This article was originally published at HiCharlie.com
As my friend Mel says, “Numbers are sexy.” We love talking about numbers, and tend to fixate on them — particularly when it comes to how much we earn. “I’m a six-figure freelance designer,” or, “If I take this job, I’ll earn $10,000 more.”
We oftentimes measure our worth based on how much money we rake in. It can be easy to feel like you’re behind, or a grade-A underachiever when your cousin or bestie or partner makes more than you. Sure, your income is important, but there are other numbers that deserve a closer look than how much cash you earn. When it comes to financial wellness, here are five metrics that trump your income.
1. Cost of Living Index
Bottom line: the salary you earn living in one part of the county might not stretch as far living in another part of the country. Say you earn $80,000 in Los Angeles. If you move to Nashville, Tennessee, you’d only need $45,269 to enjoy the same comforts, according to Sperling’s Cost of Living calculator. Expect to spend 26.1% less in health and 39.2% less in transportation. And if you were to buy a home, you’d be spending 62.6% less in housing.
How much you make is relative to a number of things — one being the cost of living in your stomping grounds. So the next time someone says they’re making $120,000 but live in Silicon Valley, chances are they aren’t enjoying the same standard of living, than those in less-expensive parts of the country.
2. Compensation Package
When it comes to your work salary, it’s also important to look at the entire kit-and-caboodle for your benefits package. Your employee benefits can make up to one-third of total compensation costs. That includes health benefits (which alone can cost employers $15,000 per worker) and an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan.
If your workplace offers an employer match for retirement savings, that also boosts your total compensation. You might also get discounts on gym memberships, and group rates on car insurance, life insurance, and even financial and legal advice.
Besides your take-home pay, you’ll want to factor in the full suite of benefits that your employer offers. In turn, that makes a difference as to how much you have to work with each month.
3. Happiness Report
Yes, happiness is a difficult thing to pinpoint. But in recent years metrics have been developed to gauge how happy nations are as a whole, giving us a good idea of wellbeing and work-life balance.
The U.N.’s World Happiness Report uses data from the Gallup World Poll, which surveys citizens in 156 countries on how happy they feel — to determine the overall well-being of a country’s denizens. The Cantril Ladder, or Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Ladder of Life Satisfaction, is made up of 10 rungs. The bottom of the ladder equals 0, and represents the worst possible life for you. The top of the ladder equals 10, and equates to the best possible life for you.
Per the Gallup World Poll, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, respectively, ranked highest for happiness. The bottom three countries were Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Where does the U.S. fall? Nineteen out of the 156.
Consider doing your own happiness assessment using the Cantril Ladder. Are you living your best life? What does it exactly mean for you to be living your best life? What steps can you make in the right direction to boost your well-being?
4. Net Worth
Remember: Your income isn’t a measure of your wealth. Your net worth is. To figure out your net worth, tally up your assets — this includes your investments, how much you have sitting in your savings, and any other assets, like your home or car. Next, tally up your debt. Subtract your debt from your assets and you have your net worth.
Net worth gives a full picture because it factors in how much money you make, how much debt you owe and how quickly you’re paying it off. It’s what you have left at the end of the day that’s for Future You. Having a positive net worth shows that you’re financially healthy.
5. How You Spend Your Money
Are you putting your paycheck toward paying off debt, helping your family, or are you squandering it? Not only does how you spend your money affect your progress toward net worth, but it’s ultimately an indicator of what you value.
For instance, while I am typically pretty frugal when it comes to clothes, I spend more on high-quality, nutritious foods. That’s because my health, especially as I get older, becomes more important. I recently splurged on some fancy cookware because I’ve been preparing more meals at home. I also pay for weekly yoga classes at a nearby studio. Because my physical health is important, I’m willing to spend more on food and exercise.
There you have it. Five metrics that are more important than your income. As you can see, while your take-home pay does play a key role in your financial well-being, there are other ways to measure your financial success.