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Let’s Start At The Very Beginning. Tracking Income, Expenses, and Net Worth.

One of the biggest red flags I find in talking to people about personal finance is the lack of clarity on three of the most important concepts we’re going to refer back to over and over again in this blog.  

Income.  Expenses.  Net Worth.  

A lot of artists make their living through a revolving litany of all kinds of gigs.  I know folks that in any one week could probably say, “Well Monday I was an audition pianist and made some money playing that EPA.  Tuesday I played a Green Room concert, Wednesday I taught three coachings from my home studio with some of my regulars.  I took Thursday off and hit up Blockheads for a few rounds of margs, because “me-time”, ya know?  But Friday/Saturday/Sunday I served tables and brought home the money, honey.”

In a hypothetical world, I might turn to that friend and say, “Cool, so what was your take for the entire week?”

Enter: “The Feels Like Temperature.” 

I HATE “The Feels Like Temperature”.  This analogy is based on my long-term elementary school style of thinking about when the weatherman (Al Roker, of Broadway’s Waitress to be clear) would tell us at home what the temperature was, and then what “The Feels Like Temperature” was.  So, imagine suburban New Jersey circa 1997, on a balmy June day.  The real temperature is 85 degrees- but the Feels Like Temperature is really 96!  Fun!

Fun indeed.  But The Feels Like Temperature has absolutely no place in personal finance.

My friend might mull over their various earnings for the week.  “Hmm I dunno, I think I probably made about $800!”

Cue Inner Monologue: “Well Saturday night was really good at the restaurant, but Sunday was really awful, and most of the tips were credit card instead of cash…one of my coaching sessions was actually pro bono since they helped reorganize my closet the week before…can I count the two free drinks from the Green Room gig?”

Upon closer examination, $800 quickly becomes $687.31.  Where did that $112.69 go?!  That’s almost $5,900 per year.  If you make somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000/year, that’s almost 12% MORE than your salary that you’ve “imagined” is in your pocket, and it’s not.  That’s a risky road to venture down, friend.  Enter Expenses, and Credit Cards.

Now imagine that same concept applied to your spending versus your income.  That same person goes out and spends their hard-earned money all week.  That’s cool, you need to live, you need to treat yourself right.  I’m not anti-spending by any means.  But you simply cannot go out and spend money based on The Feels Like Temperature.  (Did I mention how much I hate that guy?).

The Whole Foods lunch during the break at Mondays EPA, the burger you ordered with your second drink at The Green Room gig, the Blockheads margs add up, Friday brunch before that shift, paid my health insurance on Saturday, and then Sunday night after that last shift of the week.  What a week!  It’s good to be home.  You worked hard this week.  You made about $800 after all! (Feels Like).  Those amazing jeans I’ve been looking at online all week are still available…

Well I *think* I’ve only spent about $700 this week, so I’m good!  Click, paid, mine!

WRONG.  Feels Like strikes again.  Let’s take a fine-tooth comb through all those weekly expenses- groceries, that bridal shower gift, my Netflix, gym, Disney+, Hinge+, new pillows I had to have, Chipotle three times (don’t judge), and on and on.  This same person ended up spending $751.02 in the same week they took in $687.31.  Effectively lowering their net worth $63.71.  Not to mention I bet a whole lot of that purchasing went on a credit card, and the more you give those banks- they more they take in interest payments also. (A whole other post for a different day).

So how do we fix this?  How can you avoid the perils of The Feels Like Temperature?

Focus on the real temperature for a change.

Back in January I got into the habit of tracking every bit of income, and every expense- to the penny.  What happened as a result?  I could see exactly how much money I made in a given month, while looking at exactly how much went out.  The magical effect that followed…I consciously started saving more money, simply by understanding with clarity how much I actually was able to spend.  What a concept.

As I mentioned in my first post, I’m still newer to this highly focused land of personal finance- a lot of other bloggers might recommend certain apps that can help you with this process.  A few that come to mind are Mint and YNAB.  I’ve not used either, but I’ve read good things and I could certainly see myself hopping on board in the future (I’ll make sure to post a review if I do!).  But I’m still pretty old school.

I developed a Google Sheets / Microsoft Excel grid for myself.  At the end of every day I put everything in, and it tells me where I’m at.  I can’t recommend highly enough that you give this a try.  I’m willing to bet after one month you would find no discernible reason to go back to hanging out at the bar with Feels Like ever again.

Here’s a link to my system template.  Take it, steal it, check it out from my virtual library and never bring it back. 

Now let’s review exactly what you’re looking at:

1) YEARLY TRACKING

This is your first tab on the sheet, and it’s going to be your budgetary blueprint for the whole year.  This tab will help you keep a bird’s eye view on the status of your annual financial journey.  I’ve found this tab especially helpful in these pandemic times, as I’m constantly looking ahead to the future months and adjusting my goals and benchmarks based on ongoing developments. 

I’ve filled in the income columns to project an example of a person who will make $65,000 this year.  Feel free to play around with those numbers!  

The expense columns suggest that this same person will spend about $3,377/month- for a total of $40k at years end.  Take a look at the breakdown here of suggested expenses- where could this person cut back?  Where are they likely to spend a little more?

Pro-Tip: When I first started this system and had a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around exactly how to set these goals- I took a look at all my credit card statements from the previous month, to see exactly how much I was spending first.  Total up every category, and then give yourself a target lower number and goal to beat each month!

Finally, on this page, Core Savings and IRA Savings (retirement) are just as important to count as Groceries and Healthcare are.  Make sure to include them in your recordkeeping to hold yourself accountable!  We’ll talk all about Emergency Savings and Retirement Savings in the weeks and months to come.

2) MONTHLY TRACKING

This second tab is a place where you can track every income deposit alongside every monthly expense.  I’m serious- track all of it.  You will be amazed at where the spending adds up, and this is a great place to look at the end of the month and determine where you can potentially cut back.  

One thing I love about this sheet also is the column in the far right that will add up your daily totals.  If you look right below that column, you’ll see a little box that calculates your average daily spending- or what we’ll call your “burn rate”.  At the end of the month, this little box will show you exactly how much you spend per day average, which can help inform how big your emergency fund should ultimately be.

Burn Baby, Burn.

Once you reach the end of the month, simply copy and paste that whole spread, and start a new month just below.  Change the dates, wipe out the expenses, etc. and you’re on your way to August.  You can also grab the Google Sheets app for your phone to keep on top of this tracking during the day- super easy to use and navigate!

3) NET WORTH TRACKING

The final piece of our financial puzzle today- tracking your Net Worth.

Net Worth ultimately is a very simple equation.  How much do you have vs. how much do you owe? (Assets and Liabilities).

I find this page to be particularly useful especially for those trying to pay down any kind of debts.  It can be disorienting and exhausting living inside of debt, whether it be student loans, car payments, credit cards, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re even making any kind of progress. Or maybe you’re saving pretty well, but have no idea how much extra cash you really have on hand to invest- this page can be a constant reminder of your progress on milestones.

Take the guess work out and let the numbers tell you the real story.  Every month that goes by you are aiming to make that green bar healthier and healthier, while ensuring that red bar stays at $0.  Maybe you’re starting your financial journey in the negative though, and that’s OK.  Use these tools and resources to lay out a plan for yourself.  You will find so much joy in watching that green bar grow every month.

What’s the moral of this post?

Don’t be a chump, and don’t hang out with the Feels Like Temperature.  He’s a jerk, and 99% of the time just wants to subliminally pressure you into spending more money than you can or need to. 

It’s a new month today.  Start off with the determination of tracking one whole week!  If you enjoy the process, track the next also.  And then maybe the whole month, and see what the numbers tell you. I can guarantee you this: It’s a very good place to start.

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Any questions on what you’ve just read?  Drop a comment below or head to my Contact page to shoot me a direct private message.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

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