Have you ever filed taxes at the end of the year and, when looking at your income, wondered, “Where did all that money go?” Maybe you’ve been working a job for 5-10+ years and have little to show for it. Maybe you’re even in the hole, owing more than you own.
If this sounds familiar, or if you’re just having trouble sticking to your goals of saving a certain amount of money over time, you may find tracking your net worth to be a tremendous motivator.
Your net worth can be calculated using this simple formula: Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth. Assets are things you own that have a positive value, such as cash, your house, retirement investments, and so on. Liabilities are things that you owe, such as credit card debt, student loans, car loans, mortgage, etc..
Let’s look at a very basic example to make sure we’re clear. Assume John has $5,000 in cash, $10,000 in various investments, and his house is worth $150,000. That brings his assets to $165,000. Let’s say he has a mortgage of $120,000 on his house, owes $3,000 on his car, and has $15,000 in student loans.
To calculate John’s net worth, we plug the numbers into our formula:
$165,000 (Assets) – $138,000 (Liabilities) = $27,000 (Net Worth)
Tracking your net worth over a period of time, such as months or years, gives you a look at the progress you’re making. Sometimes it’s tempting to lose focus on your goals if you have unexpected setbacks such as medical payments, car repairs, or just blow your budget for a bit. Taking a longer-term view of your situation helps provide the motivation you need to keep going.
There are a number of ways you can keep track of your net worth. First, you can use Mint.com. If you’re not familiar with Mint, it’s an excellent website for keeping track of your finances and budgeting. All you do is plug in your information for your different financial accounts such as your checking, savings, retirement accounts, auto/mortgage loans, credit cards, and the like. All of this information is sent with heavy encryption, so nobody can see your your passwords or private information. As a computer scientist by training, I feel comfortable knowing it’s all very secure. Once you’ve plugged in your accounts, Mint keeps track of them over time, so you can always look back and see your net worth over any period. One nice feature about Mint is that it even allows you to add your house and will track your home value using Zillow’s “Zestimate.”
Another website that I use almost exclusively for net worth tracking is called Personal Capital. It’s all a matter of preference, but I like the detailed graphs and ability to explore more on Personal Capital than Mint when it comes to net worth. Mint is much better at budgeting and tracking transactions, however, which is why I still use both.
I couldn’t find a good net worth graph example online, so I figured I’d just use our own and exclude the numbers. I only started using Personal Capital in March of this year, so I don’t have as large a range as I do in Mint, but I like the ability to see our story in the peaks and valleys of this net worth graph. I can quickly see how our income compared to our expenses each month based on the paycheck peaks, I can see the valley where we put a downpayment on my car (wish I’d paid cash for a less expensive car, but that’s for another time), where we paused our retirement investing for a short time, where we transferred retirement accounts, and so on. This is fun to look at in Mint as well since I have a longer timespan with them and can see where we were financially leading up to and going into marriage, as well as how far we’ve come since then. Every thousand dollar milestone gets me excited and solidifies the conviction that we’re doing the right things, which helps us stay on track. If I didn’t track our net worth, it would also be easier to make large purchases as long as we could “afford” them without realizing the impact they make to our bigger picture.
If you don’t like the idea of connecting outside websites to your financial accounts or if you prefer the flexibility of running your own numbers, you can also use an Excel spreadsheet to track your net worth. In fact, this is probably the best option which allows the most customization. However, as it will require a lot of manual input each month, it’s not the most convenient.
So there you have it: three great options for keeping track of your net worth and staying motivated. Hope this has been helpful!
If you have any questions about Net Worth, Mint, Personal Capital, or anything else, please let me know in the comments!