An individual has two primary tools for managing personal finances. The Personal Balance Sheet is ignored and the Budget is the darling of Financial Consultants and the media. The key to understanding personal finances is that you have to understand your Budget and Balance Sheet individually and also how they work in combination to give you a complete snapshot of your personal finances.
Your balance sheet is extremely important because it shows you where the gold is. It is your personal Fort Knox. It is also extremely important because you need to have a stash of gold in your personal financial picture. The gold in your Balance Sheet is not the Assets. They are the positive side of your Balance Sheet but the real picture of how much gold you have in your Fort Knox is your Net Worth. So just as important to your Balance sheet is your Liabilities. The total of your Liabilities is subtracted from the total of your Assets to give you your Net Worth.
You fill out your Balance Sheet and total up your Assets and Liabilities. You subtract the total of your Liabilities from your Assets. That number, your Net Worth will come out to either a negative amount, an amount of or near zero, or it will be substantially positive. These are the only 3 scenarios possible.
• If your net worth is a minus number, you are not managing your financial resources properly. Your Balance sheet is your report card and you are failing. It is that simple. If you are managing your money to deal with life's challenges and planning your personal finances with your retirement in mind, your Net Worth should be positive and growing. If your net Worth is positive, you can ride out financial storms like the current situation. At the time of your retirement, your Net Worth must be substantially positive so that you will be able to keep costs down and have investment income to replace your working income. During your working years, your Net Worth should be growing steadily because a retirement nest egg does not grow without years of nurturing.
• There are circumstances where where it is acceptable to have a Net Worth of Zero or near Zero. The first is when you are just starting out. It just makes sense that it would be zero. You may have student loans but that is offset by some form of education that will allow you to make more money in the course of your lifetime. The key is that this is the best time to start building your net worth. It allows the principal of compounding value to work its magic on your assets for decades. That saves you a lot of work later in life. However, most of us are not that wise and we find ourselves in our 30s and 40s with little or no Net Worth. This means you have less time for compounding to work. So you have to work harder and especially manage your money smarter to prepare for the financial challenges you face going forward. The nice thing is that you have probably made some mistakes that have made you much wiser. You should be able to recover much faster than you would have in your undisciplined youth.
• If you have a positive net worth that means that you are building assets. Just as important is that you are controlling your debt. This is the key that has probably gotten you to this situation. The key to a positive Balance Sheet is that debt offsets the value of your assets when you look at your personal finances as a complete picture so your debt / equity ratio should be less than one and get smaller and smaller. Debt servicing saps cash flow on your budget that could have been used to build assets that can be used to produce income in your retirement years. Clear title ownership of assets such as your home reduce cash draw and this is incredibly important as you approach retirement.
The financial crisis we are in now is described as a Balance Sheet crisis. We are in this crisis because nobody was paying attention to their Balance Sheets, not even at the rising heights of our financial infrastructure. The symptoms were everywhere. While researching I found that the top sites on the internet for Balance Sheet are those who want to sell you something so that they can gain access to any assets on your balance sheet that might be left after this disaster. Before the disaster, the only thing that had any importance was whether a potential buyer of anything could afford to make the payments on whatever he was buying assuming he made 120% of his declared income. The most outrageous symptom was that people would take appreciating home equity and borrow against it to buy depreciating assets and consumer goods. They overbooked their budgets and now they have gutted their balance sheet.
The resulting loss of home values is the disaster we have now where people have either a zero or minus Net Worth. The other aspect is that we are now wiser. For the good of our society and our financial infrastructure we had better be. Going forward we must pay attention to our Balance Sheets and recognize that is where the gold is. You must save and protect your gold. Net Worth is where financial power is and that is the Importance of a Balance Sheet.