Monday, March 29, 2010

First Reflections - By the Numbers

Over the last 40 days, Amber and I have given all of our actual realized income to others - mostly in the form of donations to worthwhile non-profit organizations, but also in some more personal ways, such as giving out gift cards to a local grocery store, some generous birthday gifts, buying breakfasts for random people at a restaurant, and so on.

We have kept some money, as I outlined at the beginning. For example, we used the child support we receive from our oldest son's biological father to help with groceries, childcare, and other expenses. We also have a rental house which clears about $50 a month in profit, after the mortgage and other regular expenses are paid, and we put that $50 back for maintenance expenses. And we of course didn't give away money that we didn't get - so my paycheck deductions for taxes, insurance, 401(k) contributions, and so on were all done before the money was given away.

So we had two net paychecks from my day job and a monthly payment from About.com which we gave away. In addition, shortly into the project, we learned I was getting a bonus, and decided to give that as well ... but, again, taxes, 401(k) contributions, and some other things were taken out of that, and we only gave the remaining balance that made its way to us.

I say all of this to make it clear that we really focused on giving away the money that came into our lives during these 40 days, in an effort to stay true to the spirit of what we were doing. Even the $100 I received as the first payment on our sold pickup, which was given to me a few days prior to the start date, was mostly given away.

So now that it was all said and done, I was curious ... how much did it actually cost us financially?

Fortunately, I keep my financial records in Quicken Home & Business, so it's easy to check. This tracks everything - retirement accounts, business accounts, student loans, car loans, mortgages, checking accounts, savings accounts ... I even track how much I have in PayPal on this thing! So I can pull up a report which tells my net worth at the start of the project and my net worth at the end of the project, and figure out exactly how much my net worth changed over the course of giving all of our money away. (The only thing that isn't taken into account is any depreciation on our home or vehicles, or any other physical assets that we have.)

The difference in our overall financial picture, after having given away 40 days worth of income, is ....

$674.37

That's right. From February 15 to March 29, our net worth dropped by exactly $674.37.

But over the course of the project, I also taught a writing workshop which I haven't yet been paid for ... so once that's taken into account, the actual cost is less!

And that's in the immediate aftermath, not even taking into account anything else that may come along as a benefit in the coming weeks!

How is this possible?

Well, my first answer is: I'm not really sure.

I was expecting to be down about $2,000 or so dollars, to be honest, when I ran my original pre-project estimates. That was with us being incredibly frugal ... which we weren't. We normally are fairly frugal (or outright cheap), with a substantial portion of our income going toward debt repayment and savings. Once we unlocked the "emergency fund" and began living off of it, we didn't really exercise a ton of restraint. With the amount of time I was devoting to work and to the project, and Amber being in school full time, and a four month old baby, we spent much of our time fairly exhausted ... so if one of us suggested eating out, the other one typically jumped on the idea.

Since I knew it wasn't from frugal money management, I looked at the accounts to see where the increases were. They were pretty exclusively in our retirement and investment accounts, which is understandable, since these are the only accounts that can go up without putting money into them.

There was some inflow into these accounts, of course. The money that came in was from my 401(k) contributions and the company's match, on two paychecks and the bonus I received. In addition, there's a strange event I haven't been able to investigate yet, where more shares were deposited into my retirement account! I believe this is a result of my company's profit sharing plan, but I'm not sure. I'll have to investigate this further.

Still, these contributions account for a little bit over half of the increase in my retirement and investment accounts. The rest can be attributed to only one thing ... the stock market going up during this time.

Here's the curious thing about these numbers. Once I figure up the actual amount our net worth is down over these 40 days, and the amount we gave out, I notice an interesting relationship. We lost only about 10% of what we gave.

For the math challenged, let me provide an example. (These aren't the actual numbers involved, because I don't want you all knowing my exact salary.)

This would be like giving away $7,400 dollars and then finding that your net worth only dropped by about $700!

It's truly unexpected, and this almost ten percent ratio is a bit chilling. To quote my friend Annabella, "It went from serendipity to spooky." A unexpected tenfold increase in giving is not something that I expected.

I need to let it sink in a bit more to really have an opinion on this.

But your opinions, of course, are more than welcome!