Net Worth: A Number Worth Tracking
I’m a big fan of measuring things. I’ve had three different Fitbit’s over the past five years. I love looking at the data in the app to see progress over time. It gives me motivation in one form or another, and trends matter! We can easily get caught up in the day to day monotony of life and lose sight of the bigger picture. But, a good question to ask is are the steps we’re taking moving us forward, backward, or sideways?
One way to measure whether or not progress is being made is to track it over time. I started tracking our net worth in January 2016. I was encouraged to do so by my co-worker, Mike Johnson. In the first few months it was not that exciting, but as time progressed, I started to realize the value that comes from tracking your net worth. It gave meaning to all the budgeting that we had been doing, and the savings and systems that we had put into place over the years. Baby steps are great, but there comes a point when you are stuck in the middle of a goal for an extended period of time, or your son ends up in the hospital for a few days which knocks you down a step. These things happen in life, but as you track your net worth, hopefully the long-term trend continues upward.
Let’s look at the components of net worth and how to begin tracking them…
Net worth is a pretty simple formula. Assets - Liabilities = Net Worth. That’s it… but lets look deeper into assets and liabilities to bring clarity to what you need to track.
Anything that has value, could technically be considered an Asset.
Bank Accounts (checking, savings, money market accounts)
Retirement Accounts (401Ks, 403bs, IRAs, Roth IRAs, etc.)
Investment Accounts (non-retirement investments)
Home (Market value - I’m usually conservative with this number and don’t change it more than once a year)
Autos (be careful here, they depreciate fast! I also only update these about once a year. You can find the value of your car using a site like kbb.com)
Collectibles (How much would someone else pay for these items?)
Liabilities would be any debt obligations that you have.
In order to track all of these, you need a place to do so. This can be a simple Excel spreadsheet, Google sheet, or piece of paper. YNAB even has a Net Worth report. I found it helpful to actually keep this in it’s own spreadsheet. I’m in YNAB almost every day and I like the fact that I have to step back once a month to look at my net worth spreadsheet, update it, and think about it.
Once you have a place to put the numbers, it’s a matter of listing out all of the various components, updating their values as of X date every month, and then noting the total net worth. After awhile you can put together a chart like you see below. I share this with Kelsey every year at our Family Playbook meeting. She has access to it all year, but is not near the numbers nerd that I am (once a year is plenty for her).
You can find a similar template by searching in Excel for “net worth.” the Personal net worth spreadsheet is the first thing that comes up. I simply added another sheet to track month over month. List out all the months in Column A and in Column B your net worth. Then create a line graph. Over time you will see the line populate.
What’s the point nerd boy?
The point is taking control of your financial life. What gets measured gets results. As you put the time into looking at your net worth every month, you’ll start to care about the direction it’s headed. Obviously you should have some long-term goals for your money other than watching your net worth grow, but the tracking of your net worth will provide you with a check in point every month. A culmination of all the spending and savings decisions you’ve made since the last time you checked in.
Sometimes (like 4th quarter 2018) you’ll lose some money do to the volatility of the market. It goes down and it goes up, but getting the snapshot of your whole net worth, not just investments can take the sting out of a bad market cycle. Although the market was down significantly, my net worth didn’t take as drastic of a turn as the market. That’s because we are saving in other areas than just the market. We’re saving cash in our bank accounts for other goals, and paying down our mortgage a little bit every month as well. It all adds up.
So, if you’re a budget nerd like me, and fight day to day looking at your budget, or you’re frustrated with where you end up at the end of the month, I’d suggest tracking your net worth. You just might fall in love with the process and the insight gained.