What If Your Net Worth Was Revealed?

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Do you ever think about your net worth? Do you ever think about what someone else’s net worth might be? What if everyone’s net worth were displayed above their head, everywhere they went? These are the types of questions that run through my mind (for some reason) on a daily basis.

What’s Your Net Worth?

For those of you that don’t know, net worth is simply the value of your assets minus the amount of your debts. If your assets are worth more than your debts, you have a positive net worth! If not, then you net worth is negative.

How would you feel if your net worth was displayed over your head? Would you feel proud? Or, would you be embarrassed? I think if my net worth was displayed for all to see, I would feel ok about it. Most people my age are still hanging onto student loan debt, which most likely pulls their net worth below zero (since student loans have no value as on asset, only as debt). My wife and I were able to pay off our loans in full a few months ago, so our net worth has been vaulted into the positive (yay!).

You’d Be Less Inclined to Spend Foolishly

If your net worth was visible to everyone, you might choose to spend your money a little more wisely. As you purchase your cappuccino, donuts, and expensive lunches (expensive means more than $5 because you can eat for way less than that at home), your number would visibly go down. It would be an instant reminder that every purchase makes a difference!

Those Joneses Wouldn’t Look So Cool Anymore

Often times, we envy the lives of the “Joneses“. They’ve got brand new luxury cars, a huge mansion of a house, and a large boat in the driveway. They look like they’ve got all the money in the world and your tiny house and 15 year old car have always made you feel inferior.

You may have wondered to yourself at some point, “How in the world can they afford all of those things on their salary? We perform the same job, so our incomes can’t differ that much!” Typically, the answer is debt. They have tons of it and you don’t.

If their net worth number were hovering above their head, it would most likely read, “$0.17”, or something like that, because their boat and cars are depreciating assets. They took on a large amount of debt to get them new, but today, their values are most likely less than what’s owed, causing their net worth to slump considerably.

As for you, you have $40,000 of equity in your house and your cars are fully paid for, plus you have a retirement plan that’s worth $45,000. Your net worth is most likely somewhere around $100,000!

Suddenly, those Joneses don’t look so impressive do they?

The next time you see those flashy neighbors, picture them with that dollar sign over their heads. Then remember what yours reads. Hopefully this will keep you on track with your financials and keep that smile on your face. πŸ™‚

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49 comments to What If Your Net Worth Was Revealed?

  • Yoshima Mockmed

    Being young and in college, I always aspire to be like people who seem to have the ‘Jones’ lifestyle. But it’s hard to tell who has the money and who has the debt. I think your idea of having networths above people’s heads would make this a bit easier πŸ˜‰

    • It really is hard to tell….which is unfortunate for those of use that don’t know what path to take in life. Rather than look for nice cars and big houses, take a look at folks that are in their 40s and 50s and are already retired. They obviously have a good idea of how to make money and invest it wisely.

  • Sean

    Good idea! Wonder if you have a picture of someone with a number on their head.

  • I really like this post. When I read the title, I thought I wouldn’t, but the content reflects that people who live rich are probably making themselves poor. Love it. They probably are! I see people all the time around me who live more flashy lives than me (slightly better car, or one more car, nicer house, nicer clothes, an extra vacation, a fancy phone) but not really a better life. At the same time, their net worth is very low while mine is closing in on a million. I feel just like you said πŸ™‚
    Alex | Perfecting Dad recently posted..Happiness is a Handful of Dirty Cheerios: An Antidote to the Miserable Family

  • Haha, I would prefer to keep this information private but it does give me personal satisfaction when this number improves.
    Invest It Wisely recently posted..Are You Investing Wisely in Yourself?

  • From my experience over the years, the way people live might not be too correlated with their actual net worth. At least less correlated that one might think.

    Some people who I know have significant assets, live as though they were barely middle class. Others I know who have lived it up with a McMansion with all the best furnishings were not as solvent financially. It’s a matter of people’s expectations with living within their means, and the image they want to portray.

    Personally, I like to keep such information private. If anything, I’d be likely to shy away from any kind of positive talk on my savings. If I was forced to maintain an image of a moneyed person or a poor person, I’d choose the image of a poor person πŸ™‚ But I like a certain level privacy, as it’s just what works best for me.
    Squirrelers recently posted..Gift Cards: Hurry Up and Use Them!

    • I think we all like a certain privacy about our finances, but it sure would be nice to see who was faking it! I’ll continue to live a middle-class lifestyle, while earning more money each year and putting it toward investments. I’d rather have a passive income with little effort than a McMansion with massive debt.

  • Interesting idea. I’ve been posting my net worth on a monthly basis on my blog, and it’s helped me to try to keep a better eye on my finances, and to (at least, attempt to) spend less and earn more money. I can only imagine that if everyone, from my mother and fiancee to every stranger I passed, could see my net worth at all times, I’d be even more motivated to get my finances in a better order and keep them that way.

    That said, I think that just the net worth, without any context for WHY it is what it is, could be just as misleading as no net worth at all. Think about it; how do you know if the ‘Joneses’ with a net worth of $0.17 got that way because they spent all their money on a big house and huge boat, or because they’ve put all but their last $0.17 into medical care for a sick daughter? Taken out of any sort of context, there’s really not much you can learn from someone’s net worth, other than what their net worth is at a given moment in time.

    Still, I’ll admit that I’d like to see the net worth values of some of the investment gurus and other ‘get-rich-quick’ types out there; I imagine they’d be much less successful if while they were pitching their books, a great big $1,457.29 (or some similarly not rich at all number) was floating over their heads.
    Roger, the Amateur Financier recently posted..Frugal Friday – Going Out

    • You could be right Roger, someone’s finances could be in disarray from medical expenses, but why then would they be trying to live the high-life? If I started having medical problems, I would live as cheaply as possible and give up my house if I had to!

      • B Kelly

        I can definitely vouch that a health crisis that sneaks up on u can dilute a lot of net worth in a blink of an eye. Been personally affected by this very same issue n many many thousands have just gone towards getting better. Don’t need to sell the house thank god, but de savings is sure taking a beating!

        Btw – great article as usual. Haven’t had tine to write on my own, but sitting here outside de doctor’s clinic, enjoyed ur article more than de gossip de nurses are chirping about!! Lol… ;p
        B Kelly recently posted..What’s Your Version of Debt-Free?

        • Haha! Thanks for the comment B Kelly! I like your little plug about the nurses’ gossip – it’s so true.

          We technically didn’t even close on our house yet, but I can’t wait to pay it off! I can’t stand debt and would love the security of being debt-free once again. This will also help our net worth without a doubt!

          What do you think is a good net worth to have by 30 years old? $250k?

      • Well, as B Kelly notes, those health care crises can sneak up on you pretty quick; it’s possible that our hypothetical ‘Joneses’ were doing pretty well, doing everything right, with a not outstanding net worth (perhaps lowered by mortgage debt), when tragedy struck and dropped their net worth like a stone. As to why they haven’t sold their home and other outward trappings of wealth, there are plenty of reasons I can think of, from wanting to preserve the life they had before to not thinking that it would make much of a difference to their net worth. (Again with the mortgages, it’s possible they could be underwater on their home; selling would mean they’d have to get a new place to live without getting any proceeds from the sale. Given that sort of situation, I’d be likely to stay where I was, regardless of how much of a poser my house made me look.)

        Now, I’m not saying these sorts of extenuating circumstances are present for all low net worth, extravagant lifestyle individuals. Most of them, perhaps nearly all of them, have the net worth values they have because of poor decisions that were completely within their control. I’m just saying that net worth values alone don’t give the whole picture; add in a few more strategic numbers, like credit card debt, mortgage debt, investment totals, and income, and you’d have a much better picture of how well (or poorly) your neighbors really were doing.

        While we’re on the subject of numbers I wish were public knowledge, let’s toss in amount paid in taxes, too. Particularly for politicians, it’d be interesting to see how much of their income actually goes toward the tax coffers. It would likely undercut many of those who argue that tax rates are too high if it was possible to just look over their head and see they brought in $1 million but only paid $1 thousand in taxes. It could also underscore the arguments that the middle class pay too much in taxes if as you looked around your neighborhood, you saw that most people, with all the taxes they face, were putting 20%, 30%, 40%, or more toward taxes. With things the way they are now, though, you can’t tell who is really being pinched by taxes and who is just complaining.
        Roger, the Amateur Financier recently posted..The 6 Best Personal Finance Books I’ve Read (Thus Far)

        • You have presented many reasons for why someone might have a low net worth – many of which involve the house. All of your reasons, however, could have been avoided if they would have bought a place that was simple and non-extravegant, and then paid like crazy on the mortgage. If your house if fully paid for, there’s really no such thing as being “upside-down”. It’s just your dwelling that houses your stuff and keeps your head dry. That’s all. By being debt free, many of these low net worths could be avoided.

          Also, in this economy, my wife and I have found a way to increase our income every year (actually, every month). The money is out there, we all just have to be willing to learn how to get it. Those that depend on the income of one job do not understand the changing world today. If they choose not to learn, then they’ll be talking about this “bad economy” for a lonnnggg time.

  • ltimothy31

    Well I always try to keep my net worth to the positive side and generating passive income is the best option to do that. I don’t mind other knowing my net worth as long that they do something bad to me, possibly it can make them realize that spending out off their income is not good for them..
    ltimothy31 recently posted..Online Dating

    • That would be the scary part wouldn’t it? Having someone try to come after you because you have a high net worth. That might be another reason not to be one of the Joneses! If you live in a mediocre home, chances are no one’s going to think you have a million bucks in the bank! πŸ˜‰

  • The irony is high net worth people generally do not discuss their net worth. It would be bragging. Personally, I would not want to reveal it either. Not because it is low, but I would not want to brag. Living in southern California, I see a lot of people display their wealth. Whether they own their assets free and clear is anyone’s guess.
    krantcents recently posted..Put Your Name on It

  • I used to joke that we should all have our net worth written on the back window of our cars. It sure would make those expensive SUVs less appealing!!
    Ashley @ Money Talks recently posted..How I Got a Free $200

  • Having your net worth revealed would be like walking around naked. Ok, maybe not so intense but it seems like society views finances as a personal thing. But I think that with more openness, there would be less people stressed about their finances.
    Financial Success For Young Adults recently posted..How to Use Technical Analysis to Trade

  • It’s sad that what’s caused a lot of people to go further in debt is “keeping up with the Jones,” which obviously has a negative impact on one’s net worth and causes some people to live paycheck to paycheck (very stressful IMO). I personally, prefer not to keep up with the Jones and focus on my own priorities and financial goals πŸ™‚
    World of Finance recently posted..Beauty on a Budget

  • I think a lot of people get into trouble trying to look as wealthy as their neighbors. They go into debt for big ticket items that they don’t really need or even want just to appear more successful. The irony is that their neighbors are probably doing the same thing! If our net worth was displayed to everyone, maybe we could all just stop the game and learn to be content with what we have.
    Dave recently posted..Living On One Income – How to Succeed as a One-Income Family

    • Everyone’s a one-upper these days. I’ve experienced that lately too. My wife started her photography business a few months ago and needed a nice camera, so we got her one. My friend has been drooling over it ever since and will no-doubt upgrade to a newer model in a few months. It’s really too bad that we all can’t be more content with what we already have!

  • […] of accountability Life and My Finances asks what if your net worth was revealed?Β  Would that change how you spent your […]

  • This is an interesting idea.

    Think about how social media and the power of having hundreds of people find out about the “inner you” affects decision-making at the margin. I’m sure people would make much smarter decisions if their net worth were public information.

    I wouldn’t like it, personally, but I keep a lot more private than most people. I just like my privacy, really.

    I think there’s a European country (I can’t remember which) that makes all tax records, including income taxes, 100% private. Insane!
    JT recently posted..If I had a million dollars

  • For many people, net-worth figures is associated with nudity ie they will feel naked if they lose the privacy of their net worth number!

    I’d rather keep it private as it’s not that exciting anyways πŸ˜‰
    BeatingTheIndex recently posted..Why Electric Cars Won’t Kill Oil Anytime Soon

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  • I don’t understand why it’s not more public. I share my net worth and income on my blog, but I do it anonymously due to agreements with my employer. Once I retire early in 2 years, I have no problem sharing it all.

    I’ve never understood why we can talk about our health, sex, and political opinions, but not our wealth. Why is money so secretive?
    Brave New Life recently posted..Safe Is Risky – Early Retirement is Safe

    • I think the answer to your question is greed, plain and simple. We really should be able to talk about money freely, but what if you found out that your friend was worth $5 million, and you only had $200,000 in your retirement account. All of the sudden, you are looking at your friend differently. You become envious of him and ashamed of yourself.

      If we were all logical people without emotions, this net worth display wouldn’t be a problem. But, unfortunately, we let our emotions get in the way of our head sometimes.

      I can’t wait to hear your whole story in a couple of years. Keep us posted!

  • Certainly an interesting concept. I used to keep close track of my net worth updating my figures monthly, but I got so busy that it became too much work to do it. Plus, the fluctuation with stocks was simply noise. Instead, I do it once per year.
    cashflowmantra recently posted..How to Turbo Charge Dividend Income with Call Options

    • Once per year is probably a better idea. Just make sure you sit down for a day and review all of your expenses and income. Your net worth should always increase by more than the year before (unless the market takes a dive like it did a few years ago).

  • Great question!

    I actually made the decision of displaying my personal net worth on my blog. Honestly, my mother was surprised that I disclosed such “personal” information. But I don’t get what is so personal about it. I don’t mind talking about my good and worst financial moves. I think that people can learn from my net worth evolution. I’m also willing to tell my salary but apparently, we are not allowed to do so πŸ˜‰ hahaha!

    • That’s great! I like to display my personal income as well, especially when it comes to how much I make through my website. Pretty soon, I’d like to let my readers in on how much my wife and I make at our jobs (as a combined amount), and then how much we make with our side gigs. It would really help a lot of people out to see the breakdown.

  • Hmmm. Tough question. I guess if only mine was revealed I would not like it so much. But if everyone’s net worth was revealed, then that might be fun. Even so, I’d still like to have the ability to live a life with more “toys” and choices, that come from more means, regardless of what the balance sheet shows…

    • I think we should first consider our net worth and the direction it’s headed. Once we’re satisfied with where it’s at, only then should we start buying those “toys” you’re talking about (the more expensive ones anyway). Then, we wouldn’t have to worry if we got a scratch on it, or if it got damaged in another way, because we’re not concerned about its value, just the fun that it will provide us.

  • I donno mate. I think people have a TON more money than we know and that debt is very little! Good point of debate. have a small post coming up tomorrow and will highlight this one in it.

    Cheers, Sam
    Financial Samurai recently posted..Socialism As A Means To A Brighter Future

    • There are definitely people out there that are making loads of money and don’t have much debt, but I think there are plenty of people that are faking their wealth too! Can’t wait to read your post tomorrow regarding this.

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