Home Accounting 101

Get a handle on your finances with this guide. Figuring out your net worth and drawing up a budget is easier than you think.   

Calculate Your Net Worth

Let’s start at the beginning: Before you do anything else, it’s essential to figure out just how much you are worth. The easiest way to do it is to get a pad and pencil and make two lists—one of your assets and one of your liabilities.

Your Assets

Start by adding up the current value of everything that you own or have coming to you:

  • Cash: Total of your checking and savings accounts, money-market funds, and CDs (certificates of deposit).
  • House: The market value of your home.
  • Other things of value: This includes jewelry, automobiles, home furnishings, art, vacation home, and such.
  • Insurance: Figure out the cash value of all your policies.
  • Investments: The current value of stocks and bonds, any rental properties, real estate partnerships, oil and gas partnerships, gold and silver, company stock options, personal collections (stamps, coins, antiques, and such), notes receivable, and the book value of a business.
  • Retirement savings: RRSPs, pension and profit-sharing plans, 401(k)s, any deferred compensation, and company savings plans (only count the money you could take if you left the company tomorrow).


Your Liabilities

Now add up all your debts—the amounts that you owe to others: 

  • Mortgage: Be sure to include home equity loans.
  • Loans: Bank, car, and any other loans or notes.  
  • Credit card balances or any other outstanding debts.


Your Net Worth

Once you have your two lists and have totaled them up, subtract your total liabilities from your total assets. The result is your net worth. Write that figure down. Memorize it. That’s the number that will tell you when you can retire and how far along your are toward reaching your financial goals. Chances are your net worth is more than you think; however, if you find out that you are worth less than you think, let it serve as a wake-up call to revise your budget fast.

Get with the Budget

Every household should have a written budget. Some people have the feeling that if they balance their checkbook regularly that should suffice. But focusing only on your checkbook is not a realistic, safe, or forward-thinking way to approach your financial well being. It is also crucial to be honest about your budget, even when you overspend. Again all you need is a pad and pencil.


Total Income

Add up all the money that you can expect to receive during the year: 

  • Regular paychecks and bonuses.
  • Part-time or freelance income.  
  • Interest.
  • Dividends.
  • Other income: Rent on properties, benefits, and so on.


Fixed Expenses

Next add up all the payments that you make on a regular basis during the year: 

  • Mortgage payment or rent.
  • Electricity, gas, and water.  
  • Telephone: Home and cellphone.
  • Internet service.  
  • Alarm service.
  • Cable or satellite dish.  
  • Insurance: Life, medical, dental, disability, homeowners, and automobile.
  • Debt payments: Home equity and car loans.  
  • Commuting expenses: Tolls, train or bus tickets, and such.


Variable Expenses

Now add up all the payouts you make that vary more widely from month to month: 

  • Food and beverages.
  • Paper goods: Toilet paper, paper towels, and so on.  
  • Car maintenance: Gas, oil, upkeep.
  • Home maintenance and other improvement.  
  • Furnishings and appliances.
  • Clothing.  
  • Personal grooming: Haircuts, beauty products, etc.
  • Recreation: Dining out, sports or cultural events, movies, museums.  
  • Vacation.
  • Gifts and contributions.  
  • Health care not covered by insurance.


The Moment of Truth

Subtract all your annual expenditures from your total annual income. If the total expenditures are less than the total income, you are living within your income; if the expenditures are more than the income, you need to go through your variable flexible expenditures—and some of your fixed expenditures as well—and reduce your spending.

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