A funny thing happened while I was updating our net worth for the month. I realized that it’s been ten years since the first entry on the spreadsheet!
I don’t know what prompted me to start tracking my net worth in 2007. I did start tracking my expenses in college in 2003, and it might’ve been that I just wasn’t satisfied with the way that Quicken displayed things like Assets and Liabilities. The capability was there, so I figured those must be important things to track, but I didn’t like the interface, so I started my own simple spreadsheet.
A lot of things have changed over the last ten years. But more importantly for the accumulation of our financial assets, a lot of things haven’t changed. It doesn’t seem like we’ve upgraded our standard of living all that much. We still have a lot of the same furniture. We still shop at the same grocery stores. We drive one of the two original cars. If we wanted to spend all the money we made, we could be driving new cars every three years, live in a much more expensive neighborhood, and eat out at fancy restaurants. Instead, we prefer to keep that money for ourselves, keep our savings rate above 50%, and inch up that retirement date sooner and sooner.
Is there lifestyle inflation I’m overlooking? Today I’ll be comparing our financial life ten years ago to what it looks like today.
In 2007, we were living in an apartment that rented for $715. Our average electric bill (including heat) was $85 a month. Since we were renting, we didn’t have to worry about property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, or even maintenance costs! So our monthly cost of housing was about $800.
A picture of our messy apartment circa 2007. It had one bedroom, a tiny kitchen, but tons of closet space! Still in use today: The computer chair, the tv stand, the lamp, the boxy shelving, and the top part of the desk.
In 2017, the mortgage payment on our house is $697. Most of that is principal and we hope to pay off the mortgage in full by the end of 2019. In reality, our cost is the interest which is about $150 per month. Then you have to add in property taxes of nearly $4,000 a year, or $333 a month. Then there is the insurance of about $80 a month. Then add our electric AND gas bills, which were $200 a month on average last year. Our total housing costs (interest, taxes, utilities, insurance) are then $763 a month before you add in any maintenance costs.
Maintenance and home repairs totaled $41,000 for the past eight years. Wow! On average, that is $400 a month. That’s not entirely expense, though, since some of it would have been improving the value of the home. I have no interest in trying to figure out how much our house has increased in value, so that means our monthly housing cost is somewhere between $763 and $1,163.
The rent at our old apartment seems to be somewhere between $855 and $915 now (hard to tell which exact floor plan we had) and it probably close to $1,000 after you include electric. $1,000 is closer to the top end of that range for what our housing costs are now. So we are probably spending a bit less on housing now comparatively, and we have three times the space, a second bathroom, a basement, a gym, a backyard, nicer appliances, historic details, and an asset that is hopefully appreciating in value. Not a bad trade-off!
In 2007, Marge and I were both car commuting to our jobs. Luckily, I wasn’t paying for parking… that didn’t start until 2010. But we were still putting mucho miles on our cars (a 2005 Honda Civic and 2001 Toyota Camry). According to my records, we were putting 25,000 miles combined on our vehicles per year and regularly having maintenance done on them. Our total transportation cost for 2007 was $4,778, or nearly $400 a month. That’s $470 after inflation! We spent $1,858, about $150 a month, on gas alone, or $176 in 2017 dollars.
In 2017, Marge can walk to work, and I can take the bus or on really nice days, I’ll take the bike. Our cars (2005 Honda Civic and 2013 Toyota Corolla) now get most of their miles from long distance road trips to go camping or visit relatives, and trips to the gym and grocery store. We put about 11,000 miles combined onto the two cars, less than half of 2007’s mileage. In the first six months of 2017, our transportation cost was $1,290, which averages out to $215 per month. And we’ve only spent $339 on gas this year, which comes out to $56 a month. So after inflation, our total transportation cost has been cut by more than half, and our gas is down more than two thirds (part of that is due to gas prices, I’m sure).
Food is one area where it really doesn’t feel like we’ve changed at all. We’ve always shunned dining out (so expensive!), although we did get takeout more frequently in 2007 (every Friday!). Our grocery bill couldn’t have changed that much, could it have?
Well, in 2007 we spent $6,022 on food, about $500 a month, or $588 after inflation. That’s about $4,500 on groceries and $1,500 between takeout and dining. We ate well. We were even members of a CSA, community supported agriculture, where we paid a farm upfront for a growing season’s worth of fresh vegetables.
In 2017, we’ve spent $3,884 in six months so far. That’s $647 a month. That’s actually a small increase! But it includes about $2,400 on groceries and $1,400 on dining and takeout. Something seem wrong about that? The ratio is all wrong! We’re spending more having other people make our food. If we’d spent less on dining and takeout this year, we’d be under 2007 levels.
Here is one area I’m sure we’ve been spending more on now than we used to. In 2007, our biggest trip was to Peoria, Illinois! We took a few camping trips around New York, and that was it. For the entire year, we spent $1,414 on travel.
Now it’s ten years later, and six years after we started our hobby collecting frequent flyer miles. In 2017 so far, we went to Thailand for ten days, rented a cottage on Cape Cod, Marge went to Las Vegas for four days, I went to the Hudson Valley for two days, we are going to Toronto this month, camping in the Thousand Islands next month, and then to Turks & Caicos for nine days in January. Despite all of that, we’ve only spent $3,301 so far this year on Travel. OK, so technically we are spending more than before ($450 a month vs $100 a month) but if this is where our lifestyle inflation is happening, I am perfectly happy with that. We has a wanderlust, and our frequent flyer miles have allowed us to do much more traveling than we would have otherwise.
No huge changes here, although it is fun to see what’s changed. We spent $1,506 in 2007 ($125 a month) compared to $400 in the first six months of 2017 ($66 a month). That decrease is mostly due to cancelling my newspaper subscription in 2015. In 2007, we were seeing musical acts like They Might Be Giants, Weird Al, The Pipettes, the Squirrel Nut Zippers (yes, still a going concern) and Nellie McKay live. And lately we’ve seen the Magnetic Fields, the Music Tapes, Postmodern Jukebox, Brian Dewan, and even a fantastic free show by Amadou & Miriam.
Today, we have two rabbits, Freya and Klaus, and of course Maeby the greyhound. After incurring nearly $2,000 in medical expenses for the late Cornelous and Maeby’s dental work, we’ve spent nearly $3,000 for the year. That’s $500 a month, or if you prefer, 30 Otises. This was an exceptional half-year for us pet expense-wise. In general we are paying much more in pet expenses, but how could you deny a face like this?
In 2007, we went out on Black Friday and braved a psychotic crowd at Target to buy a 37″ LCD television for $590. I knew prices would be coming down in the future, but I just really wanted a widescreen to watch movies! Despite the onslaught of cheap televisions today, we’re still using the same television.
In 2017 we don’t have any big single item purchases that come close to $590, except for money spent on our rental apartment. Things like a new refrigerator, washer and dryer. But those are assets that make us money, so I’ll excuse them.
Here’s an interesting one. In 2007, between Marge’s cell phone and our (gasp!) home phone service, we spent $529 for the year. That’s $44 a month. Landlines are expensive!
In 2017, we have two Tracfones and Ooma for home service, and we’ve spent $74 in the past six months, or about $12 a month. Plus we just eliminated Ooma, (thanks for chewing through the wires, rabbits!) which will save us another $4 a month going forward.
Increasing your net worth isn’t all about reducing our expenses. What about that all important income? In 2007, we made somewhere around $68,000 together before taxes.
This year, we will make somewhere between $135,000 and $140,000 before taxes. In addition we will have rental income. After the expenses have been subtracted and equity added back in, who knows what that will be? But probably around another $5,000. Now we find ourselves with the peculiar problem of having to hide our income in retirement accounts so we don’t get taxed at the 25% marginal rate!
Like I said, July 2007 is when I first recorded our net worth. We’ve gone from $17,000 in 2007 to $430,000 today. If you had told me in 2007 that in ten years we’d be closing in on our first half-million dollars, I would’ve said, “Okay, that’s great… but make it sooner!” But I’m greedy like that.