Personal Finance

What Does It Mean to Be Rich?

being rich

Everybody wants to be rich. And there are many people in the world who certainly appear to have achieved it. What’s funny, though, is that I’ve never met a single person who says that they feel rich, wealthy, or well-off. (Granted, I’m not hanging with the Trumps, but neither am I talking about people who have a reason to feel “poor.”) When people talk about money, they’re either “struggling,” “barely making ends meet,” or, “getting by.” Yet if you look at the things they have, the homes they live in, and the cars they drive you know that, unless they’re in debt up to their eyeballs, they are, if not rich, at least comfortable.

Personally I consider myself well-off. Sure, I don’t have enough money to buy everything I want when I want it. I do have to budget and plan for big expenses. But compared to many people around the world and even in the U.S., I am well off. I have a roof over my head, a car to drive, money in the bank, and enough to meet my basic needs. I am rich in so many ways that it seems silly to me to say, “I’m struggling,” or “I wish I were rich” just because all of my recreational spending desires cannot be met instantaneously. I wouldn’t turn down a lottery win, but when I look at my life and my circumstances, I know that I am relatively rich, even if I don’t have millions in the bank.

So why do so many people think that they aren’t “rich” or “well off?” In the “first world” many people have so much more than many others even dream of. Even the “lower class” in the first world is exponentially better off than many people in the third world. So why this reluctance to feel rich? Most people go around saying that they aren’t rich and, worse, that they never will be.

I think it’s partly that our expectations are desperately out of whack. We’ve become conditioned by the media to think that only millions (or at least hundreds of thousands) of dollars in the bank counts as rich. We see the winners of giant lottery jackpots and say, “They are rich. I’m not.” We see celebrities and athletes getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode or game and say, “That’s what it means to be rich.” We see CEO’s and coaches who pull in millions even when they get fired and say, “That guy is rich.” Yes, they are wealthy. Yes, they can have almost everything they want. But wealth like that is not the norm and it’s often excessive. If your only definition of “rich” is to have as much money as those people, you’re not likely to ever achieve it.

We’ve lost the ability to simply look inside ourselves and our circumstances and say, “Hey, I’m doing pretty well.” Our objectivity is shot. We see excessive wealth in the media and think, “Hey, I’m nowhere near that, so I’m broke.” It’s like the size ten woman who feels overweight and unattractive compared to all the unrealistic six-foot tall size zero models in magazines. The comparison is all wrong because it’s not based in any kind of normal reality.

I think most people need a new, healthier definition of what it means to be rich. Maybe being rich simply means having enough to meet your basic needs with a little left over to save. Maybe it doesn’t mean enough to live in a 10,000 square foot house with a six car garage. Maybe you can be rich in a 1,000 square foot house. I know some people who would likely admit that they are rich and they live in tiny houses. Maybe you can be rich and drive a used Chevy rather than a brand new Mercedes. Maybe you don’t need a house full of brand new, matching furniture to be rich, maybe you only need a bed, a few chairs and a table.

When you’re tempted to say you’re not rich and never will be, stop and look around you. Do you have a roof over your head? Food to eat? Some extras? A little money in the bank? Then maybe you’re already rich. Stop and think about people who don’t even have that much. There are plenty of people who have far less than you. You might even be richer than you know if you’re fortunate enough to have plenty of non-monetary richness in your life. If you have a family that loves you, friends that care for you, pets that need you, your health, and/or a job that challenges you, you’re so far ahead of a lot of people in the world that you might as well be rolling in millions.

I think that if more people would adjust their expectations and realize just how “rich” they already are, a lot of the grasping, commercial craziness would stop, or at least slow down. When you already have a lot, you don’t need to buy more. When you can look around you and say, “Man, I am okay. More than okay, I’m doing well,” you feel much less need to try to keep up with (or become) the Jones’s. And that right there is a significant step to saving even more money and becoming even richer.

(Photo courtesy of quinn.anya)

5 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be Rich?

  1. Rich means you kids can be as dumb as W and still get into Harvard. That anyone in your family can all run for office or get multiple chances running companies even if they fail repeatedly.

    Rich means you can afford to be creative and not pay as big of a percentage of your income in taxes as your help pays. That you will never have to clean your own house, or even wash or style your own hair. Rich you means you get treated differently by the society, given multiple chances, respect and admiration are given to you instantly and don’t have to be earned, as by the rest of us.

    That what it means to be rich. Not to be confused with financially stable, or comfortable, or high-earning.

  2. Everyone has their own definition of rich I guess but most associate it with having lost of money or “rich and famous”. I can do anything, buy anything, and employ anyone, life is grand. Rich is just a word. That’s all it is to me. When it all boils down to the nitty gritty we can all get by on very little and still enjoy life. You can’t miss what you don’t have.

  3. Being rich has nothing to do with how much taxes one pays, or whether one cleans his own house. (I have known poor people to employ housekeepers.)

    Rich is a mindset, as is being poor. Envying those who have money is a sign of being poor. Be yourself, and you will be happy.

  4. I used to think at certain income “I’d be rich” but that income came and went and I didn’t feel rich. I used to think those with a big house and expensive cars were rich, but then found out most of them are living month to month. I realized you get rich by saving money, not spending it.

    My new definition is: Rich is having enough money that you don’t have work. You can live off your investments and savings.

    From someone that is very well off, but not the 1%

  5. I’ve always thought that since everybody always complained of being broke, etc, they just really didn’t want anyone to know HOW they are doing financially. It is a social ‘little white lie’. Especially when they are talking to people that they know aren’t well off as they don’t want to hurt feelings. I would prefer the truth so I could rejoice with them though, instead of all the lies. Who really cares how someone is doing financially unless they truly need a handout.

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