Lifetime Earnings?

I was recently reading the post “”Where Has All the Money Gone?” by Escaping Dodge.  The premise of the article is to go to My Social Security, determine how much I’ve earned in my lifetime, then compare that figure to my net worth (detailed in a future post).  The idea is to shock all of my generational cohorts into Financial Freedom Fighter mode, cutting out all unnecessary spending and preparing for Financial Independence.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the My Social Security website.  I entered the necessary information and logged in.  The initial login page has some information about how much social security I would receive when I turn 67 (about $18,000/year !?!).  I then clicked to see my “Earnings Report”.  I braced myself to see a HUGE amount of earnings vs. not much net worth.

After adding all 15 or so years of work, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I have ‘only’ earned $338,828 through the 2012 tax season.  Nearly half of those earnings have occurred in the past three years (2010, 2011, 2012).  With the addition of 2013 taxes, that figure will be much closer to $390k in lifetime earnings.  My wife has been working the whole time we’ve been married, this number doesn’t include any of her earnings, but even still, I feel good for accomplishing all that we have accomplished on our earnings.

The article “Where Has All the Money Gone?” is meant to shock readers.  Readers are supposed to wonder how all their hard earned money has disappeared.  Based on my findings, I feel I’ve (just about) maximized my potential when compared to my earnings.  Obviously I could have trimmed my budgets in a few places (less Starbucks).

The article is too one sided.  Specifically the article does not ask: what experiences were gained with the money that wasn’t saved/invested?  Granted, many people trade money for things, not experiences.  Things break, wear out, get old, go out of style, etc.  Don’t buy things.

Experiences?  Sometimes the nuances of an experience get hazy around the edges, but generally an experience will stay with you for a lifetime.

Generally experiences are worth…experiencing.  Maybe I’m just getting older, but I was just thinking about one of the road trips my wife and I took.  We flew into San Francisco and over the course of three weeks, we drove from San Francisco to Yosemite, then north through Oregon to Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula.  I thought “We just did that a couple years ago”, then I looked at the date stamp…2006!  Eight years ago.  Time has flown.

I know you’re wondering how My Social Security’s lifetime earning’s report relates to my trip to California in 2006 it’s this: how do I quantify my road trip in California?  I still think the trip was last year.  I can still smell the bay trees in our camp ground; still feel the bone numbing ocean water; gaze in awe at a sequoia; hear the snuffling outside our tent in Crater Lake NP (my wife STILL swears it was a bear); taste San Francisco sour dough at the Ferry Building.  Is that experience worth an extra $3,000 in my bank account?  I say no.

Ask yourself this question: What is your fondest memory?  Time spent at work?  That thing you bought?  Probably not.  You probably answered: Holding my baby the first time; That great Christmas dinner; That time at the beach when she “lost the coffee but saved the boy”; Sitting next to that special someone thinking “I’m going to marry this person”.  The thread that runs through all of those answers: Not one of those experiences cares about your lifetime earnings from the Social Security Administration.

The reason I am driving for Financial Independence is so that I can have more experiences.  I realize it means I will probably have less stuff, but that is a trade off I am willing to make.  I would rather hike the AT with my dad, than buy a 2nd car.  I would rather watch my daughter’s face light up when she sees a buffalo in Yellow Stone for the first time, than put in an extra 80 hours at work for that bonus.

What do you want to experience?


3 Thoughts.

  1. This is my favorite of all entries so far on this blog.

    Thank you for knowing this truth, either intuitively or through decisions your family made while you were growing up (or both!) and expressing it so well.

    The picture of the sequoia is priceless. Like your experience.

  2. Hi HBI ~

    It’s my blog post you are referencing in your post here. First, I’m so glad that you did the exercise and even more glad that you were pleasantly surprised by what you found. You ROCK! As for valuing experiences over things, I’m in complete agreement with you. I’m afraid that I didn’t make it very clear in my post that I am a big supporter of spending on things like trips (as long as you’re not spending the mortgage payment!).

    The “regret test” I discussed was intended to help people uncover spending that brings them closer to the life they want vs buying stuff that gathers dust (both figuratively and literally!). What that looks like is different for everyone.

    I’m looking forward to learning more about you as you move through your journey to FI. I’m sure you’ll get there sooner than you think!


    • Ree, Thanks for stopping by. Your post certainly inspired me to check out my lifetime earnings with the Soc. Sec. Admin. It’s a very interesting website and forced me to take a spin back through the years, which is always nice.

      I do agree with you, experiences need to be within ‘reasonable means’ for each and every person. For instance, a flight on Space Ship 2 may be way out of reach for me, but for Richard Branson, the flight is not a huge deal.

      Definitely enjoyed your post and will be checking out your blog more regularly.


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