My wife and I are on our third year of marriage, and some days it’s just as much work to keep a peaceful household as it was when we first moved in together after the wedding.
  2. Marriage is also the most rewarding work ever. I’m sure parenting wins out over marriage, but I haven’t had the chance to find that out yet.
  3. The smallest of mistakes can lead to tremendous consequences. When we visited Europe last October, we were, quite literally, ten minutes late getting to the airport outside of Paris. That ten-minute window ultimately cost us over $1,000. It was a bummer.
  4. Repeated, focused action will produce results… in time. Before 2013, I was struggling to make bills. Today, my bills are paid comfortably with money left over to sock away for savings and to eliminate our massive load of debt. All of this is thanks to repeatedly focusing on building my business experience and client base… slowly.
  5. Success, when it eventually comes, can arrive insanely fast. When we screamed, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” this year, we were coasting on financial fumes. There were so many doubts about my career, as well as paying our bills on a consistent basis. Our marriage wasn’t hanging by a thread, but there was definitely a burned out, worn and torn feeling between us while going through all of this. On January 4th, 2013, I was offered a monthly retainer by a client and our entire budget and financial plans skyrocketed. A four-day difference between fear and success.
  6. Some TV shows will never fail to make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch them. Arrested Development. Boy Meets World. The Simpsons. Parks and Recreation. Even certain episodes of Friends.
  7. I (and you) don’t deserve nice things – at least not right now. Last night, my wife and I pretended to be in the market for a house because a gorgeous home in one of our favorite neighborhoods had opened up for sale. We just wanted to walk around in it and confirm that it was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. It was. Based on our criteria that we established years ago for what we were looking for in a house, this house was perfect. And if we were like most Americans that desperately want a particular house, we could have fudged our budget and taken out massive loans to try to get this house. We really could. But this house is $310,000. We’d have to come up with at least another $1,000 in the monthly budget to take this on. It’s not worth that kind of risk. So sadly, we walked away really disappointed at how perfect it was, and so out of reach. But before we were married, we sat down, discussed money, and agreed that we were not going to buy a house without a 20% down payment (which we don’t have right now) to avoid the PMI. We’re not going to start saving for that until we are debt-free, and we have a long way to go yet. So while it was fun to imagine ourselves living in this place, we both knew that this isn’t the time. But because we’re waiting, we’ll be able to find the perfect home in a couple years.
  8. Both extreme opinions of Paris are completely wrong. Paris isn’t the perfect, romantic city that half the world claims it is. It’s also not a hellhole full of rude people. It’s just… I don’t know, kinda there. There are plenty of romantic options available, and there are plenty of rude people, but that’s true of any big city.
  9. Don’t mess around with your taxes. It’s no joke.
  10. As an adult, friendship becomes increasingly more difficult. When we were in high school, making friends was easy. We had shared experiences left and right that we could use to bond with. As adults, we have to pick up the phone. We have to make plans. We have to put it on a calendar. If you don’t put in that effort (on both sides), even the closest of friends will start losing touch. It’s life.
  11. Thinking outside the box can be really rewarding. Both in satisfaction ways and in money ways. Whether you take a few minutes to roll your own web-based service or find an online-only discount cell phone service provider, there are options all across the board for different needs. Chances are, you aren’t entertaining all of your options.
  12. A budget changes everything. Money is like water: if you don’t tell it exactly where to go, it will just start leaking everywhere. Plug those leaks by creating a budget for every dollar that comes in every month. Once you tell it where to go, a huge amount of stress falls off your shoulders. Even if you designate most of your money as “blow money” (“blow” as in “play”, not “blow” as in “drugs”).
  13. Miracles can happen. A new season of Arrested Development? A monthly retainer? Money that I can spend on whatever I darn well please? A full cupboard of food? Trips to Portland, Austin, and all over Europe? Good things can happen at any time as long as you put yourself into position for them and keep your nose to the grindstone. Of course, some of them are just God smiling down on you, like the new season of Arrested Development. But success? It’s all yours. Go out there and take it.

I’m sure you have your own experiences that have taught you something valuable. What did you learn this past year? What pearls of wisdom have you mined just by being who you are and living your life? I bet there are more than you think if you put in the effort to figure them out.

Just share your lessons and stories in the comments and we’ll all be just a little smarter today.