“If you can’t Measure it, you can’t Manage it. ” – W. Edwards Deming
Each year, as a service to our students here at Northwestern University, I hold a special session showing new graduates how to make a personal financial plan. If you are not measuring your personal finances, you are not managing your personal finances. Of course, there are some that roll their eyes and by the end there are many eyes that pop wide open in disbelief. The shocker is that even with that $130,000 job, after student loan debt, outrageous rent in San Francisco or New York, daily Starbucks’ coffee, and some minor retirement planning, it is likely that our well-employed, hard-working, graduate is playing with only about $10-$25 in uncommitted disposable income. Do the analysis sometime! You probably have less uncommitted money than you thought. It can be depressing, but I don’t mean it that way. The challenge and risk is that one can easily be in constant debt without a plan. Still, $20 dollars saved each day over a life time (and invested) can easily reach into the millions. Why is uncommitted income important as a metric? It is the amount that we can use for special interests and the future. Think of it as a surplus. Financial surplus allows people to buy homes, start families, start businesses, take vacations, and accomplish the many goals in their lives. My message is about helping our graduates build a plan for just that. Grow your surplus and manage your debt and lifestyle to have surplus.
With our current presidential election mired in many levels of drama and discontent, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the same financial analysis for the US, overall. The non-partisan, non-political website, http://www.usdebtclock.org/ has an excellent “dashboard” on the financial metrics of the US debt obligations. It is staggering!
Some details that should be part of financial planning:
In short, Americans (through personal, federal, state, and local debt) owe over $66.5 trillion. This is over $800,000 per family. The liquid funds available per family is not quite $9,500. That is our savings or surplus.
We have wealth in America, too. The value of our businesses, homes, and personal assets is estimated at over $123 trillion, and many of those assets have taken generations to build. Assets per citizen are about $381,000, but probably you know many who have less than that and some who have more than that.
We have 324 million Americans. The following statistics are powerful with that population in mind. Ponder that:
And we have to make a plan to do this with our annual $18.5 trillion in GDP. It seems there should be a way, no different than for the students in my class.
We should be looking more at these numbers and building a plan for the future. Measure it and manage it! We should also be asking our governments (federal, state, and local) and challenging the existing political parties to build financial plans to resolve this.
Note: All data is of October 19, 2016.
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