What I Mean When I Say I’m Rich

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When I Realized I was Privileged

He grew up on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. I kept hedging that I didn’t grow up with the silver spoons of my colleagues, with private schools and summer homes. But it seemed discordant to make these comparisons to someone whose mom died of a drug overdose and whose dad worked in construction, a career he inherited.

In my mind, it was like Bill Gates insisting he wasn’t Warren Buffett.

I was a little embarrassed. It may not have been a silver spoon, but it was at least plastic and durable. Also, we had soup! By being steadily employed in white collar jobs and never buying things, my parents rose through the middle class ranks. And I was now a lawyer, making an income that put me in the top 10% of salaries, if not higher. If he was lower-income, I was higher-income. If he was poor, then I’d have to be rich, right?

It’s apparently not so simple. It’s such a subversive thought – believing you’re rich. There’s a lot of stigma associated with being considered wealthy, even in the personal finance blogosphere. I recently asked on Twitter whether it was off-putting for me to describe myself as “rich” and most seemed to suggest that it was. Some people would have been put off because I’m not “rich enough” to consider myself rich. Some others would have considered it bragging or tempting fate. Others have been bred to hate the rich, so they take it as an invitation for open season against me.

It was funny, because the tweet followed a lot of rabid discussion stating that earning multiple times the median income does not count as middle class. Ok, fine. I won’t call myself middle class – but I still can’t consider myself rich. I’m “upper middle class,” which I guess insulates me from associating myself with the middle and the rich. It could be the best of both worlds, even though mathematically it just doesn’t make sense. (For instance, if you subdivided incomes into five categories – poor, lower middle, middle, upper middle, and rich, I’d still be rich. The top 10% would still fit into that top 20%).

Why People Won’t Acknowledge That They’re Rich

Why should it be a problem in personal finance to consider yourself rich? Well, it’s probably because the rich are now seen as punching bags. I remember reading a blogger sarcastically snarking about Taylor Swift talking about having a problem. Oh she’s rich and pretty and young so she doesn’t get to have a problem. She doesn’t get to complain. Sorry, rich people – you don’t get to have sadness or loneliness or stubbed toes.

Part of the disdain may come from the idea that the rich are associated with wasteful spending. We’re not lifestyles of the rich and famous – we’re lifestyles of the financially independent and the frugal.

Part of me wants to say that labeling myself as rich ignores my parents’ sacrifices and hard work, making it seem like we took a road to success lined with trust funds and limos.  I’m sure, however, that my parents would be very gratified that they were able to provide for their kids. It’s a different generation – they unabashedly want to be rich. They see the rich as aspirational, as good and hard-working. I don’t know when the definitions got turned around.

I would think that of all blog communities, this one should realize that money doesn’t solve all your problems. And that money is nothing to be ashamed of. And that money is really a story that unites us more than it divides us. But once we start defining ourselves by our incomes, then it seems the claws start coming out.

Why I Believe I’m Rich

Part of the evasiveness might not be from fear but from honestly not realizing that one is rich. There’s that joke that we define wealth as “a little bit more.” And when you’re wealthy, and surrounded by wealthy people, it can be easy to feel poor. After you’ve obtained enough money to be stable, being rich is more of a feeling than an actual number. And a millionaire can feel poor next to a billionaire. And anyone can feel poor when someone has more or better or newer.

We are all like dogs chasing their tails. But at least a tail is something tangible. We are always chasing something that we’ll never catch, and frankly when we catch it, we deny we’ve caught it. And I’m tired of the chase. I want to stop and just look around. My definition isn’t “a bit more.”

My definition is “I’m fine right here.” Does that bother you? Why? I’m not selling anything. I’m just letting you know I’m not chasing. I already realize what enormous privilege I have and will continue to have. I realize I don’t need any more.

My current financial status is not indicative of my childhood or my future. It doesn’t make me a good person or a bad person. So here is my unvarnished truth.

When I think about spending my money, I think about aligning it to my values  – not meeting my basic needs. I don’t check my bank accounts to see if I can afford something because I know I can. I rarely have to worry about money. That’s my definition of rich.

They say that women are always apologizing. Well, I’m not apologizing. To be polite, I can say I’m “upper middle class” but in my mind, I know I’m rich. And I’d rather just admit it.

What’s your definition of rich?

14 thoughts on “What I Mean When I Say I’m Rich

  1. If the saying “you are what you eat” is true then, “You are whatever you think you are” (at least in your mind). If you are proud of that then there is nothing to be ashamed of. People are going to think whatever they want and they’re entitled to their opinion about their own life. All the best with yours. Besos Sarah.

    1. I think that’s quite perceptive. What would happen to all of us if we believed we were rich and were unashamed? I’ll have to ponder on that one. Thanks for reading!

  2. Rich to me is health, freedom, and an elevated level of sustained happiness.

    You make a good point about why the personal finance blogosphere is so critical of people who make a higher income or who have a higher wealth. It’s weird because all of us you know that money doesn’t buy happiness beyond a certain amount. So maybe it is those bloggers who are most against the rich who are actually the least informed.

    But of course, that will probably outrage folks! it’s always better to Blend into the crowd. But stand out in your own life.

    Sam

    1. I don’t understand the criticism of the high-income folks myself. I thought this was the community of the Millionaire Next Door! I honestly think people in PF are more triggered by the idea of wealth than other communities. Don’t know what to make of it.

      You’re making quite a splash outraging folks so I’ll take your advice with a grain of salt. =D Always a pleasure, Sam.

  3. Well, I’m British so I am upper middle class.

    Am I rich? Income wise definitely, I’m in the top 2% or so. Assets wise, I’m getting there.

  4. In my culture and world, I’m filthy rich. I own a home (in my culture, this assumes a level of credit that most people don’t have AND a steady higher income than $40,000), two old good cars that only cost us for maintenance instead of breaking down, I have pets which are considered so very optional and they get the best care I can give them, and I can choose to buy clothes new, regularly, if I want to. I’d be choosing that over saving but I COULD choose it. Heck, that I can SAVE is a level of prosperity that many people in my family have never seen. That I could, for half my life, support my parents is a level of prosperity people don’t achieve until after their kids are teens. It wasn’t sustainable but it really meant something.

    When our family members die, they hope to not leave debt, to leave a piece of property or a little bit of cash, or at least to cover the costs of their burial. Mom didn’t have that much, I paid for everything for her and Dad for years before that so of course I paid for her funeral.

    I’m not ashamed to say that I feel damn wealthy because we have it better than so many people in this country and even in this world. Just because we’re merely a mote in a world where there are billionaire kids running around wasting money like it’s dirt doesn’t mean that we are not, in absolute terms of wealth and privilege, totally rich. We are!

    I don’t care what anyone else thinks of my saying that, I know that I use that hard earned wealth and knowledge to help people who are trying to claw their way out of poverty and younger family as they get old enough to earn a salary to teach them to save immediately, and regularly.

  5. “Part of the disdain may come from the idea that the rich are associated with wasteful spending”

    While that’s part of it, it’s worse than that. In today’s political discourse, the rich are associated with greed, and suppressing others , or those “less privileged” (damn there’s that annoying word again). Regarding taxes, the chant of “the rich don’t pay their fair share!!” has been a loud mantra for over a decade from those of a certain political persuasion. That kind of populist rhetoric resonates with people, and creates villains.

  6. Your definition of rich is spot on. I also agree that we’re always chasing money and never catching it. And when we do, we deny it so we can keep on chasing. Isn’t that ultimately why we deny the rich label? So we can justify chasing more? Thanks for starting the discussion!

    1. I think admitting the rich label allows a host of valuable outcomes, like you described in your article. Thanks fellow rich person!

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