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Home » Personal Motivation, Save Money

A Mandatory Exercise in Tracking your Personal Finances

Last updated by on 11 Comments

As my income has grown, expenses have declined, and I’ve grown more and more in tune with my personal finances and long-term goals – an interesting and ironic thing has happened.

Time has seemingly slowed WAAAAY down.

In other words, no matter how much I stash away over short periods of times, it seems like my progress is moving in incredibly slow motion. I get antsy, frustrated, and lose my patience that things aren’t growing faster. And until the last few years, I really had no sense of my progress other than that my net worth was increasing over time. How fast and soon? Just vague guesses. This led to further frustration and impatience.

So – I decided to begin tracking my personal finances on a quarterly basis.

Nothing complex. A 10 minute exercise at most. And before you label it as a chore and dismiss it for yourself, I can tell you that I can hardly wait to fill it out every three months. Your line items may differ, but here are mine:

  • tracking your financesIndividual Savings
  • Individual Checking
  • Wife Individual Checking
  • Joint Savings
  • Joint Checking
  • Work Deferred Compensation
  • Money Market Account
  • Investment Broker (non-retirement)
  • Employee Stock Value
  • Total Debt (-)
  • Total Value

I also list out the value of my retirement accounts at that point in time:

  • Roth IRA
  • Traditional IRA
  • Wife Roth IRA
  • Wife Traditional IRA
  • 401K
  • Wife 401K
  • SEP IRA
  • Total Value

The two lists contain line items identical to those listed in my usable net worth calculation model. You’ll notice no housing equity listed, because it’s not usable.

Knowing the total values is great, and a huge step up over not knowing them. But, here’s the real key to making this useful: break out your totals every three months. In other words, don’t replace the old totals with the new – keep them entirely separate. And then slap a date on them.

This allows for, at a minimum, three incredibly useful insights that simply tracking totals will not:

  1. How much you are actually saving (after tax) every three months, every year, and beyond. This could be extremely encouraging or extremely discouraging – but I promise you it will be eye opening and inspiring either way.
  2. At these savings rates, how long will it take you to reach certain financial goals (i.e. a home down payment, paying off loans, retirement).
  3. If you are happy with your progress or not.

Maybe you do something like this already. If not? Consider it mandatory. In fact, if you are not willing to do it, why are you even bothering with anything personal finance related? I kick myself for not starting it sooner than I did (ideally, as soon as I started post-graduate employment). Better late than never.

This exercise has pushed me to another level in personal savings. Unfortunately, it hasn’t grown my patience, but now I can see exactly where I’m at and how long it will take me to get to where I want to go. And that’s huge progress.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


11 Comments »
  • Andro Selvin says:

    I’ve been doing this monthly for the past few years in Excel. It’s a nice way to quickly see my net worth. But besides the nice feeling of seeing my net worth grow, it doesn’t provide me with much analytic guidance, since I don’t have a strict budget or set of goals toward which I am saving.

    One problem is that it doesn’t explain where the money went. So months later, I don’t know if my checking account dropped at some point because of big expenditures, or just because I transferred it to savings (ie, a different column in the table).

  • Tim G says:

    Wonderful suggestion, I so enjoy reading your advice. I’ve been doing a net worth statement since I had to learn what one was in Agriculture class in High School (early 1980’s). In those days I was so excited when the net worth finally exceeded $1,000. One suggestion is to use an automated method such as Quicken or Mint. I could not keep up anymore without this program and can pull custom reports etc at a few keystrokes. I love the ability to graph a net worth trend since the 1980’s. Our investments and assets have grown to seven figure amounts and my wife and I are looking forward hopefully to an early retirement by our mid 50’s in a couple of years.

  • RNT says:

    I do something like this monthly. Since I have my budget in an excel spreadsheet broken down by month, I just put my savings/529 account/retirement/investment totals in at the bottom at the end of every month. That way as I scroll through the months, I can see how the totals are changing. Its fun to do it monthly as big months in the stock market can feel like tremendous progress. Of course the opposite is true, too, but with monthly contributions, it seems like things are always at least headed in the right direction.

  • Stephen says:

    I have been doing this monthly as well for 2 years now. I keep the history of every month snapshot of my net worth and I chart it out in excel. It’s pretty cool to see the progress visually in a chart. I also put a horizontal line over a certain dollar level which is my goal and seeing the net worth line creep up closer to it every month is awesome. I also keep a chart of investment accounts only, credit card usage, etc.

  • FatChance says:

    I do this monthly. I list all my accounts and then add them up.

    I do add one thing GE. I add a market index. I started with the DOW as that is what I knew back when I started. I should switch to the S&P 500 but no big deal.

    So at the 1st of each month, I add up all my accounts. I see what percentage the total went up or down and compare to how the DOW has moved. This helped me see how I was doing compared to the market.

    Since I have a mix I do not expect my accounts to move as high as the market on an up month. Conversely, I do not expect my accounts to fall as much on a down month.

    When the market is basically even, I should beat it due to me just adding to the accounts monthly.

  • Gabe says:

    Great topic. This happens to me all the time! I have all these investment plans but with my limited income I just have to sit tight and patiently wait for the market to do it’s things with my investments.

    At the end of last year I started using a income/expense tracking app on my phone so I am anxiously waiting for new years so I can do a yearly report for 2014 and see exactly how much I spend and how much I earned (after taxes) and figure out my total yearly balance.

  • This is one of the things that I started doing this year. Although I’ve done this a couple of years ago, I always fail to continue tracking my savings, expenses, and net worth. I’ve got some ideas reading this post and I will incorporate it in the way I do my tracking.

    For me, it is mandatory for a person to track his/her personal financial status, it will organized the way you spend and use your money.

  • Aldo @ MDN says:

    This is great. I was tracking my finances every pay period and it was driving me crazy how I didn’t seem to make progress. This was so until the end of the year when I notice how much my net worth had grown in a year. I got really excited because what I was doing was actually working all along. I now track my net worth every quarter as well and notice a big difference.

    Tracking your net worth or whatever you want to track every day will make it seem like nothing is really happening. Like the saying goes “a watched pot never boils,” a watched fund never grows?

  • steve M says:

    mint.com

    You’ll have your net worth updated every minute if you want…

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