Growing up, I didn’t think much about what it meant to be rich. My family and I lived in a lower middle class ‘hood. My dad was an electrician. Our next door neighbor was a mailman. The guys who rented the house across the street were entrepreneurs (drug dealers). One day, the police showed up at their house and took them away. We never saw them again. But I digress.
Mike, the first rich person I met
I started programming computers right before the year 2000 and it was great. All of the old-time mainframe programmers (Hello COBOL!) were making big money fixing decades-old code. I was assigned to work with Mike.
Shortly after meeting him, I was convinced that he was rich. Mike made a little over $100,000 per year, had a new Corvette and was in the process of buying a lake house. Mike flew off to exotic locations frequently.
One day, I had a conversation with Mike that went something like this:
- Me: Man, you’ve got it made!
- Mike: What do you mean?
- Me: You have a pretty nice life. Corvette, house on the lake and awesome vacations. Must be great!
- Mike: I actually think I’m a bit poor. You should meet my brother Matt if you want to see rich.
Enter the 1%
I did meet Matt a short time later at his own lake house. Matt is a partner in a very high powered law firm. One of his clients is a billionaire who lets Matt use his private jet. Matt’s wife is a doctor who owns her own practice on Chicago’s prestigious North Shore. Matt and his wife live in Kenilworth, the most expensive city in Illinois and one of the most affluent in the United States:
Matt and his wife are 1 Percenters, but like Mike, don’t ever seem to be satisfied. A couple years ago, they spent $700,000 remodeling the kitchen in their Illinois place. Yes, $700,000 for a *&^%ing kitchen remodel. Shortly after that, they traded in their million dollar ski condo for one that was a bit closer closer to the main gondola. Why walk 500 feet when you can be just 100 feet away?
At the present time, Matt and his wife are fighting about their lake house (house #3 if you’re counting). They have a stunning home on 100′ of prime frontage on a private lake in Wisconsin. Even though the home is just a weekend getaway for Matt and his wife, it tips the scales at over 3000 square feet and is in immaculate condition. Matt’s wife wants to demolish it and build something over 6000 square feet. Must be nice to have that kind of money. However, there are plenty of folks who have a lot more money than Matt.
You may be thinking that the richest people in the world must be happy with what they have. After all, a billion dollars is a pretty big wad of money. However, this isn’t the case either.
Larry Page (Google co-founder) and Larry Ellison (Oracle founder) are both pouring loads of money into research to expand their lifespans. Now we have the answer of what to give to the man who has everything. Immortality! Can’t pick that up at Walmart. I’m sorry Larry and Larry, you can buy almost anything, but you can’t buy time. Steve Jobs had a healthier perspective on death that I quite like:
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
But I digress.
What rich means to me
What is the answer to all of this? Easy. Be happy with a modest existence. Forget about living to 250. Forget about having 3 houses and flying on private jets. To hell with the purses and luxury cars. Here is what I think it takes to be rich:
- Home: Live in a modest house in a safe neighborhood with great neighbors, preferably on a quiet street where children can cruise around on bikes all summer.
- Town: The town needs to be bike friendly, have a great library and have outdoor pursuits nearby. Live near downtown so you can walk everywhere. Or live near open space where you can watch the sun disappear over the horizon every evening.
- Car: Get just enough car to tote you and your family around. Add a roof rack or hitch carrier to occasionally haul more stuff for vacations or the children’s sports league.
- Money: Figure out how much you need for all of the above and then work your ass off to get there while you’re young. You may choose to stay at your job, but it’s always better to work because you want to, not because you have to.
OK, now here comes the hard part. Crush your desire for anything else. If you’re living in a first world country and have all of the above, you have a better life than 99.9999% of all the humans who have ever lived on the earth (and most that are currently alive). Once you have all of the above, if you can establish your Enough and crush desires for anything more, you’re rich. Even if you find yourself with 5 or 10 million dollars, don’t allow your life to expand proportionally.
I’m rich baby
I’ve met Matt and his wife now on various occasions. While I don’t know them well, I know I’m just as happy as them. I may even be happier. While Matt and his family always seem to want more, I’m happy with everything just how it is now. I don’t have a $1,000,000+/year income and I never will. I’ll never fly on a private jet. I’ll never have 3 homes.
I have just what I want though and it is good.
I am rich.
Soon, very soon, I’ll leave my job and follow my heart.
I’ll be exponentially richer.
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