Net Worth Round Up: How we Saved, Invested, and Paid off Debt for a Combined Total of more than $35,000 on an Average Income this Year.
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It is just too exciting… so let’s get right into it shall we?! I’m about to break a major rule with writing. I am going to give you the juicy stuff right up front, and just hope that you want to stay for the rest of the details. Fingers crossed!
So here is our 2019 Net Worth Round Up: how we saved, invested, and paid off debt for a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income in 2019. This year we:
- Saved $8,573;
- Invested $8,543; and
- Paid off $18,050 in debt.
We still ate out, had a beautiful wedding and spoiled each other over the holidays. But we made a bunch of changes to free up more room in our budget to make it happen. Keep on reading to learn how we saved, invested, and paid off debt for a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income this year.
I just want to put a disclaimer out there that I am so grateful for all that we have every day and in no way intend to boast. We are sharing our personal information with the hopes of inspiring someone who can relate to our money experience, past or present.
I’ll include our net worth statements below from January 1st, 2019 compared to our current net worth at December 31st, 2019.
If you want to know more about how we calculate our net worth and the reasoning behind the way we do it, visit our Net Worth Updates. In general, net worth is the sum of your combined assets and liabilities. We measure our net worth to check in and see where we’re at. It’s a good tool to use as a baseline so you can measure progress over time.
Net Worth Progress for 2019
This was our net worth at the beginning of the year on January 1st, 2019:
Bank Accounts: $7,447
Credit Cards: $3,314
Sadie’s Student Loan, Kevin’s Student Loan and Car Loan.
Notes: car loan calculated, but not car value.
Total Net Worth (January): -$41,740
This was our net worth on December 31st, 2019:
Bank Accounts: $16,020
Credit Cards: $459
Sadie’s Student Loan, Kevin’s Student Loan and Car Loan.
Notes: Car Loan calculated, but not car value.
Total Net Worth (December): -$6,574
This is a change of +$35,200 and an increase 84% net worth over the past year. Since I first measured our net worth one year earlier in January, 2018, we have increased our net worth by $58,600 or 90% .
How You Can Pay Off More Debt on an Average Income
You’ve heard it and you may have dreaded it. Budgets can be as simple or as complex as you make them. Basically you know you earn a set amount each month, and you aim to align your spending to it. You have categories and you allocate a certain amount to spend for each category. But how do you know where to start? We have a few tips to help you save more, invest more, and pay off more debt on an average income this year.
The Golden Rule
No, not the one where you treat people how you want to be treated, but it’s a good one too. This rule will ensure that you are on the right track with your finances. It determines whether you go further into debt or save a giant stockpile of cash. Just by following this one rule, you will see progress, guaranteed.
The golden rule of budgeting is to spend less than you earn. That’s it! You didn’t think I was going to get super philosophical on you just then, did you?
It really is that simple. However, it’s fair to say that it is a bit of a challenge to reliably spend less than you earn without knowing what you’re spending or where your money is going in the first place. I bet you are spending more than you think. There’s a good chance you will be uncomfortably shocked at how much room there is in your budget if you pay attention to your spending and focus on your goals. This could be the beginning of the rest of your life.
Setting Up Your Budget
The first step before you can create a budget is to determine where your money is going.
There are many apps you can use, such as Mint, but I would just print the last 3 months of your credit card statements and start analyzing. It’s the quick and dirty, take-action-right-away method.
I would start by writing out categories for your budget. We will base these on 5 larger categories, loosely inspired by YNAB software’s default categories:
- Fixed costs, which may include things like rent/mortgage, bus pass, and insurance.
- Variable costs, for expenses like groceries, gas, gifts, and travel, which may fluctuate monthly
- Debt Payments (for anything you owe on, such as an auto loan or student loans)
- Quality of Life Goals. Basically, things you want to save for or where your “extra” money goes to ensure you are setting yourself up for a life that you love. Our categories include an Emergency Fund, Car Maintenance, RRSP’s, TFSA, Opportunity Fund (for wealth building), Vacations, Christmas Gifts, and Extra Debt Payments.
- Just for Fun: Fun money, and Dining out.
Analyze Spending to Identify Opportunities for Improvement
Once you have your categories for your budget (rent/mortgage, groceries, phone bill, eating out, fun money, savings, etc.) you can begin to categorize your last three months of spending. This is where I grab a highlighter, pen and the printed monthly credit card statements. Go through each item one by one and add all of your entertainment, groceries, and eating out costs together under the relevant category.
Add it all up and get the totals for each individual category. For example, if you pay $50 per month for your phone bill, your total will be $150 for the three months. Then, divide each category by 3 to get the average spent over the number of months you analyzed. This is especially important for variable expenses, to try and capture an average. If you want to take it a step further for accuracy, analyze six months instead of three.
Reflect on what you learned.
The results of your monthly spending may be uncomfortable. The results may be very revealing, but that’s okay. It’s totally normal for this exercise to reveal where money is being wasted and how your spending may not align with your goals. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, these findings have the potential to be a beautiful turning point toward financial freedom.
Take Action Today, Thank Yourself Tomorrow
Okay, that was a doozy. I know that analyzing three months of spending and trying to remember what each purchase represented, is a lot of work. Never mind the mental bandwidth to create categories, remember all of your monthly bills, and then categorizing all of your random expenses on top of that can be a lot of work. But honestly, if you dedicate an hour to the above task, you are well on your way to following in our footsteps for how we saved, invested, and paid off debt for a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income this year.
Whether you have an average income, or even a very modest single-parent income; this is your way out. By being fully aware of where your money goes, and budgeting for your life, including surprise bills, you will remain above water with your finances.
You don’t have to know how to invest, make more income, start a business or be above average at much of anything at all actually. By setting up a budget that you can follow, and spending less than you earn, you will be on the trajectory to a more secure life. You can learn about investing, wealth building, taxes, credit, and all of that fun stuff later, if you want to.
Create Your Budget
This is basically where you make a budget for next month based on the information you have and decisions you have made based on that information.
Reflecting on your spending and making decisions on how to improve your budget will help you pave the way for focusing on your goals and taking action. Taking action, analyzing our spending, and identifying areas of improvement was the #1 contributor to how we saved, invested, and paid off a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income this year.
Take action. Think about what you want in the short, medium and long term and take action on how to get there. This budget is meant to be realistic, but know that it will take some adjusting before you begin to feel more comfortable with it. If you don’t take the time to identify what you value in life you are selling yourself short. You want your spending to align with what is meaningful to your life. Money can buy happiness, but not the way you think.
Action Steps to Improve your Budget
- If you have been spending $300 per month eating out, which you decide isn’t aligned with your goal to pay off debt and build your emergency fund, you may wish to set your “eating out” budget to $150, add an extra $50 to your grocery budget, and allocate the remaining $100 toward debt and the beginning of an emergency fund.
- If you are spending $192 on your combined cell phone bills each month (we were) you may wish buy out your phone from any contract you are in and find a new, cheaper cell phone plan with a reasonably priced company such as Public Mobile. We now pay $70 for both of our fairly new iPhones.
- Try for a “No-Spend January” where you don’t buy anything unnecessary. I did this last year and it was hard for about 3 days but then I just didn’t think about it after that. getting through those first few days lead me to be where I am now, where I am intentional about what we spend our money on.
- If you don’t have an emergency fund, you make yourself vulnerable by relying on your credit card for unexpected costs like car repairs or travel to visit a loved one who’s health is going downhill. Start with $1,000. If you can have that money as backup, emergencies no longer feel like such a big deal. Once you have your finances sorted out, perhaps having a few months expenses available in cash would be ideal.
Your Budget is a Living Document
My most recent motivation is to get rid of debt. When I first measured our net worth in January 2018, we had more than $70,000 in debt. This included student loans at more than 6% interest, accruing about $7 in interest daily. Our Student Loans are currently at just under $20,000. I really want to get rid of that higher interest debt. I will be budgeting more under “extra debt payments” this year now that I have an established emergency fund. A change I want to make to ensure our spending is aligned with our goals. Just know that your budget is a living document that will morph and change as your goals change.
Know your Income
Don;t forget the golden rule we mentioned at the beginning of the article, about spending less than you earn. It is important to determine how much you actually bring home each month. If it’s variable, use an average. And always write down the conservative number to give yourself a tiny bit of room. Once you have created your budget, see how it compares to your income. If your budget is higher than your income, you are in trouble and need to make some major changes.
Automate Your Payments
The main reason why we were able to pay off so much debt and save what we did is because our transactions are automatic. We treat our savings and extra debt payments like bills and we pay more than the minimum toward our student loans. Also, we keep our savings in a separate account from our main bank. This allows for a transaction to be made from one account to the other. Plus, it takes a day or two to transfer the funds, so it creates a bit of a barrier.
We started out with much less allocated to debt and our Quality of Life Goals at the beginning of the year. We increased the amount contributed toward debt and savings as we freed up room in our monthly budget.
Another tip for budgeting is to budget every dollar. That is to take each dollar of your earned monthly income and give it a job. If your budget is complete and you have $200 left, it’s not for fun money. Budget that into your emergency fund, and if you need it, it will be there, so you don’t end up going backwards. Any money we have left over goes toward our student loans or RRSP’s.
Implement "Fun Money" in your Budget
If you notice you spend about $450 on random things like household items, junk food, clothes, video games, subscriptions, and alcohol, you may decide to make a change. Likely, you take these purchases for granted and don;t realize that you are spending so much on stuff that doesn’t have meaning to you. That’s a lot of money dedicated to things that maybe don’t add value to your life. Some of those things might make your life better. But some don’t and we want to double down on the things that add value and eliminate (or at least reduce) spending on the rest.
Try to budget $150 per month toward “fun money” and allocate the difference toward debt or an emergency fund. If you’re learning to cook at home more, maybe you dedicate that whole amount toward groceries until you figure out what you need on average.You don’t have to be perfect this month, you just have to get better each month till you have established a budget you are happy with.
"But I Like to Have Nice Things": Feeling Rich While Sticking to your Budget
You may ‘deserve’ to spend without worrying, or buy the fancy toys you want after working so hard, but you may be compromising your future by doing so. I recommend you take the time to assess what you want so you can focus on creating a life you want to live: to retire, to travel, go back to school, to take up a hobby you have been waiting to do, to spend more time with your family, or build the business of your dreams.
When we implemented “fun money” we were more careful to only make a purchase if we really wanted something, felt it was in line with our values, and we really feel lucky to have all that we do, without taking it for granted. We also now spend more on our hobbies, experiences and spending time with family and friends, rather than buying material objects. It also allows us to spend our fun money on lavish things like fancy headphones, $30 natural deodorant (what? I really like it!), new bike parts, trips to visit friends, concerts, second hand Vitamix (cause I like my smoothies to be smooooth) and investing in riskier funds without any of the guilt. ANY of it.
Why not? Because that’s exactly what fun money is for. For you to spend however you like, where other peoples opinions don’t matter because you’re paying your bills, saving, investing for retirement and sticking to your budget while having fun too.
There’s also this side effect where since you are spending your OWN personal money now, you may be a little more protective of it.
You will naturally prioritize whether this month the bike or computer gets a fancy new upgrade. You may choose, like I did, to buy a $500 Vitamix second hand for less than half the price…more than 3 years ago. Same thing, but better…right?
It will become second nature to prioritize your spending on things that you think will have a positive impact on your life. No longer will you shop just fill a void that may be emotional, or because it’s habitual.
What really adds Value to your Life
All this talk about budgets and money aside, one thing you will soon realize, if you don’t already, is that most things in life that bring you happiness don’t cost money at all.
Think about what in your life is rewarding and makes you feel alive and proud. Do you have a daughter or close-knit family you love to spend time with? Perhaps you love to travel and see different cultures. Maybe you have a sport or hobby you want more time for. What about experiencing fresh food, lots of sunlight and fresh air? Maybe you really want to pick up a trade and start your own business.
What is Important in Life?
Take a minute to think about what makes you happiest. This week, this year, or over your entire life: what were your best moments? What excited you and made you feel proud? Write down 3-10 things that come to mind.There’s a good chance this would look more like spending time with family, going on adventures or working toward a goal. Your favourite moments don’t likely include eating out 5 times per week.
There is so much good in this world, and you should start paying attention to what makes you feel the most joy. If you want some ideas, I share my own list of what adds meaning to my life here. When I feel in a slump or unmotivated I revisit my list. It keeps me driven to experience as much as I can of the things that make me happy on a regular basis.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to start your new project or focus more attention on a hobby. Build it into your life because by the time you get that perfect time and place, you’ll be too old and tired to spend any time with your goal.
The Importance of Gratitude for a Better Life
This topic is SO meaningful for overall life quality and satisfaction. It is so important to me that I wrote an entire post on it entitled “The Importance of Gratitude for a Better Life”, which I highly recommend you read no matter who you are. I especially recommend it if you struggle with feeling much excitement about life. I’ll include an excerpt below:
“When you are grateful you are taking the time recognize the value your life holds and you become open and available to opportunity. You acknowledge, appreciate and enjoy the little things in life. You might start to notice the opportunity surrounding you, that was already there, that you may not have realized before. Showing gratitude allows you to be in the present and notice time a little differently. You feel in control of your situation. You manifest your future; things don’t just happen to you. When you are grateful you become open to great things happening in your life with the sentiment that it was meant to be. You are no longer drudging through”bad luck”.
In a nutshell, by showing gratitude and recognizing all that you have to be grateful for, you will find that you are surrounded by so much good in the world and you don’t need so much else to be happy.
Money Goals for 2020
Now that I have shared how we saved, invested, and paid off debt for a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income this year, I am excited to talk about next year!
I may have hinted earlier that our student loans have been on my mind, in a bad way. It’s because the high interest rate bugs the hell out of me! My first of two money goals for 2020 are to eliminate our student debt entirely.
1. Eliminate Student Debt
The annual interest charge is 6.5-6.95% and it accumulates daily…which translates to a couple dollars each day and it drives me crazy! That is money that could be staying in our pockets. My goal is to eliminate all student debt by the end of 2020. I want to banish it completely!
Plus, once it’s gone we can focus on saving more for what matters most to us. As of December 31, 2019 our student loan balances are as follows:
- Sadie: $8,586
- Kevin: $8,573
In 2019 we reduced the balance of our student loans by $8,388. We of course paid more than that, but…interest. Ugh!
When Creating Your Own Money Goals, Set Yourself Up to Succeed
A goal is just a dream until you create a plan. To pull this off and pay down our student loans completely, we will be looking at paying roughly $1,575 monthly toward that debt. Per our 2019 budget, we have been putting about $850 toward student loans monthly. Our savings will have to be adjusted a lot to accommodate our goal.
I will probably have to cut our monthly emergency fund savings in half, now that we have a few thousand put away just in case anything happens. I will probably also sacrifice our opportunity fund. Oh well, I want to banish student loans, so opportunity can wait!
What changes will you have to make to reach your money goals?
2. Max my TFSA Annual Contribution Limit
My other money goal this year is to fund my personal TFSA to the max annual contribution for 2020 ($6,000) solely with my fun money.
Kevin and I budget $120 + $50 each month for fun money. The $120 is set up at the beginning of the month and is free for us to spend how we like. We make purchases using credit cards and use YNAB to track our fun money. The $50 is received in a lump sum at the end of the month and is expected to be carried forward for a larger purchase or saved.
Also, any overtime or side hustle income goes toward fun money. I like to use a hefty portion of my fun money to invest in my TFSA. This year, my goal is to max out my annual contribution by funding it JUST with fun money. We will looking at contributing more to our TFSA’s from our standard budget once our debt is paid off.
Honestly, once the debt is paid off I will be super excited and we will be able to make some major progress toward our savings and wealth building goals. Other than sticking to my budget, those are my two money goals for 2020!
Thank you for reading our 2019 Net Worth Round Up: how we saved, invested, and paid off debt for a combined total of more than $35,000 on an average income this year. We wish you a happy and healthy new year. We hope that you will share your own progress, tips, goals and questions with us in the comments below!