This is the question that Carl Richards, the NYTimes Financial Sketch Guy, used to open his most recent piece. As he tells it:
“Recently, I tried an experiment. I just started asking people how much they make or how much they’re worth. The results were pretty consistent. They’d look at me in shock and stammer a bit.
We’re not comfortable talking about money. We’ve been taught that it’s rude. Even more important, we may be afraid of what the numbers say about us.”
By hiding these numbers, though, Richards asserts that we turn to other status symbols to demonstrate our wealth and our income to the world. And that’s where folks get into trouble. They buy expensive cars (and other Big Hats) to demonstrate that they’ve “made it” when those Big Hats are often hiding a distinct lack of cattle (err, net worth).
Richards encourages NYTimes readers with the following:
“Maybe this idea is too radical, but for the next week, I’d love for you to test this theory. Try living as if everything you did financially was public information. How does it affect your decisions? Do you find yourself still doing things that just look good, or are you doing things that actually are good for you? Do you find it easier to be your authentic self? And, perhaps most important of all, do you now understand the difference between buying the trappings of success and actual success?”
Been There, Done That…Wrote The Blog
For the last nearly 2.5 years, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing on this blog. Each month we use our income statement to tally up what we’re earning and spending, and track the growth of our net worth by refreshing our balance sheet on a monthly basis, too. And we publish it all here on our little blog for the whole world (okay, so our readership isn’t QUITE that big) to see.
So Carl, in case you aren’t interested in digging through our published financial history, here’s the long and short of our financial sharing.
- We gross somewhere around $180-$200K per year in income from our jobs and our rental duplex. It varies a decent amount since Mr PoP works in commission sales. When we first got married five years ago, it varied less, but was much lower – close to $80K/year.
- We aim to spend around $50K or less per year on 2 people and one awesome cat (see photo above). That’s just a tad less than the median household income and less than half the median combined income for 2 working college graduates aged 30-34 (which we are). (Thank you DQYDJ for that stat!)
- The rest (well, net of taxes, which are non-trivial), ends up in various investments that we’ve used to grow our net worth to $787.1K by our early 30’s. (Well, that’s as of September 30. Check back in a week or so for the October 31 update.)
Why Financially Overshare?
We certainly don’t do this because as sometimes-Millennials* we’re obsessed with updating the world about our every move. In fact, the opposite is true. Our lack of engagement with social media is noteworthy, not only in our personal accounts, but for those social media accounts associated with our blogs. (If it weren’t for Feedburner, the PoP social media accounts would be nearly blank.)
We do it because it’s good for us. Because it keeps us on track with some pretty lofty financial goals. Because we believe that it doesn’t take a HUGE amount of spending to live a really happy and fulfilling life and we like being examples of that to others trying to live happy and fulfilling lives with a fair number of luxuries without spending a small fortune.
What’s It Like To “Overshare” Financial Information?
I’ll tell you what it’s like, Carl. At first it felt a little weird. Because, you know… who does this? (Well, except for our initial inspirations behind recording these financial statements online for the whole world to see. Namely, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income with his own published income reports monthly, and J$ from Budgets Are Sexy who had been posting monthly net worth updates online for years.)
But the weirdness in the beginning was pretty easy to get over because we had just a handful of readers that first summer. And it’s pretty easy to share that information when you know basically no one is listening.
Over time our readership grew and we still kept sharing. These financial reports prompt good questions about our spending, and occasionally our income and savings and investments. These conversations and dialog have never veered off polite. In fact, the lack of malevolence in our comment section is something we take pride in since we’ve never had to moderate out for animosity, which tends to reinforce our assumptions that most people in the world are nice!
Things We’ve Noticed When You Overshare Financially
1. People take way more notice of (and nitpick) what you spend than what you earn. Maybe it’s just the nature of life that people expect everyone to have the same spending priorities that they do… But I take this of at least partial proof that people REALLY don’t care as much about the size of your Big Hat as you think.
2. There are lots of different definitions of saving and spending out there. We count our mortgage principal as spending, but a surprising number of folks out there think of it as savings!
3. The accountability of reporting all your income and spending to the world is pretty motivating – and not necessarily in a miserly penny pinching way. We’ve always sought to align our spending with our values, not necessarily aim to pinch every penny possible. Creating and publishing these financial reports is a good mental check-in there since any spending can trigger a conversation about our values.
4. Austin Kleon was quoted in Richard’s piece as saying, “I can’t think of any way that my family or I would benefit from letting other people know the exact amount of money I make — whether it’s more or less than what people think.” Sorry Austin, you haven’t tried it yet. The focus on our financial future and alignment on our goals that has come from sharing them with other people has coincided with reaching goals even faster than our original projections without feeling any sort of sacrifice along the way. It’s truly been financially empowering to share!
But The PoP’s Anonymity Is Like Cheating!
We can ask The Ethicist, but we don’t think hiding behind anonymity online is “cheating”. It’s taking a reasonable precaution… because, dude, it’s the internet. The few who do know us IRL and from the blog have all agreed to keep our blogging personas to themselves.
In IRL, we’re open about our finances to whatever degree is useful (to others) when it comes to folks we know.
- We’ve shared salary and benefit information with friends exploring other opportunities. “Yes it’s possible to earn a good living with a philosophy degree” and “Life outside STEM academia can have a pretty wide range of salary depending what lifestyle you want”.
- We’ve talked about COL in various locales and how we’ve tried to balance our earning potential with living in an area that isn’t insanely expensive or has an undue tax burden on its residents.
- We’ve talked about tools we use to keep track our spending and helped others set them up themselves – going so far as to whip open our own Mint account on our phones to prove how awesome and useful the technology is.
- We’ve talked about investments we’ve made and why we’ve passed on others.
We tend not to be the one to start these kinds of conversations (that feels a little too financially preachy for us), but we’re happy to have them and certainly don’t stammer or act evasively when it’s of use to those we know and love. And we think these financial sharing conversations can be very useful to people at all different stages in their financial lives.
So that’s our experience with financial “oversharing”. It’s a pretty powerful tool if you’re prepared to use it.
So how about you? How financially open are you? Are you willing to break a huge taboo and share what you earn, spend, and your net worth with us today?
* We’re borderline generationally, sometimes included in the “millennial” definition, but sometimes not. I feel we lucked out with a “choose-your-own adventure” approach to generational identity. And speaking of “choose your own adventure”, I just got this book from the library tonight. So excited to crack it open!