Real Worth vs. Net Worth


“What am I worth?”

This is the most vital question about our lives. And while tracking one’s net worth is a helpful financial tool, we all know that a number can’t summarize a human’s value.

Of course, most people don’t view increasing net worth as their ultimate life goal. There is, however, a very real temptation to become overly focused on a quantifiable value. While seeking to avoid materialism, consumerism, or debt, we could become slaves instead to the mistaken master of net worth. The antidote to an undue emphasis is to ensure we’re establishing real worth, or substantial impact in our world. In simpler terms–be helpful.

What Is Real Worth?

Real worth is given to us. We believe our true worth comes from God. If God loves us, then we are more valuable than we can comprehend. Whether or not you share this belief, we all sense that human life is precious and priceless.

Real worth means substance and capability. Real worth and net worth are not antithetical. Worthwhile contributions happen through our day jobs as we perform useful services in the world. And if you are working hard, being productive, and avoiding the uselessness of over-consumption, your net worth will likely increase, even if it’s slowed slightly by other types of real worth investments. Building skills, relationships, and community service are all examples of real worth growth.

Real worth impacts people. As a natural response to inherent value, we believe in investing time and money to try to improve other people’s lives. Jesus put it this way: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We’ve framed the idea of real worth as increasing your usefulness instead of your lifestyle. Additionally, it’s worth increasing your usefulness even if at times it’s at the expense of your net worth.

Real worth is helpful to anyone. Increasing your real worth could look like so many things. It could be volunteering, charitable giving, or spending time with friends. It could be getting involved in your church or practicing your faith in another way. It might look like mentoring youth or babysitting for a friend. It could be some type of activism that will make the world better for others. In fact, we believe it’s important to be useful in the local and global community, as well as within your family.

Trading Net Worth for Real Worth

We’ve made a number of decisions that have stunted our net worth growth, and I don’t regret any of them. For example, staying at home with our children has slowed our net worth for now, yet it’s 100% worth it to us.

Another decision that’s decreased our net worth while increasing our real worth (usefulness) is that we’ve always donated a minimum percentage of our income. We have in no way arrived as the generous people we hope to be, but this is a concrete example of investing resources away from our net worth. Though I also believe generosity can make us richer, even financially.

We’ve also foregone side-hustling in favor of volunteering and in the wake of having children. We’ve spent money—sometimes a lot—on travel, vacations, and retreats. We pay a weekly babysitter so that we can participate in our home church group. We’ve attended hundreds of social events like showers, weddings, birthday parties, and other outings. None of this has helped our net worth, but these relationships have added so much to our lives.

So next time you find yourself considering how to improve your net worth, take a moment to consider how you might also increase your real worth. Sometimes the two work beautifully in tandem, but don’t be surprised if at other times you have to make a trade-off.

Some of the material in the post was inspired by a Bible teaching. Check out the podcast here.

How have you found it worthwhile to build “real worth?” Have you ever faced a clear choice between building real & net worth?

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30 Responses to “Real Worth vs. Net Worth”

  1. Tonya says :

    You make very good points in this article. Money or lack thereof doesn’t make “you.” It’s a great tool, but that’s all it is. I’ve been trying to think of what kind of “calling” speaks to me. Right now it’s just trying to be the best person I an be, but I want to be doing more, but I want to pick the right “way” for me.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s cool to hear that your “calling” has been on your mind, Tonya. I hope you find out what direction to go concerning that.

  2. The Practical Saver says :

    This is a good read!. Most people these days are only concern on their Net Worth. I Like the fact that you mentioned that our true worth comes from God. I believe that without His grace and blessing we will not be able to afford and have the things that we need and want.

    Me and my wife we’re so blessed that we we’re able to survive our daily expenses even if we are living on one income. We also still manage to help our big family with their expenses and donate to our church. We both came from a family who has a strong foundation on God and family. And this is what we also want our kids to learn and adopt.

  3. Josh says :

    Volunteering is something I personally don’t do enough of, we do some things in the community with local groups or helps families we know in need. The Bible is pretty clear about taking care of the orphans & widows. Most communities have a nursing home. Our church in Kentucky scheduled time to visit at the local elderly home every other Monday evening. I worked during that time so I never went, however my wife held her piano recital there before we moved away & I went to that. It was a somber experience as these people are essentially living in a minimum-security prison & just wanting to talk to somebody.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, it’s hard to ignore the Bible’s clear calls to help the downtrodden. Visiting nursing home residents is a great way to do so.

  4. Our Next Life says :

    I love how you guys always put things in such grounded terms. It is SO true that it’s easy to go down a completely paradoxical path where you stop caring about things, but you start to define yourself with this number. We love tracking our net worth, but try to remind ourselves often that that is not *US.* We are what we put out into the world, how we support our loved ones, how we participate in our community, not the balance in our investment accounts.

    • Kalie says :

      Your last sentence there is a great way to express this. How we’re significant in the world and to the people in our lives is how we want to view our value.

  5. DC YAM says :

    This is a really great message, and it’s so great that you gave up side hustling to volunteer more. It’s not an easy choice, but obviously you thought through it and see the benefit in volunteering instead of spending that time side hustling. I sometimes wonder what my life will look like when I have kids…probably a lot less side hustling and putting that energy towards them.

    • Kalie says :

      I think once our student loans were paid for it felt easier to , slow down on the side hustling. Having kids has helped us get even more responsible and creative with our money, and putting that energy toward them is super fun!

  6. Harmony says :

    Really thought-provoking post. One of my issues is with the now versus the later. We’re working hard to obtain a more-flexible future, with the expectation that we will be using our extra time to do more good in the world. However, it would be wrong to skip out on everything now, just for the sake of earning and saving more money. Finding balance is so tricky.

    • Kalie says :

      It is a balance, probably one that continues to shift over time. I think working hard to build your future is awesome, and contributing good to the world is one important part of building that future.

  7. Prudence Debtfree says :

    “other times you have to make a trade-off” – true. We’re in trade-off mode, and have been for close to 4 years. But it’s a trade-off that’s worth it to become debt-free and to close a chapter on years of head-in-sand finances. I’m sure that within the context of your real worth choices, your net worth is still growing – though perhaps more slowly than it potentially could. It’s all worth the cost (if it can even be called that) – both to you and your husband and to the people who benefit from the commitments you’ve made.

    • Kalie says :

      I think becoming debt-free is a great goal, and one we’ve also been working toward. Life is full of trade-offs. I think in this area it’s important to build both types of worth at the same time, rather than focusing solely on one.

  8. Latoya - Femme Frugality says :

    I couldn’t imaging living a life where I focused solely on my net worth. A person having a negative net worth says nothing about who they are as a person and focusing solely on your net…well, that doesn’t leave you with pretty much living. Having a higher net worth does greatly increase your ability to expand upon your real worth by being more charitable; however, it’s not one of my main focuses to create a higher net worth, nor will it ever be.

    • Kalie says :

      Great points, Latoya. Living for a number isn’t really living. And even though having a high net worth can lead to charitable giving (and therefore real worth), I think the danger is when we put off that type of real-worth building until a later date when we have the big accounts. There is a real danger of arriving at those financial goals, only to find that our hearts have become hardened toward others from years of not giving.

  9. Holly says :

    I would like to think I’m working on our net worth and our real worth. We are always trying to do the right thing and be the best we can be irrespective of finances. Sometimes those two goals work together, but not always.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s wonderful you have those values in mind, Holly. That type of integrity is worth a lot, especially as we pass it on to our children.

  10. EL says :

    Great topic to discuss and it does have merit to decide whats more valuable net worth or real worth. We all get tied up in certain goals or the attainment of goals that we might lose sight from time to time. Good luck

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, it’s great to have financial and career goals, but we often need a reminder to look at the big picture of our lives as well.

  11. Catherine Alford says :

    Yes! We have a hugely negative net worth right now (due to student loans) and we try really hard to not let it get us down.

    • Kalie says :

      I think it’s great that you’ve supported your husband in pursuing his dream of being a physician. That is such a helpful profession!

  12. Mary in Maryland says :

    I had a co-worker who rigged his computer so that his opening page was the up to the minute value of his investments. I asked once if that was what he most valued about himself. He looked puzzled and asked “What else is there?”

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, it’s rare that someone is that explicit about that type of thinking. It’s sad that he felt that way about himself.

  13. The Practical Saver says :

    This is a good way to explain real worth vs. net worth.

    While my family is focused in increasing our net worth, after paying off $40K of debt, we are also increasing our real worth at the same time. Whenever we can, we help people in any way (e.g. in the form of food donation, volunteer work in the community, among others).

    We believe that it’s always best when you are increasing your net worth while also helping out other people. For us, it’s giving back when we are receiving even when what we are giving back is in the form other than money.

  14. Brian - DebtDiscipline says :

    A great post. So true not to lose focus on your real worth while trying to build net worth. Building relationship, giving your time, listening, are great ways to do this. So often we can get caught up in chasing money that we forget.

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