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One fall night in 2010, my wife Nicole and I were watching the Suze Orman Show. (Yes, I used to DVR it). There was this fun segment where someone would call in and Suze would analyze that person’s financial health and give them a grade. It was called How Am I Doing?
One term that we kept seeing over and over again on this segment was “Net Worth”. Since we were personal finance newbies, we had no idea what this meant. Nicole and I were making a combined six-figure income together so we figured our net worth must be HUGE.
After the show was over, we decided to see how rich we really were. There was no doubt in our mind that we’d be better off than most of the jokers that call in to the show and get an “F” grade from Suze!
We walked upstairs and started to write down all of our numbers on a big white board. By separating our “assets” (what we owned) and our liabilities (what we owed) into two big columns, we started to discover that we weren’t rich.
We were kinda broke.
Although we were making a solid income together, our liabilities were much higher than our assets.
Here is a snapshot of what our numbers looked like back in 2010 (rounded educated guesstimates based on me losing some of our data along the way):
There’s no way were going to get an “A” grade on Suze’s show with a –$50,000 net worth!
This epiphany moment was just the jolt of reality we needed to start making progress on our finances. Our short-term goal was to get this net worth number in positive territory ASAP!
It was time for us to make a change. Here’s what we did to increase our net worth by $700,000 in 7 years.
Track Your Net Worth
Net Worth Total (September 2010) = -$50,000
Nicole and I quickly realized that we couldn’t improve our financial situation if we weren’t tracking our net worth. This number was going to be the barometer for our future financial success.
We took all of the numbers off of our white board and inserted them into an excel spreadsheet. From that point on, we updated our asset and liability totals monthly to track our progress. Even just seeing the numbers helped!
(Side Note: Personal Capital wasn’t around back then, but if it was, it would have made the whole net worth tracking process a lot easier. It’s free and it automatically updates your net worth by synching up your accounts. We use it now and love it.)
Live on a Monthly Budget
Net Worth Total (January 2011) = -$35,000
Another monthly habit Nicole and I adopted around this time was living on a budget. We got the idea after reading Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. He talked about the importance of living on a zero-based budget and giving every dollar an assignment.
Getting on the same financial page with Nicole before each month began was really important for us as we started our marriage.
Each month, we’d do the following:
- Review our spending, saving and debt balances
- Plan out next month’s budget
- Discuss our financial dreams and goals to ensure we’re headed down a path we’re both excited about
We eventually learned about a budgeting tool called Mint that automated the budgeting process much like Personal Capital did for our net worth tracking. This tool saved us a ton of time and it was free too!
(Side Note: If you’re more into spreadsheets than online systems, Tiller is an excellent option. You get the benefits of automation and the flexibility of spreadsheets in one easy budgeting tool.)
Eliminate Your Consumer Debt
Net Worth Total (September 2011) = $20,000
After being inspired by Dave Ramsey’s debt crushing ways, we decided that becoming consumer debt free would be an excellent way to increase our net worth.
For me, I really hated having student loans and wanted them gone as soon as possible. My 6.8% interest rate did not help the process either. (Debt refinancing services like SoFi would have been huge for me back then!)
For Nicole, she loved her 2008 Audi A4 and thought it would be incredible to own it outright with no payments.
Through our monthly budget get togethers, we discovered we could eliminate both of these debts before the end of year. This would require us to essentially live on my income and use Nicole’s to pay off the debt.
The plan worked! We were consumer debt free by September 2011 and we were in positive net worth territory to boot.
After making the final payment on Nicole’s car, we took a joy ride in her paid for Audi A4 on a beautiful fall night in Michigan.
Save 50% of Your Income
Net Worth Total (January 2012) = $45,000
At this point in our marriage, we were a month away from having our first child. Our financial standing was looking pretty solid. Zoey would be born into a debt free family and that made us proud.
We liked our current home, but we started thinking about our family growing from 2 to 3 (to eventually 4). Getting into a good school system was very important for us. That being said, we knew that homes in our desired school district were expensive!
Our new goal became saving up as much money as possible for a big down payment on our dream home. Our plan was to save 50% of our income and live on the other 50%.
Increase Your Income
Net Worth Total (February 2013) = $210,000
Luckily, 2012 was an outstanding year for Nicole and I income wise. We were both working full-time at our jobs and brought in the most money we’ve ever made as a couple together in one year.
I had a commission-based sales job and I achieved the company record for most annual revenue brought in on our most important account (it was a small company).
Highlights of what we did with our money:
- Saved over $100,000 cash
- Updated my bachelor pad into a family home
- Bought my first car with cash
Get a 15-Year Mortgage
Net Worth Total (January 2014) = $359,000
When we finally bought our dream home, the cash savings we amassed allowed us to put down 45%. This cut our new mortgage principal by a sizable amount immediately.
Our plan was to pay off this mortgage in 5 years!
We went with a 15-year mortgage through LendingTree and got a super-low 3% fixed rate. This helped us to put more toward the principal balance each month and push toward our goal of complete debt freedom by 2018.
Be Flexible Because Life Happens
Net Worth Total (January 2015) = $385,000
Our our second child (Calvin) came into our lives, we decided it was best to have Nicole stay at home and raise our two kids. Since we’d been essentially living on one income for quite a while at this point, it wasn’t that big of a life shocker for us.
This income change did slow our net worth growth quite a bit, but honestly those previous few years were unicorns! We’re just happy we saved like we did so that Nicole could spend more time with our kids. It was one of the best decisions we ever made as a family.
Max Your Retirement Savings
Net Worth Total (January 2017) = $547,000
Starting in 2016, we decided that maxing out all three our retirement accounts (401k, Andy’s Roth IRA and Nicole’s Roth IRA) was a smart move. My workplace 401k had been maxed since 2013, but we had not been doing the same for our Roths.
In addition to clobbering our mortgage principal, this tax advantaged plan helped us break the half million mark in our net worth journey! By this time, we were fully into Personal Capital to help us track our progress. It became quite addicting actually.
Pay Off Your Mortgage Early
Net Worth Total (February 2018) = $679,000
On November 21, 2017, we paid off our 15-year mortgage in just under 4 years. One year ahead of schedule!
Nicole, Zoey, Calvin and I had an epic mortgage freedom celebration together that we’ll never forget. We wanted our kids to remember this important moment in our lives so they too could be inspired to live without debt in their lives.
Without a mortgage, our net worth has been increasing steadily as of late. The incredible stock market surge in 2017 definitely helped as well!
Plan For the Future
We’ve come a long way since our -$50,000 net worth in 2010. I’m so proud of the hard work that Nicole and I put in along the way. Without my wife’s partnership, none of this would have been possible.
Now that we’re completely debt free, the only way for our net worth to grow is to continue building up our assets. At this point in our family’s journey, we feel the best way to do this is by diversifying our income.
To follow my passion (and hopefully earn a buck or two), I’m planning to coach couples on many of the principles I’ve outlined above. I think my experience in eliminating debt, living on a budget and growing our savings and income would benefit the couples I’d meet with.
Additionally, I’ve started a weekly podcast where I interview self-made millionaires and personal finance experts to help my audience learn from their successes. Oh, and I’m learning a lot too!
Rental Real Estate
We’re planning on buying our first rental property this year. After speaking with real estate experts on my podcast, I’m getting a solid understanding of how we’ll get our start. Considering we’ve gone down the debt free path so far, we’re planning on buying our first rental in cash. It’ll take some time, but we love the stress free perks that come with no debt.
As we’re closing in on a $1,000,000 net worth in the next few years, my first thought is … it’s just a number. On the surface, it really doesn’t mean anything.
But … when you peel back the layers and find out what’s inside, that’s when you discover what our net worth is made of. Our home, our cars, our retirement savings and our emergency savings are all things that bring our family joy. These assets will allow us to live happy, healthy and purposeful lives.
With some hard work and a little luck, our kids will see our example and continue to strengthen this family tree of ours in the future.