All The Money I’ve Earned (and Spent) In My Lifetime

[Guest author today, Jacob Wade, from]

At 27 years old, I have now hit the 11-year mark in my working career. I have had almost a dozen jobs (nowhere near J. Money’s 30+ jobs!), and have slowly worked my way up to a passable salary at a job I enjoy.

As someone who once blew through $100,000 in 2 short years, I have always been curious as to how much money I have wasted in my lifetime. It’s a tough pill to swallow looking back at my spending blur and not even know where $35,000 of it went, but what if I took my entire lifetime to see how much money has passed through my hands?? Scary.

Let’s start from the beginning…

I was a kid from the 80’s, which meant my parents listened to a lot of MC Hammer and Paula Abdul. What does that have to do with money? Well, MC Hammer blew through a lot more money than I did. Also, I can’t ever get that one Paula Abdul song out of my head (“straight up, now tell me….”).

Anyways…so I was born in the 80’s, and like any good grandparent did back then, they gifted me some savings bonds. Like $100 or something. So, that was basically it for the first 5 years of my life. Unless you count stuffed animals and binkies as money. In that case, I was rich!

Spending: None. Unless you count cashing my cuteness checks ;)

5 Years Old – $100

Once I was old enough to realize the value of money, I started getting some (again, from the grandparents) in my birthday cards. I would get $5 every birthday from at least 3 grandparents, so that’s $15 per year until about age 10. I also started receiving an allowance of about $1 a week. So another $325 passed through my hands in those 5 years.

Spending: Most of my spending included baseball cards, candy and arcade games. But I always had a little saved for a rainy day.

10 Years Old – $425

At age 10, I was starting to pull my weight around the house (not that kind of weight). I worked my butt off, and deserved some compensation for my labor. I mean, seriously, have YOU ever mopped a kitchen floor with just vinegar? TORTURE!

For my efforts, the parentals would drop $5 here, $10 there. I would guess I earned a few hundred over the course of the next 5 years. Add on top of that the average of about $50 per birthday, and I was probably at a good $500. I also started working in the summers doing odd jobs. I earned about $1,000 cold hard (under-the-table) cash! DON’T TELL THE IRS!

Spending: Through middle school and high school, my money went towards food (tasty school French fries) and movies. Because what else is there for a teen to spend money on?!

15 Years Old – $1,925

At 15, I was still doing some odd jobs, but was much too busy with marching band to care (Yes, I was the coolest kid in my school). I earned maybe another $500. But I hit the gold mine at age 16 when I landed my first job at a retail grocery store. CHA CHING! Earning a cool $6.50 an hour, I was really raking in the dough. At age 18, I got my $100,000 to blow through, AND got a job at RadioShack.

By the time I hit 20, I was almost broke again (crazy!). Now I can get into more exact figures, because the kind folks at the Social Security Administration keep track of my income for me!

Spending: You can just read through my post on blowing $100k to find where my priorities were. Ugh! So much potential wasted…

20 Years Old – $132,500

Wow, that was quite a jump. At age 20, I decided to quit work and go to school full-time. I got my audio degree (what is that, anyway?), and picked up a job installing VERY HIGH END home theaters from a company called Definitive Audio. Mostly, I got stuck in the crawl spaces to run wires for 8 hours a day, so I started job searching pretty quickly.

I then worked my way into my current company. I worked there for a year, and then split to go get married and move out of state while my wife finished school. I moved back after she graduated, and we were DINKS (double income, no kids)! I also got promoted. W00t W00t! By the time I was 25, I had received the rest of my inheritance as well.

Spending: Getting married at age 22 and reading a Dave Ramsey book were the catalysts to getting my money in order pretty quickly. We paid off a ton of debt (over $24k worth), started rocking a sweet budget and saved money while living on only $14 an hour! We then bought a house and had a kid, which absorbed the remainder of our money.

I then got a few more promotions and worked my way into my current position. Oh, and I became a tax professional part-time and started a blog that brought in some cash.

So here it is… DRUMROLL PLEASE…

27 Years Old – $601,600


I have let WELL over half a million dollars pass through my hands, and my net worth is less than 15% of that number (~$55,000)…

Wow. Well, I’m going to go cry myself to sleep and then drown my sorrows in bacon.

What My Life Could Have Been Like

Let’s say I took the advice of J. Money and did things like MAX out my 401k and have a sexy budget all along? What if I went crazy and invest 50% of my income throughout my last 11 years of money-making? What would the numbers look like to handle your money well from the beginning?

If I invested 50% ($2,273 a month) for 11 years at 8% my net worth would be = $494,832.50

The Lesson:

That is almost 10x my current net worth. I would probably have a paid-for house, TONS of tax sheltered investments, and would be well on my way to financial independence. I could have cut my working career IN HALF or less if I had my head on straight about how to handle money.

This is serious. If you don’t handle your money with care, count every dollar that passes through your hands with a budget, and invest early and often, you may end up realizing you have WASTED half a million dollars as well.

How much money has passed through YOUR hands in your lifetime?

It may be a hard number to look at, but the numbers never lie. And it’s much sexier to know than to live in ignorance ;) Drop your number in the comments if you feel comfortable. This isn’t a competition, but a great way to get a 20/20 look at your past to give you much better vision for your future.

Jacob writes some ridiculousness over at He’s got a degree in budgeting awesomeness from the school of hard knocks and helps people put their money to work. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and at your local teriyaki shop ordering the Chicken/Gyoza special. Awww Yeaahhhhhh!

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ll have to find my latest report from Social Security too, but the last time I added it up three years ago we were sitting on half a million ourselves. Probably closer to a million now I’d bet – I should run ’em again soon :)

[Photo cred: artist in doing nothing]

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  1. MMD @ My Money Design January 2, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    Oh man, that’s a lot of money to let slip through your fingers! But it’s tough to put anything “over your lifetime” into a context like this. The end result always ends up being really shocking. This is like one of those situations where you realize you’ve slept for 25 years of your life, spent 4 years in ridiculous meetings at work, or sat in traffic for 2 years of your life. Mind-blowing …

    1. J. Money January 2, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Haha indeed… also, how much time you’ve sat on the *toilet* too ;)

    2. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:25 PM

      Yeah, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but I can’t go back. Just taking this and moving forward, and (hopefully) helping as many people as possible NOT do what I did early on :)

  2. a terrible husband... January 2, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    I was thinking about this the other day. I’m a little bit older but my goal is to be at par by 45. 10 years away. Should be interesting… If you go with after-tax income I’m pretty confident I can make it well before then. It’ll be great to be net positive!

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      My house was under until 2013. I’m pretty sure my net worth was $0 for a while there. It’s nice to be in the positive for sure. Never want to go back negative again.

      10 years may seem long, but 45 is the new 35. You’ve got this!

    1. J. Money January 2, 2014 at 10:13 AM

      Nice!! I have that book (Your Money Or Your Life) sitting on my bookshelf too… Been trying to open it up for 2 years now and for some reason still haven’t? Love the graphs you’ve put in there too :)

    2. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      That book is on my wish list! And sweet graph. It’s great to look at reality and be o.k. with where you’ve been, knowing how much you are going to rock moving forward.

  3. Money Saving Dude January 2, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    Well, I’m not 18 yet, and I haven’t got any actual job. So, I haven’t got that much money just like you did back then.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing those, I will surely do some of your advice. I’m planning to invest this May when I finally turn 18. I’m currently just focusing my attention to my studies and the blog that I’ve started.

    1. J. Money January 2, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      Dude – way to be ON THIS STUFF though so early! Money was the last thing on my mind at your age (well, except for spending it ;)). You’ll be much farther than the rest of us old farts by the time you’re here – keep it up.

    2. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      Nice work. Crazy to see someone your age thinking so far ahead. Kudos!

      I’d say check out a book called “Millionaire Teacher”, and read blogs like Budgets Are Sexy, Mr. Money Mustache and iHeartBudgets to get started on the right foot. You are LIGHTYEARS ahead of your generation.

  4. John S @ Frugal Rules January 2, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    I was just talking about this with a family member the other night actually – because nothing says New Year’s Eve fun like talking money. ;) It has been a couple of years since I looked at what it was and know I was thinking the same thing – where did that money go? That said, it’s a great reminder of using past mistakes to help guide you make much wiser and better decisions now!

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      I always seem to learn the hard way. People who found this website and others are truly blessed to gain wisdom through others instead of their own mistakes.

  5. Brian@ Debt Discipline January 2, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    I have never calculated all the money I have earned in my life time. I may cry when I see how much has been wasted. Good for you Jacob at 27 your on on the right path, continued success!

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      I almost cried. Especially since I’m only 27 (well, now 28 as of a few days ago). But I’ve got some time to make the most of the rest of the money that will pass through my hands!

  6. Holly@ClubThrifty January 2, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    I shudder when I think of all the money I wasted in my 20’s. Not sure how much….but it’s a lot! Better late than never, though. Right Jacob?

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      Absolutely. The best day to start rocking a budget and kicking financial @$$ is TODAY! Look back at mistakes, but don’t get depressed, get motivated!

  7. Abi@DesertScrooge January 2, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    This is a truly frightening list. I completed this exercise when I read Your Money or Your Life and dang if I didn’t want to impale myself on the nearest dagger for wasting so much money in my life but I’ve learnt to forgive myself for it and now making much better decisions. Better late than never, eh? :)

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      Yup! Never never did anything ;)

  8. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life January 2, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    Imagine if you had continued your late teens/early 20s habits. Rather than seeing what you’ve passed up, I think it’s pretty crazy awesome to see how far you’ve come and know how much your early financial habit changes are setting you up for success in the future.

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      Thanks Stephanie! I guess things have gone much better ever since I got on a budget. I would have probably been at a -$100k net worth had I kept going.

  9. Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life January 2, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    When I read posts/articles like this, it reminds me how lucky I am that my mom raised me the way she did and how much I love personal finance. Even though it makes me a bit more scared to spend money than most, I’d rather miss out on a few nights of drinking than realize that my net worth is down by 100k…

    But the best thing is you are not continuing those terrible habits from before!

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      Yeah, I was a moron. Looking back now, I don’t know where $35k of my $100k went, but pretty sure I spent just buying food, drinks and clothing.

  10. Broke Millennial January 2, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Wow, that is a bitter pill to swallow. I’m a bit afraid to go and total that up myself. My new year’s resolution (which I hate making) is to actually be really meticulous in writing down every penny I spend and earn this year instead of using my old form of generally vague budgeting. I’m considering getting an MBA so I want to be able to pinch pennies every place I can in order to save and by looking at my cash outflow and I can really plug those leaks.

    1. Jacob January 2, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      That’s a great resolution. Tracking every penny and rocking a detailed budget is the best (financial) thing that’s ever happened to me.

  11. DividendVet January 2, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    A lot of people spend their money on liabilities rather than buying assets. So, this is what happens when you work for the money and don’t invest your money. But more importantly, investing in your knowledge how to invest and the type of strategy of investment to use is essential in todays society. I learned and follow Dividend Growth Investing (DGI) strategy which has been the best thing!

  12. Done by Forty January 2, 2014 at 1:17 PM

    I do not have the courage for such an exercise. I rationalize it by saying that sunk costs are irrelevant (and they are). But the real reason is that I have no interest in feeling regret over something I can’t fix. The past, she is gone.

    1. Jay January 2, 2014 at 8:38 PM

      Absolutely true. I could do the same with job choices, house choices, etc. Hind sight is 20/20! We can only work in the present.

    2. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      I like looking back to look at trends and behavior to learn from mistakes and possibly help others who are in a similar position not make the same mistakes. Regret doesn’t help, I agree.

  13. SavvyFinancialLatina January 2, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    Hmm…don’t want to think about this! Hopefully, we haven’t wasted too much money.

  14. MonicaOnMoney January 2, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    Wow! That is a lot of money over only 11 years! This really inspired me to look at my own spending and saving. I’m still paying off a condo so my savings aren’t as high as I’d like it to be. But once I’m done paying off the mortgage, the sky is the limit.

    1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      It’s a much higher number than I thought, but it also motivated me to be a BALLER with my money over the next 10 years of spending. I hope to do this exercise again in 10 years and have my net worth be higher than my earnings….we’ll see :)

  15. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen January 2, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Good memory to remember all this! I don’t even know if I could do this that well if I think back to this…might be fun to try on a day when I’m lazing around doing nothing!

    1. J. Money January 3, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      I know right? If only we could remember all of that stuff! Though my dad did tell me recently most of it can be found online at the social security website which is cool… that would take care of all the money that was legally reported, at least ;)

      1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        I tried that site, and couldn’t seem to log in. Like, tried every day for 2 weeks. Government shutdown maybe? ;)

  16. Aimee January 2, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    I have made, and pretty much spent, about $250-$260k in my nearly 28 years of life. I think I might throw up. The biggest chunk has been spent on my education: BA ($40-50k), MSA (about $10k), CPA (about $3k), and loan interest (about $12k). The next biggest chunk would be on rent ($25k), followed by car fuel and maintenance. I have about $10k in retirement. I guess that boils down to mostly unaccounted for! This is so disturbing.

    1. J. Money January 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      At least you’ve got some good degrees out of it! AND they’re one-time costs. Which is pretty important to keep in mind :)

  17. FrugalTeacher January 2, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    I’m looking forward to the day that I can say I have a positive net worth! Until this summer, I wasn’t putting anything away for retirement (luckily, my employer gives 7% of my salary to a 401k – no match required!). I’ve started throwing $100 into a Roth IRA a month. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m hoping that within two years, I’ll hit a positive net worth (currently have 55k of student loans) – hopefully sooner!

    1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:43 PM

      Just make sure to get on a sweet budget, put together a debt payoff plan, and throw everything you can at it. You’ll be positive sooner than you think!

  18. charles@gettingarichlife January 2, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    In my 20s bought a needless BMW and missed on some great investments like a home in the Bay Area. My financial stupidity cost me over $400,000 in wealth. That’s a lot of beers I could’ve bought.

  19. jim January 2, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    Wow you guys are hard on yourselves! I didn’t have a pot when I was 28 years old (had plenty of debt, but no pot to speak of). Spouse was still in school and I wasn’t making squat for money. We had a lot of fun in our 20’s and I don’t regret a minute of it. We didn’t get really serious about our retirement, budgets etc until we were in our 30’s. 25 years later we’re doing ok and so are our kids. Maybe it’s because the internet didn’t exist back in my day so access to this kind of info wasn’t as easily accessible. Sometimes I worry that “personal finance” people put undue pressure on themselves. I’m not criticizing, merely making an observation – but I hope you don’t give yourselves ulcers. That said, I do find your motivation and goals very impressive.

    1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      Thanks Jim. And I agree, no need to really stress about it. But I do like to instill a sense of urgency to those who don’t have a good budget. The best time to start is always today :)

  20. SarahN January 3, 2014 at 3:05 AM

    Interestingly, i drafted a post about tax returns, and found I’d earnt about half a million (I’m 28 at the end of the month) and paid 21% in taxes. For that money, I had at least $100k for a down payment for a house. I have $8k or so in shares. And I have $25k in offset for my mortgage. Over two years, I would have paid $50k in my mortgage too. I have also travelled internationally a lot (from Australia), so I would confidently say I have spent in the order of at least $30k on that. I also ‘got’ $10 k like you got $100k when I was 21, and I used that to live on when I spent a year studying abroad.

    I think not being a big drinker, and never touching drugs has helped. I’ve also never bought a car (I have inherited one, and paid expenses), only a scooter. If I had my time again, I don’t even think I would have done anything much differently. Lastly, school debts in Australia are *tiny* compared to the US, so they hardly warrant a mention (about $4-$5 per annum, which I often paid upfront)

    1. J. Money January 3, 2014 at 3:12 PM

      I’d say that goes in the category of “winning!” :)

  21. Kirby @ TheSimpleMoneyBlog January 3, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Wow! Thanks for the post. Very unique perspective, and fascinating when you look at the numbers from such a high level! We regularly keep up with, and I also keep track of Quicken (for historical purposes since I’ve been using it since around 2004), so when I get around to updating everything through December 31st of this last year, this would be an interesting thing for us to look at too. It’s fascinating enough to step back from a month-by-month and look at a quarter’s worth of saving/spending, but it would be interesting to see a multiple year perspective like this too.

    1. J. Money January 3, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      That’s the best – being able to go back and look at everything. I’ve only personally been tracking my money since 2008 (the start of this blog) which gives me 6 years, but MAN what I wouldn’t do to go back even farther… Oh well, gotta start somewhere.

    2. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      It’s great to look at trends. It was a fun exercise to do, I suggest everyone give it a shot. And then do it again in 10 years and see how much better it looks :)

  22. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer January 4, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Great article, Jacob. Us being in our mid-forties, I really don’t even want to know how much cash has passed through our hands, but I know it’s ALOT. Thankfully, we’ve got our crap together now. Better late than never. :-)

    1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:47 PM

      The best time to start on a budget is today, as I always say. Much better than never :)

  23. Tahnya Kristina January 4, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Great post. I am 33 and I’ve been working two jobs since I was 15, I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve earned in my working life. Even more scary than that, how much I have paid in interest charges from accumulating debt over the past few years. YIKES is the word that come to mind.

    1. Jacob January 5, 2014 at 4:50 PM

      That would be another fun exercise, one I’ve thought about doing. But I don’t really want to. I have paid a LOT of interest on my mortgage, unfortunately. :\

  24. Anne @ Unique Gifter January 6, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Hmmm, it’s a bummer to look back and wish you’d done things differently. Alas, life shall go on! It’s good to know that saving half your income has such a sweet return :-). We’re currently saving a bit more than that and I love it.
    Nice post, Jacob.

    1. J. Money January 14, 2014 at 10:29 PM

      Haha… that’s awesome. Good one :)

  25. Franklin B January 19, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I started a detailed budget program in 1998 as tool to reach a couple of goals. For 16 years, I tracked every dollar that passed through my hands for a family of 4.
    Why 1998? That was the year I read “Your Money or Your Life”. It’s when I officially took control of the spending side of my finances at age 37.

    I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have the excel sheets and details from my budgets for my expense tracking.
    $1,454,370 (that’s right $1.45Million)

    This is the expense side of our cash flow and defined as household operating expenses. It also includes capital expenditures including car purchases and home improvements.
    It does not include 7 years of college expenses which resides on separate ledger. (I have those figures if anyone is interested.)

    1. J. Money January 20, 2014 at 2:58 PM

      Wowwww that’s AWESOME that you’ve been tracking it for so long though! It makes my 6 years look like a baby! ;)

  26. Dividend Family Guy June 20, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    I am just like you Jacob. Had I saved and lived within my means I would be a wealthy man today. Sure I have been tracking things since I got out of college but when you don’t pay yourself fist you end up with not much. Now I have learned that lesson and am passing it onto my kids.
    Keep rockin,

  27. Jennifer March 14, 2018 at 6:05 PM

    Hi Jacob (hoping you’ll respond lol). I am a 25 year-old female who is currently battling bouts of depression because I too, spent my inheritance of 100k in about 2 years with little to show for it. I read your reply to a comment saying “don’t get depressed, get motivated”. Did you at any point get discouraged about your future? And if so, do you have any tips on getting past it? I know what’s done in the past can not be changed but I’m not looking to the future very brightly.