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 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.
There’s that joke that we define wealth as “a little bit more.”
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 budget 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?