August 29, 2016

I was recently trying to decide on a goal of how much I want to be worth. Did I want to be worth a million? Ten million?… more?

Don’t chase after net-worth

I kept thinking about it and I couldn’t ever really make a decision. I guess the problem is that I keep asking “why stop there?”

It’s like a rhetorical question I was asked lately: “What defines famous?”

There’s really no answer because you can never put an actual number to quantify fame and say “now you’re famous.”

So these people who chase fame are never really satisfied with their life, because they are chasing something that has no solution.

Yes, I want to be wealthy. But no number can really define “wealthy” vs “not wealthy” since it’s a relative statement.

The girl that grows up with ponies always thinks she is poor because her friends all have horse ranches. The boy that grows up taking first-class instead of a personal jet thinks he is poor.

The American earning $30k/year is amazingly rich to the family earning $2/day on some continents.

Don’t Chase Net-Worth

After thinking for a bit, I settled on asking myself how much passive income I want to achieve to live my goals. Of course, I’ll never stop growing my revenue streams, but I can be satisfied once I reach my goals.

I won’t spend a lifetime chasing something with no meaning.

Instead, I like to look at net-worth differently – I look at it as a tool to work backward into my goals.

Why Net-worth is a terrible goal

Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Let’s say your goal is to reach a million dollars in investments.

Let’s say they are earning a solid 8%. Great work! You are earning an impressive $80,000 a year without working. So, you build a lifestyle around that income.

Bet then inflation ticks up or returns drop and suddenly you find yourself taking home 6%, or $60,000. You are now $20,000 short of your goal. Clearly, you’d need to get some more cash stashed away in order to bump up that income.

In real estate, net-worth is even more meaningless

Imagine that you have a number of rental properties and they are paying you $80k per year after all expenses. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say your equity in these properties is also a million dollars.

Then something happens – something happens and property values drop 20%. Suddenly you’re worth $800k. This actually happens more often than you think.

But, what’s different? Your rent still comes in and you are still earning $80k.

Or perhaps property values go up 50% in a few years. Now you’re worth $1.5 mil!

Your rent still comes in and you’re earning around $80k.

Of course, I’m simplifying this. I know rents vary over time, but I’m getting my point across – Rent income is not directly tied to the equity you have in the property.

Net-Worth is better as a tool to measure goals

Going back to the first example:

At 6%, how much do I need to save to reach that $80k? Simple math shows us $1.33 million.

See how quick we are to change our goals for net-worth and focus on that yearly income?

Parsing the sentence you can see that $80k/year was actually the goal. $1.33 million is just an estimate of what you need in order to achieve the goal.

And in example 2 – net-worth may be completely detached from yearly income.

Focus on Your Passive Income and less on Net Worth

Now I’m not saying net-worth is completely meaningless. It does measure your value at a specific point in time. Of course, we all want to know what we are worth.

You also don’t want to have a negative value. If something tragic happened, you need to be able to liquidate some assets to get money to cover the costs.

And you can’t forget to include taxes on your capital gains. People don’t realize that a massive chunk of wealth will disappear as soon as everything is sold.

This is why I focus on that cash-flow. My yearly take home income generated by my assets.

About the author 

Eric Bowlin

Eric is an investor that achieved financial independence at the age of 30. He started in 2009 with the purchase of his first triplex and now owns over 470 rental units. He spends his time with his family, growing his businesses, diversifying his income, and teaching others how to achieve financial independence through real estate. Eric has been seen on Forbes, Trulia, WiseBread, TheStreet, Yahoo Finance and other financial publications. You can contact Eric by emailing him at [email protected] or with this contact form

  • Nice analysis, Eric. Cash flow seems to be the main goal for many real estate investors. That also seems to hold true for many market investors who concentrate on dividends. It’s all about generating money.

    • Thank you. If we can generate enough money to replace our incomes then we’ll never need to work again.

      That’s my goal at least 🙂

  • Hi Eric,

    Thanks for providing this perspective. Recently, I have been very focused on using tools like Personal Capital to track my net worth. I think this is a valuable way to see how you are doing, but you’re right that a good way to achieve financial freedom is to focus on building cash flow until your “passive” income exceeds your expenses. Thanks!


  • Love this post Eric! I completely agree that net worth in itself is useless, although as a tool it can be used to qualify a person as an accredited investor which allows for participation in potentially higher ROI investment opportunities.

    So in my 20’s I set a goal to become a “millionaire” so that I could get into the accredited investor club but other than that my net worth doesn’t do anything else for me.
    Jennifer Beadles recently posted…The Stories Behind The Deals That Never HappenedMy Profile

    • That’s an angle I didn’t really think of for this post, but it’s definitely important. Becoming an accredited investor so you can play with the big boys is important and I totally agree. Other than that, I think cash-flow is the name of the game!

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