Spying on my younger self

By Slow Dad - April 04, 2017

Imagine if you could look over the shoulder of your younger self. A recent discovery of 30 years transaction historical data allowed me do just that.
Today I have a confession to make. A deep dark secret to share. This may come as a bit of shock to some of my more sensitive readers, so it may be advisable to grab yourself a large glass of coping juice (for purely medicinal purposes) and sit down in a comfortable chair before reading on.

Ready? Good.

I must confess to being a data geek.

Not just your average, everyday data geek either. No, it is worse than that. Much, much worse.

Data Geek

I was that annoying little kid who was always asking “Why?” whenever someone told me something.

I was always keen to understand how and why things worked the way that people claimed they did.

Much to the dismay of my parents and teachers I often found those explanations unsatisfactory.

Applied Diplomacy

This quite possibly resulted in my developing, what could be charitably described as, a healthy scepticism of much of what I read or am told. On occasion this scepticism has led to my demonstrating a remarkable lack of subtlety and tact by calling bullshit when I hear it.

All debt is evil”. Bullshit!

The 4% safe withdrawal rule”. Bullshit!

Property ownership is a terrible investment”. Bullshit!

The stock market will always go up in the long run”. Bullshit!

Anyone can save their way to financial independence”. Bullshit!

Maximising pension contributions is the most effective route to achieving early retirement”. Bullshit!

The government wouldn’t dare change pension age/pension eligibility/pension tax treatments/etc”. Bullshit!

Perhaps that is why I love data. My best decisions have been data driven ones, the result of thorough research and considered analysis.

I don’t just like being right, I like being provably right.

That said I have been married long enough to have learned that being provably right is seldom enough to win an argument. That doesn’t make me wrong however!

Buried treasure!

A few months ago I stumbled over a box% of crap that I hadn’t touched since the last time I’d moved house.

Within the box I found an old USB thumb drive#.

On the drive I found an old encrypted Microsoft Money* backup file dated from 2008.

Inside the file was my complete financial transaction history going back to when I first started tracking my finances at age 10. I am slightly embarrassed to admit just how happy finding this buried treasure made me.

I told you I was a data geek!

So what?

This provided me with the remarkable opportunity to virtually look over the shoulder of my younger self.

I could reproduce the reports I had used to evaluate property purchases, borrowing decisions, and so on back in the day. Only I could do so today, possessing the benefit of the perfect clarity that only hindsight can provide.

There were certainly a couple of moments when I wanted to reach back in time so that I could slap my younger self upside the head for being an idiot. Examples include foolishly believing the hype back in the dotcom boom, or naïvely expecting the local government planning office to make decisions consistent with their published development plan for the city.

I reproduced two interesting charts from the contents of the backup file.

The first picture charts how my net worth developed throughout my student years.

Net Worth Over Time - The Student Years

It commenced with my starting my first job, accelerated when I took on a second job, and surged further by taking on a third job. It also shows my first backpacking travel adventure, which was a life changing experience that taught me there was a whole lot more to life than money.

The second shows my progression from freshly minted university graduate through to age 30.

Net Worth Over Time - My First Million

During this period I migrated countries (4 times), made the leap from employee to business owner, purchased an investment property or three, and eventually made my first million.

A brief history lesson

* For any millennials reading this Microsoft Money was an awesome personal finance application, providing similar (but much more sophisticated) functionality to that offered by Mint or Personal Capital today. Microsoft discontinued the product when they realised empowering smart people with sophisticated localised tooling capable of performing thorough and discerning analysis didn’t have as high margins as providing pretty yet dumbed down generic tools to the masses.

# A USB thumb drive was a portable storage device that used to plug into a physical port of a personal computer^, before the ever reducing number of ports available on devices made them technically redundant.

^ A personal computer was the tool us old timers once used for analysing spreadsheets and crunching numbers, before smart phones and iPads made them technically redundant.

% A box is what we used to store and carry physical things in before scanners, cloud computing, and the minimalism movement made them technically redundant.

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  1. The graph of my networth post-graduation (if available) would have looked totally different for me as I descended into the depths of credit card debt!

    I feel quite ancient (actually, I prefer 'retro') as I still use all those "technically redundant" items!

  2. We all have to start somewhere weenie.

    I think I sidestepped that particular trap by working a student job that was mostly good but frequently stressful when dealing with disgruntled customers at their worst. Taught me a lot about learning not to worry about things beyond my control and only sweating the big stuff, but also to focus on what I had to subject myself to in order to earn the money. Certainly a cure for random consumerism!

    'Retro' works, if it makes you happy then it is good. Eventually the hipsters will make all that stuff ironically cool again anyway.

  3. Have you found a good alternative to Microsoft Money? I tried a bunch of stuff and then settled on excel :-/

  4. Hi Pravin. I'm using MoneyDance currently, it is the closest product I've found to the feature set Money used to offer. It certainly isn't perfect, but it does the job.

    I used Quicken for a while and didn't get on with it

    I tried Quickbooks, but found it very limited.

    I tried YNAB, which I think is great at what it is designed for: budgeting. I'd recommend it if you don't already have a good handle on your spending, but if you already know where your money is going then it doesn't add much.

    I also looked into both Mint and PersonalCapital. I'm not a fan of products that use your internet banking logins, so didn't really warm to the approach of either. Also both products currently focus on the US, so if you're located elsewhere like I am then they aren't really going to get the job done.

  5. That is so cool. I started inputting everything daily since 2016 and it is very motivating as you can see how well you done over the time. :) I can see how my pension pots have been doing since 2012 (which gave me a daily reminder of how that paying into a private pension fund as my best financial decision) and the increasing net-worth. These alone inspire me to keep sticking with paying a large percentage of the salary into a pension or investing into S&S ISA and so on.

  6. Agreed JoeCrystal, seeing the line gradually creeping up in the right direction can certainly help.

    I must confess watching the movement of market prices too closely has never been a recipe for happiness and contentment for me, what may look like a smooth(ish) line over a long time period may have actually been a series of rollercoaster rides if examined in shorter increments!

    It is also important to remember that different asset classes experience different rates of valuation change. For example direct real estate holdings might only get revalued each time a comparable property is sold or when it is being refinanced. This can create the illusion that not much is happening for extended periods of time, potentially resulting in a stepped chart like my second one.

    Often times the toughest part of the journey towards Financial Independence is resisting the urge to do "something"... tinker with asset class weightings, rebalance, seek out that fund with a 0.01% lower OCF, and so on. For the most part the successful FIRE strategy is set and forget, but for many financially minded folks who suffer some form of spreadsheet addiction (like me) boredom can be their own worst enemies!