This post is all about tracking your net worth. For those of you that are not tracking your net worth already or don’t know why you should (or maybe don’t know what “net worth” even means), I’ll go over what it is, why you should care about it, and how to track it.
What is Net Worth?
Your net worth is really just a total of all of your assets minus all of your debts or liabilities. It provides sort of a health check of where you stand financially.
Your net worth may be positive but can also be a negative number. Many of us start out as young adults with a negative net worth so don’t panic if you fall into this camp. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago when I finished college with a bunch of student loan debt and no real assets yet myself.
Net worth does not take your current salary into account. It also does not take into account ongoing monthly expenses such as bills for utilities, cable & Internet, car insurance, etc. Below are some examples of what may be considered assets and what may be considered liabilities.
Assets may include things such as:
- The cash value of your various checking and savings accounts.
- Balances in your IRA, 401(k), and other retirement or brokerage accounts.
- Value of your home or any other properties/land you own.
- Value of vehicle(s).
- Value of artwork or pieces of jewelry.
Liabilities include things such as:
- Mortgage(s) on your home or any other properties/land you own.
- Vehicle loan.
- Student loans.
- Credit card balances.
- Personal loans.
Why Should You Care About Tracking Your Net Worth?
Since you’re reading this post, then you’re probably already interested in improving or optimizing your financial situation so that’s a great start! The main reason to care about and track your net worth is to ensure that you’re making progress towards your financial goals, whatever they may be.
If your net worth is either staying the same or going down over time, then this is probably a sign that some changes are needed, such as reducing your spending. Of course an exception to this is during a period where the stock market is declining (assuming a significant percentage of your net worth is in the market). During these periods, you just have to stay the course and remind yourself that investing is for the long haul. There will be many ups and downs over the course of decades of investing.
It’s helpful to think of managing your personal finances just like you’d run a business. Do businesses operate profitably without tracking their earnings, assets, and expenses? Maybe some do but the most successful ones track everything and try to optimize where possible.
If you’re really serious about your personal finances and want to grow your wealth, tracking your net worth will allow you to “keep score” and make sure you’re on the right track. This is similar to when you join a gym and start eating healthy in order to lose weight or get “in shape”. In that scenario, you’ll likely track things like your weight, body fat percentage, number of reps of exercise ABC that you can do, etc. Over time, you’ll want to see your body fat percentage go down and the number of repetitions you can do of exercise ABC go up.
With tracking your net worth, you want to see your debts going down and the value of your assets going up. Seeing your progress over time can be a huge motivator to keep saving, investing, and getting rid of debt. It definitely has been for me! Even if your net worth is a huge negative number (maybe you graduated with $100K in student loans), you’ll get fired up to pay it off even quicker as you see it getting closer and closer to zero every month.
How to Track Your Net Worth
Tracking your net worth is really simple to do. Using a simple Excel spreadsheet is one common approach but there are also other tools and apps for automating the process such as Personal Capital and Mint. I track mine manually at the end of every month using a spreadsheet (I use Numbers on my Mac) but also monitor all of my accounts daily using Personal Capital.
Your net worth tracking spreadsheet doesn’t need to be anything fancy or complex. Start out by listing your various debts in the left-most column. For each month (this could be more or less frequent than monthly if you prefer), add a new column where you track the total outstanding amount for each of these debts. Use the SUM function to output the total of all debts for each month in the row after your last debt.
Do the same thing for all of your assets, listing them out in the left-most column. Add all of the asset values for the month followed by a row to calculate the totals.
Under all of the total assets and liabilities, include a row to output the total net worth. The total net worth is just the total assets minus the total debts (Net Worth = Total Assets – Total Liabilities).
Below is an example of a simple net worth tracking spreadsheet, similar to the one I use for tracking my net worth (I just made up all of the numbers in this example).
If you want to get really fancy, you can add a chart to your spreadsheet so that you have a visual of the change in debts, assets, and net worth over time. Below is an example of what that might look like (this one just tracks the net worth and the debt).
Readers, if you want me to send you the sample Excel spreadsheet (or in Numbers format for Mac), send me a message through the Contact page or send me an email at: moneygato at moneygato dot com.
Should You Include Your Home in Your Net Worth?
There are some that feel that your home should be excluded from the net worth calculation. While I don’t think you should consider your primary residence an “investment”, I do think it should be tracked as part of your net worth. It is an asset that if you have equity in, you can sell and keep the difference between the sales price and what you owe on it (minus any realtor fees, closing costs, etc.). Likewise, if you are underwater on your home then I think it’s valuable to track that in your net worth as well.
In order to track the value of my home, I look up the estimated value on a few different real estate sites (Zillow, Trulia, and Homesnap). I then calculate the average estimated value between the different sites and use 94% of that. The reason I use 94% is that I subtract 6% of the value in order to account for realtor fees and closing costs that I’d owe if I were to sell.
How Do You Value Other Assets Such as a Vehicle?
The value of your vehicle is another optional asset to track. My wife and I have two vehicles and I don’t bother tracking the value of the older one (it’s probably worth a few thousand dollars max). I do track the value of the newer vehicle for two reasons.
- It could be sold for over $20K, an amount that I feel is significant enough to account for.
- At the time we purchased it, I also wanted to account for the sudden drop in our savings account, since we paid cash for it. If I didn’t include it in the calculation, the net worth would’ve had a sudden drop of over $20K that wouldn’t really be “accounted for”.
In order to calculate a value for your vehicle, you can use a similar approach to what I explained above for real estate. I look up the Edmunds.com private party value and use that (I don’t bother checking other vehicle websites).
For a vehicle or any other valuable assets that you want to track in your net worth calculation but you’re not sure of the exact value, the following is a good rule of thumb. What value could you reasonably get for it if you decided to sell it, minus any fees that would be required to sell.
Tracking your net worth is a vital step in maintaining and improving your financial health. If you’re not paying attention to your net worth, it’s possible that you’re not making any progress towards eventually retiring or reaching financial independence. Even worse, you could be damaging your net worth over time without even realizing it.
At the end of the day, you need to spend less than what you earn and invest the difference in order to grow your net worth. We’ve all heard stories about celebrities, athletes, and lottery winners that went from having millions of dollars to now having NOTHING. It doesn’t matter if you make a million dollars a year if you throw it all away.
Focus on saving and investing your money into assets that will increase your net worth over time and avoid liabilities that will erode or reduce your net worth. Your future self will thank you.