Your personal net worth is the one metric you must track. It’s your financial scoreboard which shows the net impact of all your financial decisions. Big or small. I’m sharing my personal net worth story to help motivate others to track their own.
My financial story has its ups and down, but thankfully it has an overall positive trend. You may lose some battles, but what matters is whether you win the war.
Consider it the War for Financial Independence.
If you’re consistently making good decisions, it becomes a matter of WHEN not IF you win the war.
One of the beautiful things about tracking your net worth over a long period of time is that one chart shows your entire financial story. You can easily see the major financial events and phases of your life.
In November 2012, I started tracking every single penny I earned and spent. As well as my net worth – which is exactly where this chart begins. But of course my personal net worth story doesn’t begin at the left edge of the chart. What happened at that time to spark this budget tracking?
I moved out of home.
Simple enough. In October 2012, I moved out of the nest for the first time to be an independent adult. However, at the age of 26 I started this journey later than most.
By no means was it my intention to wait that long, but it became a necessity as I simply couldn’t afford to live on my own up until the point. It was the first time I had a full-time job where I made over $40,000 per year. Making less the $25,000 per year before that made the prospect of living on my own very difficult. That is, without racking up debt.
Graduating in 2008 as a Finance major was — how should I say — less than ideal.
Fortunately, I have supportive parents who let me overstay my welcome. Even though my income was extremely low during those four years after college, my expenses were minimal so I was able to build up my savings to just over $50K with no debt. But no investments either.
Moving out of home meant my expenses increased significantly. Even though my income was now the highest it had ever been, it was still barely above $40k. I knew it would be borderline whether or not I could afford all my living expenses.
Which is why I started tracking every penny like a hawk using my simple expense tracker.
For almost a year, I literally broke even. And my net worth remained completely flat. At least I started to make 401k contributions during this time as I never had the opportunity before.
In August 2013, I got a promotion and a raise. Since I maintained my same living expenses and lifestyle, the tide finally shifted in my favor.
Now every month I was actually MAKING MONEY.
My net worth started trending upwards. What a wonderful feeling!
4. Buying a House
In a year and a half, I went from not being able to afford living on my own to BUYING A HOUSE!
I intentionally purchased a property with multiple bedrooms in a high-demand area for young professionals in order to live there and rent it out at the same time. This is why I was saving like crazy while living at home — for a down payment.
My net worth growth now accelerated in FOUR ways:
- Reduced Expenses – living for free since rental income covered my mortgage!
- New Income Stream – not only did rent cover my mortgage but I made extra money each month on top!
- Building Equity – paying down the mortgage balance each month builds equity!
- Home Appreciation – any home appreciation would be an additional bonus!
These 4 factors together resulted in my net worth climbing higher at a faster pace. My net worth skyrocketed from a low of $56K after purchase in March 2014 to $90K at the end of 2014. The initial dip from purchasing the house (due to closing costs and misc repairs) clearly proved more than worth it.
5. Credit Card Correction
As I mentioned before, I had no credit card or student loan debt… but my girlfriend at the time (and now wife) did. At the beginning of 2015, I discovered exactly how much credit card debt.
About $12,000. Ouch.
At this point in our relationship, it was quite apparent that her debt would likely become my debt in the not too distant future. I offered to pay all of it off in one fell swoop.
If you’re thinking that’s a little TOO generous, we actually drew up a contract where she’d pay me back 5% interest instead of 20% to the credit card companies. You know, for protection. But this very quickly became unnecessary.
In August 2015, the big “bull market” that my net worth experienced for the previous two years came to an abrupt end. For a combination of reasons.
I relocated to FL for a new job flipping houses, taking a pay cut from my government job in Washington DC for what was supposed to be a fantastic long-term growth opportunity.
My future wife followed me and we merged our finances. She took an even bigger pay cut to follow me as we unfortunately discovered the job market is nowhere near the same in FL as DC. Plus, she is much more of spender to my saver personality so our overall expenses more than doubled.
Not to mention the actual cost of moving 1,000 miles!
On top of all this, we were also planning and financing our destination wedding / honeymoon in Italy ourselves.
Staying at even was hard work for us.
Just like my initial flatlining phase when I lived on my own for the first time. However, this was significantly harder because it was such a big step backwards after all the progress of the previous two years. Especially because debt payments and retirement contributions meant our bank accounts were trending down.
7. The Crash
Speaking of big steps backwards, the most noticeable part of the chart is where my net worth jarringly falls off a cliff in 2016. You’ve probably been wondering what in the world happened?
I dropped some hints earlier.
Turns out the single worst day in my entire financial life is actually one of the best days in my entire life…
…my wedding day!
Remember how I mentioned my wife had student loan debt. Those student loans added up to over $50k of debt. And just like that MY net worth became OUR net worth and got cut in half.
8. Dead Cat Bounce
After the huge decline there was an immediate short-term recovery.
We had a party back in the US and the gifts essentially paid back the costs for our Italian wedding and honeymoon.
9. Minor Setbacks
While still fighting to stay at even, we had a couple financial setbacks in the fall of 2016. We purchased a car lease out which felt like an absolutely terrible financial decision. Our net worth instantly took a significant hit.
I mean how often do you buy something for way more than it’s worth?
Of course we were way over the mileage limit due to an on-the-road job. So not buying it out would have cost over $2,000 just to return the vehicle at lease end.
We also had a very expensive pet emergency. Another significant hit to our net worth and terrible financial decision in not having appropriate pet insurance.
10. Back on Track
After a year and a half of struggling in terms of net worth, we finally started getting back on track. My wife got a better paying job and just like that we went from battling to stay even to making decent progress.
The one big dip on this upleg was the cost of relocating back to DC.
That long-term growth opportunity in FL didn’t materialize so we moved back to a much better job market. I negotiated relocation reimbursement from my new position, so the cost was quickly recovered and net impact was minimal.
Expenses did increase back in Washington DC simply due to higher cost of living, but the combined higher income greatly outweighed that. Now we are at a point where we’re making the best financial progress in our marriage.
We’re almost back at pre-crash levels and will soon be making new highs!
By tracking your net worth over time, you can very easily see the big picture of your financial story in a single chart. The major financial events and phases of your life jump out at you.
A recurring theme in my personal net worth story is that reducing expenses and being frugal has helped but there’s a limit to how much. It’s been the times of INCREASED INCOME where net worth really starts to take off. The key is maintaining the same level of expenses.
If you’re not currently tracking your net worth, now is a great time to start! Doesn’t matter how you’re tracking net worth — what’s most important is that you ARE tracking it. If you’re looking for help, my budget spreadsheet automates net worth updates for you.