What Does It Mean to Be Rich?

If you wander by the personal finance section at your local bookstore, one of the first things you’ll notice is that a lot of books use the word “Rich” in the title. Rich Dad, Poor Dad. How to Get Rich.Smart Couples Finish Rich. I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Heck, one of the most popular personal finance blogs out there is named Get Rich Slowly.

Rich. What does it even mean?

I’ve said before that

my idea of richness is merely financial independence and a full life. I truly don’t want to have mountains of money – if I did find some way to earn a lot of money, I’d likely give most of it away once I’ve established long-term financial independence for my immediate family. (Trust me, writing isn’t it unless you’re Dan Brown or Stephen King.)

But I’ve put a lot of thought into that question. What does it mean for people who are simply trying to make ends meet?

I asked a big handful of people on Facebook this very question. “How much money does it take to be rich? What would you do with that much money if someone just handed it to you?”

Most of the responses were very consistent with each other.

The amount of money it takes to be “rich” usually equals somewhere around one hundred times what a person has made in the last year (at least, based on what I could estimate that people make). So, someone that makes $20,000 a year would say that two million would make them rich. Someone making $100,000 a year would answer that ten million would make them rich.

What was interesting is the consistency in how they would spend it. Almost all of them mentioned buying material things. Out of the twenty people I asked, only two of them mentioned investing the money at all, although quite a few did mention paying off all of their existing debt. There were lots of mentions of ridiculously expensive cars and several mentions of new houses. A few people said they would quit their jobs.

Mostly, though, they would just spend their riches on a higher grade of the same stuff they already have. They’d buy a better car and a better television and a better house.

Obviously, many of the people I wrote to are perfectly happy with their lives and upgrading material elements of that life would just put icing on the cake.

But if you’re not happy with some aspect of your life, simply doing more of the same thing won’t help. You’ve got to do something different, and that often means completely changing the routine of your life.

If you’re happy with what you have in life, more money is just icing on the cake – a means to secure what you have and buff up certain parts of it.

If you’re unhappy with what you have in life, more money to buy more of the same stuff won’t help at all. Money helps in that it buys you the freedom to make the changes you want.

Having the money to buy that nice item you’re dreaming about won’t bring you happiness. Either you’re already happy with your life or you’re not. Money can, however, put a bit of sugar on the cookie if you’re already happy and allow you to find a new path if you’re not.

In the end, being rich has nothing to do with money. It has to do with being happy with what you have and not desiring more. Being rich is having enough. Some people working minimum wage jobs are rich and some people with millions in the bank are not.

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Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.