The Year of Budgets

How I Built It
How I Built It
The Year of Budgets

Sponsored by:

I know what you’re thinking. Budgets? That’s what you’re going to base your entire year on.

I know this because that’s what my wife said. But fear not, my friends. Like Transformers™, it’s more than meets the eye.

Show Notes:


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Hey everybody! Welcome to the first episode of 2023. It is Episode 296, and I’m going to talk to you about my yearly theme. My yearly theme is The Year of Budgets and so we’ll get into all of that. And then in How I Built It Pro, I’m going to talk about some of the format changes for the show for this year and why I decided to make some of the decisions I decided to make.

So if you’re interested in that, you can sign up over at You’ll be able to find the blog post, the accompanying blog post for my yearly theme over at the show notes page, So without further ado, let’s get into the intro and then the episode.

[00:01:46] <music>

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:02:09] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right. So as I mentioned before, the yearly theme for this year is The Year of Budgets. Now, if you don’t know what a yearly theme is, I strongly recommend you listen to some of the previous episodes, or even better, go check out the Cortex Podcast. There’ll be a link in your podcast player. And again the show notes are over at

So the year of budgets, and I know you’re thinking, “Budgets? That’s what you’re going to base your entire year on?” And I know this because my wife said that to me. She said, “Are you sure that just having a year of budget isn’t going to bum you out? But fear not my friends, this is more than just fiduciary budgets. Like Transformers, it’s more than meets the eye.

But before we get into The Year of Budgets, I need to grade my 2022 theme, The Year of Retreat. So let’s do that. As a reminder, the year of retreat had me retreating in two different ways. The first is moving away from things that I don’t want to do and where I spend my time unwisely. So that’s retreat, like withdraw. I’m gonna withdraw from the projects and services and communities where I shouldn’t be spending my time.

And number two was make more time for solitude, deep thinking, and growth. This is retreat like a secluded place. And I’ll say upfront that I think this has been my best implementation of a yearly theme to date. I absolutely crushed retreat like withdraw. And I could have done better at retreat like secluded place. But given that as I penned the blog posts and recorded the episode for that yearly theme, I had a one-week-old—I think I did what I could.

So the overall grade for the year of retreat, I’m giving it an A minus. I shot myself in the foot a little bit giving myself an A-minus last year. This year was way better than last year as far as greater themes go, but it wasn’t perfect. So I can’t give it an A. So perhaps moving forward, 2022 will be the gold standard for a minus and anything less than that will be a B plus. And if it’s perfect, it’ll be an A. I can’t see myself giving myself an A but we’ll see, you know.

So I also do have a scorecard associated with the blog posts. On that scorecard I had 15 things I wanted to do. There are checkmarks next to the things I accomplished, stops signs, like red stop signs next to the things that I failed at. And then the horizontal traffic light next to the things that I kind of did.

So first the things that I actually accomplished: charge more for work I want to do, focus on creating quality content, not quantity content, retreat from the WordPress space and replace it with podcast author, speaker, educator communities, coach more people with their podcast, get rid of my legacy web development support and design work, move Done for You Podcasting to subscription-based and land one to two more maybe expand and implement a better process—that one I like absolutely crushed. Grow my mailing list and have better sales automations. Again, did super well there. Take a real vacation. I did take a couple of vacations where I did not bring my laptop, which I’m going to qualify as a real vacation. And go to two non-WordPress conferences. Those non-WordPress conferences were Crafting Commerce, and all three. And then I also went to CaboPress, which was decidedly not WordPress this year.

So the only place I really… I’m sorry, those were the things that got the green checkmark. I only had one stop sign and that was have at least one hour of focused me time. And that was per day, which was aggressive. But I didn’t even get it per week. So firm NO on that one.

And then the things I kind of did, partially did—the horizontal traffic light. Delegate more cut-out work I don’t want to do, create a clear schedule, spend more time in front of the whiteboard, and have one think weekend per quarter.

Again, I think the only place I really failed was spending more time with myself in a work sense. I managed one weekend, which was great. I really wish I did more. And I also did spend more time in front of the whiteboard. But I didn’t do more than that.

So aside from a few evenings to myself… the end of the year especially felt like I didn’t get much me time, like I wasn’t retreating in secludes place in a secluded place sense. I’m also not entirely convinced that I created a clear schedule, at least not intentionally. But I had some major wins that did clear my schedule.

The biggest win was finally cutting out all of the non-podcasting work. So now I’m fully focused on Podcast Liftoff, so much so that I’m also shutting down Creator Courses Effective February 1st. And I’m no longer creating new LinkedIn Learning Courses. My last one is slated for production mid to late February. So by February I will have fully completed The Tear of Retreat.

I also successfully removed myself from the WordPress space, the deeply embedded WordPress community, I should say. I didn’t even know 6.1 was coming out until I got the notification in my own WordPress sites and I didn’t even watch or see anything about the State of the Word.

I replaced that community with several creator and podcasting communities, and it’s been splendid. I feel enriched and re-energized. I feel a mind shift happening. And as a result, I get to see how the non-entrenched use WordPress, making my content around platforms and building a lot more relatable because I’m no longer like, “Well, you will be able to do this and WordPress sooner. This thing and WordPress has happened and you just got to do this really weird hand wavy thing.” I can now tell people how, as a creator, I use WordPress.

Finally, I deeply improved my mailing list as far as focus and growth. I increased it by about 200 or 300 net people. However, if we take the people who unsubscribed because they were not interested in podcasting, and replace it with people who were, it’s probably closer to 700. So I did a really good job of growing my mailing list this year. I also re-implemented a welcome sequence and better automations in the sales sequence. I’m really excited about that moving into 2023.

I delegated more, but not enough. My VA is doing a lot more and I gave her a considerable raise because of it. And I let go of most web-related work. I do have a couple kind of low to no-maintenance clients but I’m probably going to let go of that in 2023 as well.

So that was 2022. Let’s take a break to hear from all of our sponsors and then we’ll take a look at 2023.

[00:10:03] <music>

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Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by LearnDash. Look, I’ve been making courses for a long time. I’ve taught at the college level and I’ve created curriculums for several different organizations, including Udemy, Sessions College, and LinkedIn Learning. When I create my own courses, there’s no better option than LearnDash.

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Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by Paid Memberships Pro, the membership plugin for WordPress. I am so excited to have them as a sponsor because I actually use Paid Memberships Pro for my Podcast Liftoff playbook. I use it because it is the most customizable, I think it’s extremely easy to use, and it is feature-rich. They also have integrations with everything: Zapier, ConvertKit, Mailchimp, Stripe, PayPal so much more. I’m a huge, huge fan of it.

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[00:13:43] <music>

Joe Casabona: Okay, so 2023, The Year of Budgets. If the year of retreat taught me one thing it’s that I’m still stretched too thin. Evaluating how I was feeling at the end of 2022, I wrote down a few ways I was frustrated. So the first way was I was frustrated because of how isolated I felt. I live far away from my friends and family. And while I like my wife’s family and her friends, it’s not the same.

I smoked a lot of cigars by myself, and it got pretty lonely after a while. I’m an extrovert, and there’s only so much me time that I can have. And while I do relish that and I appreciate it, I’m a very social person and so I thrive on social situations.

I’m also frustrated with the inconsistent income. Because of the pivot that I kind of fully completed this year, my books are a little bit uneven as I learn the brave new world of being a podcast coach and producer. And so I felt like at times I was struggling. And then I spent too much as well. I traveled a lot more than I should have. And so my finances are not where I want them to be going into 2023. So I need to fix that.

In my personal life, I’m also frustrated with the fact that we’re not really understanding where our money is going, and those things led to too much stress and that led to fluctuating weight. At the end of 2021, I had lost almost 50 pounds, and I gained about half of that back in 2022.

So because of all the things I was frustrated with, I was going to go with the word “normalization”. I’m happy to say that we didn’t have any new children in 2022 after having our son in 2020 and our daughter in 2021.

And so I thought getting into a normal rhythm seemed like a good way to go. What I didn’t include when I wrote the blog posts, but happened between publishing the blog post and recording this episode is that what should have been the first day of school of the new year for all of my children led to one of my children being homesick. So if I had gone with normalization, I would have already felt like I was starting behind. And that is true when you have children.

So as my kids get older, and we do more extracurriculars, I thought that normalization would be a tough thing to grade. Life changes quickly with three small kiddos and it would be unreasonable to try to grade myself on a scale that could change if my daughter starts doing gymnastics or if the kids’ daycare has to close for an extended period of time, or I used to get the flu and be home for two weeks. Right.

So normalization is tough when you have children. But what I can control is how I use the resources that I have. So I came up with the word “budget”. And as usual, this has two meanings. One is the traditional sense of a budget, the fiduciary sense: stop frivolously spending money, especially when it’s scarce by creating real budgets.

And number two is a little bit more heady, a little bit more hippie-dippie, I guess. And that is properly spend other things of limited quantities, like time and patience by budgeting my own time and emotions and creating better systems.

So let’s take a closer look at the concrete one first, spending money. Last January, so that’s January 2022, we had a lean month where we didn’t spend money we didn’t need to spend. But I fell short of really understanding how much money we spend on variable amenities like groceries and gas. And as my daughter, my youngest daughter transitioned from breast milk to formula to actual food, and as my son is growing and became a garbage disposal, we started buying a lot more food.

And inflation didn’t help. Childcare also increased in cost. It was like at the worst time. It was as my kids were moving up to like lower touch, so lower cost rooms, that they increased the cost across the board. And I either saw a price increase or no decrease. And that happened twice this year… or last year.

And then our babysitter who’s incredible as for raise, which was reasonable. She had been with us for over a year. And so childcare got more expensive.

So this year, early in this year, I want to get a handle on our spending and create a budget for the variable amenities. This includes tracking our inventory better. So I have a budget of what we have in the house or a spreadsheet of what we have in the house so that we spend smartly at grocery stores.

And then having a cap on other budgets like going out to eat or ordering in. Again, this happens a lot during the pandemic where I just ordered everything in. So I want to have a cap on things like that. And if I have a cap on date night, we’re going to have a cap on our babysitter costs.

So that’s the kind of stuff I want to focus on in the beginning of the year. But that’s less interesting and a more common aspect. Like when you hear the word “budget,” the vast majority of people if not everyone thinks, Yes, money, budget money things.

I want to talk about, now, the budgeting other limited commodities, we’ll call it. I don’t spend my time well. I spent two hours today playing MARVEL SNAP. I’m easily distracted, I spend too much time on minutia and then I wonder where the day went. So I’m going to explore a time budget this year.

I suspect, ironically, this will take most of the time in the year to get right. I’m going to experiment. I’m going to try a lot of things. I’m going to time track. I’m going to be mindful about what I’m doing and when. I also find myself short on patience with my kids as a result of other stresses.

So I’m going to find a way to be more patient and practice mindfulness. And this is, again, the most whimsical way that I’m using the word “budget”. It’s really about properly managing my energy and my mindset. Because if I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m annoyed, I’m pessimistic, and then when my kids do normal kid’s things, it annoys me, and I take it out on them. And I shouldn’t. So if I properly manage my energy and my mindset I will have a bigger patience with my kids’ budget.

And so, as per usual, I do have an actions and goals list. In my yearly theme doc, I like to make a list of actions that I’ll add to throughout the year as my goals and things change. And I have a better handle on how I’m implementing my yearly theme.

But here’s what it looks like at the start of the year. One, make a list of places I spend money and time. Two, create a budget for common spending like groceries, outings, childcare, etc. Create time budgets for work and personal time, time-track. I need to time track. That’s a bullet point. Stop spending my time where I don’t need to spend my time. Again, really bad at this. I need to be better. I need to practice emotional budgeting through mindfulness exercises. If that’s meditating, fine. I’ve always been against meditating and napping. But if those are the things that are going to replenish my patience budget, then I will do that.

And then properly budget my energy by really understanding my green, yellow, and red zones. And this is from Carey Nieuwhof’s book, At Your Best, which I’m a big fan of. I strongly recommend it. I’ll link it in the show notes. Because he really does break down all of these things I’m talking about. And this was a big inspiration for my yearly theme.

So those are the actions. And then the goals, which are a bit more tangible, right, more concrete. Put more money in the savings, work on the things I need to work on, be more patient, be in the moment, create a budget to spend time with people so don’t feel so lonely all the time, lose weight, sleep more, have more energy. Sleep more is really like the core of the last three. If you get better sleep, you will lose weight, and you’ll have more energy.

So that’s my yearly theme. I’m excited. I think this is my loftiest yearly theme yet. I do have the ability to look back. So my first one was 2019. That was the year of new content. Did really well there. 2020 I called the year of depth. I believe I changed that halfway through the year because of the pandemic. I changed it to the year of consistency, which I didn’t really give a grade to.

2021 was the year of opportunity where I decided to say yes to more things. The year of retreat, of course, and now the year of budgets. So I do think this is my loftiest goal yet because it’s not just about monetary budgets. It’s about budgeting every aspect of my life.

There’s a lot of ground and I need to be aware of it all 12 months of the year, right? So this is not like… Last year, I could pick a couple of big actions and goals and then count the win. I guess it’s more like football where you score a touchdown and it’s multiple points. Versus this year, I guess it’s more like baseball or soccer, where it’s one point per win and it’s very… you need to make sure that you score to count the win. This is really a loss analogy at this point.

Last year, it was really more mind over matter. This year, it’ll be both, right? It’ll be I need to be mindful to create the budgets, and then the matter or the metal or the willpower to actually implement them. And I’m ready for the challenge. So there you go. That’s my yearly theme.

If you have a yearly theme, I’d love to hear it. So let me know. Write to me. There’s a way to get in touch over at Or you can talk to me on Twitter @JCasabona. I’m also very active on LinkedIn lately.

So thanks so much for listening to this episode of How I Built It, my annual yearly theme episode. If you want to hear about the format changes, which if you stuck around for the entire episode, you’ve now experienced, you can become a member of How I Built It Pro over at

Otherwise, thanks so much to this week’s sponsors, Ahrefs, Paid Memberships Pro, and LearnDash. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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