Is Your Money Working for You?

When have you “arrived” as an investor? How do you answer that question? Now that we have reached year-end, I recall the wild ride of 2020. Great January and February following a phenomenal 2019 (33% S&P return that year). And then, Covid-19. I recently saw a funny meme: 2020 year in review: “January, February, COVID-19, December.” And if you haven’t been looking, you might have missed the fact that the S&P 500 returned over 18% in 2020. During which quarantines closed businesses and caused millions of layoffs worldwide. Yet, the market has risen. It hasn’t been a steady ride, but that’s how the market operates. I wondered if my invested assets appreciated more than my contributions in 2020?” Put another way, “Is my money finally working for me?

Is Your Money Working for You calculator

I had never calculated this and so I created a tool for it. Here was my approach:

  • Enter key information:
    • Starting value of portfolio
    • Ending value
    • Annual contributions
  • Calculated fields:
    • $ gain for the year
    • Annual % return

See the format below:


You can use the tool a couple different ways:

  • Forensic purposes at the end of the year (my example above):
    • start of your portfolio balance
    • year-end portfolio balance
    • your monthly contribution
    • tool calculates % return and investment gains
    • see if your portfolio gained more from your contributions or investment returns
    • see how your portfolio return compares to a benchmark, such as the S&P 500
  • Planning purposes at the beginning of the year:
    • start of your portfolio balance
    • projected retirement/investment contributions monthly (remember to include any matching contributions from your employer)
    • projected annual return (based your portfolio allocation)
    • Tool calculates your end of your portfolio balance
    • Compare your projected contributions to the projected $ gain to see if investments gains contribute more to the increase than contributions
    • See what % return enables your money to work for you (investment gains exceed contributions):

Hypothetical example:

The $ Gain from Investments is green because the projected gains exceed contributions. The tool highlights results and displays orange if gains did not exceed contributions.

Tool Benefits

This enables annual review to confirm the accuracy of your projections. And if you record your annual results, you will see which years your money worked for you – the “tipping point.” Which occurs when the portfolio gains exceed contributions. Visualizing this information in a tangible, personalized chart impacts investors.

I compare the investing timeline to a snowball rolling downhill picking up speed. It helps people visualize the power of compounding returns on investment portfolios. The FI community labels Coast FI as the point when you have enough invested to not add another dollar and reach FI. Your snowball is big enough to roll down the hill picking up enough velocity and snow on its own. This is a different angle on compounding interest, but it’s the same principal. The are many calculators on the web that calculate your “Coast FI” number. And I recommend you find out your Coast FI target.

Each year I will record my starting balance, ending balance and total contributions. With this information, I can quantify the extent my money is working for me. This information will encourage people to keep going as they see their progress. An early-stage investor is encouraged to see when their money will work for them. This “tipping point” milestone is closer than your FI number and is a moderate term goal.

The final question I have:

Is Your Money Working for You? – commentary

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