Joe Orozco
Person holding ballpoint pen writing on notebook

My Best Decisions of 2020

Don’t worry, I’m writing these with an eye toward things that could similarly help you. This is not a reflective journal piece.

In no particular order, here are some of the best decisions I made in 2020:

1. I Got a New iPhone

My analysis of the new iPhone 12 lineup still stands. Instead, I got myself an iPhone SE. After iOS 14, my iPhone 6S slowed down noticeably. I’d had the phone for five years and felt I could justify the expense.

But, I did not buy the phone new. Someone sold me their iPhone SE for $100 less than what I would have paid had I bought the phone outright. The phone was practically brand-new. The seller provided a great transaction.

If you’re due for a new device, check the previous model and see if you can get a good deal. Companies rarely built revolutionary features into immediate successors.

2. I Bought a Smart Battery Case

This is going to start to sound like a shameless Apple commercial. I’d previously owned a battery case from Alpatronix. It worked remarkably well. In fact, my only minor complaint is that I could not use pass through functionality, but for the one or two times I had to sync up with iTunes on my PC, I don’t think it was a big deal to remove the battery case and do my thing.

I’m always interested in saving money; however, sometimes it pays to go straight to the manufacturer. It’s the best way to ensure compatibility between accessories, and it’ll save you time and additional money if the third party winds up being a dud.

3. I Sold Some of My Own Technology

Even though I have no plans to move in the foreseeable future, I found it cleansing to tackle some of the clutter while generating a little extra cash. I found a good list for selling and trading products. I sold a GPS device, a music instrument, a laptop, and a tablet. Altogether I made a little over $1,000.

I think the experience was positive enough to dedicate a future blog post. For now I would say the key things to keep in mind about selling items online include: writing a compelling ad, providing prompt communication, and following through with prompt shipping. Also, make sure your price reflects the worth of the product. If it is not in like new condition, say so. Potential buyers will appreciate the candor.

4. I Built Up My Emergency Fund

The lockdowns resulting from COVID meant more savings. The money I would have normally spent on travel went into an emergency fund. I built up a sufficient amount to feel confident about overcoming a government shutdown, a medical emergency, or other unforeseen curve ball.

Now that the money has been set aside in a money market account away from my primary bank, I don’t think about its existence. It has zero influence over my financial decisions. I don’t take unnecessary chances just because I know I have a little extra cash set aside. I am aware of at least one major medical expense in my horizon, so for me, the emergency account represents a tangible security blanket.

5. I Took Advantage of the Stock Market

My individual retirement accounts were already tied up in stock. This year, however, I opened a taxable account and took advantage of the brief recession in March. When others were getting out of the stock market for fear it would crash, I took the opposite approach and jumped in head first.

In fact, I took a huge swing at my emergency fund to invest in the stock market. I am not married and do not have a legal dependent. I kept enough to cover essentials and took a gamble with Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Fund VTSAX and Total Bond Market Fund VBTLX. The market rallied. The investment was worth the risk. It is not a risk I would have taken were I married with minor children.

Could I have done better by investing in individual stocks? Sure, Netflix would have boosted my gains, but there is a limit to my risk tolerance. I knew enough to know the market would bounce back but could not have anticipated the depth and duration of the pandemic. Looking through my accounts, the returns were worth the risk.

6. I Bought a Slow Cooker

This model is four quarts and is perfect for one person interested in more than enough leftovers.

There’s something satisfying about a meal cooking all day and ready to be eaten when you get home from work. I’ve found some great recipes that require few ingredients.

I toyed with the idea of going for an Instant Pot. In the end, I decided to pass. First, I wanted to make sure I use this less expensive appliance consistently before dropping money on something fancier. Second, I found conflicting reviews about the accessibility for blind users. The slow cooker I purchased is straight to the point and lets me embrace cooking as part of my routine.

7. I Optimized My FSA

My flexible spending account covers more than I thought. This year I got a little smarter and looked into whether or not the account would cover service animal expenses. It does, but even after I obtained the necessary medical forms, FSA gave me a hard time about approving the expenses.

The idea that FSA would challenge my ability to spend my own money is annoying. I obtained additional documentation and was prepared to appeal their decision. Thankfully the matter was resolved, and Matthew’s vet bills were reimbursed. Though, again, given it is my own pretax money, is it really a reimbursement?

Make sure you understand all the benefits associated with your coverage. My medical insurance offers health perks I had not been aware until I went perusing my benefits. I can’t even say the benefits were hidden. I had just never taken the time to educate myself.

8. I Treated Myself

I’ve mentioned the leather jacket that took me three years to buy. I kept thinking it would be an obscene expense. I wasn’t sure if I had worked hard enough to earn the gift to myself, but this past summer I finally pulled the trigger on a jacket from Fox Creek Leather. Actually, I wound up spending a lot less than I would have guessed.

I made the purchase having done substantial research. I bought the jacket at a price I could stomach without compromising on craftsmanship, but if I could do it all over again, I would not have waited so long to buy the jacket. The takeaway for me is that I deprived myself unnecessarily. I don’t want to die feeling as though I spent more time deciding than I did enjoying. Remember the post on the lessons from a funeral home?

A closely related example is my purchase of an audio mixer. I committed hours to researching the right hardware with the right feature set at a price point I could justify. I read and listened to the advice of multiple experts. In the end, the mixer I purchased never appeared on anyone’s recommendation list. In this case, the research was validated, so perhaps the lesson attributed to this particular point is that a little research is good as long as you don’t take a few years To make a choice.

Did I need a mixer in the first place? Probably not, but you know what? I am ridiculously excited to play with it and put it to work making money for me. The fact I did not spend a fortune on it is the cherry on top.

9. I Opened My Mouth

If you have ever met me in person, then you know I am soft-spoken. That generally suits me, but this year I have worked harder at expressing myself when something bothers me.

Giving your feelings a voice is crucial in romantic relationships. Yet, as we saw in a previous post, platonic relationships require the same level of authentic communication. I have been better about telling friends when their actions have not been taken well. It’s possible a few of these friendships will fade as a result, but I am done viewing this as a failure on anyone’s part. I have embraced the idea that some relationships have a season.

10. I Launched This Website

I guess I can’t say I launched the website. You can’t launch what previously existed, so maybe the right phrasing is that I brought the website back to life.

Blogging can sometimes be a pain in the ass. I don’t always feel like writing. Little by little though it is coming together, and one of my first posts in the new year will be a pulse check on what I’ve done in the past six months to get the site to where it is now.

Starting and maintaining a website can be intimidating. I’m glad I did it though, because it is tangible proof that I am actively working toward something.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are decisions I wish I could reverse. I somehow got on a social security scammer’s call list and said some colorful things to him I would probably take back. Or, maybe not. There were financial adjustments I should have made quicker in light of the payroll tax breaks for government employees. There were months when my restaurant spending was absurd, but in general, I think it was a solid year.

How about you? What were your accomplishments? What are you most looking forward to tackling in the coming year?

For the subscribers, you may notice the blog has lapsed into a slow blogging schedule in light of the holidays. That’s code for, I’m feeling a little lazy and don’t want to write for the sake of writing. Nothing but the best for you, so bear with me as we close out the year and get back to consistency in the bigger and better 2021.

And if you have not yet subscribed, why the heck not?

Note: This post featured Amazon affiliate links which will earn me a little cash at no extra cost to you.

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