I surprised myself with 2016 – happy to report it was a really successful year!
In my 2015 Review post, I went through some of the highlights of that year, as well as some goals for 2016. I want to take some time and review 2016 now! Like I said, it was a great year for me, my travelling, the blog, and I’m really looking forward to 2017!
Let’s take a look!
My one issue with 2016? Only one post during August (and it wasn’t even that great…). Only one, all month! If you just based this blog on August 2016, it would be a sad little corner of the internet.
Ok, besides August, I stuck to posting every week, just like I wanted to! The blog also experienced some major growth in 2016. Views jumped from 177 total in 2015, to 4,207! Now, in terms of major web traffic, that’s still only a fraction of the internet, but for me, it’s a 2,200% increase! Much, much more than I could have hoped for! Guess what else happened? Since June of 2016, every single month has had more views than the month before! That means December was the 7th consecutive month of increased views, at 723 for the month! Again, I’m not shattering any records here, but I’m happy that all my work is finally paying off.
So, my bare minimum travel goals include just two items. Two “must-do” trips. One to see a new country. One to visit family. The more I travel, the better, but tat least these two trips each year!
Check and double check!
Almost a year ago now, we went down to Florida for a week, and spent some time with family in the Orlando area. Then in August, we brought the kiddo on his first international trip, to explore the Yucatan Peninsula. He still proudly explains the differences between the places we explored while in Mexico, and his eyes light up talking about biking around the Coba ruins, so I’d chalk that one up as a victory.
In addition to those, we also had time to visit some friends in Washington DC, and explore Chicago for a few days! I even managed to get a weekend to myself, visiting another friend at school in North Carolina!
Miles and Points
Full speed ahead into 2017! 2016 was a bit rough in the travel hacking world, a lot of loopholes and tricks were shut down, but I still managed to come out ahead. Right now, I’m sitting on almost 700,000 points and miles. At an average (conservatively) estimated value of 1.3 cents per point, this represents a (very unstable) $9,100 in travel. Unstable, simply because award charts can change at any time. Most people “earn & burn” their miles for exactly that reason. With limited time off from work, I find myself stockpiling my loyalty points, but at least that way I have them for a rainy day!
As I predicted, the Companion Pass was definitely the biggest gain in 2016! I earned the Southwest Companion Pass in June of 2016, just in time to book flights for that Mexico trip in August. We flew Southwest for a total of 8 legs/flights:
- Boston – Atlanta (ATL) – Cancun (CUN) Roundtrip in August 2016: $378
- Boston – Baltimore (BWI) in October 2016: $54
- Baltimore (BWI) – Boston in October 2016: $84
- Boston – Chicago Midway (MDW) in October 2016: $109
- Chicago Midway (MDW) – Boston in October 2016: $94
That Companion Pass saved me a total of $719 in 2016! Plus, I used all of the Rapid Rewards I had in my account for my own flights and my son’s, and then added my girlfriend (Companion) to the flight. As a result, my out of pocket cost was almost negligible on all of these flights, just taxes and fees.
My biggest loss? Missing out on the JetBlue/Virgin America points promo… I wasn’t even thinking of transferring my SPG points to VX. Talk about regrets. I’ll have to pull the trigger faster in 2017 on good deals like this one!
I’m not quite sure where I’m going in 2017, but I’m looking forward to it! With that Companion Pass in my pocket for another year, I’ll be in great shape to travel for pennies on the dollar.
I definitely leveled up my financial game this year!
I hit a savings rate of around 36%, right in my target range of 30-40%. That 2016 savings rate includes hitting my 2016 IRA limit shortly, thanks to catch up contributions! I know I’ll be able to push that 36% even higher this year. This year, I’m shooting for over 40%. Challenge: Accepted.
My year over year net worth grew by 104%! I doubled my net worth in 2016! Remember, at the end of 2015, I was running pretty lean. I had just finished school and just started working my full time job, my first “adult” job. My net worth dropped steadily during 2015, and I turned that around in 2016 – my net worth grew during 8 out of 12 months in 2016!
My 2016 expenses came to $38,600 in total. For the past three years, my expenses have continued to increase. Not good, but let’s dig a little deeper. Every month besides April and December came in under $3,000 total. February actually rung up at a negative number! (Gotta love those tax returns). April hit $3,987 for the month. About a 33% increase over my typical month, but still nothing completely outrageous. The extra spending in April can be attributed to two things: my trip to North Carolina at the end of April (mostly out of pocket), and broker fees/first/last/security for finding a new apartment. Trust me, we looked for no fee apartments first!
December rang up at a massive $13,253! Before you judge me too hard, let’s take one purchase out of that month. A car. In December, I bought a car for $10,000. Cold, hard cash. After that, December becomes a very reasonable $3,253. I’m happy with that number, understanding that December is usually a bit more expensive, mainly from the holidays and everything that comes with them.
The biggest steps I need to take here are sticking to my budgets. Every month of 2016 (besides February of course), I was over budget. Every. Single. Month. I mean, I have really strict budget, and it wasn’t by much, but still, not meeting my target budget for almost the entire year is totally unacceptable. 2017 will be about buckling down a bit more, making realistic goals, and timing expenses to better line up with my budget.
The other major change for 2016 was finding a side hustle! I know I haven’t posted formally on this, but I have mentioned it a few times on the blog. I’ve dug myself deeper into the world of gift card arbitrage. Basically, I’m buying gift cards at a discount, and selling them at a profit. The margins aren’t huge, but this allows me to put a lot of extra spend on my business cards, earning extra points and miles. I started in about March, and was able to move almost $30,000 worth of gift cards for the year! Even on a 1% cashback card, that’s an extra $300. Include my average profit margin of 2%, I’ve “profited” almost $1,000 for the year! I mean, I’m not going to quit my job or anything, but this paid for my trip to the Chicago Seminars and then some. I’m pretty happy with it!
I’d say I did pretty well in 2016, and there’s always room for improvement. I’ll be posting tomorrow about the new goals for 2017. A few changes for this year, so check back tomorrow!