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A New Way to Figure Your Net Worth

Here's a statistic that really irked me from a new Merrill Lynch Wealth Management poll released last week: When asked what life lessons are most important to impart to their children, 51 percent of the 1,000 affluent adults surveyed, cited "financial know-how" while only 11 percent said "staying physically fit."

Despite the fact that 40 percent of the same survey group said "health care costs" are keeping them up at night, they don't seem to be getting the message that health is wealth and there's nothing more valuable for kids to inherit than respect for themselves. After all, without a modicum of fitness, how are you ever going to live long enough to enjoy the results of your financial smarts?

Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency bummed everyone out by reckoning that an American life wasn't worth as much as it used to be. The "value of a statistical life," as it was termed, dropped by nearly $1 million from 2003 to 2008 to its current $6.9 million level. (How the EPA figured that is complicated, but it's basically a cost-benefit analysis that helps various government agencies determine whether certain life-enhancing restrictions like more pollution controls are justified.) Although $6.9 million is still substantial enough to make me stand taller in front of the mirror and wonder what I can afford using only myself as collateral, it's still sobering to know that â€"- like most financial assets these days -â€" the portfolio of Joe is more volatile than ever.

That's why the time has come for a broader definition of wealth, one that encompasses more than just money and material assets, and one that will help counter market cycles with other varieties of riches. The next time you're figuring your net worth, here are a few new things to include:

The state of your health: Whatever your age, if you're vibrant and disease-free, double your financial net worth. If you're fat and out-of-shape, take away half.

The love of family and friends: If you have a happy relationship, one or two trustworthy friends, kids who still call you (and ask for nothing), and especially a dog who pees with joy when you come home, double it again.

Having steady, satisfying work: The value of this portion of the portfolio went up dramatically in recent years. If you can honestly nod your head to this, you are indeed blessed, and your net worth has doubled yet again.

Still having your parents: I lost my dad 15 years ago, and I still miss him to this day. No matter how much they hassle us, they provide a reassuring safety net. And when they pass away, you become acutely aware that you're next. Add 50 percent

These are just a few of the things I value and measure my real wealth by. Add whatever else you'd like; the list should be as individual as you are.

Who knows? When approached this way, you could be a billionaire.


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