I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Maybe it’s a big secret since I talk about personal finance and investing. I don’t know my own salary. Or my net worth. Or how much my investments are up (or down). Sometimes I don’t even remember my own name. I keep track of my expenses, but I don’t really look at that either.
I know what all these numbers are directionally. But my point is I don’t keep track of them on a regular basis. If you want to be successful, you wouldn’t keep track of any of this stuff either, except your name. You sound like an idiot if you don’t know that.
Okay, I should know my own salary. It’s pretty sad when your wife has to correct you, multiple times, on how much money you make. I secretly think she keeps track of it so she’ll know how much alimony to ask for when she finds somebody better.
I’m in the ballpark, but from some reason I’m always off. Part of is because it’s changed over the years. But mainly it’s because I just don’t care.
Why It’s Not Important
What’s important to me is that twice a month, money gets deposited into my account. But other than that, why it is so important to know much money I make? If you think your income is important so you know how much you can spend, you’d be wrong! If I did that, I’d be experiencing lifestyle creep and spending a lot more than I do now.
Is it important so that I can compare my salary with others? Personal finance is an individual sport. What I make has no bearing on you, and what you make has no impact on me.
When I first started this site, I thought about adding a monthly net worth tracker. I thought that it would be helpful to keep track of my progression and also a way to generate views. I decided against it, because, 1) I’m lazy since it takes work, and 2) see #1.
Why It’s Not Important
When my net worth goes up, I’m mildly happy for about 30 seconds. When my net worth goes down, I’m mildly sad for about 2 minutes. So first of all, it’s a skewed risk/reward. But more importantly, my net worth has absolutely no impact on what I do, how I live, or my happiness (beyond those few minutes). I don’t spend more or less because of my net worth. I don’t work less or more because of it either. Literally nothing changes when that number moves. So why am I wasting time calculating it?
Investing is my livelihood, so I should at least keep track of this, right? Sadly, no. Again, this goes back to the fact that I’m lazy and it doesn’t matter. I have multiple savings accounts, investment accounts, IRA accounts, 401k accounts, and 529 accounts. It takes a lot of time to log into each one to keep track of performance. Time that’s better spent doing other things.
Why It’s Not Important
Tracking investments is similar to tracking net worth. Regardless of how well or how poorly they perform, it has no impact on my life. If it’s up, what does that tell me? Nothing. It could be because I’m good at investing (I wish), or that the whole market is up. If it’s down, I don’t learn anything either, expect that I’ll always blame it on the market.
Track Actionable Information
I keep track of individual stock performance though. Not the total value, mind you, but the change in performance. This is important because I’ll buy more of the stocks I like when they’re down for no reason. Or I sell when I think the stocks have reached fair value.
If the information is actionable, then the information is important and needs to be tracked. My salary and net worth aren’t actionable, which is why I don’t care.
I keep track of expenses religiously, out of habit. However, I don’t really look at it anymore. One reason is because of muscle memory. I’ve gotten so used to being frugal I don’t need a spreadsheet to tell me whether I’m spending too much. I also don’t look at it because keeping tabs on where every $1 goes doesn’t help and just causes undue stress. I’m trying to grow my net worth, not reduce my lifespan!
The main reason I still keep track of expenses is because I like to see how my spending has trended over time. Is my spending up in 2017 vs. 2016? If so, why? Is there something can I do to lower expenses, or is it because of kids getting older, and just general inflation? I look at this a few times a year, not on a regular basis.
The good thing about expenses are they’re actionable because you can increase or reduce your costs based on the information you collect, which is why it’s so important.
Think Like a CEO
There are some CEOs that really know their financials. But most don’t. I usually know the financials of a company better than them. And sometimes better than some CFOs (the bad ones).
But it’s okay because that’s not the job of a CEO. Her job is to provide the vision and direction for a company. The CEO needs to think about what needs to happen to grow the top line. Does she have the right product lines and right employees to compete successfully? Is the company at risk of disintermediation? Where is the market headed and is she prepared for the changes? If the CEO can get all this right, the outputs (revenue and earnings growth) will come. The CFO’s job is to worry about the financials.
I’m the CEO of my life, and you should be too. I don’t know my salary. Not because I don’t care about money. Instead of focusing on what I make right now, I’m focused on what I need to do to make more money. Am I in line for a promotion, or do I need to switch companies to get a higher salary? Maybe I need to switch careers entirely because I’m not being properly compensated for my time in this job, or my career prospects are weak. These are the things I think about instead of tracking my salary.
I don’t keep track of net worth because that’s also an output. It’s the result of what I put into savings, investments, and expenses. So instead of keeping track how my net worth changes, I think about how to increase my savings and investments. Is there a savings account that has higher interest rates? What can I invest in that will make my money grow faster? How can I diversify my investments to limit volatility? Where am I spending too much money, and how can I cut back?
If you want to be successful, think like a CEO. Think about all the things you can do to improve your revenue and lower your expenses. If you do that correctly, net worth will take care of itself.