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How to track and achieve progress?

| October 22, 2018
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Progress can be difficult to achieve.

Even if you believe you are making improvements, how can you be sure? There is but one way. Your net worth.

By calculating it and tracking it, you are able to see, in a snapshot, if you are making progress, and if you are, how much.

Let’s dive deep into what your net worth is, why you should keep track, and how to improve it.

What is net worth?

Net worth is calculated by subtracting your liabilities from your assets. If your assets are greater than your liabilities, you have a positive net worth. On the other hand, if your liabilities are greater than your assets, you have a negative net worth.

Assets:

  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement savings
  • Non-retirement investments
  • Cars, furniture, jewelry, etc.
  • Personal loans you have borrowed to others

Liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loan
  • A personal loan you’ve received
  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Business loans

In most cases, your net worth will increase over time until you reach retirement. At that point, your net worth should start to fall because you will be spending what you’ve saved.

Why should you keep track?

  • Most accurate way to measure your wealth - It gives a “10,000 feet view” of your financial situation. By seeing debt and assets, it’s pretty clear where changes need to be made in order to grow your net worth.
  • Can keep track of your financial progress - If you use debt throughout the month and/or fail to save as much as you normally do, you're number could stagnate. This will force you to reflect and make corrections so you continue your progression.
  • Puts focus on debt and assets - It might feel like you have a lot of debt, but it could be small relative to your assets. Not to say debt is a good thing, but perspective can change your mentality behind it. Either way, get rid of that debt.
    • Let’s flip that quick. Perhaps you think you have a large number of assets, but your debt is also large. By comparing the two and seeing your net worth, you will realize that you need to reduce your debt in order to see your net worth grow.

How can you improve it?

It’s simple really, increase your assets and decrease your liabilities (easier said than done).

Here are some strategies for both:

  • Reduce your expenses - Most people have excess spending that can be cut within their budget. You probably eat out too much or pay too much for entertainment (cut the cord). Cut where you can so you can improve your net worth.
  • Reduce your debt - There are a few methods for this, which I’ve written about in the past - Medium.
  • Increase your savings - This can be challenging for people. The easiest way to increase your savings (I’ve found) is to automate and slightly increase. Set your savings to take place incrementally throughout the year in small amounts. A little in regular increments will add up to a lot over time.
  • Increase your income
    • Ask for a raise
    • Be willing to take on new challenges/responsibilities
    • Side hustle outside of your 9 to 5

Is there a number I should shoot for?

Not really. A number you can shoot for as a starting point is calculated below.

(Age - 25) * (Annual income / 5)

For example. If you are 40 and make $75,000 per year. Your base number would be $225,000. This is only a starting point, YOUR number will be based off your life, needs, and goals.

If you struggled and got a later start than most, don’t be discouraged, just keep moving forward. Or maybe, you plan on spending your retirement years traveling the world. You better believe you will need more than $225,000 for that.

Whatever your situation is, your net worth is unique to you. Do yourself a favor, work hard to meet your number. Save, invest, and pay off debt.

Tools that can help

  • Personal Capital - This program congregates all of your accounts. Bank accounts, debts, investments, retirement savings, etc. Everything is tracked here. With that, you see at a glance what your financial situation looks like. Your net worth is calculated and tracked, and you’re given recommendations on ways to improve.
  • Mint - Similar to the above program. With Mint, you link up all of your accounts (bank accounts, retirement accounts, debts) to one place. Mint keeps track of your spending, net worth, and budget. It also makes recommendations for improving your finances.
  • You Need a Budget - What is does is makes you prioritize every dollar you have. Some money will go towards current bills and expenses, some will be saved for retirement, and some will be saved for future less frequent expenses. The YNAB system costs $6.99 per month.
  • Digit - Digit analyzes your spending and automatically moves money from your checking account to your digit account when you can afford it. Automated, no-brain savings. It does come with a cost - $2.99 per month.
  • Acorns - Similar to Digit, except with an investment component. Acorns uses your current spending to save by taking your purchases, rounding them to the nearest dollar, and saving the difference. That saving is then invested for the future.

How often should review?

At the end of every month, when all of your bills have been paid, your savings, spending has been noted, and retirement accounts contributions have been accounted for. That way you find out how you did that month compared to the last one.

If your number is up, good for you! Keep up the good work! If your net worth is down, you can review your expenses and savings for the month to see where you fell short.

Conclusion

The last thing I want to say is don’t forget to reward yourself when you hit personal milestones. Cutting expenses, saving, and paying down debt (unless your a money nerd like me) can be disheartening. Small rewards can keep you motivated.

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