Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If I Were A Rich Man

According to an article my wife read, the current recession has even the wealthy starting to worry now. Some of them have taken a big enough hit from the stock market that they're beginning to realize that maybe there's a finite amount of money out there. That maybe they can't have everything. That maybe they'll have to cut back by a yacht or two.

And she's talking about people with millions of dollars.

It's funny. I remember reading about people leaping out of 20th floor windows during the Great Depression because they had been reduced to a "mere" couple of million dollars - in actual cash, and thinking that if you "reduced" me to that much, I'd be a very happy person.

What the heck was going on then, and what the heck is going on now?

These people have absolutely no clue. You know what would make me rich? $200,000 a year. Doesn't sound like much to you? Well maybe that's because my goals are more modest.

You see, to me, being rich isn't about moving out of our cozy little house in a nice city neighborhood and being able to have the castle on the hill (and be able to heat it). It's not even about being able to buy the McMansion on the other side of the county. Those aren't my style. For me, being rich would mean that I could have our soggy basement fixed right now and put a guest room (and another full bathroom) in it without having to take out another home equity loan. Heck, it would enable us to pay off the home equity loan we took out two years ago to have energy-efficient windows installed.

It wouldn't be about having the Mercedes, the Lexus, the BMW, or some other fancy, expensive car. Instead, it would mean that we'd actually be able to pick out the color and features of the next minivan we bought - new, rather than picking a used one up off the lot in whatever colors they happened to have. And if the color we wanted wasn't offered, having that much money would mean that we could have a custom paint job done.

It would mean that when we traveled, we could stay at a Holiday Inn Express instead of a Red Roof Inn or a Motel 6, and that we could stay in the city we were actually visiting, rather than on the outskirts of town, where it was cheaper. Although we'd still stay at the Reeves Motel and the Traveler's Haven Motel when we visited Cape May and Ottawa. Those two tiny little motels seem like home to us now.

Then there are the college funds for my two kids. With $200,000 a year, they could pretty much go anywhere they wanted.

And of course there's giving some of it, maybe even a lot of it, away. There are a lot of causes that mean a lot to me, and it's a no-brainer that I could give more to them if I had more money.

But the important thing is that I wouldn't think for a moment that I had access to an infinite amount of money. I'd just have access to a larger finite amount.

And within that larger finite amount I could live very comfortably.


  1. Sociologists refer to what you are describing as "relative depravation". What people think would make them "rich" or "poor" obviously depends on what they have, what they see others have, and what they think would be a luxury. Maybe it is realistic for these folks to feel deprived.

    Consider- A family living on $8,000 a year in America would think you live like a king. They would consider you rich because you own a car! And it runs, most of the time! A house! Each child has their own room? Amazing! Internet access? Get outta here? Now imagine a family living on $800 in Sub-Saharan Africa or rural China. Your kids can afford to go to elementary school (and it would be free from taxes you pay, if not at MPH)? And you buy them pencils and crayons? Pretty sweet deal.

    Now- imagine you had to downsize your life a lot. People with millions of dollars are used to a certain standard of living. They would be fine if they had to move to a house half the size, or take away the kids trust funds, or even (shame!) buy a used car. But it would certainly take adjustment, and make them feel like they were worse off then they were.

    It's all relative, is what I am saying. Are they spoiled? Yes. But so are you. And so am I. I think when you or I have a child with a life threatening illness because we can't afford a mosquito net or clean water, then we can complain. Until then, maybe we are all quite a bit more "rich" than we think? My house lost HALF its value in the past year. But I try to remember that I am still able to make the payments. And I can look at the house through my laser corrected eyes on my weekends, which I don't have to work to eat. Next time you are feeling like rich people are whiners and don't know what life is like, maybe you can take a look at your daughter's orthodonticly straightened smile (should you catch it) and smie back and think, "yeah, I'd hate to give this up."

    As much as a rich person would hate to give up wathing their kids frolic at the private tennis club's pool.

  2. Oh how true! I think that even $100,000 a year would be like living in the lap of luxury for us! So much like you, I wouldn't mind staying put in our current house, but I wouldn't mind having a new(er) vehicle that we wouldn't have to worry about spending a small fortune on repairs here and there. I wouldn't mind being able to share more of my relative wealth with others. We might be able to do even more of the projects we would like to do on our current house. I also think that if we had even $100,000, we could choose what health care plan we wanted to be on and keep up with our health a little more fastidiously than just popping a couple Ibuprofen and hope the pain goes away. I mean, a bottle of pain killers costs way less than the $500 deductible we have to pay out of pocket before our insurance kicks in to pay a portion of medical expenses. Although, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would love to even have the insurance plan I have.

    I have always wondered how monetarily rich people can even think to complain if they don't have enough money to buy something they want. Seriously? If you can't afford it with the money you have, do you REALLY need it? Although, I suppose that could easily go for any of us in a perspective of someone who has even less than we do. What do we have that are luxuries? Plenty! If we need to cut back, we could give up the cell phone (*gasp*), we don't absolutely NEED internet service. Digital cable? Not absolutely necessary.

    I just laugh at some of those HGTV shows where people are buying their first home and finding a home that needs some minor upgrades as being "not move-in ready" and then I look at MY house and think that it's not what someone might consider "move-in ready", but we manage to live here just fine in a house where the kitchen linoleum is in rough shape, but it keeps us from getting slivers in our feet, as opposed to simply having sub-flooring. Our hardwood floors desperately could use a sanding and re-finishing, but at least, in the words of my 6 year old, "I'm thankful we have floors because otherwise we would have nothing to walk on." I don't seem to have perfected the walking on air, literally, so I'm thankful we have floors as well. Our basement ceiling has partially fallen down and we had to rip off some of the wood paneling down there to get to the root of a leak of some sort. We fixed the leak, but it's not posh and cozy down there. It's a basement. It serves it's purpose. I have imagined giving people like Paris Hilton a crash course in reality by having her live in such "squalid conditions" as our house is to someone of her financial stature. And yet, we don't seem to be as bad off as some.

    I agree, I would love to be "reduced" to only a million or two. Oh so much we could do with something like that kind of money.