Alan Donegan: Rebel Business School Co-Founder, Rebel Entrepreneur podcast host, Rebel Finance School co-founder and Queen's award winner. Marvel movie fan fanatic, breakfast lover and financial independent traveller
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Updated 27th April 2021
How can this be possible? How can we have more money than we earnt? Does that mean that we have lived for free for our entire life so far? Is this normal? Could you do the same? Do you have anything to show for your years of labour?
What have you got to show for your hard work?
When did you start work? How many years have you been working for so far? I am 42 years old and I started work straight after college at age 18. Well I started a little earlier as I had saturday jobs but full time I have been working for 24 years! My working life is longer than my non-working life!
I started to wonder how much I earned in those 24 years and how much I had kept?
Warning this article might be quite depressing for some people! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the article and then do something about it! In fact if it is depressing for you to think about these concepts it is even more important that you do it!
Your success in life is directly related to the number of uncomfortable conversations you can have. Some of those conversations are going to be with yourself! If this makes you uncomfortable then this is probably a sign that this is what you need to do to make progress.
Every year we all earn a certain amount of money. We spend a certain amount of money. The way to get wealthy is to reduce the amount of money we are spending, increase the amount of money we are earning and to invest the difference into assets that produce a return.
Katie and I have been diligently increasing the gap between expenses and income for over 10 years now. We have been taking the difference and investing it for 7 plus years! Any spare money we have goes into stocks and shares that produce a return for us.
Do you know what the gap is between your spending and earnings? Do you know how much you have saved and invested each year for your working career?
You might be thinking “Alan what is the point of thinking about this?“ I haven't saved anything. I know the answer.
Firstly the result might be better than you imagined. Secondly the reason for thinking about this is to change the way you think about your finances. If you change the way you think about your finances you will change the results you get in the future. Most people work for an entire career and have nothing to show for it at the end. I don’t want you to be one of those people.
I want to help you to understand your finances, take control of your finances and to build a secure and bright financial future for yourself and your family. I am hoping this exercise will be the wake-up call some of you need to get on top of your finances.
More than you earned??
Here is the chart that Katie and I created. We did a little bit of detective work in our files and looked for old P60 forms (UK tax forms), wage slips and other information to work out roughly how much money we had earned each year throughout our working careers! We know how to have fun on a rainy Saturday afternoon! Where we didn’t have the information we took a guess at what we were earning.
Our finances are combined so we did a combined chart. Our combined earnings and combined net-worth. The blue line on the chart below shows the cumulative earnings throughout our working careers.
For many years we have also been tracking our net-worth each month. If you want to Know how to track your net worth click here.
The reason we track our net-worth is to monitor if it’s going in the right direction or not i.e. are we worth more this year than we were last year? Also we don't know how much of our earnings we've kept if we don't compare it to our net-worth.
We then took a guess at what we were worth at different points over the past before we had started tracking. This gave us a complete picture of what we had earned over our lifetimes and what we have left to show for it!
The orange line shows cumulative lifetime combined earnings and the blue line shows net-worth. The gap between the two lines represents our spending.
What did we learn?
Doing this exercise for Katie and I was eye-opening.
In my first 15 years of work I kept nothing! I had absolutely nothing to show for all that hard work. I didn’t save a penny. I didn’t invest a penny. I had nothing to show at all. I knew this at the time and making the graph above recently really brought it home.
I worked from 1994 to 2009 and had nothing to show for that work by the end. NOTHING!
I know that this is "normal*" but it’s still quite a depressing thought. You can see that it motivated me to make a change in the next decade.
The second thing it shows is that progress on finances is not linear it is exponential. What we mean by that is that the growth you will experience in your finances doesn’t happen straight away. There is a lag between when you start getting on top of this stuff and when you see the results. The results happen after continued and sustained effort over a long period of time. You have to work for a long time before compounding takes effect and you really start to make progress!
Out of the 23 years that I have been working our net worth only really increased over the last 6 years. So I worked for 17 years for very little results before finally it came all at once!
I remember listening to a Brian Tracy CD set when I was much younger and he said “when the money comes; it’s staggering how fast it comes!“ At the time I was thinking "Brian, what are you talking about?" I had been working hard for nearly a decade and the money wasn’t showed up! Not only was the money not showing up but I felt like I had made no progress at all!
Looking back I now see the work I was doing was laying the foundations for my future but at the time I was angry that nothing was happening!
It was only after a sustained focus on my finances for over a decade that what he said came true. It takes time, energy, focus and effort to make this real but it is possible!
The other staggering learning from doing this exercise is that we are currently worth more money than we have earned. You might be thinking "how is this possible?" I was thinking "How is this possible?" when I first worked this out.
The reason is that we have invested large portions of our money that we have saved over the years into stocks and shares and other assets that produce a return. These assets have continued to grow in value and to produce a return. So now we are earning money and our net-worth is growing even though we are not working.
It is like priming a pump. You get the handle and you pump and pump and no water comes up at all. You work for sometime and put a considerable amount of energy into it and then eventually the water starts flowing. If you have worked hard at it the water continues to flow even after you have stopped pumping.
It is an interesting concept to consider that we have more money than we have earned in our lifetimes through the growth in our assets! We are now worth 108% of our life time earnings.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t need to do the hard work to get here! We still needed to do those years of work to be able to buy the assets that have then continued to grow and will continue to support us through the coming years. It was the hard work over the years that has created this wave of money that is now flowing to us.
It is possible for you to start right now. The first step is to create a gap between your earnings and expenditure. Then you take the difference and invest it into assets that will create a return for you and support your lifestyle.
Katie and I have been writing a whole series of articles for you. For the full list visit this page on Financial Independence (FIRE) and start reading. We are here to help you make progress.
What did we learn doing this exercise?
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming for you then please read this article entitled the Insurmountable Mountain. We all have to start somewhere!
*25% of British people have no savings at all!
Some help doing this for yourself
This might seem like a daunting exercise to undertake but my incredible wife Katie has done the hard work for you and created a template spreadsheet for you to use! All you need to do is download the template below and insert your details. She has written clear instructions to help you work out how to use the template!
You might be thinking “Alan I don’t want to do this exercise because the answer might be depressing”. If this is the case then it is even more important that you do the exercise.
This exercise will help you to get leverage on yourself to create the change you need to create. Most people are drifting towards financial ruin and I want this exercise to be the motivation you need to course correct.
The real power of doing this exercise comes from comparing it to your net-worth since this shows how much of your earnings you have kept. Make sure you do this step as part of the exercise. Click here for an explanation and a template to help you calculate your net-worth.
If you want to build the financial future you desire, you need to take action and this exercise might provide some of the motivation! Doing this kind of thinking is how you get that leverage to create change.
Please download the spreadsheet and have a go at working out your lifetime earnings and how much you have left!
Katie and I would love to know what you learnt from doing this exercise and what you thought of the spreadsheet. We created this to help ourselves and you to take control of your finances in the future. Please drop us a comment or send us a message on the blog and let us know what you think.
Creating the financial future you desire takes energy and effort focused over the years! But it can be fun and the future that it creates is unbelievably bright. Katie and I want to help you take control of your finances and create a wonderful financial future.
Time is going to pass anyway
You might be sat there thinking "Alan I am 50 years old and it is too late for me!" I want to call bullshit on that statement. You might not be able to reach complete financial independence (or you might) but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do the exercises and take control of your finances. This doesn't mean you should give up and do nothing!
That is crazy speak!
You might already be 50 now but that doesn't mean you can't improve your financial situation. By taking action now you can get control of your finances, put your house in order and with a small investment of time each month you can create a brighter financial future.
It is never too late to make a change and the time is going to pass anyway. You might as well use a small percentage of that time to set the direction of your financial future.
Time is going pass anyway. Use it.
Even if you still believe it is too late for you to sort your finances out, I would say it is still worth doing it. Your example of taking control, working on your finances and making progress will inspire the people around you and the next generation to look after their money.
Download the template. Have a play and let us know what thoughts, feelings and actions it inspires for you.
Katie and I wish you a bright and happy future.
Here are two resources that will make this exercise easier.
For the American's reading this blog my friend's Ron and Brandon had this tip:
For all the US residents interested in seeing their lifetime earnings, here is the link to the Social Security Administration website. You'll have to create an account and heads up, they ask you a ton of questions to make sure you're you. But it's kinda cool to see how much money you've made in your lifetime according to the IRS at least.
For those of us from the UK we don't have such a neat system. You can find out your earnings if you are self employed by logging into the government portal. https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/check-income-tax/what-do-you-want-to-do
if you are a PAYE employee there is no easy was to find this. You will need to go back to your P60s that your employer gives you at the end of every year or if you are as old as me take a guess at what you earnt in part time jobs!