A couple of months ago, I joined Personal Capital and started tracking my net worth there. In the past, I had a Mint account, but I always got tied up in categorizing payments to make the budgeting look right. That was a lot of time spent and I’ve found that I’m better off just being generally frugal with a few splurges here and there.
Where Mint struck me as a budgeting tool first and an investment tracker second, Personal Capital is the other way around. It seems to be 90% investment and net worth focused with only a small budgeting component.
Before I get too far into Personal Capital, I need to take a step back. Since I started this blog in 2006, I’ve been tracking my net worth with a spreadsheet. That means I can go back to watch 30% of my net worth disappear in the housing crash in 2007. My net worth was very small back then and it was paper money. And sadly, the price of my condo hasn’t caught up to what it was before the crash.
It’s geeky fun to stroll down financial memory lane.
I still update my net worth with a spreadsheet today. I used to do it on a monthly basis, but now it is typically quarterly. That’s simply a factor of not wanting to bug the wife to get her password for her Thrift Savings Plan, which seems to be quite the chore. (Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I cheat and do a net worth update and just assume the value of her investments went up or down similarly with mine. I mark these as “estimated net worths.”)
What I like about spreadsheet is that I fill it in quickly. It probably takes me a half hour. I do this by bookmarking the 20+ websites where I have money and using LastPass to login quickly to pull the numbers. I even have links to Edmunds to estimate our car’s value.
The spreadsheet is also particularly good at combining my money with my wife’s money. It simply has infinite flexibility. I can create new categories such as the kid’s money, our liquid cash, our retirement account totals, and our real estate holdings.
So why would I join Personal Capital when I already have a working system? Personal Capital updates my net worth in real time. If my Google, err… Alphabet, stock goes up, it’s reflected immediately. I don’t need to log into 20+ websites and transfer numbers. It’s the ultimate “Lazy Man” tool.
Personal Capital also gives me different information. I have four retirement accounts with different holdings in each. Personal Capital can look at all them and show me how much of my money is invested in emerging markets. This view into my asset allocation is not something I can easily track with my net worth spreadsheet.
Sometimes, I think I’m crazy to use two net worth tools. I wonder if 90% of people even use a single tool or ever do a net worth calculation. However, I think they both have their benefits and I’ll take a bit of each.
Other than starting this personal finance blog, tracking my net worth has probably been the biggest reason for our financial success. I wish I could convince more people to do both.