When it comes to finances, I’m all about tracking and measuring. I like to see how things grow (or diminish) over time so that I have a good picture of which investments are working and which aren’t. It also gives me a psychological boost—seeing how far I’ve come from when I first starting making money and saving money—is a powerful thing.
I don’t just use this method for following my savings and retirement accounts, however. I also use it to track my earning power over time. Each year, I set financial goals for myself, and one of them always has to do with my gross income. What income do I want to realize over the course of the year and how can I achieve it? Also, have I been keeping pace with my career/industry in terms of pay? It’s helpful to understand the answers to these questions to ensure I keep moving forward–rather than settling and stalling.
Here are a few things I do in order to benchmark and understand my earning power over time:
- Complete your earning history. Create a timeline, year by year, and mark down your salary or total gross income (any and all compensation before taxes) for each year. You can use your old tax returns if you can’t remember. Get out your calculator and put those math skills to use by calculating your percent increase year after year. Which years had bigger jumps for you? What was your overall percent increase from the very beginning to the present? You can also mark down significant economic/world events that might have impacted these numbers (for example, the Great Recession).
- Do some research. Is your current pay at your current job keeping pace with other companies in your industry? I often use job sites to see if they’ve posted salary information about similar jobs to mine to see what the total compensation looks like. You also can use sites like Salary.com to get a directional picture of what average pay looks like for your job role. Are you above or below the average? If below, it might be time to have a conversation with your boss about that discrepancy.
- Take your timeline and stretch it out five to 10 years into the future. Using your previous earning growth rates, see if you can predict or forecast where you might be, earnings-wise, if you continue doing what you’re doing. Consider drawing a separate line that would be more goal-oriented—where would you LIKE to be, earnings-wise, in those years? Once you know what your ambitions are, it’s easier to set a plan for what you want to do. Do you need to go back to school or get additional training or change jobs to achieve that salary?
In finances, as in life, the old saying is true: Know where you are, where you are going, and where you came from!