Facing realities around money, and our personal finances in particular, can make us anxious, confused, and sometimes leave us feeling hopeless. How did I end up in the situation I’m in? How can I improve my situation? What am I doing wrong? Or, better yet, what am I doing right? (Chances are – more than you think!) These types of questions can overwhelm us, or they can act as a catalyst to jump-start a new plan toward an even better, and more secure, financial future.
Where do you start?
How about at the beginning?!! In order to make positive changes and plan for our future, we need to take a good look at our current financial situation and understand how we got there. Two simple questions will get you started on the right track:
How much money has come into my life?
What do I have to show for it?
These questions are very powerful. By answering them, you will gain a better understanding of the financial decisions you’ve made and the impact they’ve had on your life up to this point. Further, and more important, they will help you create your own personal balance sheet. Just as any viable business must do, we, as individuals, should be able to quickly see how much we have earned in our lifetime and what we have to show for it. This “balance sheet” will serve as your foundation as you explore and consider the plans you want to put into action to increase your financial worth and security.
Start by calculating your total earnings during your lifetime. Although this is time consuming, it’s worth the effort. Here are some ideas to get you started:
First, locate your Social Security Administration “Statement of Earnings.” This statement is sent to you annually. If you put last year’s statement “in a safe place” or in the huge “to-do” pile on your desk and now you can’t find it, you can request one from your local Social Security office or on their website. The Statement of Earnings shows all of your reported income since you started working.
Then, make a list of money you received from any source that you have not reported. Remember, accuracy is important, and this may take a while to complete. That’s okay – if you take the time now, you’ll only need to do it once.
Add everything together to get your Total Lifetime Earnings figure.
Next, list the current balances of all your bank accounts, savings bonds, CDs, investment accounts, and cash on hand. These are your liquid assets. Then, add together the value of your possessions – things you own and use that you aren’t likely to sell. These are your hard assets. Add the two figures together for your total assets.
Now, make a list of your liabilities. Often people like to classify these into long-term debt and short-term debt. For instance, long term debt would include a home mortgage balance, a student loan balance, etc. Short-term debt might include the loan balance on your car, credit card balances, and personal loans you’ve received. Add these figures together for your total liabilities.
Subtract your total liabilities from your total assets to arrive at your current Net Worth.
Some people are floored when they compare their Net Worth to their Total Lifetime Earnings. Others are pleasantly surprised. Wherever you may fall on the continuum, don’t despair. This isn’t an exercise to make you feel defeated. Rather, it’s an opportunity to get a firm footing on the road to financial success and security. Knowing exactly where you stand financially is probably the most valuable tool in your financial toolkit.