Net Worth and Pleasure

In a post a few days ago, I made an offhand comment about how I didn’t really receive personal pleasure from seeing my net worth increase, though I once did. A few people emailed me on that subject, so I thought I’d clarify what I meant.

When I first began to overcome my personal finance mistakes, I found that calculating my net worth and looking at the change from month to month was incredibly powerful. It was a single number that provided “proof” that I was making better decisions than I was making before.

An increase in net worth meant that I was unquestionably spending less than what I earned, which is the key to personal finance success. An increase in net worth meant that all of the hard day-to-day choices I was making were actually adding up to something big.

It was exhilarating. Each time I calculated that number, I could clearly see the impact that my choices were having even if they weren’t really evident in my day-to-day life.

Over the ensuing years, however, things changed in my life. I changed careers and moved in a self-employment direction. We bought a house and had two more children. All of our debts disappeared and we started building a nice nest egg.

In other words, I began to really see the impact that our financial choices are having on our day-to-day life. If we hadn’t turned our finances around, I would not be self-employed right now. I wouldn’t be able to be sitting there waiting when my children come home off the bus. We wouldn’t be living in a nice house with enough space for a home office. I would be feeling stress from things as simple as checking the mail.

I don’t have to look very far to see how our good financial choices changed my life.

So, let’s look at those situations side-by-side. When we first started our financial turnaround, I didn’t see those changes in my day-to-day life. I was still working the same job, living in the same place, driving the same automobile.

I didn’t have the milestones in my life to demonstrate the changes brought about by our financial choices.

Today, things are different. I have lots of things in my life that have only happened because of our financial choices. Being financially stable opened the door to the house we own. Being financially stable opened the door to a career change for me, one that lets me help my children get ready for school in the mornings and be there for them when they get home, which is incredibly important for me.

I don’t need a number to show me those things.

It’s those life milestones that show me the incredible positive impact that good personal finance choices have made in my life. Every single day, my life shows me what I’ve accomplished and why I need to keep my eye on the ball.

At first, I needed that number to see that I was accomplishing something. Now? I don’t need that number. I just need to look around my life.

That’s the reward for sticking with personal finance improvement. You eventually begin to see how it affects your life in a lot of ways and when you recognize that it’s your hard work that made it happen, it inspires you to keep going.

I still figure up my net worth every once in a while, but it’s mostly an exercise to ensure that I’m making smart financial decisions. The day-to-day inspiration that I used to get from that number now comes from the realities of my life – and that’s the result of pushing through those years where I was working hard to improve things but I wasn’t seeing any direct reward.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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