Giving Up on Numbers

First let me state this for the record: I am a numbers geek!  And not just a passing sort of geek who tracks his spending and net worth on his blog.  Oh no, I am in fact a professional engineer number geek who worked at creating corporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track the company’s environmental performance. I lived, ate and breathed data and calculations during my career.  I created Excel sheets and databases that give people the sweats just looking at them and take over 20 pages of documentation on how to use one of them.

So when I tell you I’m starting to care less about numbers in my retirement that should strike you as a bit shocking.  After all most of my personal self worth was defined by numbers like:

  • How many steps I took in a week according to my FitBit app on my work phone.
  • How much my net worth increased each month.
  • How many words I could write in a day on a novel.

Yet as I’m spending more of my time just enjoying life after leaving my job I’m been reminded that the best things in life can’t be measured or quantified by numbers.  You don’t measure:

  • The pleasure of an afternoon nap.
  • Or the colour saturation of fall leaves as you go on a walk.
  • The satisfaction of fixing something by yourself.

And this shift can be incredibly difficult for a numbers geek like me.  After all I used to more or less live by the phrase: what gets measured gets managed.  So to not measure things on purpose initially feels wrong or sacrilegious to me but I’m starting to realize that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.

Case in point is I am no longer tracking my steps during a week.  My old work phone allowed me to track that without any extra hardware by just installing the FitBit app.  So I used to review that daily to see how I was doing.  And initially that information was useful, it helped me get into the habit of taking walks during my lunch break at work.  Yet after I quit my job, I handed that phone back in the work phone and my new phone doesn’t allow that sort of tracking. So I could break down and buy a tracking device but I choose not to do that to see what the difference was.  After all, if I missed it I could ask for a tracking device for Christmas.

And here is the thing, if I was tracking my steps I would guess I am moving more after leaving work but I no longer care about how many steps I take in a day.  I used to feel guilty at the end of the day if I didn’t hit my daily goal when I was tracking or I would do silly things like walk around the house just before bed double checking the locks just to hit my target.  Where as now I know I have my busy days where I walk more and less busy days where I walk less.  So my activity level seesaw during the week but the point is I feel good about my activity level so who cares what number is associated with that level.  In short, I care more about how I feel than an objective number telling me how I should feel.  And for a numbers geek like me that is a bit of a break through.  I will say I still miss knowing an exact number but I have been beginning to see sometimes that the un-measurable in life is the better way to gauge your life.

And this is starting to bleed into the rest of my tracking in my life. So while I do have a goal on my Goodreads account for books to read this year (80 in case you are wondering) I no longer care if I hit a particular number.  Why?  Because last year I realized I was putting off reading some particularly long books because it would lower my count for the year.  The tracking was starting to pervert my decision making to things I never intended by the tracking in the first place.  The point of the reading books goal was to make time in my life to read, not to favour shorter books over longer ones that I really wanted to read.

Yet the one item with respect to numbers that I still am struggling with is tracking my financial performance because on the one hand I need to know if things are going off the rails with my retirement plan but at the same time I want to live my life instead of  just checking some numbers.  So what is the right frequency of checking?  I currently do it monthly out of habit but should I switch to quarterly or just do an annual check in?  I don’t know because sometimes looking at the numbers put my mind at ease while other times I find them stressing me out.  I suspect the answer might be keeping the monthly for the next year or so to let me get used to this new life of using my assets instead of just growing them, but at some point I would like to be able to care less about my net worth and more about just living my life.

So my fellow number geeks, what are your thoughts on tracking things in your life?

9 thoughts on “Giving Up on Numbers”

  1. Hi Tim,

    I know what you’re going through because i’m a numbers person (CPA) and also obsessed with my Fitbit and even set up hourly notications to remind me to move 🙂

    But when it comes to checking your financials, it can def drive you crazy if you check every day/too often.

    SRGO came up with a perfect term for those who check too often: “Helicopter Investors”. And I came with the opposite term for those of us who only check a few times a year:”Free range Investors”.

    But I have a feeling that once we payoff the mortgage and start redirecting the extra $80-$115K/year to investments, we will turn into helicopter investors too. God help us 🙂

    99to1percent recently posted…How we plan to pay off our mortgage in 5 years

  2. You’re just trying to get out of blogging lol ! Cmon , stick with it . Monthly at least , how long does it take anyways . It’s minimal time spent . I would say that you need to keep an eye on things as even though your spending is pretty minimal and fine tuned , there is not a lot of margin for error with your asset level should a particular life event cause your spending to go off the rails. You are using your assets now but at the same time you are (or should be) still trying to grow them as much as possible. I think that even without being obsessive about the numbers , you can achieve financial nirvana where after all spending , your investment net worth still increases year after year.

  3. My husband and I joke that we visit our money everyday at CIBC Investor’s Edge and call out “the big number” gleefully (at least recently). As long as we are not drawing down more than we budgeted we don’t track our expenses on a regular basis. In other words, if we are on plan based on a spreadsheet prepared by our financial planner a few years ago, we are not worried.

  4. I am not an engineer, but I’ve worked in the environmental field all of my working life. I would love to hear about about the environmental performance tracking you’ve developed. If you’re ever in Toronto, and your interested in chatting about it, please look me up. Would love to talk shop over a beer.

    As for your question about how often to track your finances – no idea. I used to track my finances “intuitively”, that is, I had a gut feel of whether or not there was enough to do something. It worked for me. Now that I’ve become serious about quitting work early, I’ve been tracking all of my spending. I have a better idea of where all my money is going, but I’m miserable/stressed. Go figure.

  5. As a fellow “numbers guy” from my 23 years working in the actuarial field, I can see how one can be into tracking things a lot. I do keep a watch on my finances, but mainly to see if I need to rebalance my holdings. I do record account balances every month.

    Like you, Tim, I value a lot my daily afternoon naps! :o)

  6. I check balances daily when the Dow and TSX are up:) when markets go down I review only monthly. The big thing is to remain invested. If you miss the best 6 days, you might not make anything. So stay invested. Having a pile of ready cash helps.

  7. Thanks for this post, I think a lot of us in pursuit of FIRE tend to become obsessed with numbers, and net worth.

    from like 20 to 28 I lived my life easily and did an Annual check in to see the progress and after that put it on autopilot and lived my life , being happy and relax the rest of the year, didn’t give a shit about the news talking about the market. Even 2008-2009, I just didn’t give a shit!! It went down and up again and didn’t care, just took the ride, didn’t change a thing in my everyday life.

    But then as the year passed (now 35) it went to quarterly check in, and then months. And even with that we often follow the market daily . In conclusion I think the more we follow our net worth, the more we get stressed and IMPATIENT to reach our number. And then Scared to maintain it .

    Hey when you have 500 000$ net worth and some normal day the market just drops a little 1%, you would be retired and instead of enjoying your morning coffee you would be stressed realising you just lost 5000$ since yesterday…!!! and then would have this anxiety feeling and feel more anxious than if you were at work?? no thanks!

    When I’ll reach my number like you, I promised myself to downshift work a lot, and to take SEVERAL steps back looking at my numbers , cause that’s not where happiness is . and that’s the point of all this adventure.

    Having the time to live.

    And now you have it… enjoy

  8. Good on ya, Tim! I think what you’re discovering is that ever-elusive thing called balance. And that there are an infinite number of ways in which life can be approached and experienced. The ones who make the most of it are the ones who are blessed with the knowledge that none of those approaches are right or wrong. Like nature, you observe, tweak, respond in kind and constantly seek balance.

    Enjoy looking at the leaves as they transition, my friend. You’ve clearly earned it (no pun intended) thanks to your past affinity to numbers.

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