A few years ago I ran across this comic. I chuckled at the humor and shared it with my colleagues (I work in a financial services office so we see this sort of thing in real life quite often). I took some time to think about it and behind the humor are some important truths. As westerners we often have a skewed idea of “rich.” Even without diving into the philosophies of other cultures, we can find a few different financial mores in our own.
A good majority of people think that those who have a lot of possessions are doing pretty good for themselves. They get a mortgage for a big house, they get a couple of loans for some cars, and then they buy a boat, an RV, maybe a four wheeler or a snowmobile. In the end they have a lot of stuff, but they also have a whole lot of debt. These people drive flashy cars, wear nice clothes, and give off the appearance of being rich. But are they really rich?
The aspiration of many bloggers and writers is to bring their readers’ way of thinking away from the desire to accumulate stuff and start to desire to accumulate wealth. Tips and tricks on how to live the frugal life abound, and instead of debt you will have a fat 401(k), a healthy emergency fund, and plenty of money to fall back on. These people generally do not drive flashy cars or wear the latest trends. But they feel rich because they know they can handle life’s bumps because they have the money to do so. Their financial statement looks nice, but are they really rich?
There are others who take the idea of wealth and possession accumulation with a grain of salt. They know the importance of saving, and they continue to save a little. But they also know the importance of being happy. These people often will work just enough to live comfortably, and then to spend their money on what makes them happy. Instead of spending hours and hours at the office, they delve into their hobbies and other leisure activities. They do not have flashy cars, houses, or clothes, and if you saw their 401(k) statement you would probably be shocked at how little they have saved. But these people are often the happiest and most content people out there. Instead of possessions or wealth, they have peace; but are they really rich?
Is one way of living better than the other? Is one person “richer” than the other? Personally I have worked my way down through this list. I started out wanting a lot of nice things (fortunately I never got into the debt that went with it), and that quickly gave way to wanting to be a millionaire by the time I was in my mid thirties. As I started to realize what was important to me, I decided that I didn’t need a lot of stuff, and I didn’t need a lot of money, but rather I wanted to focus on my family. I personally believe that being comfortable and happy is the best way to go. This is not to say saving money is unimportant, but I would rather enjoy life now than spend all my time and energy on making and saving money.
How about you? What makes you feel rich?
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