For many people, being wealthy means being financially independent and not having to work for a living, says Bradley Nelson, of Lyon Park Advisors. He says a family with a net worth of $2.27 million could easily be wealthy.
If that family spent a conservative 3% of their assets each year, they would have $68,100 a year to live on. That’s more than the median household income in the United States of $61,000 — without even having to work.
But that wouldn’t be enough for some people. And for others, wealth isn’t a financial concept at all.
That’s why finding what makes you feel wealthy takes a strategy rather than a single specific number, says Nelson.
“I know people who make $250,000 to $500,000 and feel poor, and other people who make $70,000 and feel rich,” says Tara Unverzagt, a certified financial planner.
She points to research showing an income of about $70,000 is optimal for emotional well-being, and $95,000 is ideal to feel positive about your life, including meeting long-term goals and the inevitable comparisons with everyone you know.
“But for most people, when they get to $2.27 million, if their friends have more, they won’t feel ‘rich,'” she says. “And today with so many billionaires, many feel having mere millions is nothing — and to some degree, that’s true.”
$2.27 million? ‘Not even close’
Matt Doran is a wealth manager in St. Louis with a personal net worth of “more than $5 million, but less than $20 million.” He’s not fixed on a number, though, and has no intentions of slowing down.
He works with clients who are worth more than $2 million and says, “they don’t feel wealthy and neither do I.”
For Doran, the drive to continue earning money and growing his assets builds security for his family and allows him to support the things that give his life meaning — the people, places and causes that he loves.
“And $2.27 million doesn’t get me there,” he says. “Not even close.”
Doran says he and his wife and daughter spend on things typical for families at their income level. For example, they have a lake house in Michigan, with a boat.
“Our spending is really about lifestyle. While not overly extravagant in our opinion, we do drive nice cars, travel frequently and help others regularly,” he says. “We, like many others, find ourselves spending on experiences more than things because they enrich our lives and relationships.”
In his view, the purpose of building wealth is to generate more income. And the more income you make, the more options, flexibility and opportunities you have.
“When someone has financial resources in a substantial amount, they have choices they didn’t have before,” he says. “How to work, when to work, what work to pursue, where to live. How to spend their time.”
The reluctant millionaire
Russ Ford considers himself wealthy, but it has taken him a while to say it without feeling guilty.
Ford was 21 years old when he inherited $2 million from his grandfather.
“I got $1 million free and clear I could pick up and go to Vegas with,” he said. There was another million in trusts. That’s in addition to money likely to come his way through his parents’ estates.
“I do feel wealthy,” he says, “But in today’s society, I’ve felt guilty about it. I’ve worked through it to understand the opportunity to do good with it.”
But for a young person with seven figures, that kind of money can evaporate a lot faster than people think, says Ford. “Feeling wealthy can lead to a lot of temptation. You feel wealthy when you don’t have to think about money. The minute you don’t think about it, you can get into a lot of trouble.”
After college he became a financial planner, got married and had a son. Ford says that at first, his inherited wealth caused a lot of pressure and stress.
“The pressure comes from having the money and feeling like I can’t let my grandpa down and I can’t let my son down,” he says. “I was feeling a lot of pressure from the culture around me to keep up with the Joneses and becoming a father magnified all of that. The money has definitely made me more anxious.”
He’s appreciative of what he has, but he’s not interested in accumulating more money.
“I know that chasing more isn’t going to make me more happy,” he says.
Ultimately, the money that caused his anxiety helped him and his wife out a lot when he experienced loss of income due to his health. It helps his family have more of what they value the most — time together.
“Money certainly gives us more of that,” says Ford. “It gives us security that we’ll have more of that in the future and feeling secure in that makes me feel wealthy.
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