2020: My Year in Review

by Steven Witter, CFP®
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2020 – A year to remember, or forget? Despite its challenges, when I took the time to sit down and look back on the year personally, it was filled with many beautiful moments with my family. As I worked entirely from home, I could steal a hug or kiss from my girls, a walk with Ruben, or a quick round of nine with Rebecca on our new golf simulator (more to come on that Covid project). All moments that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and for that I am grateful. It was great to see the girls become best friends and begin to really play together. As we worked through the year together, it was eye-opening for me to hear about what went on in your lives. We all endured it, and I think everyone is positioned well financially as we move into 2021. Here’s a look back at our life in 2020, and what we are planning for in 2021.

Financial Topics I THOUGHT we would have in 2020 last year:

  • Are we going to have more children?
  • Yes!
  • My car lease was up in the spring of 2020. We had to decide if we would buy or lease again. If we were to have a third child, we would have to consider a larger vehicle with third-row seating.
  • Luckily we got an SUV with a third-row just in case.
  • Our youngest, Ruthie, was scheduled to go into a toddler program in the fall of 2020, and our oldest, Reese, might have increased from two to three days a week in a toddler program. This was going to significantly increase our monthly costs.
  • Like most parents, Covid put a damper on this. We decided to put the money we would have spent on their toddler programs into their 529s for the year instead. That way, we don’t get used to spending it and also build their college savings accounts.
  • Would Rebecca pick up another day at work to help cover the family’s increasing costs?
  • No, she will stay two days a week, per diem, due to our childcare dilemma created by the bullet above. In the end, we were able to make it work.
  • We were scheduled to be able to pay off Rebecca’s student loans by the end of 2020.
  • And we did!

Financial Topics our family ACTUALLY had in 2020:

  • Rebecca had to take a temporary layoff from the end of March to the end of June due to Covid
  • Rebecca’s limited work schedule proved to be a blessing for the unforeseen need for childcare due to Covid
  • We built a shed – but not just any shed!
  • We rebuilt our savings after our 3rd-floor renovation and reached our savings account goal

On October 17th, 2020, we learned we would be expecting a third baby! It wasn’t exactly the plan, and now that we’re past the shock of it, we feel lucky and blessed to be able to add a third to our family. If you’re wondering whether it’s a boy or girl, let me put your mind at ease because we only make girls in this family! We will have three girls under the age of four come May 2021 (pray for us). Reese (3) and Ruthie (2) don’t fully understand that they’re getting a baby sister, but 2021 will undoubtedly bring a lot of growth for our family. Our golden retriever, Ruben (4) is… rolling with it. Rebecca will indefinitely stay per diem at work with what lies ahead in terms of childcare for us. Someone give that lady a raise!

Like everyone else in 2020, Covid put most of our travel plans were put on hold. Rebecca was lucky enough to escape to Aruba with my sister in early February for a girls’ weekend. We snuck in a two-week trip to Florida in late February-early March just before Covid hit. Looking back on how little we knew about the virus early on, it was scarier than I remember flying home to the unknown. I’m glad we could have that family trip to energize us before the long and arduous year ahead. Otherwise, 2020 was filled with a lot of family time. One of Reese’s favorite things to do was go to “new playgrounds” all over the area. Like most, we poured our time and energy into our house, our backyard, and built a 10’x16’ barn style shed in our city backyard. We do not have a garage or driveway, so this shed was a much-needed addition to house things over the summer like strollers, bikes, and golf clubs. Speaking of golf, I had the crazy idea of putting a golf simulator inside our new spacious shed. After a lot of persuading, I finally convinced Rebecca that it would be the perfect way to practice our swings and have some golf date nights together after putting the girls to bed. A lot of research, building, and test swings later, we have a pretty cool set up and have continued to use it throughout the winter months due to the addition of electrical and heat. The girls love it too because the projector lets us double it up as a movie theater!

In terms of work, we were still able to communicate with clients. After offering a video meeting for years, we finally had a majority of our meetings using Zoom this year. Despite the weird year of the market and economy, the stock market did great. This is why I never try and time the stock market; I never would have guessed it could have done so well during a pandemic. We did get a couple of clients to reach out wanting to make some changes to their accounts due to Covid or the election, but luckily we were able to calm their nerves, and they all stayed committed to their long term plans. I am happy that our clients were well-positioned to withstand it.

In 2020, I completed the coursework and exam to become a Certified Student Loan Professional® (CSLP®) and I am the first in Buffalo and just the 3rd in New York State to get this designation! I did this so I could better serve young professionals. Not only would this new designation help my current clients, but it would help my clients who are parents of soon-to-be-graduates navigate the financial decisions surrounding student loan debt. I feel I can now be more strategic in helping clients with different loan repayment programs, public service loan forgiveness, and how to file taxes to maximize student loan debt repayment. Feel free to visit www.studentloanSteve.com to complete our No Cost Review of their student loans to see if we can help. We have found this ideal for anyone who works at a school, government agency, non-profit, or owes over $100k on their student loans.

Financial Topics our family will have in the year ahead:

  • Our third time around, we’ve learned having babies isn’t cheap. We maxed out our Health Savings Account for the upcoming expenses of OBGYN visits, ultrasounds, blood work, and of course, labor and delivery charges.
  • We will start a third 529 College Savings account for baby #3.
  • In 2020, we leased a larger SUV with third-row seating. Good thing we did; it’ll be a full house!
  • Fun fact: about two weeks after getting our new SUV, we hit a deer on the thruway. Thanks, 2020! Everyone was ok, including the deer (we think).
  • Our youngest, Ruthie (2), will hopefully go into a toddler program this fall, and our oldest, Reese (3), will hopefully begin pre-K. This will increase our monthly costs.
  • We are looking into hiring a nanny a couple of mornings each week, which may free Rebecca up to pick up another day at work, or regain her sanity.
  • We refinanced our house in 2020 and picked up a savings of about $150/month. We plan to keep the payment the same to pay the mortgage off faster.

As you can see, a lot went on for me in 2020, and I’ll bet 2021 will have just as many adventures. How many changes did you have in 2020? What were the financial implications? Are you expecting any changes in 2021? It’s important to let us know about any life changes you had or are hoping to have so we can adjust your financial plan and make sure we are still doing the absolute best for you.

All the best from my family to yours. Happy New Year!

– Steve