How do you prevent “frugal fatigue,” also sometimes called “savings burnout”? It’s that feeling that you’ve been scrimping and saving and you have no money and the debts are still there and you’re not getting anywhere and dammit you just want to not think about it and buy what you want for a little while? I know readers have talked about this, and when I was writing the post about my budget spreadsheet, I realized that I have another spreadsheet I use also that, for me, prevents this kind of frugal fatigue: my “snapshot spreadsheet.” This is how I personally prevent frugal fatigue, but I’m curious to hear from you guys — ladies, how do you prevent savings burnout? Do you rely on Mint or YNAB to give you an accurate picture of your net worth? How do you track net worth changes? Do you have similar ways of recognizing and patting yourself on the back for major monetary accomplishments, like debt payment or saving? (These particularly are helpful in guarding against savings burnout!)
Pictured: Vera Bradley Georgia Wallet, $98 at Zappos in six colors. Love the fun inside lining!
Let me backtrack: when we bought our apartment, we had to keep a list of all of our accounts in an Excel spreadsheet. I’d been using Microsoft Money since college and had set up Mint when we got married, but I was intrigued by a) how this listing of all our accounts felt like a much more detailed, yet simple picture of our money situation, and b) how often I had to update the numbers, even in the short time frame around closing. Investments changed as the stock market fluctuated, debts that we owed changed as we paid them off or accrued new ones (like our credit cards), and so forth. Mint tracked it all, but it was on a micro-basis — I was always startled by how the numbers changed when I came in to do my Excel spreadsheet. So, even after we closed, I decided it was a useful exercise — so every 6 months or so, I take a “money snapshot.”
The spreadsheet tracks:
- Liquid Assets Available – This section of the chart lists every bank account on its own line. For us right now this includes Chase checking and saving (personal), Chase checking and saving (business — I suppose it’s debatable whether I should include business accounts on this spreadsheet, but I’m a small enough operation that I do), Ally, cash we keep in Schwab and Vanguard (not yet invested in the market). I total it at the bottom: Total Cash.
- Investments – This section lists every investment account we have (but not individual positions, which I only keep track of when I intend to take action, like asset reallocation or selling losing stocks to get capital losses). This is where the “snapshot” comes in — it’s just a snapshot of how much money we hold in each account, with full knowledge that it’s changing by the second. This includes joint accounts in Schwab and Vanguard, individual pre-marriage accounts in Schwab and Vanguard, and our 401Ks, IRAs, and 529s. That section has a little total at the bottom: Total Investments.
- Debts – This section lists the total debt remaining on our mortgage and student loans, and our current credit card balance (which I always do my best to pay off every month).
- Assets – This is closely modeled on the section on Mint that has the assets, and I’ve watched it with varying degrees of intensity over the years. Right after we bought the apartment, Mint indicated that the value plummeted, and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. We were still happy with our purchase and felt like we got a good deal, but it bummed me out to see this lower valuation on paper. So I changed it in Mint and stopped tracking the “value” according to Mint, and instead just entered what we had paid for the apartment as a straight valuation — that was what it was worth to me. After a few years, I changed it back to tracking the real estate market, but tried to keep any wide swings in the real estate market (up or down) in perspective. I also “count” the things we list on our personal articles policy here, items like my pearls, engagement ring, and Cartier watch, but I know I’m not accurately tracking resale value either — it’s just another number, and kind of aligns it with my Mint account.
SO! Then I total all our assets — then all our liabilities. Then, after a few years of doing this, I decided to start tracking change — and that is a really long-winded way, perhaps, of addressing how I prevent savings burnout or frugal fatigue.
- Asset increase over last time: (a dollar amount)
- Debt decrease over last time: ($)
- Asset increase over last time: (a percentage)
- Asset increase over one year ago: (%)
- Debt decrease over last time: (%)
- Debt decrease since one year ago: (%)
- Change in estimated house value: ($)
- Asset increase/decrease not counting house: ($)
I like seeing the difference and how things change, and it encourages me — even if it feels like we’re butting up against our monthly limits because we’ve prioritized savings, or even if it feels like I’m always watching the bottom line, it reminds me of the greater goals in the picture. (The image coming to mind right now is one of chipping away at like four different icebergs at the same time…) In case it’s helpful to you guys I’ve mocked up a hypothetical snapshot to show you how it might look for a woman married with 2 kids and a house worth $300K:
So, in this hypothetical, you can see that without any huge change to individual accounts (no windfalls, no inheritances, nothing) they increased their assets by $23K and decreased their debt by $7500K — which is awesome! Sure, $10K of that was from the “estimated house value,” but it was still an asset increase of almost $13,500 in only six months. Go team!
You can download a copy of the hypothetical snapshot above to customize for yourself here if you’d like.
Ladies, this is my method for preventing savings burnout — what do you guys do? I’d love to hear your thoughts and methods. (Do you have a similar tracking system for your net worth — or do you prefer to rely on Mint or another system?)