In the control panel of my personal financial software, there is a number.
Financial gurus tell me that this number is one of the three most important in my life. Another is my credit score. The third is my age. (After all, I can shape the other two only if I’m still kicking.)
I certainly don’t measure myself against these numbers. Although I admit that I pay much more attention to the age figure as you go along.
But other people use them to evaluate me, that’s for sure.
In fact, to hear some people say it, these little financial indicators are more important than a person’s morality, ethics, or good works. (Particularly nasty are dating sites that require your credit score … the romantic in me says no.)
Age, credit score and … can you guess the other number? Do you know yours?
Above all, can you trust its precision? What if it’s just a mirage?
You wouldn’t go out to sea without knowing precisely how much fuel, water, food, and other essentials you have on board. After all, your life depends on it.
But there’s a good chance you’re heading into retirement with the wrong net worth figure …
Speculating on your future
Ever since I studied economics in college, the distinction between price and value has fascinated me.
Price it is the amount of currency that someone wants to part with at any one time.
$ 1.75 for a large one at Starbucks.
$ 299 for the last video game console my daughter wants for Christmas.
Value it is our subjective assessment of how useful something is. My daughter’s video game may cost $ 299, but I promise you, at that price there are a lot of things I could use a lot more.
In markets, price is assumed to be an indicator of value. But prices have a way of decoupling from value.
For example, a while ago, every kid wanted a silly little gadget that would spin on their finger. For a few weeks they sold at ridiculous prices because the demand was so high. Once the kids realized that it was actually a boring little trick, the price dropped.
But the problems really start when you put time into the price / value ratio. That’s where net worth comes in.
For example, right now I think my house will have a certain price. That price contributes a considerable part to my net worth. My net worth, in turn, is the foundation of my retirement plans.
I’m sure I could sell my house right now to one of the young families that flood my neighborhood because of the good schools. They have the income to pay my price.
But I don’t plan on selling my house for a couple of decades at best. What if the young families of the future can’t pay my price?
What about my net worth then?
Beg your children
When we retire, we usually collect the assets that make up our net worth, including our homes. For example, a couple I know recently sold their home and used the proceeds to purchase an assisted living apartment that will take care of them for as long as they live.
But if today’s younger generation can’t afford to buy our homes at the prices we use to measure our net worth, we may be stuck.
And it certainly looks like kids won’t be fine in 2037.
According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Report, if world wealth were divided equally, each household would be worth $ 56,540.
But the top 1% own more than half of all wealth. Tea median household wealth is only $ 3,582. If you’re worth more than that, you’re in the richest 50% of the world’s population.
We can debate the reasons for this uneven distribution of wealth. But you can’t argue with the fact that people who have reached adulthood since 2000 are on the losing end.
It is particularly bad in the US.
On average, Americans between the ages of 30 and 39 are half as wealthy in 2017 as that age group in 2007.
That means they will be significantly less well off 10-20 years from now … unable to afford the kinds of houses we take for granted today.
In other words, thanks to growing inequality, you may be targeting retirement with the wrong numbers.
Plan your future around value, not price
I constantly ask myself: What is the big idea in my writing? What ties it all together?
While writing this article, I realized that me Big Idea is the absolute importance of planning your future based on value, not price.
You know, for example, that you can’t trust current stock prices to stay the same during your retirement. Converting stock holdings into other assets that tend to hold their value before stock prices drop is a key strategy.
Given what wealth inequality is doing to our younger generations, if you are heading into retirement in the next two decades, you may want to consider the same strategy … home.