Do You Want to Appear Rich? Or Do You Want to Be Rich?

Unless your last name is Rockefeller or Vanderbilt or Gates or Ellison or Buffett, you probably can’t be both.

Many, many people choose to appear rich. This usually means buying a house you can’t really afford, cars you can’t really afford, and all sorts of electronic devices and jewelry and other items that you can’t really afford. Outwardly, you appear to have lots of money, but you’re actually sinking in a giant pile of debt, barely able to keep your head above water.

In this case, the appearance of affluence doesn’t equal financial independence. Instead, it equals a huge amount of financial dependence. People in such situations depend on their employer for steady employment. They depend on their continued good health. They depend on minimizing major unexpected events – a transmission failure can be devastating. They depend on a reasonably strong credit rating while they juggle all of the debt.

That’s far from financial independence. But from the outside, it does look good.

These are the people who have a nice house and nice cars but seem not to have high paying careers. Do they have it all? Maybe at a glance, but the stress is intense. They’re constantly walking a high wire. If someone loses a job or the car’s transmission fails or a child gets devastatingly sick, the whole thing falls apart. And it’s scary. Most of the time, people who appear rich do all they can to pretend such things can’t possibly happen to them, but late at night, they know such things certainly can happen to them – and they worry. A lot.

A big part of the focus tends to be short term happiness and impressing other people – but long term happiness and enjoying yourself takes a big back seat. Fake it until you make it? Only if you’re bringing something more to the table – and that “something more” comes through without lots of superficial elements to impress others.

Trust me, I’ve been there. It can be fun in the short term, but over the long haul, you realize how many opportunities in life you’re missing.

On the other hand, one can choose to be rich. From my perspective, being rich means being as financially independent as possible – almost no life events can impact your situation – and being surrounded by the things you care the most about.

Yes, this has one disadvantage over appearing rich: you don’t get lots of shiny things whenever you want them. But it comes with tons of additional advantages.

You’re not tied to your job for purposes of compensation. If you hate your job, quit and find something you don’t hate. The money isn’t the constraint.

You’re not buried in bills. Each month, you don’t have to pay much at all out in required bills.

You don’t have tons of different things that need constant care and maintenance. You’re not cleaning a 6,000 square foot house. You’re not caring for five different cars. You’re not keeping up an immaculately landscaped yard. Sure, if you’re passionate about one of these, you can chase it – but if you don’t care, there’s no need to have them or maintain them at all.

You don’t have “friends” that constantly judge you based on the stuff you have.

You don’t worry about having enough money when you retire.

In the end, it comes back to one simple question: do you want to appear rich, or do you want to be rich?

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