A couple years ago I downloaded the app Mint, synced my accounts and was presented with a rather depressing number:
That’s not the exact number but a pretty close estimate. I was in my mid twenties, had a job making $36,000 a year, had just bought a newish car, and still had around $50,000 in student loan debt. Until that point I had made okay progress – I’d paid off around $20,000, saved up a few thousand dollars in an emergency fund, and was contributing I think 10% to my 401k. I checked my bank account regularly and never overdrew and didn’t have any other debt besides student loans and a 2% car loan. In my mind I was doing about average for someone my age, especially considering I had spent my first two years in the workforce averaging around $9/hour.
Then I moved to another state in the name of love.
I didn’t have a job lined up but had several thousands in savings and was confident that I could find something quickly. Over the next few months I spent my days practicing photography and applying for jobs and my nights driving for Lyft to earn money. A couple months in I got a job selling insurance, only getting paid on commission. My savings slowly dwindled – my stint as a salesman did not involve successfully making any sales, and Lyft driving wasn’t enough to cover all my bills, including car and student loan payments. Eventually I ended up going back to my old company, although with a higher salary. My summer “sabbatical”, as I like to refer to it, was over.
I’d wiped out my savings and was using a credit card to pay my bills, worried that I’d have to take anything offered at that point. I’d also been more productive than at any point since college – my mind had time to work through complex ideas, I could work through large projects without interruption, and I felt rested and free and reinvigorated at rediscovering old parts of myself that had been lost to 60 hour workweeks.
By chance I decided that after returning to a regular job and a steady paycheck I needed to do things differently. One evening I think I googled “best budgeting apps” or something and discovered You Need A Budget. I set it up and began tracking my expenses and planning how to pay down my credit card. I began making transfers to my savings account instead of from it. And one night I was reading the YNAB forums and clicked on a link to Mr. Money Mustache.
I’ve since read every article on that site (many more than once), and probably thousands of others scattered across the internet. They all preached the same message.
The best thing you can buy with money is freedom. Freedom to spend your time how you want, with whoever you want, doing whatever makes you happy. Beyond a certain point, money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy freedom, and freedom can make you happy.
This “aha moment”, this realization combined with the still fresh memory of a time when I really did feel free has been a turning point in my life. It has influenced every decision I’ve made over the last couple of years.
I’ve been tracking my net worth (almost) monthly for the last year and a half. At the end of October 2016 I sit at -$11,603.
I use networthify.com, which is free and gives you some nice charts and graphs. You do have to manually enter in your numbers every month. If that’s not your style and you’d rather have your numbers update automatically I recommend Personal Capital (also free).
As you can see I made more progress in some months than others and haven’t updated it every month (about as “well, that’s life” as it gets!). Even in months where I haven’t paid very close attention to my finances I’ve still improved.
The most important thing is the recognition that changes I’ve made are working, and that I am on the right path. Knowing my net worth has gone from a scary prospect to an empowering exercise, with the added bonus of some day looking back and saying to myself “l was once there”.
Do you track your net worth? Who do you discuss it with? Do you find it empowering or intimidating?