Where Do You Stand on The Risk-O-Meter?

A recent Wall Street Journal article called The Truth About Wealth contained an interesting quiz. The more points you get on the quiz, the higher your wealth beta. In stock terms, a high beta means a high possibility of risk (and the flip side, reward.) In Las Vegas terms, a high beta would be like the roulette table. Plop down all your money on 40 on one spin of roulette, and you stand to make a bundle if your number comes up — but you’re almost certain to lose it all.

Eye-opening questions

At any rate, two of the questions from the quiz seemed especially eye-opening to me:

  • Is your total annual spending relative to net worth…less than 3%, between 3%-5%, or more than 5%?
  • In social or business situations, do you believe you are the smartest person in the room…never, sometimes, or most of the time/always?

On spending

First off, do you even know how much you spend annually? I didn’t, but since I live in spreadsheet land, I went through the past year’s worth of net worth information and figured it out. And….ouch. Do I really spend that much? I must, because the total blinked at my from my computer screen. It was bad enough looking at it on a monthly basis, but annually was even scarier. Luckily, a lot of my spending is actually going toward debt reduction. (We’re on the last item, the mortgage.)

Second, I never really thought about it before, but it stands to reason that it does matter what percentage your spending makes up of your net worth. That’s absolutely critical to keep a sharp eye on if you’re retired, but it matters to the rest of us too. Why? Because naturally the more you spend, the less we have available to build wealth. If you want to become — and stay — wealthy, you’ve got to watch both your income and your outgo.

And the other question?

On believing you are the smartest person in the room…

I loved the “do you believe you are the smartest person in the room” question because it points out that our beliefs matter.

I’ve always been strongly convinced of that, but the question pointed it out in a different way. You see, if you pretty much always believe that you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re likely to take on more risk without fully examining what could go wrong.

It’s easy to think that you know best, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter how smart (or dumb) you are financially, so long as you’re smart enough to make sure that you live the basic tenets of personal finance each day:

1. Spend less than you earn.
2. Always save and invest for the long term.
3. Do what matters to you.

If you think you’re smarter than the rest (and who doesn’t, sometimes?) you’re more likely to believe that you’re getting in on great deals that others just aren’t able to see. The reality is, you’re more susceptible to risk — both to taking on too much of it, and to being blindsided and unprepared when things go wrong.

So where are you when it comes to risk? How do you handle it?

(Thanks to Family Money Values’ post on high beta wealth and the Forbes 400 for pointing out that quiz.)


  • I used to be incredibly diligent about keeping track of my finances. I had the spreadsheets going on, and could tell you to the penny exactly how much I spent on the categories that I’d set up. You’re right – Oh… wow. It’s absolutely amazing to see the money that’s spent on things and how it adds up.

  • “Is your total annual spending relative to net worth…less than 3%, between 3%-5%, or more than 5%?” – that actually sounds more like, “Could you retire today?”. It’s become somewhat controversial, but 4% is usually considered a safe withdrawal rate – if you’re spending 3 or 4%, you’ve probably amassed enough to live off in retirement.

    Am I reading that wrong? The only wrinkle is it is ‘net worth’ versus ‘savings’, but other than that it seems similar.

  • Well, my net worth is equal to less than half of my annual gross income… nowhere near 3% of annual spending! But I don’t carry any debt, so that’s good, and my goal this next year to save or donate 50% of my take-home income will help with building that net worth and keeping me out of debt as I marry and continue graduate school. Nice quiz!

  • No real debt problems, but I really should do an analysis of my annual spending. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to find out. I rarely think I’m the smartest one in the room. I believe this is why it takes awhile for me to take action. Need to change this up next year, but at least this does keep me out of trouble, for the most part. Happy New Year!