$1,000,000 in Lifetime Earnings

Last night, I was going over some expenses to determine what is a “nice to have” and what is a “need to have.” Doing this on a fairly regular basis has become cathartic in the same way that clearing your desk is. It’s minimalism applied to expenses, which serves to remove distractions and get down to the essential.

Of course, none of the monthly expenses I have are actually essential, but I mean necessary to continue saving at rate less than dismal.

Staring at the spreadsheet of expenses, I started to wonder a few things:

  • How much money I’ve made in my entire career.

  • How much money has gone to stuff I no longer use or never used more than a few times.

  • How much money I could have saved had I not spent it on those things.

So, immediately, I searched for my salary history and found that it was missing the past few jobs. Being that I’m getting paid a lot more, it made sense that the most recent work years would amount to the biggest spike in income. After looking up the various amounts and filling them in, I was astounded to find out that I’ve crossed the million dollar mark in lifetime earnings.

Two comma club .. sort of.

For some of you, this may not mean much. And for others, it might seem unreal. I was in the latter group. If you’ve read about my story, you’ll know that I grew up in a house where we didn’t want for things, but we weren’t exactly rolling in dough. The thought of reaching a million dollars was so far off. As I’ve mentioned before, my brother and I marveled at $1,000 when we held it in our hands. I honestly never thought I’d reach a million bucks before I was either old or dead, and yet, here it is.

Next came the easy part. To figure out how much money I’ve spent on stuff I no longer use or never used more than a few times, I could go into some crazy detail or I could just subtract my net worth to figure that number out. Conveniently, I started tracking that number not too long ago, so it wasn’t too difficult to find.

$1,000,000 – $422,000 = $578,000

Granted, a big part of that $422,000 is equity on my mortgage. I could easily include that, but it’s not something I earned through income, so let’s strip it away.

$422,000 – $256,000 = $166,000

Adding in the depreciation of both vehicles, I would bump that up to $175,000. So our new number is something like this:

$1,000,000 – $175,000 = $825,000

Credit: Ingram Pinn (I think)
Credit: Ingram Pinn (I think)

There, that’s more like it. I’ve been working since I was 17, so that means for the last 15 years of work, I only have 17.5% to show for it. In other words, I have let nearly 83% of my income slip like sand through my fingers. True, a lot of that has gone to things like rent, utilities, school — for myself and for the kids –, fuel, vacations but also to eating out (A LOT), asset depreciation and general frivolousness with my income. So it’s not like I’d be a millionaire right now had I just buckled down a bit, but my point is that I’d be a lot closer. I figure that if I’d had a modest average savings rate of 15% for that entire time, it would have come out to an extra $100,000 during that time.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: for all the time I’ve traded in for money, what do I have to show for it?

Yes, I understand that I’m effectively complaining about having so little when I obviously have a lot. But it doesn’t hurt to stop and look back for some perspective. I don’t want to hold my former self accountable too much, because I was ignorant. Things could have gone much worse for a person ignorant of finance. Not that I’m Buffett at this point or anything, but I’ve come a long way.

In fact, this post is more about the next million than about the previous one. The real question at the heart of this post is: now that I know, how much of that next million will I use to become financially independent?

And where past meets present, I now understand that even that 15% is hard to maintain when the future starts looking a little difficult. It’s hard to take income volatility into account when you’re making these numbers up. And 15% isn’t even a good savings rate. I’d rather be saving at 40-50%, or more.

But when it’s not in the cards, it’s not in the cards.

Even if I only save 15% of the next million, that will still be another $150,000 tacked onto my net worth. And while I won’t be financially independent by that point given my current spending habits, I will be that much closer to early retirement.

And, as I’ve maintained, I will continue to push through that earnings gap to make up the difference. Be it through my main source of income or some side hustle, I’m determined to stay focused on that one goal.

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