Setting SMART Blog Goals in 2018

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January is the time for New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and recriminations. I gave up resolutions years ago, once I learned that around 80% of them fail by February 1st. However, I am a strong believer in goal setting, and particularly in setting SMART goals. The concept of SMART goals has been around since the early 1980s (what I call high school), and originally came from the world of business management. SMART is, of course, an acronym, generally translated as:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time-bound

Across the years, a number of studies have found that SMART goals are more successful than goals which do not meet the above criteria. We have created a set of SMART goals for Poker Pilgrims in 2018. As the website launched only in the beginning of November, our goals are pretty basic. Hopefully we will knock them out of the park and move on to a new set of goals before 2019!

Set SMART Goals

Our SMART Goals

Publish a Post with at least 100 Views by the end of March – Like I said, basic. This goal succeeds at being specific, measurable (via Google Analytics), and Time-bound. We hope that it is attainable, and it will certainly be relevant to our traffic building dreams.

Rather than bore you with how SMART our remaining goals are, we will simply describe each below with a bit of explanation as to why they are important. If you catch us in a goal that is not SMART, be sure to let us know in the comments!

Grow our email list to 100 people by the end of the year – We use MailerLite to collect email addresses and send out our weekly newsletter with post updates. As a new blog that can’t afford to even think about ConvertKit, we have been very happy with MailerLite’s capabilities. Of course, right now we have a whopping 3 names on our list (and one is my daughter!). So building that list is a big goal for the year. We have several ideas about how to do so, which leads us to our third goal.

SMART goals are more successful Click To Tweet

Creating a bonus printable by the end of March – We are already working on ideas for a great budget-related printable that we plan to offer as an incentive for joining our mailing list. More on that soon.

Create a Facebook Group specializing in poker related travel – We’re having a heck of a time finding any existing social media presence for folks who Will Travel for Poker, so we figure we need to create our own.

And finally

Make $500 in blog income by the end of the year – We will talk more about this aspect of our blog goals in future posts, but we definitely would like to monetize Poker Pilgrims in order to help us save for our pilgrimage. We would also love to be able to reduce our reliance on our Main Hustle as we move into our travel years.

So these are our goals for our first full year of blogging. We will check in at the end of March and let you know how it’s going and what we’ve learned from the first quarter of 2018. What SMART goals have you set?

Setting SMART Blog Goals in 2018

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Our First Side Hustles

We’re pretty new to this side hustle thing. We started our first side hustle only 18 months ago. Around then I also started listening to Nick Loper’s amazing Side Hustle Show podcast. The idea of a side hustle caught my imagination. Along with saving money, I saw side hustles as a way to make money that we could send directly to our Poker Pilgrimage budget.

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Side Hustle Central
Side Hustle Central

For context, our Main Hustle is not exactly a traditional office job. We are both freelancers in the area of research consulting and data science. We are lucky enough to have the freedom to work where we want, when we want, for a decent rate of pay. However, a couple years ago we were looking for ways to start building savings for our Poker Pilgrimage.

Given that we are almost always within 10 feet of our laptops, online hustles were an easy place to start. They didn’t require us to leave the house, acquire any goods or materials, or *gasp* talk to anyone.

Our very first side hustle was:

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk is a site where one completes “micro-tasks” for small sums of money. We fill out surveys for the majority of our Turk time. However, we have also done some simple transcription and image recognition tasks as well. Each task is usually quick and pays a small sum of money (most well under $1.00). No one is getting rich on Mechanical Turk.  Having said that, we have earned a combined $1,917 from our Turk work over the past 18 months. We only do Mechanical Turk when we need a work break or have nothing else pressing in the evening. So it is not cannibalizing from our more lucrative earning opportunities.

A positive of Mechanical Turk is that it is run through Amazon. The site is trusted, run solidly, and you can feel comfortable that you will get paid. You can either deposit earnings directly into your bank account (our preference) or apply them to Amazon purchases (how convenient!).

If you are interested in Mechanical Turk, I strongly recommend Michael Naab’s excellent book Side Hustle from Home, which lays out the ins and outs of Mechanical Turk. I found this book invaluable as I started turking . Key among Naab’s excellent advice is how to find the best tasks and what chrome plug ins will aid your side hustle efficiency.  Other Mechanical Turk books have been written more recently, but this was the one that really got us on our way.

The second Mechanical Turk resource that I would recommend would be the Reddit thread Hits Worth Turking For. This thread encourages people to put up the best hits of the day as they come across them. These are the hits with the highest “hourly rate” if you consider the pay and the time spent working. Frankly, these are the majority of hits that Paul and I spend our time on these days. Spending five minutes filling out an interesting survey for $.80 is surprisingly rewarding.

In summary, Mechanical Turk was a great side hustle to start us out. The initial investment was small: a couple of hours reading Naab’s book and figuring out how to get started. However, we would like to find side hustles that offer us significantly better hourly rates.

Mechanical Turk was a great side hustle to start us out. Click To Tweet

Fiverr

Next up was Fiverr. Fiverr is basically a freelancing marketplace. Those looking for work in graphic design, research, voice work, transcription, and a variety of other areas post “gigs.” Those looking for such services at low cost with speedy service then purchase these gigs. In theory, Fiverr sounded great to us. We could bid out the research services that we are already expert at, and people would come to us.

Here’s the catch. Fiverr is named “Fiverr” because their ideal base cost is $5. While five bucks makes sense for some services, it is well below a reasonable rate for survey design or analytics. We had some great initial success with Fiverr, making about $500 over the past summer on a number of projects. We followed some online advice to start with a low price in order to build our recommendations and star ratings. This advice resulted in resounding success….for our ratings.

As soon as we increased our fees to a reasonable living rate (say $50 for a basic survey design) – crickets.  A few more tweaks to change our rates and offerings have garnered no further interest. We ultimately made the decision not to undermine our bread and butter work by essentially giving it away for free. In the future we may explore other freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork, or Freelancer. But for now, we’ve put side hustle freelance research on the back burner.

 

Mechanical Turk and Fiverr got us on the road to side hustling. They were certainly not the end. A future side hustle post will discuss our next forays: User Testing and Amazon Merch (we love our Amazon!).

Our First Side Hustles

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Tips We Use to Save Big on Our Grocery Bill

In trying to carve out savings for our poker pilgrimage, one of the first areas Heather and I attacked was our grocery bill. We wondered how in the world we could spend $700 a month on groceries when we did not have extravagant tastes. Well sure, there was that weekly run to the tony local farm stand which carries a range of goodies on top of those fresh vegetables – expensive cheese and chocolates, nasty good breakfast items like cider donuts and chocolate croissants, and, sometimes, maybe a bottle of wine falls into the basket as well. Additionally, our grocery shopping often left us losing too much to freezer burn and watching forgotten fruit and vegetables morph into science experiments.

To use a poker term: we had leaks in our shopping strategy!

 

Grocery bill problems

What We Did

We combed through our receipts at the start of 2016 to nail down where the fat was hiding in our grocery budget. Changes were clearly in order. Below are the strategies that made the biggest impact on our grocery bill:

  • Identify the Cheapest Local Grocery Store for Stocking Up on Non-Perishables: Our go-to grocery store has great quality food but the prices are a bit on the high side. By switching to a low cost chain (Market Basket for us) for brand name and generic non-perishables, we realized significant savings. We also increased our efficiency by stocking up so we never run out of key items. No more last minute runs to the even higher priced convenience store at 10pm.
  • Restraint and Flexibility with Weekly Perishables: Although we don’t want to resort to daily shopping, we did restrict ourselves to purchasing only the fruit and vegetables we would actually eat over the next 3-4 days. By leaning on fruit with some legs, like mandarin oranges and apples, we could make it through the week. We also bought fruit when it was on sale; grapes and raspberries, for example, can be quite expensive full price but can also be bought at a bargain.
  • Scan Weekly Fliers Before Recycling:  Flipping through the fliers of the four grocery stores within 10-15 minutes of our house allowed us to see what sales were available at which stores. Our favorite cheapest grocery store is not always the cheapest when sales are taken into consideration.
  • Meal Planning: This is a concept that two people straddling a half century on the planet probably should have mastered by now. Sadly, our meal planning was spotty at best and frequently resulted in discovering we were short an ingredient just as we settled in to cook (Hello convenience store!) By actually planning the week’s meals before we shopped, we aligned our dining plan with our grocery list. Less waste, fewer emergency purchases.
To use a poker term: we had leaks in our shopping strategy! Click To Tweet
  • Use that Freezer: Chicken, steak, pork roasts, etc. all go on sale periodically at enormous discounts: chicken breasts can be 60% off when we hit the best sales. Buy large quantities when on sale, wrap in aluminum foil and freeze, and you can have meat for weeks.  Stocking the freezer helps with the efficiency of meal planning as well, as you just need to add accompaniments to your already purchased main course.
  • Make It Yourself: Neither of us is naturally skilled in the kitchen, but we have consistently expanded our skills over time. We decided earlier this year to start making our own chicken salad and baking our own bread and we found it not only reduced the grocery bill, but tasted a heck of a lot better than the alternatives as well. Now we’re also throwing together our own trail mix for snacks, which has trimmed our budget and our waistlines as we replace a bowl of chips with a handful of nuts in the evening.
  • Avoid high-priced specialty markets: Sniff, sniff! Oh how we love that tony farm stand. But $14 for a small box of chocolates – albeit the best chocolates I have ever tasted! – kills the budget quickly. The first step of healing addiction is recognizing you have a problem: I have an expensive farm stand problem. Goodbye overpriced crackers, perfect looking red peppers, fancy frozen appetizers. I can quit you (I may need to find a good 12-step program for this one)!

How We’ve Done

Our approach has yielded decent results so far. Our average monthly grocery bill in 2015 was $591, in 2016 it was $511, and over the past 6 months, it has been $472. That translates to a net savings of $119 per month (20%) versus 2 years ago. We are now saving a total of $1,428 annually compared to our 2015 spending. While we can definitely do more (have I mentioned the soda addiction?), we are well on our way to a more sustainable grocery bill.

Anything we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.

Save Big on Groceries

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Building a Budget for a Dream

Although our Poker Pilgrimage is still five years away, we spend a lot of time thinking about its viability and about building a budget for our dream. We are fortunate to work as consultants and thus know that we will be able to take our jobs on the road.  However, a year of travel (and poker!) will certainly lead to reduced hours, and a wide variety of costs (gas, food, lodging for a start) that are different than those we face today.

Building a Budget
Building a Budget
Image by GotCredit.com

On the other hand, we plan to give up our apartment and one of our cars, as well as taking other actions that will reduce or eliminate costs that we bear today. Our Pilgrimage budget will both help us get an idea of the costs we can expect during our year of travel, as well as tell us how much we need to start saving today for a successful trip.

Building a Budget for a Dream Click To Tweet

While we will offer a rough budget today, we intend to update this budget regularly as we take deeper dives into each aspect of our proposed travel experience. We will categorize these posts in our “Building the Stakes” thread if you would like to follow along as our budget develops. We will also keep our most current budget posted on our Trip Status page.

For our first budget, we share our original baseline estimates for our yearlong trip.

Monthly Budget CategoryAmountNotes
Lodging1800Assumes $60/night at VRBP or AirBNB
FIOS0No cable
Utilities0No Utilities
Phone / Internet Access150Need to Explore Options
Health Insurance (couple)1200Need to Explore Options
Car Insurance (1 car)60
Groceries300Need to estimate
Accounting230
Gas400Need to calculate
Car Property Tax50
Medical100
Dining600Need to estimate
Entertainment200Need to estimate
Gifts200
Household0No household!
Poker1000Need to estimate
Charity50
Emergency Fund100
Total6440

As you can see, we are starting with a very rough estimate. Over time (and a number of future posts!) we will fully explore each of the items above to refine our budget. We will share each of these explorations in a post so that you will learn the financial ins and outs of poker travel along with us.

In future posts we will also talk about how we have started side-hustling to make a little extra cash to start putting away for our trip. And how we work to shave our current budget to get more into savings for our dream.

If you have any questions about the initial budget we are building or why any of our numbers are as they are, feel free to ask in the comments.

 

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