At What Point Do You Consider Yourself Wealthy?

We all have different ideas of what it takes to be?rich. What would make you feel wealthy?

We all like to think we're middle class.?Even if you make enough to?technically kick you out of the middle class, you probably still think of yourself as middle class — although you might mentally refer to yourself as?upper middle class (but you would never?say?that out loud).

The idea of middle class holds appeal to most of us because it conveys that you are “just like folks,” but that you also have achieved some level of success. Being middle class is about being?comfortable, financially and psychologically.

Ideas of wealth are far from cut and dry. What constitutes “being rich” is something that has more to do with individual experience than anything else.

“Wealthy” is a Moving Target

The other day, my son had a friend over. They were looking at my son's Lego collection and some of his other toys. As they used some of the loose Lego bricks to build whatever they wanted, the friend casually asked, “Are you rich?”

My son didn't really know what to say, I don't think. All he could really say was, “I dunno.”

We talk about money at home. At least, we talk about financial choices and investing and the basics of money management. We don't talk specific numbers involving income and bills and what-not. While our son certainly knows that we make money (and that I make more than my husband), and we pay bills, and we save up for big purchases, but we don't get into specific numbers.

My son clearly didn't?have something to go on, so I wasn't really surprised when he asked me later if we were rich. I carefully answered that our family probably has a higher income than many of the people in our neighborhood, but that we certainly didn't have an income as high as others.

That is the thing about being wealthy. Nobody really thinks they are rich. Politicians and pundits might ascribe “wealth” to those who have $250,000 in income, or we might consider someone with a net worth of $1 million to be wealthy, but we don't really think in those terms when it comes to our own financial situations.

Indeed, according to a recent survey reported in the New York Times, the more money you make, the more money you think you need to be wealthy.

What's even more interesting, though, is that even millionaires don't think they are wealthy. Last year, ABC News reported on a survey from UBS that indicates that only 28 percent of those with between $1 million and $5 million in investable assets feel rich. So, while non-millionaires assume they would be wealthy to have $1 million in investable assets, a number of those who actually have that kind of money don't believe that they are, in fact, rich.

Wealthy is often a matter of where you stand in comparison to others, as well as whether or not you feel as though you can do what you want, on top of fulfilling your basic survival needs.

We are driven to compare ourselves to others, and as long as there is someone who makes more money than you do, you are unlikely to feel wealthy — no matter how much you make.

Do You NEED to Feel Wealthy?

Of course, the next question is this: Do you?need to feel wealthy in order to consider yourself a financial success?

If you base your feelings of success entirely on sheer numbers, then it's very difficult to feel as though you are a success — unless you make the Forbes Billionaire List. You might also compare yourself with others to determine whether or not you are a success. If you think more in terms of whether you have more or less than your neighbors, your entire self worth might be based on your perceived net worth as compared to those around you.

But we don't all need to feel wealthy. At least, feeling rich doesn't always need to be about comparisons to others. In a number of ways, wealthy is more about how you feel in terms of your own life and finances.

It's easy to get caught up in ideas of wealth inequality, and the growing wealth gap is something to be concerned with in many ways. But, on a personal level, it's probably more important to focus on what you can do to be reasonably comfortable, even in the face of systemic wealth inequality.

Some of the items that might help you feel wealthy — even if you might not think you are rich — include:

  • Adequate disposable income: First of all, your salary isn't as important as your disposable income. What you end up with as disposable income matters more than your salary. Cost of living can sap your wealth, and even if you have a high salary, it might not matter that much if you live in a high-cost area. You might be able to do more with a lower salary in an area with a smaller cost of living.
  • Ability to cover your needs and enjoy some of your wants: Once you are out of “survival mode” with your finances, it's much easier to feel comfortable with your situation.
  • Financial obligations: When you have demands on your pocketbook, it's hard to feel wealthy. Being able to feel in control is a big part of feeling as though you are financially successful. The more obligations you have, from subscriptions to loans to insurance, can make you feel as though you always need to pay out for something.
  • Dependents:?Children and other dependents can cost quite a lot of money over time. The reality is part of the reason that my family's income goes quite a ways is due to the fact that there are only three of us. Families in our neighborhood, many with between three and five children, wouldn't see their incomes go as far as ours. We just have fewer costs.
  • Modest desires: Finally, it's much easier to feel rich when you have modest desires. We choose to live in a smaller house. We don't have a lot of elaborate items to care for. The type of lifestyle you choose is, of course, up to you, but it's much easier to feel financially successful if you aren't striving for all the trappings that we, as a society, associate with wealth.

In many cases, feeling wealthy is a matter of your individual circumstance. Where you live, what you choose to spend your money on, and how content you are with what you have has more to do with whether or not you feel wealthy.

Do you feel wealthy? Why or why not?

9 thoughts on “At What Point Do You Consider Yourself Wealthy?”

  1. I feel wealthy because I live the life I want to live and have the freedom to with it. All my basic needs are met and with no debt. Wealthy is relative. I heard it said not long ago that if you are living in America, you are already wealthier than 80% of the world. We are so blessed to live in such a great country.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      Wealth really is relative, especially how you feel about it! I like how you point out that when you have your needs met with no debt, you feel wealthy. Plus, you’re right that, in America, we have a generally high quality of life.

  2. Prudence Debtfree

    It is sometimes mortifying to see how predictable/typical I am. So much for being unique! I fit right in with that “What It Takes To Be ‘Rich'” table of perceptions of wealth. You make a good point about disposable income. My husband and I are in the process of getting out of debt, and we are struck by the thought of how much more disposable income we’ll have once we’re debt-free – whether or not our income changes. In the process of paying off debt, we have adopted more modest desires – at first by necessity, but more and more genuinely as time goes by and we realize that the cost of happiness is not as high as we used to think it was.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I think we are all a little less unique than we think, but still we all have our individual quirks! Congrats on going through the process of paying off debt — and for coming to the conclusion that, in your life, happiness doesn’t have to be expensive.

  3. I don’t personally feel that well off, but I feel like I have enough to live comfortably and save on the side. As long as I am not in debt or losing money, I don’t care about having millions of dollars, although more money is never a problem. =)

  4. I retired at 48, 3 years ago, and am very happy with the decision so far. Obviously, the ability to retire early conveys some kind of wealth, but I would still not consider myself rich either. All of our needs are met, we have a house, 2 cars, and most of the other goodies you’re supposed to have, but none of them are the newest/biggest/fastest or whatever. That comes back to the modest desires. I saved/invested enough to be able to retire by having a modest life, and I’m used to it now.
    I may never have the Malibu beach house, but I’m also not working everyday, and that is worth the trade off!

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I think that you have hit on something important: What makes you feel wealthy and good about your situation might be different than what others need to feel happy with the money situation. And I like that you point out that you don’t need to have the newest/biggest/fastest to be happy.

  5. I remember when I was in graduate school, I was pulling in $800 a month with part time work and schooling…I remember thinking $40,000 would be SO MUCH money. The things I could buy! The food I could splurge on! To me, it would have been divine… then of course, I had to get a car to get to the job, moved in with my fiance (instead of splitting with two roomies in a bad neighborhood) and the $40k didn’t seem to go so far.

    Wealthy is a moving target for sure. I’m trying to focus on the difference between actual wealth (in a bank, assets, etc.) and “stuff,” that makes you feel or look wealthy but provides no real value to your life, which is easy to accumulate and detracts from the long term wealth….stuff like a bigger house than really needed, tech junk and cars that probably are fancier than necessary…which in the end, puts you in a new “comparison bracket,” not a “wealth bracket” and makes you feel crapalicious.

    1. I love your “wealth bracket” vs. “comparison bracket.” Too often, we’re all about the trappings and the appearance, and worrying about how we “stack up.” As long as you are worried about “stacking up” and not working on building true wealth, you will always feel inadequate — because you are measuring yourself by someone else’s standards!

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