My 2020 Year in Review
2020. Ok, well, let’s go.
For the last ten years, I’ve written a “year in review” post. I highly recommend you try it. It’s a time capsule that lets you reflect on the past year, appreciate parts of it that were great, and develop a plan for the next year. You can view any of the past 10 years’ posts here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
For 2020 things will be a little different. If you’re a living, breathing human then you can guess why. Rather than starting with my 2020, let’s start with 2020 in general.
What Happened in 2020?
Don’t worry, I’ll keep this brief. No one wants to rehash this year. I’ll focus on just 3 themes from the year that overshadowed everything else: COVID-19, the 2020 US election, and misinformation.
COVID-19 defined this year more than anything else. It required us to cancel travel plans, stay home, physically distance ourselves from friends and family, wear masks, celebrate holidays via Zoom, and funerals remotely. That all happened this year. In March alone country borders were closed, sports were canceled, schools went remote, non-essential stores closed and our lives changed forever.
We’ve been fortunate to stay healthy this year. Both Marilyn and my family take COVID seriously. No one in our immediate friends and family circle has tested positive – one small piece of good news for the year.
If COVID-19 was the actual fire, then the 2020 United States Presidential Election was your neighbor who plays the drums 24/7 to distract you from the screams you sometimes hear next door. You can put headphones on or go outside to get away from it, but it’s still there. It might not affect your life every day, but every once in a while you see a missing person poster taped to an electric pole that looks oddly familiar.
We’ve been fortunate to not be the people screaming – although Japan’s “Please scream inside your heart” slogan for amusement parks is pretty much ? for this year. Instead, we’ve focused on screaming for others – protesting, volunteering, donating, and helping the causes we believe in.
I can barely believe it was just March 3, 2020, that we got together with friends in person – at someone else’s house! We watched the Democratic Primary results come in on Super Tuesday; holding out for Bernie Sanders. Oh what hope we had. Even though we didn’t get Bernie at least the year ended better than it could have.
The Misinformation Wars have started. They actually started years ago, but most of us laughed it off as just conspiracy theories (guilty). 2020 marks an entirely new chapter. A Reddit comment called this phase weaponized cynicism, which hits the nail on the head. It’s people reading what they want to read and spreading it – whether it’s true or not.
Previously the issues the country couldn’t agree on were higher-level topics. These are subjects scientists could prove or disprove, but were harder to explain to normal people (ex: climate change, trickle-down economics). That shifted to clearly-provable misinformation: Is COVID real? Who won the election? Is Obama born in the US? Do masks prevent COVID?
The election is over. COVID-19 will linger for the rest of our lives in some form, but through vaccines and time, we’ll eventually be able to resume a new normal that’s at least similar to pre-COVID life. Misinformation is the spoiler that could drastically change our lives forever. I don’t have a happy ending for this one. We’ll see I guess.
2020 wasn’t all bad! We got Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Star Trek Picard, and Tiger King. Schitt’s Creek swept the Emmys. Parasite won the Oscar for best picture. The Final Fantasy VII remake came out and it lived up to my expectations. We had two months of Some Good News when we needed it most. Billie Eilish swept the Grammys. Kamala Harris became the first woman, the first Asian-American, and the first African-American to become vice president. So many people adopted pets that many shelters are empty. Hamilton came out on the Fourth of July. Harvey Weinstein & Epstein ended up behind bars.
And to top it all off we developed a vaccine for COVID and voted Trump out! The world keeps moving forward.
A lot of this past year has meant celebrating the small wins. Rather than resting after long international trips, we’ve recovered in bed after hectic Costco runs.
Here are my 2020 highlights in tl;dr form:
- January: After being selected for jury duty on the first Monday of the year, I spent 5 weeks full-time on a jury trial learning a lot about trade secrets, patents, and health care.
- February: Went to Orlando for a friend’s wedding, got to see family, and spent 2 days at Disney exploring Galaxies Edge.
- March: Canceled our South Korea/Taiwan trip and spent the month at home learning about this whole COVID-19 thing.
- April: Launched the Minafi Investor Bootcamp!
- May: Camped for two nights off-grid for my 38th birthday just west of Salt Lake City.
- June & July: Lots of hiking and overnight backpacking trips close to home. Secretly thinking “this COVID thing must be almost over, right?”.
- August: Weekend getaway to Aspen, CO for Marilyn’s birthday. Also her memorable gift!
- September: Created a Retirement Simulator and a minimalist journaling app for personal use.
- October: Mostly just freaked out about the election, volunteered, and consumed way too much news.
- November: Started volunteering with Move Humanity Forward.
- December: Went on a 2-week road trip around Utah & Arizona hitting as many national parks and scenic trails as we could (while staying away from people).
That’s the bulk of our year right there! Let’s jump in.
Ha! As I mentioned, we had plans for a 3-week trip to South Korea and Taiwan in late March. We were going to eat delicious food, meet up with some fellow bloggers, and explore the area that inspired Spirited Away (which was Marilyn and my first date!). Due to COVID, we had to cancel everything of course. We did get a full refund for every dollar or point we spent. Now we just have to figure out what to do with 200k Chase points and a small pile of airline vouchers that need to be redeemed.
We canceled a trip with friends to Vegas which is on hold for now. We booked a trip to Long Beach for FinCon that Marilyn was planning to join and we could extend the stay and explore Disneyland. I’m sure we’ll do both eventually later when it’s safe.
As for actual trips, we had 1 trip through the air, 2 road trips, and 4 backpacking/camping trips. I estimate we slept outside our beds about 25 days this year – still higher than expected given the current events. Here are our few trips with my favorite photo from each of them.
Orlando (February): We flew back to our old stomping grounds to attend a friend’s wedding, meet up with family, and check out Galaxies Edge at Disney World. Side note: we were Disney Bounding as Flynn Rider and Rapunzel, although it’s tough to see from this shot.
Upper Narrows Camping (May, 2 nights): For my birthday (May) we found a campground about an hour away that was completely empty. We stayed next to a stream and chilled there for two nights. It was the longest we’d gone without checking the news since COVID started.
Aspen, CO (August, 3 nights): For Marilyn’s birthday we drove over to Aspen to explore a new area, try new food and hike new mountains. We debated this trip for months before deciding to go, but skip eating out, shopping anything else that’d put us in close proximity to others.
Amethyst Lake Backpacking Trip (July, 1 night): An overnight trip with one friend in our bubble. We ended up hiking 14 miles (6,000+ ft elevation gain) on the first day! This was the hardest hike we’ve ever done while carrying 30 lbs of gear. It was beautiful, but the mosquitoes were hell, and we were happy to get home.
Naturalist Basin Backpacking Trip (August, 2 nights): Two close friends and I went out for a two-night exploration of Naturalist Basin. This is probably my favorite overall backpacking location we’ve been to in Utah. On the first day, we hiked up, and explored the area around our campsite and the adjacent lake. We watched the sunset with lake-chilled beers and caught up on each other’s lives until it was too cold to stay up. On the second day, we hiked a loop trail at 9,000 ft – able to leave our heavy backpacks behind and see the sights. If you want a 2-night backpacking trip in Utah, this is my all-time favorite.
Three Divide Lakes Loop (September, 1 night): Marilyn, me, and a friend went on this easy-ish hike. It turned out to be a beautiful day, not too cold and welcomingly easy compared to our previous trips.
South Utah Road Trip (December, 12 nights!): Our biggest trip of the year! We drove down from Salt Lake City to Goblin Valley, Capitol Reef State Park, Grand Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Powell, and The Grand Canyon. Like our Aspen trip, we tried to keep safe by only getting takeout and hiking. We were extremely fortunate that it didn’t snow, our car didn’t break down and we were able to experience these areas with the lowest crowds possible.
My favorite place we stayed was the Canyons Bed and Breakfast in Escalante, UT. We were hesitant to stay anywhere we interacted with people, but the hosts took COVID seriously. They made the most delicious breakfast we’ve had all year – complete with homemade bread and jam made using berries from their garden. If you ever find yourself in Escalante, do yourself a favor and stay there. They also have a cat that’s super-friendly.
What does travel look like for us in 2021? I honestly have no idea. We don’t plan to fly anywhere until we’ve been vaccinated. That leaves us with only places we can drive to that are far away from people: Yosemite, Glacier National Park, and exploring more of the southwest. I don’t expect any of these will be in the cards until at least summer 2021 – and only then if COVID cases are down enough to do it safely.
Events & Entertainment
Since most of 2020 has been spent in our apartment, this list is going to be indoor-focused.
We started the year with a biweekly board game night with friends. That lasted all of 2 months before it moved online – then mostly faded away. Eventually, we joined another weekly game night with friends that we’ll join for some weeks.
When it comes to video games, my favorites were The Last of Us 2, Final Fantasy VII, Ragnarok Online, Hollow Knight, Settlers of Catan, Factorio, Mario Kart, and Among Us.
I loved TLoU2 so much I ended up watching the entire live stream of Girlfriend Reviews playing it through. The game is honestly just amazing – if you like well-told, complex stories in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s worth it.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake was nostalgic like you wouldn’t believe. I remember the night I bought a Playstation 1 back in 1996 and started playing FF7. I played until sunrise. It was one of the only games I played until 99 hours / 59 minutes – where the counters stop. If you asked me my favorite game of all time, FF7 would be my gut response. The remake won’t top that as my favorite game, but it was a very memorable stroll down memory lane.
Some games I replayed this year. I dove back into Ragnarok Online, a super-basic MMORPG I played some in college using a free private server. I started watching Hollow Knight speed runs and reopened my existing game in order to 100% complete it (or 113%). Side note: I wasn’t able to complete the Paths of Pain. Wtf with that area?
For board games, Marilyn and I played a TON of Wingspan. It’s a well-balanced engine-building game where most of the game is building up your own flock of birds. It’s beautiful and simple once you understand it. If you’ve ever played Splendor, it’s similar to that in some ways.
After being introduced to Scythe at a board game night, I picked up the Steam version and played it for a good 80 hours (so far). It’s engine building, resource management and battle all in a single game.
The most recent addition to our games cabinet (well, our Ikea Expedit) is called “Parks” (not to be confused with “National Parks” which is a different game). In this game your goal is to get as many points as possible by visiting National Parks, taking pictures, and accomplishing tasks. That’s it.
What’s next on my games list? More of these board games, playing through Bioshock and finishing Chronotrigger are at the top of the list.
Jury Duty (January): I was picked for a Jury on January 6th, 2020. I spent 5 weeks there with a dozen other people discussing anti-microbial catheter patents and the definition of a trade secret full-time. Prior to that, I set a personal theme for myself to retrain my focus to be able to work for longer periods of time on a task. This gave me no choice but to do exactly that.
Sundance Film Festival (January): Marilyn and I volunteered and watched a bunch of movies! My favorite one this year was Boys State – which is now available on Apple TV+. Sundance this year was amazing. Since we both volunteered we both had vouchers to see movies (you get a free voucher for every 3 hours you volunteer – so we had 8 vouchers each), as well as a pass to experience New Frontiers – the virtual/augmented reality area.
It was a crazy 10 days. 40 hours of jury duty, 25 hours of volunteering and another 25 hours of watching movies and enjoying the festival!
My favorite parts? Seeing movies (obviously), new VR/AR experiences, and getting free food & cocktails. Our favorite spot was a McDonald’s themed speakeasy (w/free cocktails and burgers) for the launch of the McMillion$ documentary about the McDonalds Monopoly scam. Here’s me walking into it back when we were able to be around other people.
Oscar Party: We had our yearly Oscar party where we guess winners and hang out with friends (in early February).
I extended my winning streak for another year over Marilyn with 14 correct guesses (over her very-close 13). I was wrong about best picture, but absolutely loved Parasite, so no complaints there. Jojo Rabbit still wins my heart.
A few other events real fast:
We went to see Dear Evan Hanson in early March. Much more of a sob fest than the soundtrack.
Marilyn surprised me on my birthday with an impromptu friend’s Zoom call for them to sing Happy Birthday. 🙂
I surprised Marilyn on her birthday with 30+ letters written by friends and family and a new plant in our apartment from each of them. The plants and letters were secretly hidden in our guest room, and set up while we were away by our amazing friends who were excited to join in! ???
We switched our biweekly call with friends to a weekly one. Other hangs went remote. We had virtual tiki nights, Among Us games, Jackbox games, online high school reunions, and more virtual hangs. I can honestly say I didn’t feel isolated this year thanks to a close friend group and a constant WhatsApp chat.
Well after lockdown started we watched a live stream of a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance with a cast that included Rachel Bloom, the original Brad, and – yes – even Tim Curry.
For Halloween, we celebrated with Bette Midler and the cast of Hocus Pocus as they put on what was the most impressive show we saw this year organized by volunteers.
In past years I’ve had entire sections on food. We’ve planned entire vacations around eating at places we dream of or exploring countries whose cuisine we love.
We didn’t do that this year. Instead, we ate mostly home-cooked meals with a delivery thrown in about once a week.
We went to Takashi Sushi for our anniversary (February 25th) where we ordered every single thing we wanted without pause – something we rarely do. Looking back I’m even more grateful we went all out.
Mahider Ethiopian Restaurant has been our go-to restaurant for takeout during the pandemic. A $100 order usually lasts us 8 delicious meals.
We ate out exactly once since the pandemic started at Veneto (June), an upscale Italian restaurant. With a prix fixe menu and wine pairings, it was a stark shift from the months we’d spent eating takeout in our pajamas. It was amazing, but we still felt guilty putting a server at risk so we could eat. This was the only time we ate in the presence of anyone else this year (aside from our B&B in Escalante).
Most of our meals and experiences were homemade. We made empanadas (well, I was mostly there for emotional support), pad thai, dim sum from scratch and a lot more. Our biggest takeaway from making these? They’re a lot of work! We’ve realized which meals we’re OK paying for and which we’d rather make at home.
We’ll continue eating at home for now. Luckily just about every restaurant has takeout and delivery!
Movies & TV
We watched so many movies this year. We started the year by seeing a bunch at Sundance which I tracked on Letterboxd. Here are 5 of my favorites:
- Boys State – 5/5 – Lord of the Flies meets politics in this documentary about high-school boys forming a government in Texas. (out now on Apple TV+).
- Impetigore – 4.5/5 – This Indonesian horror movies includes nodes to southeast asian ghost stories with a hint of Midsommar.
- Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness – 4/5 – To quote from Letterboxd “Imagine a world where convicted criminals go on live-stream, game-show television, beg their accusers for a pardon, and where viewers vote by text message to determine how the blood money is settled.” This is based on an ACTUAL SHOW that happens in Iran where Blood Money is settled – something I didn’t know was real until watching this movie.
- The Truffle Hunters – 4/5 – A heartwarming documentary about older Italian men and women who hunt for elusive white truffles (out now to stream).
- The Mole Agent – 4.5/5 – Un this documentary, the son of a woman in a retirement home hires a retired elderly man who answers a classified ad to go undercover and see if his mom is being mistreated. The result is a combination of magic, exposé, and unexpected connection. Marilyn saw this one at Sundance and raved about it. I watched it too once it was on Amazon to rent.
- Takoyaki Story – This is a trippy 2-minute video worth watching (and even better high).
The funniest story from Sundance this year was one movie we just did not enjoy. Out of respect for the cast and crew, I won’t say which. At one point Marilyn fell asleep next to me. What came to my mind at that? I was jealous that she found a way to escape this movie. When I mentioned this on the way home (after she woke up) we were both in tears laughing. Next time we’ll just walk out – even if it means waking her up.
Onward was the last movie we saw in theaters (March 14th).
We saw Tenet (3.5/5) at a local drive-in. It was our first ever time at a drive-in and we’d go back without a doubt. We picked up a Little Ceasar’s pizza, brought water and soda, and had a fun time. Our only recommendation for next time: wash the inside and outside of our windshield.
The rest of the movies and TV we saw this year were at home. Here are my favorites:
- Eurovision: the Story of Fire Saga (5/5) – I’m not a huge Will Ferrell fan aside from Elf, but this was my favorite movie of the year. It was the lighthearted fluff I needed. It’s just as good a second time.
- Over the Moon (5/5) – This animated feature pulls at the heartstrings and has the music to back it up. Featuring an all-star Asian cast and the vocals of Phillipa Soo (Eliza in Hamilton) it’s a new timeless classic.
- Weathering with You (4.5/5) – This animation from Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, 5cm Per Second, Garden of Words), follows a high school boy who runs away to Tokyo only to find a new family and an unusual friend with a special power.
- Host (5/5) – Not to be confused with the South Korean Host, Host (2020) is a recording of a Zoom call where a group of friends hires a medium for a seance to have a little fun during COVID-19. The entire movie happens from these recordings and had me glued to the screen. It’s not a great movie, but its novelty felt perfect for the year.
- The Old Guard (4/5) – Highlander with Charlize Theron.
- Palm Springs (4/5) – Groundhog day with Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. What more do you need?
You can see more ratings from his year on my Letterboxd.
It’s harder to narrow down my favorite TV shows to just 5. We watched a lot of shows this year. Many of these we watched during the day where I’d program and Marilyn would draw and paint with watercolors.
- Dark (5/5) – Imagine a time travel TV series that’s so complex it’s like a ball of yarn that’s been through the dryer. Over 3 seasons you unravel it to where everything makes sense… somehow. This was my favorite show of the year.
- The Mandalorian (5/5) – I prefer Star Trek to Star Wars overall, but I’ve enjoyed The Mandalorian even more than Picard or Discovery (sacrilege!). Every episode feels like a samurai space western – which is the perfect vibe from the original trilogy. I’m surprisingly excited about the new series in the same universe.
- Schitt’s Creek (5/5) – Lighthearted and fun through every season. When it won every single Emmy award this year we were about halfway through the series but were starting to understand just how great a show it is.
- Dash & Lily (5/5) – I wasn’t expecting much from the teen Chrismas Netflix show, but it ended up being a hidden gem! It’s about a girl, Lily, who hides a journal at the Strand Bookstore in NY with clues on how to find her. Dash finds it and they spend the series trading it back and forth while exploring Christmas in New York.
- The Haunting of Bly Manor (5/5) – Even better than The Haunting of Hill House – which I loved. In addition to a killer story and amazing acting, what set this show off for me was how sad and haunted the characters felt. It didn’t pull away from those scenes – it leaned in and let us be sad with them.
Honorable mentions for Westworld, The Queens Gambit, The Boys, Devs, Outlander, Picard, Upload, The Undoing, The Flight Attendant, The Good Place, My Hero Academia, Outer Banks, Beecham House, Harley Quinn, Parks & Rec, What We Do in the Shadows, His Dark Materials, and too many others to name (we may have spent a lot of time watching TV this year).
Books & Comics
According to Goodreads, I read/listened to ~110 books this year! The number is a few higher since sometimes a book will have a single version and a “series version”. For example Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King, and “The Lord of the Rings” are 4 books on Goodreads, but only 3 distinct books and 1 collection. The following numbers are lower because I’ve tried to remove duplicates.
I usually do a huge post about my favorite books of the year, but not this time. Instead, I’ll do an abbreviated version of that here:
- Books: 64
- Short Stories: 4
- Comics: 32
- Manga: 8
- Read: 49
- Listened: 58
- For Books only:
- Read: 4
- Listened: 58
- Author Gender:
- Men: 84
- Woman: 23
Most of my physical reading this year has been in the form of comics & manga – which has been a whole new world. I’ve never been an avid comic book reader, so everything is new. This year I focused on some classics like Watchman, Sandman, and Maus, while adding in some new comics I was curious about – Monstress, Saga, The Old Guard, and (most recently) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Comics are collections only, with a minimum of 4 issues each. Watchmen, for example, is 1 comic for the entire story.
To organize these I worked on a simple script to move Goodreads data to Airtable. That allows me to analyze them and get this data without too much work. After that, I can filter them or create views based on any criteria I want.
Most of the books and comics I’ve read this year are older ones. I’ve been making my way through the 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy books of all time according to NPR. I’m about 70 books in with a still-very-long 30 to go. I’ll skip doing write-ups for my favorites since so many of them are classics.
Favorite books (here’s every 5-star rating this year): Princess Bride, Doing Good Better, Starsight, Frankenstein, Thinking in Bets, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The History of the Future, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Head First Data Analysis, Small Gods, Going Postal, The War on Normal People, Wayward Pines, Rhythm of War.
Of these, my favorite new(ish) books were The History of the Future, Rhythm of War, and Starsight. Fellow Utahan Brandon Sanderson had a good year!
Favorite comics: Watchman, The Complete Maus, Monstress, Sandman, Legend of Korra, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. All were great.
Favorite manga: Akira, Attack on Titan (I’m hoping to read more manga in Japanese next year).
I have a bunch of books series I’m hoping to finish soon: Poppy War #3, Red Rising #5, Ready Player One #2, Wayward Pines #2 & #3.
I signed up to run a marathon in July. Of course, that didn’t actually happen. That race was canceled and my gym shut down (well, I canceled my membership and don’t plan to return until there’s a vaccine). We have an apartment gym, but it’s way too small to work out with other people. Due to that, I’ve been trying to run more, work out at the gym when no one is there, hike, or even work out in our apartment.
- Running – My main form of exercise in 2020. I’ve been running 10-30 km a week for most of this year. There’s a one-way road close to our apartment that goes into a canyon then becomes foot-traffic only. It’s uphill, but it’s been nice being able to run here without needing to drive anywhere.
- Workouts – Rarely. I did buy a pullup bar for our house, but I haven’t gotten into the habit of using it. Most workouts I did do this year were ~30-minute strength training sessions focused on squats, press, pullups, and bench press at the gym – or a 15-minute bodyweight session in our apartment.
- Hiking – The one outdoor habit we were able to do! The only caveat is that many people here in Utah haven’t taken COVID seriously – which means hiking in close contact without a mask. We’ve mostly switched to hiking on off days or unpopular trails. I track all my hikes on AllTrails if you’re curious. Here are some of my favorites from the year:
- Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons [Escalante]
- Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail [Bryce Canyon National Park]
- Cohab Canyon [Capitol Reef National Park]
- Three Divide Lakes Trail [Uintas]
- Naturalist Basin Trail [Uintas]
- Crater Lake Trail [Aspen]
Loading up my backpack with water, finding a good audiobook, and going for a hike alone is one of my favorite things to do. The unpleasant parts of a hike are hidden, and I can appreciate the beautiful scenery.
I’ve always thought the term polymath was pretentious. It means an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects. The format I like I create things on is digital, but I do have a bunch of interests. There’s nothing in the term polymath that says you have to be good at anything after all – just that you’re curious.
My leading motivation to reach financial independence was to have time to pursue these kinds of projects – without needing to make money from them. That flexibility to learn and work on whatever currently interests me is my favorite part of FIRE. It’s the equivalent to a mechanic having time to rebuild an engine, or a woodworker time to craft handmade pieces. The medium I like to play around in is websites.
Part of what helped me work on these projects was setting themes for months for myself that encouraged trying new things – Explore (June), Empty (August) and Create (April) all encouraged me to try new things in different ways.
With that in mind, here are a few web projects I’ve spent time on during the year!
I spent a lot less time working on Minafi in 2020. In 2019 I migrated from WordPress to a WordPress/Ruby on Rails hybrid which took months, but allowed for me to have a lot more fun. Add to that building out most of the site, posting once (or even twice!) a week. I didn’t track my time, but I imagine it was closer to 25-35 hours most weeks.
2020 was a big change. I did work on Minafi all year, but it was closer to 5-10 hours a week. Some weeks I’d spend more time actively working on a project, but most weeks were quiet. The “big wins” for the year included:
- The Minafi Investor Bootcamp – Completed and launched the 10-course Bootcamp! This was a huge undertaking from a content, writing, and programming standpoint. I’m very happy with the way it came out, and excited by the feedback from it so far. If you want to learn how to invest, it’s an amazing resource.
- The Minafi Fund Directory – A near-complete list of mutual funds and ETFs with analysis for the financial independence audience. This list makes it easy to understand if a fund is “good” or “bad” based on the criteria I and many others in the FI space use.
- The Retirement Simulator – A Monte-Carlo style simulator using web workers based on Early Retirement Now’s data. This was a lot of fun to build and I learned a lot.
- Created a style guide for personal use – a place to list and see all components used across all of Minafi.
- Which Accounts Should You Use to Invest for Retirement? – This is an interactive version of an article I’ve wanted to work on forever.
- Wrote themes for 9 months of the year.
- Create color placeholders for images while loading to increase page speed. You may have seen single-color placeholders for images while scrolling through this post? Those are done by analyzing the image and inserting an SVG of it’s brightest highly used color.
- Migrated Minafi’s newsletter from Drip ($600/yr) to Sendy ($10/yr).
- Podcasts – I was fortunate to be on a few podcasts this year! These were a combination of people I met at FinCon in the past year and people that asked podcasters to have me on.
- Hack Your Wealth – How personal tragedy motivated this engineer to achieve financial independence and retire early, with Adam Fortuna
- The Money Answers Show – How Bad Could It Get? The Money Answers Show with Adam Fortuna
- Investing for Good Podcast – How To Retire Early By Investing In The Stock Market With Adam Fortuna
- Interviews & Mentions:
- BadCredit Interview
- Detailed.com top 50 Finance Blogs
- Camp FIRE Finance mention (for my article Does This Mean the End of the FIRE Movement?)
- MoneyWise profile
- Apex Money a few times!
- Collecting Wisdom
- Physician on FIRE Sunday’s Best
- How to Money’s Personal Finance Resources for 2020
- Personal Finance Blogs
- Meetups – 2020 was the year of the remote meetup.
- FI Seekers / Stanford FI Meetup: Adam from Minifi.com (December 2020)
Not everything I wanted to do was completed this year. I had a different vision for the fund directory where it showed up-to-date prices that I scrapped. I planned to write about 12 themes for the year but only wrote 10. I started an interactive post about the S&P 500 using scroll jacking to animate a visualization that is still in the early stages. I stopped collecting social shares since they never worked reliably (the counter on the side now shows views instead). I disabled sections of Minafi that were fun to make, but ultimately not used. I brainstormed and prototyped ideas for book sections and investment platform sections that may happen someday. I soft-launched the Bootcamp rather than making it a marketing blitz.
After watching every single Refactoring UI video, I’ve started to feel a little more comfortable using Sketch. While I don’t consider myself a designer and the organization and layer names of my prototypes would make anyone scream, the process of laying out what I want to build always makes for a better end product.
I’m still happy with how it all turned out. Minafi isn’t an overnight success, but that’s OK too! It’s a fun place for me to write about my experience in FIRE, create helpful tools, and make friends. I don’t see any of that stopping anytime soon.
One of my goals for 2021 is to learn how to actually make a little money from Minafi. I’m treating this as an educational goal rather than a “make money” goal.
The 2nd most active project I worked on this year is a website I’m calling Productist. It started as a way for me to track what I worked on to focus on productivity. I had a whole system with points and metrics to encourage myself to be more productive. I created it, launched it for personal use and… used it for a week. It was awful.
It required me to constantly enter things I did throughout the day. There were metrics for how many points I had in a given area over time, but no part of it made me feel “productive”. It was just a lot of work. I killed it off almost immediately.
From a technical standpoint, it was still a great learning experience! It used the same Ruby on Rails / Vue.js structure as Minafi, but with GraphQL for the API layer (which I can now say I understand) and Tailwind UI on the front-end. I built the first version in a week and deployed it to DigitalOcean, which involved learning how to manage my own server. It was the right combination of factors just outside my comfort zone that allowed me to learn new things while still being mostly familiar.
At some point, I remembered an article I read a few years ago about minimalist journaling. It immediately clicked and felt like the “right” amount of tracking. I refactored the app to focus on that and have been using it daily since September!
Using this app has been a lot of fun. Whenever I have an idea to make it better I pull up the code and tweak it, deploy it, and start using it. Since it’s not used by anyone else, I can take improve on it over time.
One of my goals for 2021 is to turn this into a widget I can see and use on my iPhone. That feels like a nice “next step” for this project.
One thing I wanted to track on Productist was my own “productive time”. This is a bucket of time that includes any time spent learning, creating, or exercising. This is the time in the upper left corner of the box above (with the little leaf next to it).
But how do I get my productive time? More importantly: how do I get my productive time without needing to track my time? I knew I didn’t want to constantly need to enter tasks using Toggl or Harvest. That led to look for background trackers instead.
RescueTime is the 800-lb gorilla in the room of tracking. They have Mac and iOS apps, an API and they allow tracking for everything I wanted. I signed up, installed it everywhere, and started using it.
And I couldn’t stand it. It took a lot more time than I wanted to track everything, which meant I still wasn’t getting a good idea of this.
I remembered an article I read on the Canny blog about how the founder was tracking her time. She used Qbserve, a Mac App, for tracking time in an unobtrusive and automatic way. You can easily set rules to mark activities as productive, neutral, or distracting. It also makes tracking offline time by category a painless process. Ran for an hour? Add that as an offline activity.
The cherry on top is that it’s a one-time purchase of $29. Much better than a monthly fee with RescueTime.
Since it’s all local, there’s no easy way to get that data online. All data for Productist starts on Exist, which meant syncing my local Qbserve to there. I did that with a quick Node.js script that runs every 15 minutes in the background cron job. Behind the scenes Qbserve stores all data in a local SQLite database making it super-easy to query.
The result of all this is that I update Qbserve, which updates Exist every 15 minutes and then Productist pulls in data every hour. My Chrome start page uses Productist and shows those numbers!
Ragnarok Online Market Tracker
Not every project I worked on was a beautiful, useful website. The MMORPG I played had a marketplace with an API to get everything for sale. So of course I created a website that allows for tracking item prices over time and would alert me when items were priced far below market price.
This was a quick and easy site I was able to build and launch in a day, then improve on over about a month. One of my favorite parts of the API is that the images for the items came back as data URIs. This allowed me to save all icons in a database and show them without needing to worry about storing files somewhere.
I’ve since disabled the website, but it was a fun project in the early days of quarantine.
Goodreads & Book Trackers
As much as I love Goodreads, it has problems. One of those is that there’s no easy way to export your books!
Side note: In working on my end-of-year review I learned that Goodreads has begun disabling their API. ? This still works if you got an API key earlier, but is no longer reproducible.
I’ve been reading a lot about the recent “no-code” movement lately. The idea is to be able to build websites without writing code. Instead, you use tools like Zapier, Integromat, Airtable, or Webflow. This allows moving data around between APIs and pulling data from Airtable to create a website.
Using Integromat I got an integration working that would move my books from Goodreads to Airtable. Tell me, does this look easy to understand?
The answer is no. Well, it’s easier to understand than code, but that doesn’t make it better. This worked but it kept breaking. I spent a week on and off learning how to work with no-code tools. It also required upgrading to a higher plan and paying $10/month. Airtable too quickly hit the limit and needed a $10/month upgrade. Organizing which books I read wasn’t worth $20/month to me, so I looked for another alternative.
I found a Ruby project that did the same thing. I forked it, downloaded it, tweaked a few variables and it worked. It took less than an hour.
As much as I love the idea of “no-code” tools, they have their downsides. For one, they’re more expensive. There’s also still something to learn – even if it’s not code.
I do like the idea that it makes maintenance much easier. If I was creating something with the intention of handing it off to a non-technical user, no code would be a good option. For my own personal projects, I’ll stick to code.
Phoenix Live View Exploration
Ruby on Rails has been my go-to backend programming language since 2009. 11 years is a lifetime in the development community! I still love rails, and it’s where I’m most productive.
At the same time, I don’t want that to be the only thing I know. Many Ruby developers I know have been learning Elixir (language) and Phoenix (framework). I took that as a vote of confidence and decided to learn some Phoenix LiveView.
I originally wanted to build Productist in LiveView, but eventually settled on Rails/Vue/GraphQL mentioned above. Even though I haven’t built an app with Elixir, I’m not ruling it out for a future project. Putting in the time to learn some basics got me excited.
AdamFortuna.com is my very-old personal website I used to write on. It’s a static site generated using Middleman and hosted on Amazon S3 for pennies a year. It’s also very neglected.
My favorite part of this site are the photo essays – digital scrapbooks for adventures and events. I spent weeks creating one detailing our first ever trip to Japan back in 2014. There’s something about having these organized series to look back at that brings me joy – especially in 2020 when we weren’t able to adventure out.
After looking into a few options, I explored moving my static site to a WordPress, Genesis site with some plugins for travel. I even got as far as putting it up (on a dummy subdomain) so I could try moving a few posts over to see how it would go.
Looking at this site now, it’s actually not bad! It needs a lot of work, but the direction is there. Moving over just one photo essay made me realize just how much work it would be to migrate everything. I’m not ruling this out for later, but for now, it’s on the back burner.
While working on the AdamFortuna.com revamp I got annoyed at WordPress. That’s a reoccurring theme in my life since I created my first WordPress theme back in 2005.
That made me think: “What if I started over? What would an ideal travel website look like?”.
Around that time I ran into this really neat exploration into using maps together with images and text and got really excited about it. I wasn’t planning on building something as polished, but I liked the idea of being able to take a hike from AllTrails and annotate with a story and photos.
After some experimentation I got it working together with Forestry.io. That allowed me to write the text and upload the images in the browser using Forestry rather than doing everything locally with Markdown (like I have to do for AdamFortuna.com). Images are uploaded to Cloudinary and the site is hosted with Netlify. Submitting a form on Forestry triggers a rebuild of the website – allowing it to be deployed without using the command line. I’d never used any of these tools before, but it was fun to see them all click together.
The missing piece was figuring out how to download a hike from AllTrails and shoehorn it into a website using MapBox, the GPS data from the photos, and tying together the scroll position on the page with the GeoJSON route shown as an SVG line overlay.
I even found a neat novelty domain for the project: SeekAd.ventures! I prototyped it all up and it worked! (kind of).
If you check it you’ll notice it “works”, but it’s not the best experience in the world. There’s a lot of room for improvement: overlaying the map behind the text, smoother scrolling, smaller images, using a single SVG map rather than all of MapBox – actually writing the story about the hike.
This was an amazingly fun learning experience in a very short timeframe. According to GitHub I started working on this on August 23rd, registered the domain on August 25th, and stopped on August 31st. I haven’t touched it since.
I still love this idea – a travel site that showcases your journey. If I were more ambitious I would try to turn this into a service that allows other people to share their journeys. Something similar to Maptia, but for anyone. Maptia is absolutely beautiful. I’m not often amazed and impressed by websites, but this one does it. Once I found it I stopped working on SeekAd.ventures since they’re doing something similar but 100x better than a part-time project of mine could achieve.
I might pick this project up again later. Just writing about it makes me think of some new ideas!
Volunteering with Move Humanity Forward
During the election, when I wasn’t obsessively checking the news, I was text banking to help Biden win Swing states. The states I volunteered for – Texas and Florida both ultimately went the other way. The strategy-optimized part of me felt like I wasn’t making the type of difference I wanted with this type of volunteering.
That led me to seek out volunteering projects where I could use my most useful skillset: making websites. After running through a list of options – major candidates, Georgia elections, the DNC – I stumbled on Humanity Forward. HF is a non-profit initiative started by Andrew Yang focused on (among other things) cash relief to individuals.
I didn’t take Andrew Yang too seriously during the Democratic primary. His message seemed to be “universal basic income!!!!” but wasn’t given time for much explanation as to why. Reading his book, The War on Normal People, showed the real reason why.
The book is worth reading, but the premise makes sense: as the United States shifts from an industrial economy to a technological economy, wealth will continue to be transferred from rural American factory towns to technology hubs. Blue-collar jobs will continue to be lost – causing many to lose a sense of self, confidence, and even family options.
The solution for this isn’t universal basic income – or at least not alone. It involves retraining, rebuilding communities, and refocusing money away from big tech to small players. It’s one of the reasons two of my goals for 2021 focus on thinking locally and giving less support to big tech.
When I found out Humanity Forward had technology a team focused on organizing volunteers to maximize skills I jumped at the chance to help. It’s a small team of front-end developers, back-end developers, product managers, and UI/UX developers with the same mission.
I’m still new, but it’s been fun working with a team again. Especially one where I can take on as much or as little work as I want. It’s been an opportunity to learn Python, SQL Alchemy, and Docker so far – with Google Cloud Platform next on the list. I plan to continue chipping in here, spending more time when I have fewer other projects.
Here’s the thing: I’ve tried to learn iOS development more times than I can count. I took the online Stanford course on it, I took a community college course on it, went to WWDC with coworkers, and even co-hosted a podcast (iOS Bytes) about iOS development while at Code School that hit the top 10 technical podcasts on iTunes.
I even created an app – one that provided a menu for Epcot’s Food and Wine Fest and allowed you to check off what you tried.
Part of the reason is that I’ve never thought of an App that I really want to build. For years I’ve focused on creating educational content for coding and I’ve never felt like mobile was optimal for that.
Between widgets finally coming to iOS, M1 Macs being able to run the same app, and wanting to turn Productist into a mobile app, I finally have an idea that’s motivated me enough to really learn. I’m making my way through the iOS & Swift – The Complete iOS App Development Bootcamp on Udemy, which has been great so far. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m getting there.
Spending & Investing
Oh right, this is a finance blog. I’ll wrap the year up with our spending and finance numbers!
Our spending for the year is right at about $79,000 for the year. Our target spending is $80k, which looks like we’ll be right on by year’s end. Minafi’s expenses were large for the year since they included some educational tools and prepayment for multiple years of hosting at Dreamhost (for the WordPress site).
Side note: I’ve hosted websites on Dreamhost for 14 years now (!). I bought another 5 years of hosting for about $7/month. It’s worth it for unlimited WordPress hosting for multiple smaller sites.
The biggest expenses include:
- Home: 33% / $27,000
- $25,200 of that is our rent.
- Food & Dining: 15% / $12,000
- Groceries: $7,000
- Restaurants and takeout: $5,000
- Health & Fitness: 10% / $8,000
- Health: $6,700
- Health Insurance: $4,200
- Dental Insurance: $600
- Tooth replacement: $1,000
- Fitness: $1,300 for Ski gear, CrossFit, various apps and Yoga
- Health: $6,700
- Travel: 8% / $6,400
- Orlando & Disney Trip: $2,000
- Aspen Trip: $1,200
- South Utah Trip: $2,600
- Backpacking & camping (including gear): $600
Those 4 categories make up 66% of our expenses. Health insurance was about $350/month – much lower than we budgeted for which was a plus. Our travel category includes every dollar we spent on those trips – from meals to alcohol, to lodging, boarding for Lily, and more.
Whenever I compare our expenses with other bloggers I always think “how do we spend so much?!” Then I dig in and realize that everything we spend money on is something in line with our values. That’s especially true this year when we hardly spent any money on “stuff”.
Side note: I haven’t categorized transactions for a lot of December and instead defaulted them to “shopping”. If I looked closer I might be spoiled on a gift!
On the investing front, it’s been an amazing year. The S&P is up 14.62% at the time I’m writing this. International stocks are up 8.24% and Bonds are up 7% for the year.
Our asset allocation is a combination of these somewhere around 35% bonds and cash, 45% US stocks, and 20% international stocks. That resulted in our return for the year at 10.97% (as of December 24th)! (Update: Our YoY returns are 11.94% as of 12/31/2020). That’s an amazing return for the year – especially after the drop in March.
Just about anyone who had money invested this year and didn’t panic sell made money. It’s just a matter of how much. We started the year with a balance of $2.18m and ended the year with $2.32m (!). That’s a gain of $142,000 + the $80,000 we spent – the $6,000 we earned for a total stock market gain of about ~$220k for the year. That checks out with the ~12% gain YoY.
We ended up with about $580k of stock sales, mutual funds sales, interest, and dividends throughout the year. Since it had a capital gain of only $50,000, we’re still in the 0% capital gains bracket. These sales were done mostly to take advantage of tax-loss harvesting in March and then immediately reinvest the proceeds into a similar, but substantially different fund (which you have to do if you tax loss harvest). I was able to finally sell some other shares that appreciated at no cost due to other funds being down.
If we did our math right, our tax bill for the year should come out to $0 federally plus a small state tax bill of around $2,500 (or less). Our income is also low enough that we earned a $350/month subsidy on our health insurance. Since we paid over $300,000 in taxes over the past 2 years I’ll take what I can get.
I wrote an article about how we spend $80,000 a year and pay $0 in taxes if you’re interested in how this all works.
From an investment standpoint, I don’t expect much to change with our approach in 2021. We have 6.5% of our portfolio in speculative investments right now – split between Disney and Pluralsight. Those will be the first to sell off in 2021 when the new tax year starts. We’ll refill our cash buckets back up to $240,000 (3 years of spending) while staying in the 0% tax bracket again in 2021.
The biggest question on my mind is our spending. We spent $80k this year even without any large trips. I’m not sure what that means for us long-term. Maybe we’ll want to increase our yearly spending up to $90k/yr – which would mean we’d need to earn a little income or see the stock market rise. Technically with the market’s rise this year we could withdraw $90k/yr and still be at a 3.86% withdrawal rate. We’re still trying to stay under 3.5% which gives us breathing room during years when we want to spend more.
3.5% of our current portfolio value (as of 12/31/2020) would be $81,408.74. That’s the yearly spending we’ll target to stay under in 2021.
For now, I’m OK saying putting an asterisk on 2020 and using it as a learning experience. It’s crazy to think this was our first full year retired together drawing down from our investments. Of all the years to do it, right?
Aside from eating fewer sweets after finishing off our Christmas haul, the start of 2021 will be the same as the end of 2020. I’ll keep working on random projects, writing and creating tools here on Minafi, and spending time with friends and family.
What about you – what did you enjoy from 2020? What are your best memories from the year? What would you like to start, stop or continue doing in 2021? Let me know in the comments.