The Web's tell-all barrage has entered the world of personal finance. A number of Web sites like NetworthIQ and Mint.com allow people to post their net worth and compare how they're doing with everybody else dumb enough to broadcast their financial information. NYT columnist Ron Lieber looks at the phenomenon this Sunday in the magazine. His opening anecdote is about Joey Kincer, a 32-year-old Web developer from San Juan Capistrano.
Joey Kincer's net worth is about $201,000, much higher than the $120,000 median figure for U.S. families from 2007, the last year for which the Federal Reserve Board released household net-worth numbers. Among NetworthIQ users who, like him, earned no more than an associate's degree, that makes him a big shot. But when he compares himself with all the people his age and all California residents, he's just a bit above average.
NetworthIQ breaks out the information by several measures, including age, occupation and state. Under the California listing, the highest net worth is almost $15 million. That's followed by $5 million, $4.9 million, $3.9 million, $3.1 million, and $2.7 million. These are not especially big numbers for a state with so many wealthy people (and high home prices), suggesting that the vast, vast majority of folks with nice money would rather keep it to themselves. Not surprisingly, most of those on the list are under 35 and have a net worth of less than 200K. It's a lot easier to be transparent when there's no there there.
Actually, the net worth discussion is somewhat irrelevant to the more general issue of whether you have enough money on hand.
"To me, it's an irrelevant number," says Spencer Sherman, author of "The Cure for Money Madness" and a founder and the chief executive of Abacus Wealth Partners. "If people have a billion in net worth and are spending half a billion in a year, they're really poor." After all, they're on pace to be broke in 24 months. (Sherman's preferred measure of financial health for retirees is a ratio that compares net worth, excluding home equity, with the amount of money people take from their portfolios each year. He generally doesn't want clients spending more than 4 to 6 percent of their holdings annually.)
Personally, I'd look at a person's debt level as a good measure of financial well-being, all other things equal. When you're not paying the finance company every month, life becomes a lot easier.