How do we know we have reached financial independence?
How much money do we have?
How much money did we spend widgets this month?
Where did all of our money go?
Why do we live paycheck to paycheck?
Why can’t I lose weight?
How much do I actually go to the gym?
etc. etc. etc.
All of these questions and many, many more can be answered by tracking. Just the act of tracking will make you more aware of your habits, and you habits will invariably improve without any effort beyond tracking.
Disclamer: I am an engineer by training
As an engineer, I enjoy tracking many different parameters which I later analyze. Just to list what I track:
- Cycling: miles, speed, cadence, heart rate, power output, etc.
- Health: pedometer (for work), sleep, illnesses, immunizations, doctor’s visits
- Finances: All expenses and income, investment growth, estimated time to financial independence
- Work: hours spent at work, excess days at work
- Values of bikes and cameras, and when they were purchased
- Lists of items wanted (wish list)
- Destinations traveled to and ones remaining unseen
This above list does not include the numerous metrics I am required to track for work, since that list is not one anyone reading here (possibly while at work) cares much about.
What gets measured gets improved. ~Peter Drucker
Peter hit the nail squarely on the head with the above quote. What gets measured, gets improved with no effort, just from the exercise of measurement. From measuring, you become explicitly aware of effort applied and become more active in passive activities.
Tracking finances is a fine pursuit and one that can bring about financial independence much more quickly than without tracking. It truly is amazing to see how much money can be spent in a given time period and what all of this money is spent on.
This does not mean it is not possible to reach financial independence without tracking. My parents are a good example of this. Because they never connected their bank accounts to the internet, it is more difficult to passively track your finances. They never needed to track their finances, since they were by nature frugal people. Tracking brings frugality to the masses.
My financial tracking experience
I started tracking my finances after finishing up college before starting my first real job. By tracking I was able to see where all my expenses were going to, though I could not control many of them, as I had to buy appliances and essentials for the house I was moving into after college. Even though these expenses were required, I was able to minimize them because I was tracking and spread them out over time instead of racking them all up at once on a credit card that would then charge outrageous interest rates. My eyes were opened from the beginning to the expenses of the “real world”.
I have been proud of saying that I managed my finances down to the razors edge. I was out of cash and had $13 in my bank accounts when I started work and my first pay check came. Looking back, I am no longer proud of that achievement, but see it as money wasted on frivolous consumerism leading up to working life. At this point, I start to save more money and dig out from the debt accumulated by going to college out-of-state. By tracking finances closely, I was able to pay off $30,000 of student loans in 2 years and another $20,000 of student loans from my wife, in an additional year. Tracking my finances enabled me to make the decisions to move money to the right places at the right times and pursue a life of freedom.
Tracking for the masses
For the vast majority of us, before we started tracking finances, we were following the typical life, just keeping up with the Jones’s. Tracking and measurement can make an atypical life achievable for more of the population. It allows the rest of us, who are not pre-wired for frugal living and non-commercial tendencies, to view the game that is playing out. To be able to see where money comes from and goes, all in one place gives us the power to change.
Once we start to track and the changes start as a result, then we can see the benefit of tracking. This then compounds, when we start to make conscious changes in our habits to reduce spending further. This snowball effect can put us on the quick path to financial freedom and independence.
I think all would agree that to not have to worry about money is extremely liberating. Those with the highest net worth’s never have to worry since their money will not run out in their lifetimes, but for the rest of us, worrying about money seems, unfortunately so, natural. Tracking our money can liberate us from the uncertainty, since we do not have to wonder how much is spent when and if our balances are enough to support spending. Through tracking, we now know definitively, either yes we have enough, or no we do not.
Where to track
There are many places to track your finances, and in future posts, I will highlight these. I have used many platforms over the years and they all have their pros and cons, with no one platform being right for everyone. Check out these platforms:
- Personal Capital (personal favorite online and mobile platform)
- Mint by Intuit (another very good online platform)
- Credit Karma (continues to add functionality to be an all in one financial tracker)
- Gnucash (open-source software for true double-entry accounting)
No amount of tracking can force us to make the right decisions financially if we are too caught up in the consumerist mindset. However, tracking can put us on the path towards financial independence if we are willing. Let the power of tracking free you from the bindings of financial dependence.
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