When I was a kid, I naturally assumed that people who drove around in expensive cars are rich and wealthy. They all must lead super glitzy lives of wealth, live in nice homes and generally just lead whatever I thought was the “perfect life” at the time. 

Though many of those people are rich, I learned over the years that a high income and a relentless acquisition of expensive things don’t, in reality, make anyone rich. They might have a high income, but so many people who spend beyond their means couldn’t go three months without their high-paying jobs and still keep the majority of what they have.

Yeah, that’s not rich. 

Pseudo affluence is a powerful effect, and it lulls many of us into a position where we believe we’re rich because we earn lots of money, but live a lifestyle on the edge where our debts are high and we’re a job-loss away from having to sell that Mercedes to pay rent. 

I think of this as being “object poor“. 

Object poor: A state of excess where the stuff (objects) in our lives represent a debt great enough to keep us working jobs for the expressed purpose of funding those objects. 

What does rich mean?

I read an Apathy Ends article the other day about what it means to be rich, and it was too good not to share. The term “rich” doesn’t only refer to the amount of money you have. Or stuff that clutters up your space.  

Why aren’t you rich? “It’s not because you haven’t won the lottery, caught your “Big Break” or found a sugar daddy/momma to boost you into wealth,” Apathy wrote. “Those are the stories you see in the news, but they are not how the vast majority of people get rich.

Apathy argued that you’re not rich because your definition of rich is just wrong. It’s okay to spend money on things that make you happy. It’s also okay to earn a bunch of money in your career.

All that stuff is good, but that alone does not make people rich. 

Why you aren’t rich

It might be because you aren’t patient. While some of us do get rich fairly quickly, that isn’t the norm. Expecting a get rich quick scheme to magically get us super-wealthy is a one-way street to a life of frustration.

Why? Think about it. If it was possible to buy a course or take a seminar to get rich quick, why wouldn’t everybody be doing it? If it were that easy, we’d all be super wealthy people and wiping our ass with $100s. 

Life doesn’t work that way

Keep in mind that I’m not naturally a patient person. When I decide that I want something, I want it now. I want it yesterday. I don’t like waiting, so this has been especially tough for me to overcome. 

In fact, being patient was the toughest part in our drive toward financial independence and early retirement. I just couldn’t wait to retire. 

I’ve learned over the years that the accumulation of money, knowledge and experience is deep-seeded in time. Time allows everything that makes us great to grow and improve. To get better and more efficient over time.

That’s right, it compounds

Or, maybe you’re just not investing enough. I’ve argued before that saving money won’t get anyone rich. Investing your money in appreciating assets, however, will. Over time. That said, not every investment will work. In fact, we might lose money on some investments. It happens.

But, those of us with serious wealth did not get wealthy by stashing all those greenbacks in a bank account. Our bank accounts make the bank way richer than they make us. Banks are storage systems for our money, not wealthy-building entities…except if you own the bank, of course.  🙂

Investments are what build wealth – over time.

This graph helps us to visualize how powerful investments can be.

The Dow Jones over 10 years | Source: MacroTrends.com

Lastly, getting rich is about action, not just talk. It is easy to take a look at someone’s success and assume they just got lucky. Or fell into wealth. Or believe that unless you have the exact same access to everything they have, you probably won’t ever get rich. 

That mindset is a fool’s game, and if you believe that, then you’re right: you won’t ever get rich. Count on it. 

People often look at my wife and me and believe that we’re one of the lucky ones. We have no kids (a conscious choice), made good money by pursuing IT degrees (another choice) and grew up in loving and supportive families (okay, that was dumb luck).

But, they ignore the choices we made over our careers to maximize our investments. To max out our retirement accounts by the end of our working careers. To show up at the office every day. To care about our work even when it was super, super hard to do. 

And, to sell both of our homes and buy a 200-square foot Airstream in which to live. To only spend $50/month on restaurants. To cancel cable/satellite television service. To put every damn purchase we made through the ringer to make doubly sure that every dollar that we spend is going toward something that we need. Genuinely need. 

If “luck” takes that much work and discipline, then luck’s way overrated. 

Being rich isn’t about falling into money; it’s about giving just enough shits to earn and keep it

There is a fine balance between a carefree lifestyle of unimportance and caring way the heck too little and losing sight of reality. Both of those extremes do us no favors in wealth accumulation.

I am not a fan of giving too many shits, but I’m also not a fan of overthinking this whole financial independence and early retirement thing. People confuse the time it takes to become financially independent with a sense of complication it takes to get there. Building wealth isn’t complicated. 

To me, being rich is a mindset

It’s not some arbitrary dollar figure. Or a level of prestige. Or the car we drive, house we live in or position we hold. 

Being rich also isn’t about comparing yourself to others or sizing up your nest egg with your friends, family or coworkers. You aren’t necessarily less wealthy than your neighbor because you drive a Civic and they drive a BMW X5.

In fact, it could mean you’re in a better financial position, not worse. 

Read a typical article about what it means to be rich, and you’ll read a bunch of paragraphs about money. About earned-income, net worths, jobs and amassing fortunes.

That’s only true if you equate being “rich” with money. 

If you are one of those people, stop it. Stop assuming that money is what makes people rich. Money is a superficial representation of wealth, and there are so many more meaningful ways to think about riches. 

If you don’t consider yourself to be a happy person, I bet your insistence that wealth and success is tied to money is a big part of the problem. 

How to think about being rich

Once we rid ourselves of the assumption that being “rich” means that we have a ton of cash, there are so many way-more-meaningful ways to think about being rich, including:

Friends

I consider having a bunch of good friends to be a sign of not just “being rich”, but possessing extreme riches. Money doesn’t come close to offering the same type of value that friends can offer. I learned this one the hard way. 

Relationship with family

Not everyone has a good relationship with their family, but those who do are rich people indeed. Especially around the holidays! 

Hobbies

I believe that having hobbies is the spice of life. The more hobbies we have, the more productive that we tend to feel especially after the drain of full-time work is off of our shoulders. 

Community

Most of us need community. We just do. We’re social creatures by nature, and communities help to nurture what comes so damn naturally to the great majority of us. Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it by watching the news, positive and healthy communities are all over the place because we make them what they are. The “richer” that we are with community, the richer the community becomes.  

Frequency of smiles

Apparently, smiling more can help us to live longer. Whether or not that’s actually true, smiling definitely helps our stress level. Smiles also help send positive vibes into the airwaves around us. They fill those around us with a sense that everything’s okay. 

What say you? Are you rich? If so, how do you define “being rich”?