How Much Have You Earned In Your Lifetime?

lifetime earnings

It is common to pay lots of attention to unexpected expenses, through whining and commiserating with others. But look at the bright side; isn’t there sometimes, unexpected income? Maybe your perception of the surprise influx is what keeps you from using it effectively and therefore you don’t fully appreciate it, or remember it, for that matter.

In the book, Your Money or Your Life, written by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, the authors recommend that you record every penny you spend every month. This is a commonly prescribed exercise simply because it is so effective in modifying spending habits. As the saying goes, “Observed behavior always changes.” Which is why this is also a proven weight loss tool; having to record that Biggy Size Combo #1 and a deep fried apple pie certainly weighs on your mind as you ponder your lunch options.

Interestingly however, Dominquez and Robin first recommend that you record every single penny that you have ever received in your entire life; earned, borrowed but never paid back, won from your buddies who bet you wouldn’t shave your forearms, been awarded in a settlement, been paid under the table, stolen, collected as rent, received as gifts, gambling payouts, weekend jobs, payment for test answers in college, informal consulting, odd jobs and whatever other way some coins have landed into your pocket.

In doing this exercise several years ago, I totaled estimates of income from birthday and Christmas gifts, babysitting pay, cleaning my father’s office on Saturdays, yard work, spring-cleaning my grandmother’s house (oh, the countless transoms!), substitute teaching during college as well as each of the professional positions I’ve held. What an eye opener!

I encourage you to do this to see just how much money has passed through your hands in your lifetime. Also, keep a current accounting for a few months to see exactly how much money is coming in now. Pay attention to how you view the “surprises.” Have you previously dismissed or misused them simply because they appeared out of the blue?

This exercise taught me that I was more likely to waste money when it had come to me unexpectedly or easily. I was usually smart with a big bonuses but I wasn’t as mindful with gift certificates, refunds, or expense reimbursement checks. When I charted all of these extraneous sources of cash as income, instead of just filing it in my head as “free money,” I became acutely aware of the wasteful spending that my misclassifications had caused.

I learned that it is important to have a plan for any “extra” money received. Deposit it somewhere quickly so it doesn’t slowly vanish through the hole in your wallet out of which unwatched money can easily slip. For example, pay down the principal of any debt, including a mortgage, deposit it into savings or put it towards the retirement account that you haven’t quite maxed out for the year yet.

Regardless of what you do with it, be as mindful of this as money as you are with your paycheck. Because, as they say, it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.

Image courtesy of radioflyer007

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7 Responses to How Much Have You Earned In Your Lifetime?

  1. frugal says:

    Unfortunatly I have not earned as much as I would of liked too. My jobs started at age 16 but had a few years (4) off to have babies.
    While off from work I learned to save money since I wasn’t making any.
    I got into coupons, found what stores doubled them and took a Sunday paper to get them. The savings a year was more than expected and I continued to save with coupons even after I went back to work.
    There are online sites with coupon forums. When my children where teenagers it took 2 grocery carts to get the groceries out to the car. I saved about $25 to $40 a week off all those groceries with coupons doubled and sometimes even tripled on certain days so I then saved even more. So if you add in all the money I saved to the money I earned then we are talking some big bucks!!

  2. deana says:

    I don’t think it would be possible for me to remember all the money I have made over my lifetime. Especially the small amounts you talk about. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

  3. goodwin says:

    This is an exercise that should be done by those that have already done some budgeting and financial planning. I think trying this as a first financial exercise would end up being more frustrating than helpful.

  4. dan says:

    One of the best ways to create an emergency fund is to use all that unexpected money for it. It can really add up over time.

  5. A Marino says:

    I read the same book and its message is as relevant today as when it was first published. That book has been one of the books that have stood out as a great resource book. His grafts are a great visual tool. I borrowed the book from the library and will probably buy it as a reference.

    And yes, most of us don’t realize how much money has really passed through our hands even though it may have been small gifts or babysitting money.

    My Step-Father once said that if he had saved smaller amounts in his early twenties, that he would have not had to save as aggessively as he had to do in his later years.

    The main thing is to start saving today. Don’t think about yesterday. Do what you can do today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

  6. Teri says:

    Another thing I do is I put all the data from my social security statements in a spreadsheet. I know how much is officially taxed anyway going back to my first summer job at age 16. I then include a column for retirement contributions every year and show the percent income contributed every year (& in total). I also compare total wages over time to net worth. It is interesting. Just another gauge of how we are doing vs. how we should be doing. I have never really heard of anyone else doing this, but I am a money nerd. Was originally more an exercise in curiosity.

    As far as all the extras over the years, lord knows, but probably explains why we have saved such a large percent of our income over time. These days I track everything in Quicken. This year we have about $10k in extra income and gifts and such. I do wonder back over the years how much of that was helping us get ahead that we never particularly tracked or notice (though don’t recall many years this stellar). I should probably add a column in my YTD earnings spreadsheet for all that stuff, likewise. Certainly shows a truer picture. We tend to use the extras to fill in the gaps rather than save (though it depends form year to year – we have covered both ends of the spectrum depending on our circumstances).

  7. Emily says:

    This exercise taught me that I was more likely to waste money when it had come to me unexpectedly or easily.

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