When I was a kid I was socially awkward and nerdy. Somehow my meager clothing allowance never seemed to extend far enough to get me anything that felt cool. I managed to tie those two things together in my mind and came to believe that if I just had enough money to wear fashionable clothes to school I’d be transformed into a confident, outgoing person several rungs higher up the social ladder.
When I got my first job out of college it was therefore important to me to finally be able to dress the way I had always wanted to. Ann Taylor Outlet was my friend and I stocked my professional wardrobe with lined slacks and silk twinsets. I got myself the leather “ducky bag” purse women in my family had always carried when I was a kid. I had the outer trappings of having made it.
Being early in my career my bank account and 401k were about as empty as my professional resume. I slowly began to understand that I couldn’t just jump to the finish line by merely looking like a successful adult; I had to take the time and do the hard work to earn my way to that position in life, in my career, and my finances.
A lot of people fall for the trap of believing that being rich is owning a lot of expensive stuff. When people express the desire to be a millionaire, often this means the literal opposite “I want to spend a million dollars”. The problem with this is the desire to spend like you are rich is exactly the behavior that will prevent you from ever being rich. So you have to ask yourself, what is more important? Acting rich or being rich?
Personally I started out by wanting to act the part without the bank account to back me up. Soon enough I learned that this gave me a hollow feeling. I looked smart but I was afraid of a big expense popping up that would expose how fragile my financial situation really was. Slowly I built up my emergency fund and my 401K, opened an IRA, and got myself on the path to having real wealth. Over time a curious thing happened to me; the more things I could afford to buy, the less I wanted to buy them. In the process I realized that more than being able to buy things, what I really crave about money is the freedom it gives me to pursue whatever opportunities life may put in my path.
So here comes my personal definition of rich: having enough money to have the freedom to do what I want with my time. What is rich for you?