Removing Taboos

I’m preparing to give a talk to a group of students about money matters this fall and was scouring the Web to find out if there are any major issues that students tend to have with money that I might have overlooked. In my web browsing, I stumbled upon an interesting website. It’s called NetWorthIQ. They call it a “social personal finance manager.” Think of it as Facebook meets Quicken. Once you open your completely free account, you input all of your assets and liabilities and the site will calculate your net worth (total assets minus total liabilities). The social part of it is that you can opt for either a private or public account. If you take the public option you put all of your information out there on “Front Street” so to speak for everyone to see. Other users can send you messages and comment on your financial affairs and offer suggestions. That’s the basic setup, but here is what I find quite interesting and ingenious actually. The site encourages you to return each month and update your information. In fact, they will send you an email reminder if you are tardy with your updates. Then, you can monitor your progress and even comment on what happened each month to cause your net worth to increase or decrease.

BrokeNBama

Here’s an example. I thought it might be interesting to browse the public profiles and check in on a random user from my home state. I found the high-net-worth profiles to be fairly uninteresting and questioned their accuracy. This one caught my eye because of the user name (BrokeNBama) and the negative net worth.

This user has reported that he or she is between 30 and 34 and has mortgage, student loan and credit card debt. This was not an unusual situation, but I was quite astounded that someone would be willing to make this information publicly available. Am I just old-fashioned or is this too much information? When I was a kid, my parents always told us that there are three things that you never talk about — even at home. Those things were:

  1. Money;
  2. Politics; and
  3. Religion

I love my parents, but I have to say that I disagree wholeheartedly with that directive – and today, I think that they would too. Open, civilized debate and discussion is the best way for us to learn and keep from repeating mistakes of the past. The other day, my oldest came to me in tears and said “Mommy, I really want you to buy XYZ at the grocery store, but you always say that we can only buy things if it’s on sale or you have a coupon and that’s not fair!” For a nanosecond I did feel guilty that my stringent budgeting had caused him distress, but before I could open my mouth to speak, my husband jumped in and said “It is more than fair because that is why we have a nice place to live and so many nice things.” My son blinked, amazed that he was double-teamed and ran off to play video games. We teach a money lesson every chance we get. With respect to the other two topics – they are not off the table in our house either.

The Verdict

I think the NetWorthIQ site is wicked cool. I plugged in my information and was delighted by the result. When I clicked the button to submit my information, I anxiously recalled the days when I, like BrokeNBama, had a negative net worth and wondered how my numbers would add up today. Another neat feature was that I could view reports that compared my net worth (and it’s various components) to others in my profession, age group, state and income level. I kick butt in most categories, but I suppose it’s really not a competition. Give it a try! It’s cool, but most importantly; it is a way to take an important step toward financial freedom – taking inventory of your financial situation. Without taking that first step, you’ll never reach the goal. Again I say, give it a try! C’mon! If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine. Well . . . maybe not, but you can check out BrokeNBama and hundreds of other profiles if you like the idea of socializing via  personal finance. Public or private, it’s a great idea!

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