2021 Financial Goal-Setting and the Fresh Start Theory

Have you ever heard of the “fresh start theory”?

It’s basically a theory that people are more likely to tackle and achieve their goals if they begin them on a landmark date … Like the 1st of the month, their birthday, January 1st, or any date of significance.

Landmark dates are motivating. They mark the exact date when you stop being the old you, and start being the new you! They encourage forward-thinking activities, instead of past habits and happenings.

2020 is almost over. Byeeeee 👋 . 2021 is nearly here. Woohoo! 🎉 It’s time to set some goals using Jan 1st as our landmark date!

(I know, New Years goal setting is kinda cliche. But, goals are necessary. And, if you don’t set goals now, when are you gonna set them?)

My 2020 Mid-Year Goals Recap

Six months ago, I shared some goals for this past year. Here are some cool things we accomplished this year…

  • Roth IRAs funded! Wife and I funded our favorite flexible tax-free accounts in January 2020. We contributed the max amount ($6k into each Roth), and we’ll be prioritizing this again in 2021.
  • I got a job! And not just any job – a fun one that lets me work when and where I please :). I’m extremely thankful to find work and remain gainfully employed through one of the toughest job years in history.
  • We gifted $2,500 to a new baby nephew. My wife and I set up a Unified Gift to Minors brokerage account for our newest family member. This money is invested in a total stock market index fund and will hopefully grow to be 5 figures when the kid turns 18!
  • We sold our spare car! It was sitting and collecting dust for too long! The $7,700 cash we sold it for went straight into the stock market. Not only has this investment increased about 10% since then, we’ve also saved $160 per month in car expenses since August.
  • Made more than $3k in sign-up bonuses! We ended up making $2,200 from churning bank accounts and $1,200 from opening 3 new credit cards. Pretty dang good!
  • I got some health insurance: This was on, off, then back on my list throughout the year. After a bit of luck, I was able to score some benefits through my employer starting in October.

And some goals we didn’t accomplish 😔…

  • Buying people stocks instead of birthday/Christmas gifts: My plan was instead of giving people physical presents for birthday/Christmas, to buy them stock in various companies instead. I did this for my Dad in the past who loved it! But, as it turns out, other members of my family think stocks are boring… (And apparently gift giving is supposed to be about the receiver, not the giver – who woulda thought?). Anyway, my family all got physical presents this year.
  • Sell a rental, refinance the duplex & invest in another real estate partnership: Almost all my real estate goals were squashed in 2020. And, I’m fine with it! I don’t think waiting is a bad thing… Patience is important in volatile years and opportunities in real estate will come and go like buses throughout my life. I’m in no rush. 
  • Foster/adopt a kid: We did make some small progress toward becoming an approved resource family. It’s a long process, and we’ll continue this through 2021.

A million other little good and bad things happened this year, most of which we didn’t really plan for. So it feels weird listing them as “accomplishments” because some were out of our control… Things like passing $500k in net worth for the assets we’re tracking, receiving a government stimulus handout, spending only $332 this year on restaurants (our budgeted amount was $2,400), losing 5 figures on some of my rentals from missing rent and vacancies 😳, etc.  

This year was really hard to predict. I think you will all agree! How did you go on your 2020 goals this year?

My 2021 Goals & Stuff to Figure Out

Here’s what my wife and I are planning for next year…

Financial stuff:

  • Roth, Roth, Roth!: My wife and I were late to the Roth game and have been trying to play catch up ever since we opened our accounts in 2016. They are one of the most flexible accounts for early retirees, and we plan to invest as much as we can each year, as early as we can each year. Even if it means selling other assets to fund them, Roth IRAs are our No. 1 priority.  $6k is the limit for 2021 to invest in each Roth account.
  • 100% contributions to 401(k) (until it goes away): My workplace notified me that my benefits plan (healthcare and 401(k)) will be terminated at the end of March 2021. It is yet to be determined whether alternatives will be offered, but my guess is no.😪  So I want to stuff as much money in my 401(k) as possible early in the year. I don’t earn a huge amount from this job, so 100% contributions in Jan/Feb/March might only be ~$7k or so added to this account.
  • Sell a rental property: I still owe y’all a post on why I’m slowly transitioning away from rental properties. Anyway, our plan is to sell 1 property this coming year and transition the money to our brokerage account. This might be $25-50k depending on the property we sell and price we get after fees.
  • Build a donation machine!: I’ve been thinking about setting up a donor advised fund with Fidelity. It’ll allow us to invest our donations, and direct them to charities when we see fit later in life. Starting probably very small, like $2k, we can add to this each year and possibly grow it into a self-sufficient foundation!

Family, fun & community stuff:

  • Continue the foster/adopt process:  It’s still weird talking about this publicly, because my wife and I are a little unclear about where this road will actually take us. What if we get all the way to the end and realize we’ve bitten off more than we can chew? What if we try it and decide fostering isn’t for us after all? I’m guessing all new parents have feelings like this no matter how kids come into their life. Anyway, I’m happy to share more info about this if you guys agree to not hold it against us if we decide not to end up adopting anyone. Deal?
  • Travel while working remotely: Due to covid, my wife and I cancelled a 10-day trip to Hawaii, and a 9-day all-inclusive trip to Mexico in 2020. We’re planning to re-book these trips this coming summer… And now that I work 100% remotely, we want to try working while traveling. This is kind of a test — working while traveling is easier said than done :)
  • Buy/sell more stuff online — earn $1k cash:  I’m really having fun hawking random items when I find them out and about. The reason I haven’t set a $ goal around this activity thus far is because it’s kind of unpredictable, and I treat it more like a hobby vs. a side hustle. That being said, who knows, maybe I can try and shoot for making an extra $1,000 this year? I’ll start keeping track!
  • Podcast guest spots:  This year I was a guest on 3 podcasts, and have a few offers to be on shows in 2021. I’m not a huge fan of having my voice recorded, but doing uncomfortable things keeps me on my toes. I’m shooting for another 3 speaking spots this year.
  • Create a short writing course for beginners:  Last year I created and hosted a short writing course, teaching people some basics I’ve learned over the past few years. I’m planning to launch a V2 course and offer it to more people who want to start writing or blogging!

Your 2021 Goals?

People say goals should be specific, measurable, have deadlines, etc. I agree, though I don’t think annual goal-setting is a single activity that can be done in one sitting. For me it’s an evolution; a constant process throughout the year…

Generate ideas → list them in order of priority → clarify goals → determine steps → action → tracking → adjustments → more action → success.

You probably noticed some of my goals aren’t very specific. That’s cool with me and I’ll be fleshing them out over time.

If you haven’t put much thought into your financial goals yet, here are a few common ones to get your juices flowing:

  • Pay down x amount in debt
  • Save and invest xxx  (don’t know how much to save? Try this calculator I found on Best Interest Blog that generates a $ figure goal to save in 2021)
  • Achieve savings rate of xx%
  • Introduce a friend to the FIRE movement!
  • Rebalance your portfolio, or try investing in a new asset class
  • Start side hustle of xyz
  • Buy a rental property
  • Refinance your house, or auto loan, or student loans!
  • Donate $xxx to giving and charity
  • Declutter and sell stuff you no longer use
  • Try to improve your credit score!
  • Build up your emergency fund
  • Take a course, progress study, learn xyz skills
  • Negotiate full time work-at-home or better work/life benefits
  • Achieve FI, quit your job, and buy a one-way ticket to remote island?

What’s on your 2021 list?

Have a great week, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 🎉 🎈🎉 🎈

(ps. We’re taking this Friday Jan 1st off. Posts will resume starting Monday the 4th!)

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  1. The Millennial Money Woman December 28, 2020 at 7:15 AM


    This was an awesome read!
    I’m sorry to hear that your 401k is going away in March of 2021, so I hear you when you say that you’re trying to max out the benefit asap. I too am a firm believer in Roths and the power that these investment vehicles offer. That’s one of my 2021 goals as well: Maxing out my Roth accounts.

    A lot of my 2021 goals have to do with building out my website.
    And, like you, one of my goals is also to keep working on being featured on podcast sposts!

    Sounds like great minds think alike :)



    1. Joel December 28, 2020 at 11:00 AM

      Aweomse Fiona. Looking forward to checking out the site progress next year :)

  2. Angie Pannkuk December 28, 2020 at 9:52 AM

    Hi Joel:

    I LOVE that you and your wife are considering fostering/adopting. I want to have 2 biological and adopt five!! There are some gorgeous, smart kids in foster care. Obviously, you guys aren’t doing it for the money. However, there can be a vast difference in the amount each agency pays. When I was looking into it ten years ago, there was an agency that paid $1200/child/month!

    2020 was actually my best year financially. I was able to take care of most of my debt and put thousands into savings. I think this year has taught everyone you need to have 12 mos of expenses in your emergency fund.

    2021? I’m moving to Dallas!!
    I think you’ll have a lot of great real estate deals coming up. In a few weeks, Trump will get re-elected. That will cause a lot of riots. 2022 will be a chaotic year…full of opportunities.

    1. Joel December 28, 2020 at 11:09 AM

      They pay you to foster kids? I wonder how many I’d need to get to reach FI? JUST KIDDING! I don’t know if LA county offers cash like that. But they do offer healthcare for the children until they turn 18, counseling and other support services like tutoring and stuff. It’s amazing how much support is offered.

      Congrats on your move to Dallas!

      1. FullTimeFinance December 28, 2020 at 4:28 PM

        Typically you get what’s called a stipend to pay for the child’s day to day. It’s not taxable since it’s technically not your income, it’s the child’s. A note the stipend also does not disqualify you from claiming the child on your taxes provided they are with you more then 180 days.

        The amount of the stipend differs by state and is also related to the level of need of the child.

        1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:50 AM

          Thank you! Yes, we learned there are stipends for children with specific needs. Also I think there’s a mileage allowance because they prefer if you drive the children to the school they are already attending. That probably means across town for us (after pandemic, of course).

      2. Gene Roberts December 30, 2020 at 5:07 AM

        Futurama season 3 episode 9 “The Cyber House Rules” addresses the mathematics of fostering children for profit. Spoiler alert: They tend to cost more than you make. :)

        1. Joel December 30, 2020 at 10:11 AM

          Haha. I’ll add this to the “failed side hustles” list.

  3. J. Money December 28, 2020 at 1:47 PM

    “Donation machine” – i like that!

    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:34 AM

      I’m also gonna set up a charity called The Human Fund. :)

  4. Dragon Guy December 28, 2020 at 2:41 PM

    Bummer about the healthcare and 401(k) away early next year. You put all this effort earlier to understand both of them. Hopefully the company comes up with a replacement for you!

    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:36 AM

      Fingers crossed. Good to know we’ve got a few months to figure it out!

  5. Alexandre December 28, 2020 at 3:32 PM

    Well done for your 2020 achievements.

    For my previous birthday, when my wife asked me which gift will enjoy me, I answered stocks. But I didn’t received any stock. Fortunatly, I buy myself stock every month (last buy 100 Realty Income).

    My 2021 goals :
    – respect my investment rules
    – continue my put option selling
    – develop a side huslte (french blog on FIRE movement)

    Wish you all the best for your 2021 goals, especially adopting!


    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:40 AM

      Salut Alexandre! Merci d’avoir lu :) Je serais ravi de vérifier vos règles d’investissement si vous souhaitez partager. Je commence également à rédiger ma propre déclaration de politique de placement personnelle.

      Bonne chance avec le blog! Et merci d’avoir diffusé le F.I.R.E. mot avec d’autres parties du monde!
      Bonnes vacances, Joel

  6. FullTimeFinance December 28, 2020 at 4:20 PM

    Been a foster parent for 2 years now. Still not to adoption (not our choice, depends on the state)

    It can be a long road but it’s worth it to see the impact you have up close and build those relationships. Regardless of adoption that relationship will have been a big part of both you and their life.

    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:42 AM

      Thank you. It’s really encouraging to hear good stories and experiences like this. Cheers FTF. Have a great New Years!

  7. David @ Filled With Money December 28, 2020 at 6:33 PM

    I had no idea fresh start theory was even a thing. I will add to my vocabulary, ha. I always thought it would be worse off starting a new year’s goal on 1/1/xyz because of how many people fail their new years resolutions. But we shall see!

    I feel for you that your 401k plan is going away. I don’t know what I would feel if my 401k benefit is taken away from me. I would probably look for another job. I mean, 401k’s were meant to supplement the pension, then they took the pension away (mostly) and now only 401ks remain. What are we supposed to do now??

    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 9:58 AM

      Since my current 401k doesn’t do any employer matching, and my income is pretty low, it’s actually not that huge of a benefit. (don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful for benefits small and large). Just saying it’s not going to make a huge difference in my financial situation when they take it away. It’s removing healthcare that’s the real kick in the nuts for me :(

  8. Debtfreemama December 28, 2020 at 10:36 PM

    This is awesome. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward for the course. I dont have any fixed goals for 2021 yet.
    1. We dont have an IRA. Not sure if we qualify. I m researching about IRA’s for high income families.
    2. We are welcoming our little one on Dec 30th. Put my website on back burner. Will work on my website in 2021.

    1. Joel December 29, 2020 at 10:04 AM

      Hey mama!! Actually I got a few responses from people asking to write an article about IRA’s for higher income fams. I’ll start researching :)

      The website goals can wait… because growing a family is the most important goal :) Good luck with everything and congratulations!

      ps. my birthday is Dec 30th too :)

  9. Gene Roberts December 29, 2020 at 11:42 PM

    I’m going to brag about meeting my financial goals here because it would probably be rude to do it anywhere else:
    I maxed out EVERYTHING this year! This is the second year in a row I’ve been able to accomplish this. And it was harder this year because I turned 50 and that increases the maximum contributions by $7K.
    401k including employer match: $35,611
    Roth IRA: $7,000
    Health Savings Account: $3,550
    I also set aside $7,500 in my brokerage account to go towards paying off my mortgage (hopefully after it appreciates some – I’m not in a huge rush since I’ve got a 2.875% rate).
    All total, I saved over $53,000 this year. I will almost match my high water mark for % of my income saved @ over 54%.

    1. Joel December 30, 2020 at 9:33 AM

      Brag away! We love hearing these money wins! That’s such a big accomplishment Gene, congrats! How are you going to celebrate?

  10. The Writer Entrepreneur December 30, 2020 at 2:08 AM

    Such a great list. Despite 2020 kicking my behind, I still managed to achieve a great deal and maxed out everything. Now working on 2021 goals.

    1. Joel December 30, 2020 at 9:20 AM

      Maxing stuff out is a huge achievement. Congrats! Cheers to doing it again next year too! :)

  11. Simone | our intentional farm December 31, 2020 at 9:03 PM

    Great roundup!

    Our only financial goal for 2021 is to pay off the mortgages on our 2 rental properties. After that, we’ll see.

    We too want to adopt one day. Would love to read more about your process from time to time.

    Happy New Year, Joel!

    1. Joel January 1, 2021 at 9:19 AM

      That’s an awesome goal, Simone. I have always been comfortable with leverage, until this past year. Mathematically paying off my mortgages isn’t the best move – but I’m thinking less and less about math/returns and more about comfort and lifestyle. I don;t know what your reasons are – but congrats and good luck paying those mortgages off! Cheers to a great year ahead!!

  12. Suzanne January 1, 2021 at 1:25 PM

    I need to get on top of the Roth IRA too!

    I am curious about your comment regarding donor advised funds. My profession is in fundraising and there are people of all ages who have done this kind of giving. It’s nice to have an option for giving that is relatively hands-off. However, I think people are confused about it being their “family foundation.” A donor advised fund is NOT a family foundation. You give your DAF account funds that are tax deductible and when you want to make a gift, you can request a disbursement to a charity on your behalf. You can NAME your DAF account the XYZ family foundation, but it’s not an actual foundation. It seems to be confusing to donors, so I wanted to bring this up as a point of discussion.

    1. Joel January 2, 2021 at 9:43 AM

      Thanks Suzanne for the clarification! I can see how people get confused on what is what. To start with, I’ll only be setting up a personal DAF – with personal contributions only. Foundation was the wrong word to use… I really just want to sock money away for giving later.

      Get on that Roth IRA! :)

  13. Chris@TTL January 3, 2021 at 1:09 PM

    I’d like to think that giving shares would be a good gift for many folks! But to your point, it’s just not something received very well. I think, for some people, it could be pretty good—perhaps along with a physical gift in the case of someone like a teenager who could understand the potential future value of stock.

    I feel like we might wind up having a post in the near future about the opposite side of Roth IRAs—why they suck!—ha. We focused on funding them in the early years, too. In recent times, we’ve come to some realization that they’re not great for people in a FIRE trajectory that is similar to ours (where you intend to earn less in retirement). We did Roths because we made too much for traditional IRAs years back, though if you can fit the income requirement, it seems like a much better deal to save taxes up front. The primary problem with Roths for us these days is that we just won’t earn enough in early retirement to pay taxes anyway.

    I think the further in the future retirement is, the more they can make sense since they can help with some unpredictability of potential tax changes or income/goal adjustments down the road.

    Happy new year Joel! Hope 2021 is off to a good start and thanks for sharing your goal process.

    1. Joel January 4, 2021 at 3:23 PM

      Chris – please send me that post when it’s written! Because I am finding myself in nearly the same situation… I just paid 0% capital gains for a huge chuck on growth in my after-tax brokerage simply by capital gains harvesting. If I can get free growth in my regular brokerage, why do I need a ROTH anyway? (I still pay state taxes in my state). Anyway, I’d love to see your other reasons why having a massive Roth isn’t really that great :)

      Happy New Year to you guys too!

  14. liz January 3, 2021 at 6:32 PM

    Christmas gift giving is a struggle for me! Kids are easy but adults…I just find it unnecessary it’s like here’s a gift card, thanks, here’s a gift card back lol. I told my sister I did not want to exchange presents with her and she still brought us presents and I had none for her (only her kids). I just find it so unnecessary but she likes to give and she LOVES THINGS.

    1. Joel January 4, 2021 at 3:17 PM

      Yeah I feel the same. It’s harder and harder each year with less and less emotions.

      My Mum came up with a good idea for our next family Christmas… We’re doing a secret santa, but all the gifts have to be either hand-made, or re-gifts. It’s just for the adults (kids still get new toys or whatever) but it adds a bit more from to the year. I’m looking forward to it!

      1. Jennifer January 14, 2021 at 10:01 AM

        My family did a “zoom” Christmas. Each of us bought ourselves a gift ($20 max) and opened together on a meeting. Everything from soup to nuts (literally!). Provided amazing insight into what siblings like.

        1. Joel January 14, 2021 at 12:33 PM

          haha that’s awesome! Yes I can see how you’d learn a lot about a person by seeing the gifts they buy themselves :) Happy New Year Jennifer!

  15. Yvette @ Låneoversikten January 12, 2021 at 4:06 AM

    Think your plan and list is great. I am in the process of collecting all my thoughts so I can make a plan for 2021. Even though one never know what can happen as Corona has showed us, I think it is an excellent idea to have a plan, try to execute them, adapt to live and what happens, and so do a lesson learned and evaluation at the end. Thanks for the article, and for sharing also private matters. Happy new year and good luck with everything.

    1. Joel January 12, 2021 at 11:56 AM

      I agree Yvette. It’s difficult to plan because the year can throw all sorts of unexpected events at us (like 2020 did). So in addition to goals I’m trying to work on myself so I can better adapt to whatever surprises the year brings. Be more open to change, think long term, set up a contingencies, forgive more, help others, etc. These traits will make my year successful no matter what happens. :)

  16. Pj January 27, 2021 at 4:22 PM

    Congrats on the new job, Joel. 2020 was rough on a lot of people, so even though revenue streams like your rental property fell short, it sounds like things held steady or improved otherwise.

    Good luck with the selling/reselling thing. When my parents died last year, I “inherited” all of their remaining possessions, which inadvertently turned me into a part-time eBay reseller (I always have had an account but only used it occasionally to sell off old comics or collectibles). In the last 90 days, I’ve sold more than $1100, and now I’m kind of addicted to it! It’s also inspired me to clear out some of my long-unused items around the house and sell them as well, which has had the extra benefit of freeing up space (much needed now that my mother-in-law has moved in with me and my wife).

    1. Joel January 27, 2021 at 6:18 PM

      So cool to hear that you like selling stuff online PJ! OfferUp is a new app i’m using a lot locally where certain items sell much fast in my area. Not sure if you’ve tried it?

      Wishing you a good new year and let’s hope it’s a little less dramatic than last! :)