Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring

We’re pleased to feature a guest post from Kathleen Fox, co-author with Rick of Conscious Finance.


Would you like to be rich?

This might seem like a stupid question with a no-brainer of an answer. “Well, duh—of course. Who wouldn’t?”

Quite a few people, apparently, judging from the comments on a couple of Rick’s recent columns.

It’s a paradox. The last time I checked, financial success was still an important component of what we consider the American Dream. Young people are encouraged to work hard and get an education so they’ll qualify for well-paying jobs. Employees expect to be rewarded for good work with raises. Business owners expect to be rewarded for their risks and efforts with profits. Making a good living, we’re taught, is part of making a good life.

Yet at the same time we’re encouraged to work toward becoming wealthy, we are immersed in a culture of resentment and hostility toward those we perceive as wealthy. Apparently we’re supposed to be proud of trying to do well, but ashamed if we actually accomplish it.

Every time Rick writes a column about getting rich, being rich, or managing wealth, the snarky comments are sure to follow. One of the latest was, “Kahler, you are always talking about rich this and rich that, it’s boring.”

Actually, the process of becoming rich, as taught by Rick and a lot of other fee-only financial planners, is pretty boring. Essentially, you work hard, you live on less than you make, and you invest your money in a well-diversified portfolio and leave it alone to grow. No fearful hoarding on one hand or dramatic win-or-lose speculating on the other. No million-dollar inheritances from long-lost relatives. No lavish lifestyle. It’s so mundane, your neighbors probably won’t even know you’re rich unless you tell them.

Maybe that’s the problem. If I were to ask you whether you’d like to be rich, your answer is going to depend on your own personal definition of “rich.” For many of us, that word conjures up images of the mega-wealthy that catch the attention of the media: luxurious homes in exotic places, limos and private jets, glamorous parties, and sometimes outrageous self-indulgence.

When we think of “the rich,” our minds don’t go to the lives of the rich and boring. These are the ordinary business owners, savvy employees, and common-sense investors who quietly and gradually build enough net worth to be financially independent in retirement and able to provide for themselves in old age. Yet my guess is there are many more of the “rich and boring” than the “rich and famous.” I know more than a few of them myself. Almost certainly, so do you. You just may not know it.

What would happen if we consciously chose to replace the “rich and famous” view of wealth with a “rich and boring” one? Maybe it’s time to create a new description of what it means to be rich.

Try this one: “Rich is having more money than you need and managing it wisely so you can live comfortably in the present, anticipate a financially secure future, and give back generously to your community.”

Pretend, just for the moment, that you accept that definition. See whether the idea of being rich feels any different.

Now, let’s try it again. Would you like to be rich?

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2 Responses to Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring

  1. Richard B Wagner July 7, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Nice, Kathleen. You have hit on something here. Sometimes I read the letters folks write to columnists. “Snarky” doesn’t begin to capture the violent emotions. I find more visceral hatred against “the rich” in these letters than I could have imagined. Usually, I just have to stop. Too nasty.

    Personally, I think the hedge fund guys are out of line with reporting their earnings as capital gains. And I am not a big fan of current CEO salaries. That said, it is my experience that most rich folks got that way via hard work and sharing the best they had to share with the rest of us. “The Millionaire Next Door” outlines good people with whom we are all lucky to share space. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. conlin July 7, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    My measurement for being rich would be the quality and quantity of your relationships with other people.