What would happen if everybody knew your personal wealth?

A genius by the name of Carl Richards recently posed this question in a New York Times piece, and I can’t stop thinking about it:

What would happen, I asked, if we had to walk around with our true wealth flashing as a number above our heads? It would be the end of consumerism, he replied. Why would you need to buy something to represent wealth if everyone knew exactly what you were worth already?


Imagine that? If your net worth number showed above your head when you walked around town? Or in business meetings or at Starbucks or while hanging out with friends?

I’m not sure I’d agree that it would ruin consumerism and people would stop buying expensive stuff (there is something to be said about some luxury and quality – it’s not always to just “show things off”), but I do know it *would* affect your habits for sure. And I’d posit mostly for the good too. Who wants the world knowing you suck with money?

I also love that he specifically mentions “wealth” and not “income.” ‘Cuz as we all know those can be *completely* different things. How many of us know people making $100k+ year with nothing to show for it? Or the opposite – people making $20k-$30k with hundreds of thousands banked away? There’s not as many in that latter group unfortunately, but you get the point.

It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you save.

And I’ll tell you this much too – people sure would TALK ABOUT MONEY MORE if it were floating all over our heads! Whether you had a lot or a little (or worse – negatives) people would be asking for advice and generally helping each other out. At least that’s what I’d like to believe 🙂

It would also affect things like crime (less mugging of poor people but more of the rich), more segregation maybe (poor vs rich), the job interview process (would it help or hurt if you had tons of wealth? Maybe better to have less since it shows you *need* that job?), and of course your upbringing (you’d know right away what your parents are worth and plus you grew up with these numbers bobbing on our heads your entire life). The world would be completely different, no doubt about it. You could even make the argument that it would be WORSE than it is now, too. If we’re competitive by nature, wouldn’t everyone be trying to up their #’s to beat out everyone around us? And in which case, we’re constantly chasing money but for the wrong reasons?

Life would be different, until one day when someone would inevitably invent a way for the numbers to be turned off. They’d make billions of dollars and claim the #1 Money Man/Woman title in the entire world. And of course would leave their own lights on to prove it 😉 If only we could see what would happen in reality!

That’s sorta what Carl prompts us to do at the end of the article:

Maybe this idea is too radical, but for the next week, I’d love for you to test this theory. Try living as if everything you did financially was public information. How does it affect your decisions? Do you find yourself still doing things that just look good, or are you doing things that actually are good for you? Do you find it easier to be your authentic self?

I’m gonna take on this challenge myself over the weekend. I hope many of you do the same. I don’t plan on hitting up any stores over the next few days, but we will be attending a wedding tomorrow which will make for some great pretend-scanning of people’s heads to see what their numbers would show, haha… And then tonight while trick-or-treating too 😉 I guarantee a handful of kids would have higher net worths than their parents if we could see! There are a ton of “Joneses” out there, right in our own backyards… Or, as I like to call them, “The Bookieboos”. ‘Cuz you know, the real Joneses always get a bad rap. (Or maybe we should say the Boo-kie boos? Cuz it’s Halloween? Get it?)

In fact, perhaps I’ll take this one step farther and actually DRESS UP as a guy with flashing wealth over his head! That way I could continue passing on the good word when everyone and their mom (quite literally!) asks me what the hell I am for Halloween, haha… And you know they would 😉 Trick or Sneak! Here’s a financial lesson!

Anyways. Good stuff to ponder over the weekend, and really, for the rest of our lives. We may never get to see any real numbers flashing in our lifetime, but it’s always smart to be aware of your own wealth and even more so that your actions are aligned according to your priorities. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, who will?

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