What is rich, anyway?

On my last post about our updated net worth (I hope you guys didn’t think I was bragging, I was just honestly excited about it and I didn’t think there was anyone else who would care. I told Chad and his response was lukewarm, and since he actually has a vested stake in it, I didn’t think anyone else would be as excited as me!)

Anyway, Tom left a comment saying,

Dang, you guys have done a tremendous job saving!

You’re rich!

Which was nice, but I think I mentally kind of bristled at the term “rich” being applied to me. I don’t feel rich.  If I was rich, I would be able to buy that dress I want, I wouldn’t have to fight with Chad every time we go over our grocery budget by $15, and I’d be able to buy a house without worry about having enough of an emergency fund left over.  After all, about half of our net worth is tied up in retirement accounts, which we can’t touch for another 25 years.

That’s when I realized that I probably am rich.

I don’t just mean rich in terms of the genetic lottery winnings I have compared to a person living in a third-world country.  I don’t just mean that in comparison to the homeless or the working poor.  If you gave a bunch of middle-class Americans my net worth and earnings information, I’m sure they’d overwhelmingly say I’m rich.

Five years ago when I was still in college, this would definitely have been beyond my wildest dreams.  Three years ago, when I was still struggling to pay off my car loan, my student loans (which are still around to this day), and my credit card, I think I would have said this is rich.  One year ago, while the stock market was tanking and Chad and I didn’t even talk about how much money we had, I don’t think I could have guessed we’d be into six figures of net worth.

Now?  It doesn’t feel like much. 

After all, Chad is still not working, and I find myself worrying about saving much extra.  After all, when the savings are divided into their sub-accounts, one for the car we’ll need to buy when Chad starts working, an emergency fund in case something happens to me, our house downpayment is still insufficient.  I still can’t afford a pair of Louboutins.  I’d say we’re OK, maybe, not comfortable, but OK.  Rich?  Nah, I wouldn’t say rich.  Rich people could buy a car in cash without dipping into other savings.  Rich people don’t have to choose between a dress for a black-tie event and their savigns goals.

I know my readers are rolling their eyes a little bit now.  It’s sort of like whining that my tiara is too heavy and my diamond shoes are too tight.

But remember how far away being debt-free seemed?  Remember how you thought that once you didn’t have those loans over your head, the stress would go away?  Remember how far away having $500 for an emergency fund seemed?

There’s always something more to chase, there’s always another goal.  It keeps us from stagnating, but I think it has also kept me from ever really feeling the accomplishments I have made, from appreciating those milestones.  I follow my 2009 Review with 2010 Goals and never stop to think about what accomplishing those 2009 goals really means.

Right now, my “rich” is Chad working.  When he does start, though, this will expand to mean other things – a house down payment big enough for a real house, buying his car with cash, buying something full-price at Anthropologie.  Once we get there, it will be a paid-off house, a million in retirement savings, a college fund for our (hypothetical) kids.  I’ll keep moving the bar, and maybe we’ll never be what I consider “rich.”

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10 Responses

  1. Totally agree with this sentiment. Rich is someone who has about 3-5 times as I do.

    But I do get on T’s case if he talks about how much he envies certain people who were born with more and have more. We are very very fortunate and a lot of it is just dumb luck (combined with good sense, which we are lucky to have)!

  2. You’re rich in the sense that you don’t have to stress about one little emergency setting you totally off course. That’s the kind of “rich” I am also. And that’s the kind of rich I’d like to be for a long time…

  3. I think I have to explain myself here:

    The comment was a bit tongue in cheek, because I had an idea of what your definition of rich is and I was also comparing your situation to mine (and you don’t know those details):

    We work for the same bouncing sounding company (you confirmed that a while ago).
    According to NetworthIQ we make roughly the same salary range.
    Both of our spouses are job hunting.

    My NW currently hovers around $100K, but will plummet as soon as my wife’s student loans are out of deferment.

    So, from purely an income/NW standpoint, we are both doing very well, but you are doing even better. Yeah, you live in an expensive area and are SINK right now, you don’t have much to worry about, and piece of mind like that is priceless.

    • No worries! I realized that my “What? I’m not rich!” reaction was based on my own feelings of insecurity and not actual, you know, reality.

      Best wishes on the job hunt – it’s rough out there right now!

  4. I don’t mind the paradox of being very fortunate and yet not feeling/appreciating how “rich” I am – it’s very important to me not to feel like I can sit back on my laurels and relax too much because *that* would kind of seem (to me) like I was taking my good fortune for granted.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. If you were to give my current net worth stats to “me from 3-years ago,” the old me would’ve turned green with envy. You’re correct that for every financial accomplishments, the bar is set higher. But at the same time, I think it’s important that you put things in perspective and be grateful for what you have already. You seem to strike that balance very well. Kudos!

  6. Interesting post. I haven’t figured it out either.

  7. I understand this sentiment. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never be completely happy with any money situation — short of us winning the lottery. There’s always another goal to push for; there’s always better things — financially smarter things — that you could do with the money that you consider “extra.”

    I think, sometimes, it’s just about deciding what “enough” looks like. Rich is probably pretty hard to feel, even if you’re not subject to lifestyle inflation. So I would sit down and figure out what it would take for you to relax a bit and try to take pleasure in being financially comfortable. Then take it out and review it from time to time, when you start to feel stressed about your finances. It might be a good way to remind yourself that you’re doing okay. (Or will be, once your fella is employed again.)

  8. The bar IS always moving and we’re always chasing the next goal – right now I feel like I’m playing catch-up, and my ‘thing’ right now is for T to get a great FT job (although made MUCH harder in that he doesn’t actually know what he wants to do), and my job situation to stabilise.

    Make time to appreciate your successes, but at the same time I think we have to keep striving to avoid getting complacent.

  9. I guess I’d consider myself rich too. But mostly because I live on less and save a lot. Not everything, but a lot.

    So whatever I have is quite a bit of money for my life.

    I do wish I had more money however. Like you, I keep raising the bar each time I reach a goal. And sometimes I think: Dang I could’ve been over $100k in my net worth if I didn’t have debt coming out of school.

    Still 🙂 V. happy.

    And I don’t know BF’s exact number, but it’s around half a million in cash/stocks I think. He has quite a bit saved, because he’s older and he lives on very little. Plus, company money that he doesn’t touch.

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