Six Years Later

Kristine Hayes

I FIRST BEGAN tracking my net worth in 2013. Back then, I was newly divorced, in my mid-40s and struggling to figure out what my financial future would look like. I painstakingly logged into my various bank, retirement and investment accounts, and entered their values into an Excel spreadsheet.

As a result of my divorce, I’d lost 50% of my state pension. I did, however, receive half the equity from the sale of our home. This meant a large percentage of my net worth in 2013 was in cash. Between money market, checking and savings accounts, I had over $100,000 sitting in my local credit union.

The retirement accounts I had with my current employer were worth a little over $130,000. Following the Great Recession, I’d invested that money in highly conservative “guaranteed” and target-date accounts. The value of my retirement portfolio had fallen more than 50% during the recession and I wasn’t too keen on investing in riskier funds.

Meanwhile, at the time, I was debt-free. I was no longer a homeowner and my seven-year-old car was paid for.

I calculated my overall net worth was roughly $250,000, but I had no way of knowing what that figure meant in terms of my financial health. I did know I was woefully ignorant about how to manage and invest my money. I vowed to learn all I could about personal finance and investing, and to continue to chart my net worth over time.

For the next five years, my financial life was relatively stable. Rather than buying a home after my divorce, I chose to rent. My monthly rent was less than what a mortgage payment would have been, which allowed me to direct a large portion of my paycheck into pretax retirement accounts. I learned about investing and started to move some of my money into riskier accounts, with an eye to earning higher returns. I invested some of my cash in Treasury bonds and Roth IRAs. As my net worth grew, I felt my money was safe, even during stock market fluctuations.

Six years after I created that first Excel spreadsheet, a lot has changed. Thanks to technology, I can now look up my net worth whenever I want by simply logging into an app on my phone. The value of my various assets is updated daily and summarized for me—far easier than having to log into all my separate accounts and manually add up the values.

In 2018, I bought a house and remarried. My financial bottom line has continued to grow, although the assets are in far different places than they were in 2013. I now keep about $35,000 in cash, serving as my emergency fund. The $80,000 in equity I have in my home is nice, but my $295,000 mortgage means I can no longer claim to be debt-free. My retirement accounts, now invested in a mix of mutual funds, continue to increase in value. Today, my individual net worth is just shy of $450,000, up 80% in six years.

As my husband and I begin the process of combining our financial lives, we’re looking forward to figuring out how best to merge our various assets. Armed with the knowledge I’ve gained over the past six years, I feel far more confident about the decisions we’ll make.

Kristine Hayes’s previous articles for HumbleDollar include State of Change and A Better Trade, as well as her series of articles about her 2018 home purchase: Heading Home (I), (II), (III), (IV) and (V). Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and her two corgis.

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