6 min read
As 2018 is coming to a close, I have decided to write my first ever Annual Review. I got this idea from James Clear, who writes his own Annual Review at the end of each year and answers the following three questions:
1. What went well this year?
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
3. What am I working toward?
Let’s jump in!
1. What went well this year?
Blogging. I wrote a total of 330 blog posts in 2018, which attracted over 800,000 pageviews from readers in 171 different countries.
To put that in perspective, I received 260,000 pageviews in 2017, which means my site grew by over three times in just one year. That’s a metric I’m pretty excited about!
My five most viewed posts from 2018 are listed in order below:
1. The Math That Explains Why Net Worth Goes Crazy After the First $100k
2. The Financial Independence Grid
3. Here’s How Much You Must Earn Over Your Lifetime to Become Financially Independent
4. Answers to Your Questions: How Did I Save $100k in 2 Years?
5. Charlie Munger: The First $100,000 is a B*tch
Launching new sites. I launched a new personal finance curation site called Collecting Wisdom at the end of October. It’s similar to Reddit. Anyone can create an account and submit a personal finance article, which then shows up on the front page of the site. Then, readers can vote on their favorite articles and the most upvoted articles rise to the top of the page.
The site did really well in its first full month online, bringing in over 15,000 pageviews in November. I’m extremely excited to grow this site in 2019 and turn it into a place where readers can reliably find the best personal personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
Another site that I relaunched over the summer of 2018 was Statology, a site that teaches people the basics of introductory level statistics. I initially built this site from scratch while I was still in college, but I decided to recreate it with a simple WordPress theme so it wasn’t so clunky and hard to navigate.
Statology has slowly been growing over the past few months mostly due to improved Google search rankings. My plan is to eventually monetize the site with ads and premium tutorials.
Launching a newsletter. Finally, after two years of blogging and thanks to nudges from several fellow bloggers at FinCon 2018, I created a free weekly newsletter that I send out to subscribers each Sunday morning with a recap of all the posts I wrote during the previous week. This is a great way for readers who don’t visit my site every day to keep up with what I’ve been writing.
Building my net worth. Even though net worth might not be the best financial metric to track, I still track it on a monthly basis and I was thrilled to finally cross the $100k threshold for the first time earlier in the year.
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
Launching products. My main source of income on this blog is ads and affiliate links. I have been trying to diversify this income through building and sharing my own products.
The first product I launched early in the year was a tool to help readers visualize their monthly expenses. The idea was simple: you upload a CSV file of all your monthly transactions and my tool would automatically create charts and graphs to help you visualize these transactions.
I quickly found out that it was too much of a hassle for users to download all of their transactions and organize them into a CSV file. This made many people resistant to using the tool and I can’t say I blame them.
Although this tool was a flop, it taught me a valuable lesson about creating and selling products: Your job is to make the user’s life easier. Don’t make them jump through hoops or do too much work on their end to get the benefit that your product offers.
A few months later I launched The Excel Genius Toolkit, which is a folder that contains the exact Excel spreadsheets I used to make the 17 most popular visuals on this blog.
This product did much better because it was easy for readers to download and it was something that several people had actually asked me to create. Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, readers seem to love this toolkit because it gives them such a behind-the-scenes look at how I create the charts and graphs on this blog.
Lastly, the product I created most recently is a bundle of three data scientist resumes that helped me land actual interviews in the data science industry. These resumes are a great resource for aspiring data scientists who aren’t sure what to put on their resume to land an interview and eventually a job in the data science field.
Although I haven’t earned an astronomical amount with these product launches, I have learned a great deal about creating and selling products that people actually want to use. I love the idea of earning income through products (especially online products) because I only have to create them once and then I can sell them over and over again without any additional work.
Staying in touch with people I care about. I’m fortunate that I live within an hour of most of my family and close friends, but I often do a poor job of keeping in touch with these people on a regular basis. I rarely reach out to people first and I did a pretty poor job of organizing events to hang out with these people I care about more.
I did, however, start a weekly tradition where my closest friends and I meet up at someone’s apartment to play board games and eat pizza. Even though we weren’t able to meet every week, this is a tradition that I want to stick with as much as possible.
3. What am I working toward?
So, what am I working toward? What direction am I heading? What am I attempting to build and share with the world?
I think I can boil it all down to three things:
1. Financial freedom. I started this blog two years ago to document my own journey to financial freedom and to share some thoughts and insights along the way. Achieving financial freedom is important to me not because I want a bunch of money to buy stuff, but because I want a bunch of money so that most of my waking hours don’t have to be spent earning income at a day job doing work I find meaningless.
I don’t mind working hard. In fact, I actually enjoy working. But only when I can work on my own schedule and only on work that I find important. At this point in my life, I consider “important work” to be this blog along with the other two sites I launched earlier this year.
I have developed this site into a reliable $1,000+ monthly income stream. I plan on growing this income stream even larger in 2019 and beyond. I also plan on monetizing my other two sites.
Over the past few months, I’ve been able to cover over 50% of my living expenses purely from my online income and my mission in 2019 is to be able to cover 100% of these expenses consistently each month. By doing so, I won’t have to wait until I’m in my mid-30s to achieve financial freedom. Instead, if I can develop reliable income streams online, I can quit my day job and support my lifestyle while I’m still in my 20s.
2. Health. Along with financial freedom, one of my biggest priorities is my physical and mental health. I have always loved lifting weights, but I have mostly neglected other areas that contribute to my overall health like sleep, diet, and stress. In 2018 I finally started to learn more about these other areas.
I read books like The Nature Fix, which helped me realize how important it is for my mental health and stress levels to spend more time outside in nature.
I also read more about nutrition to better understand what foods I should be putting in my body*.
*This doesn’t mean I plan on cutting back on my Chipotle habits, though.
3. Relationships. Lastly, I want to get better at prioritizing relationships with people I care about. In particular, I want to make sure I spend plenty of time with my parents before I decide to move somewhere where I don’t live as close to them or before they decide to move elsewhere for retirement.
I also want to prioritize spending time with my girlfriend and my close friends while we all live relatively close to each other and while none of us have families to support.
The Bottom Line
2018 turned out to be a great year for me and I expect 2019 to be even better. While it’s hard to predict what the future holds, I know that if I keep focusing on building my income streams, prioritizing my health, and spending as much time as possible with the people I care about most, I’ll have very few regrets looking back on this time in my life.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
Although the bulk of his net worth is invested in index funds, his favorite place to invest in individual stocks is M1 Finance, a site that allows you to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see my Terms & Conditions page for a full disclaimer.