Have a six-figure bank account? Buried under six-figure debt? When money or debt enters the picture, it’s easy to lose sight of other things. But you are not your money, and you are not your debt. If you spend any length of time in the personal finance world, you’ll see people celebrating financial victories and setting monetary goals. Of course, money is a major talking point. But it is crucial to not lose sight of the fact that people are not numbers.
Your Net Worth is Not Everything
It is so easy to villainize or lionize someone based on their net worth. If you look in the comments section of someone who has a positive net worth, you’ll see words and phrases that glisten with positive connotations: diligent, hardworking, successful, conscientious, careful, dedicated. The thought being that someone with a positive net worth has put his or her nose to the grindstone and achieved something tremendous.
That might be true. It is entirely possible that someone put herself through school, studied within a high-paying field, dedicated 60 hours a week to her career, paid down her loans, and side hustled to boost her net worth. It is also possible that someone was born into a family, which had long ago created a successful business, and the reigns were passed along to her by default.
Someone may have endured the loss of beloved parent or a cherished grandparent and was bequeathed a generous sum of money. Someone else may started college to get a degree, but may have left school when she got her MRS, happily marrying into money. There are dozens of scenarios in which someone can tout a positive net worth, none of which have to make someone a good or bad person. Some of these circumstances correlate directly to the effort, dedication, and skill set of the individual. Others, however, align more with the generosity of others or even serendipitous circumstances.
The converse is also true. Let’s suppose someone has a negative worth and then you observe him spending money on something you deem trivial or inappropriate. How many times do we make blanket judgments as a result of that? Foolish, shortsighted, unprepared, unmotivated, lazy. He’s just keeping up with the Joneses. Who does that anymore?
It is entirely plausible that this individual may be foolish and shortsighted. It is also plausible that he may be desperately clawing himself out of debt in ways that go unnoticed by others and bought that meal out or that new computer to celebrate a milestone of which no one is the wiser because he does not share his successes aloud or on a blog. He could also be dealing with any variety of hardships like supporting an aging or ailing parent, battling an illness, struggling to find employment, or dealing with addiction. Or, like many Americans, he might have simply not developed the financial literacy that is easy to take for granted.
Could someone with a negative net worth be someone who is a lazy and spouts off one excuse after another? Absolutely. Does he have to be? Of course not.
Money is a Tool, But It’s not the Only Tool
Having wealth makes philanthropy possible on a grand scale. If someone starts out by animatedly announcing, “You get a…”, think of the automaticity in which your mind screams, “Car! You get a car!” Suddenly, we are all reliving an Oprah moment with dopey grins plastered on our faces. It is tremendously difficult to dole out automobiles like they are birthday party invitations if you do not have exorbitant wealth. Money is an incredible tool when it comes to bettering the lives of others.
Money may be a tool, but it’s not the only one. I am certain that I can wax poetic about my love of education for all my years, but I will never earn enough money to gift an education building to my favorite university. It’s not going to happen. That doesn’t stop me from devoting countless hours before school and after school–well outside the terms of my contract–to tutor my students or give them a safe, warm place to spend time. Sure, I may keep them plied with granola bars when their families cannot, and I may put more of each paycheck into my classroom library than I care to admit each month, but that money pales in comparison to what my time and attention offer to my students.
I have good friends and family members who are far more generous with their time than I am. One individual in particular has not taken a vacation outside of service project trips as long as I have known her. Others only truly enjoy their weekends if they are donating their time to food pantries or assisted living communities. The same is true in the personal finance world. I read stories of people who are constantly giving up their time and insight to spread financial literacy across their communities.
These intentional good works. These acts are work of people who are diligent, hardworking, successful, conscientious, careful, dedicated. Might they have high net worths? Certainly. Do they have to? Not in the least.
So Tell Me…How are you more than your money or debt?