What is Wealth?

What is wealth? Most people will tell you that they want to be wealthy, but what exactly is wealth, and what does it mean to be wealthy? Why do people want to be wealthy? Why are they not wealthy? Isn’t cash king? Maybe they are wealthy and do not know it. Does anybody know?

If you want to be wealthy and create wealth, it helps to understand what it is and what it’s not. Wealth is as old as human history. Wealth is all the stuff we want, and, I believe, you can have wealth without having a lot of money.

What Exactly is Wealth 

The word wealth is derived from the old English word wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem. Some define wealth as the abundance of valuable resources. However, the meaning of wealth is context-dependent, and there is no universally agreed-upon definition.

Generally, economists define wealth as anything of value. Therefore, if an individual, community, region, or country possesses a large number of valuable resources, they are perceived as wealthy. Some see wealth as the net worth, the most common measure of wealth, of a person, household, or nation. Net worth is determined by subtracting liabilities, what you owe from assets., what you own of value.

The Wealth of Nations

In the book, The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, he described wealth as “the annual produce of the land and labor of the society”.In this context, produce is that which satisfies needs and wants. He saw wealth creation as the combination of materials, labor, land, and technology in such a way as to capture a profit. 

Another definition of wealth is controlling or possessing an abundance of items of economic value. A wealthy individual, family, or nation has accumulated substantially more than their peers and others in their society or group of reference. Measurable wealth typically excludes intangible assets such as human and social capital. The opposite of wealth is destitution.

Wealth Vs. Money

I believe wealth is what we should seek and aspire to, and not necessarily money. Consider this, if wealth is so important and everyone wants to be wealthy, why does money get so much more attention? Do we want money or wealth? Money and wealth are not the same things. Having a supportive and loving family and great friends in abundance is considered wealth by some people.  

Wealth is a mindset. Perhaps you are more wealthy than you believe you are.

Wealth is not new. Historically, the sheep owner that owned more sheep was considered wealthier than the one with fewer. It is money that is a comparatively recent invention.

Some think that businesses make money, and some think they create wealth. They create wealth by doing, making, or supplying what people want. Still, want to be wealthy? Perhaps you are wealthier than you think. What are your thoughts on wealth?

Concerning Your Net Worth Statement

After analyzing your net worth statement, you may have some concerns.  These concerns may include low assets, high liabilities, or negative net worth.  You will want to address these opportunities.  The net worth statement may also provide information that will lead to the development or revision of goals and objectives. 

In my last post, I talked about the net worth statement.  Also called a balance sheet, it is a tool you can use to see if you are making progress towards your goals and objectives.  You can read the last post by clicking here. 

In this post, I wanted to discuss some of the issues or opportunities concerning your net worth statement.  The net worth statement keeps you informed about your overall financial standing.  It lets you know if your net worth is decreasing or increasing.    

Valuing Assets and Labilities

First, a key to the net worth or balance sheet is determining good values for assets and liabilities.  And because you are using this net worth to compare to other years, you need the values to be as accurate as possible.  Therefore, you will want to use the same valuing tool.  For example, if you are valuing a car, and you use Kelley Blue Book.com one year, you may want to use Kelley Blue Book to value the car next year.  Otherwise, if we don’t get good values for assets and liabilities, what’s the use to comparing it to prior and future years. 

Addressing Net Worth Concerns

After analyzing your net worth statement, you may have some concerns.  These concerns may include low assets, high liabilities, or negative net worth.  You will want to address these opportunities.  The net worth statement may also provide information that will lead to the development or revision of goals and objectives.  For example, you may create an objective to change a negative net worth to positive net worth. 

Increasing Net Worth by Cutting Spending

As a financial counselor, I would help clients increase their net worth by showing them ways to increase their assets, decrease their liabilities, or both.  One way to increase assets is to cut back on spending.  This will allow for the building up of savings which will increase net worth.   Investing is another opportunity for some to increase assets.   

As you are addressing opportunities, keep in mind that that decreasing spending will have the greatest impact on net worth.  The reduction should focus on larger asset items such as housing and transportation. Reducing spending on smaller daily expenditures will not have the same impact.

The Effect of Increasing Income

Another way to increase net worth is to increase income.  If you can negotiate a pay raise, find part-time work, or sell your products or services, you can use the increase to build savings and pay down debts.

Paying Off Debt and New Worth

Finally, paying off debt can quickly increase net worth. Paying off high-interest credit card debt can have the most immediate impact on net worth. Freeing up cash by reducing spending or increasing income can be a great start toward a debt repayment plan.

All Net Worth is Not the Same

A person who does not currently have the financial resources to pay off all existing debt is considered insolvent. Their liabilities are more than their assets.  This situation is frequently found among students and recent college graduates who have incurred student loans and have not yet built-up assets to offset debts.  Considering where an individual or family is in their financial life cycle, insolvency or a negative net could be expected.  A negative net worth due to student loans or the purchase of a home is not the same as a negative net worth due to credit card bills or the accumulation of lifestyle assets or assets that don’t produce disposable income

Finial Thoughts

As we start a new year, you may want to create a net worth statement to see where you stand financially.  Once you have an idea of your net worth, you can develop objectives and goals to improve your financial situation.  However, you can always commit to spending less than you make and increase your rate of saving in this new year.  This will always move your finances forward in the new year.

Time To Update Your Net Worth Statement

If you would like to gain some insight into your current financial situation creating a net worth statement may be for you.  It’s a listing of the property you own, assets, and the debts you owe, liabilities, can provide you that insight.  Sometimes it’s called a balance sheet and is based on the following:

Assets = liabilities + net worth, or assets – debts = net worth

The net worth statement is like a photograph of assets and debts on a given date.  Comparing net worth statements made over several years can help you measure the progress toward your financial goals and financial situation.  Additionally, the net worth statement is a good measure of your ability to pay off current debts, or debts due within the year. 

Developing the Net Worth Statement

Most net worth statements are created at the end or beginning of the year which makes them easier to compare year over year.  However, it is possible to develop a statement at any date and as often as needed. 

Listing Assets

Generally listed on the left-hand side of the balance sheet, you want to start by listing your largest assets which for most of us this would be our home and then vehicles.  And you also want to list your more liquid assets like checking and savings accounts.  Additionally, gather statements and list any investments and retirement accounts.  Also, consider personal items that may be of value.  This could include jewelry, coin collections, musical instruments, etc.   You don’t need to itemize everything, but list items worth $500 or more.  Now, add all of items listed together.  This number represents your total assets.  

If you obtain your current checking account balance, remember to subtract the value of anything still outstanding.  Keep in mind that the key to correctly listing current assets is to accurately estimate the value of items.  Therefore, be conservative with estimates, especially with home and vehicle values. Inflating the value of large assets is easy to do and will not paint an accurate picture of your net worth.

Listing Liabilities

Liabilities are generally listed on the right-hand side of the net worth statement and include all debts and obligations to pay.  Start with the major outstanding liabilities such as the balance on your mortgage or vehicles loans.  Next, list all of your personal liabilities such as credit cards, student loans, or any other debt you may owe.  Now you want to add up all of your liabilities to come up with a total.

Your Net Worth Statement

Once you have your total assets and total liabilities, subtract the total liabilities from the total assets and you will have your net worth.   It doesn’t matter how big, how small, or even if it is negative.  This is just a starting point. You will want to file it so you will have something to compare against in the future.  Now you want to repeat this process, during the same period once a year, and compare it with the previous year’s number.  

Your net worth statement can be a useful tool to measure your financial progress from year to year.  There is no magic net worth number, but you should use your net worth to track your progress from year to year, and see it improve.  In my next post, I will address some net worth concerns and how you can improve on them.  I am a financial counselor.  Contact me here if I can assist you with creating a net worth statement.   

How is your Financial Health?

If you are taking better care of yourself, you are probably exercising and know what your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are trying to be healthier financially, you would need to know things like what your assets and liabilities are. 

Many are looking toward the end of this year and the beginning of the next with better financial health.  And every New Year people decide to become healthier and vow to improve their physical health, so they start exercising and eating healthier.  And then others decide that they want to be healthier financially and want to improve their financial health, but do not know quite how to go about it.  A financial checkup may be in order.    

If you are taking better care of yourself, you are probably exercising and know what your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are trying to be healthier financially, you would need to know things like what your assets and liabilities are.  How can you better manage your finances without knowing what your finances look like?  

Similarities of Financial Health and Physical Health

On the surface, there are striking similarities between your financial health and physical health. 

Both can affect aspects of our life and require collecting information, evaluating alternatives, and taking some risks.  However, it seems health issues have received a lot more attention than financial issues. 

There are dangers of focusing on a single aspect of your finances. 

Tending to retirement savings without dealing first with high credit card debt is perhaps equivalent to treating high cholesterol while ignoring high blood pressure numbers. 

If you want to be healthy, financially, and physically, you cannot get by with just a healthy right leg or a well-managed retirement plan.  The whole system must be healthy.  But while many of us are willing to undergo regular health check-ups, many people never undergo a financial check-up.

Achieving Better Financial Health

The first step in better financial health is to have an accurate snapshot of just what shape your finances are in.  By having a good sound understanding of both your assets and liabilities, you can start planning a healthier financial lifestyle. 

Next is to track your spending.  Knowing where your money is being spent; where your money is going, is paramount in managing your finances better and improving your financial health. 

Your assignment for the next month or so is: 1. pull together your assets and liabilities to get an accurate picture of your finances, a balance sheet or net worth statement, 2. Track you’re spending so you can see where your money is going. 

My number one financial tip is that you cannot effectively manage your finances without knowing where your money is going…track your spending. 

So, start today because today is the first day of the rest of your life. Only you can make the most of it.  Take charge of your financial health. The key to your future is in your hands, not your employer’s and not your family’s.  Comment below.  I would love to hear from you.