What it Feels Like to Become Rich
I feel a bit stuck. I’ve got a solid job, I’m making 401(k) contributions, have no debt and my spending is under control. Making extra mortgage payments and buying a bit of Vanguard index funds with any money I have left over. I drive a fuel-efficient car with no loan, and I read far too much about personal finance online. Mr. Money Mustache writes articles, I nod my head and say “oh yeah baby, that’s right!” at most of what he says. I already know all this stuff, so I’m getting a bit bored. Am I doing something wrong? What’s next?
As I read that person’s words, some deeply familiar feelings were stirred up from my own working days way back in the 2000s. I remember the same plateau of monetary doldrums, which lasted for several years. Many of you Mustachians might be traversing that same plateau right at this moment.
Relationships to money are an odd thing among humans, especially in the current era of extreme debt.
Many (perhaps even most) of the current US population wrangles with money like it’s a fiery serpent. There’s never enough of it. It provides jolts of great pleasure and relief as it fetches us really big new televisions, or allows us to buy our way out of unpleasant situations like an uncomfortably hot house, a lack of home-cooking skills, or an outdated car. But it also provides decades of constant background stress, as bills and expenses pile up, desperately-needed job income is interrupted by layoffs, and interest payments drain away a good portion of the fruits of our labor.
For others, money is a source of flashy power. Some high-income people are able to meet their basic needs very easily, plus buy the TVs and air conditioning, and are still left with more. So these lucky folks can also add a vacation home, a yacht, and really high-end travel. With sufficient income, they can even do all of this without getting too deep into debt. Their money defines them – they can buy their way into, and out of, anything. And they may even be quite happy, as long as the stream of money remains plentiful.
Then of course there are countless other relationships, from poverty where money is so hard to come by that even basic nutrition is tough, to nearly infinite wealth, where any level of spending could never deplete the family fortune.
And then there’s you and me. We’re working away, running our lives with a certain level of efficiency. Makin’ the Dough and we be ‘Stashin’ it / Neva’ see us Flashin’ or Trashin’ it / Takin’ that check home and Cashin’ it. The salary comes in. The credit card automatically pays itself in full via automatic withdrawal each month. Automatic investment transfers do their thing, and we sweep the considerable surplus to additional investments whenever the bank account gets above $3k or so.
It’s all on auto-pilot, and all there is for us to do is go to work during the week, and pack some fun into the weekends. There is no drama in your financial life. Many people would kill for a situation like the one you’re in.. but yet you’re bored. What is wrong with you?
Congratulations. That odd, slightly bored feeling you have is the feeling of becoming rich .
It’s a bit anti-climactic, isn’t it?
I hate to be the one to deliver this news to you, but a wealthy person’s relationship to money should actually be pretty boring, if you are doing it right. You’re on a very short road that leads straight to financial independence. After that, work will be optional and money will become simply an appliance to you. Like clean, drinkable water from a tap, it is essential to basic life, but it fades into the background once you have enough of it.
It will be there to help you out whenever you need it. It is reassuring if you’re a naturally worry-prone person (like I tend to be). You can be creative and use it for generous purposes.
But it also must be used with discipline. Unlimited money can be like a video game on cheat mode. It can drain the challenge from most areas of life and leave you lazy and paralyzed. You’ll be pressing wall-mounted buttons in the throne room of your 787 to summon personal assistants to brush your teeth and change your socks for you.
Even the best intentions can lead to disaster. My first roommate in Colorado was a trust fund student whose father was the CEO of a Fortune 50 company. The dad lived on a 40-acre compound in the country with a historic stone mansion within limousine commuting distance of Manhattan. The young man was an enormous brat, drunk-driving between the Denver clubs and taking dinner with a side dish of cocaine as he waited for the next allowance check to arrive (and eventually a $5M gift when he turned 21, which would allow him to forego renting out rooms in the Boulder luxury home we shared with two other people). He had never had a job and never planned to get one. The lesson? Giving money to your kids is not necessarily a blessing.
On the positive side, I still maintain that becoming somewhat wealthy is a worthwhile pursuit. Responsibly managed riches are great because of the freedom they can provide. Hopefully not freedom from discomfort, occasional inconvenience, and great challenge – those things are so good for you that it would be a shame to give them up. But freedom to use your time and energy in the most life-improving way you can dream up. Freedom from working the same repetitive job for most of your waking hours during the best decades of your life, just to pay the bills. That’s a freedom worth buying, because it’s almost like buying more of life itself.
Sure, if you love your work and you plan to do it until the day you die (and you’re sure this situation won’t change later in life), there may be no need to buy your freedom with money. But heck, we’ve already demonstrated that financial independence is pretty easy to attain. So a cautious guy like me is naturally apt to hedge my bets by earning the freedom early in life, allowing the love of work to go on without the pressure of financial matters lurking in the background. This allows things like dedicated childraising, long vacations, or low-paying artistic pursuits to become real options. Just in case your current youthful love of running a law firm, performing heart surgery, or writing cutting-edge software ever wears thin in your later years.
So, your financial boredom with will probably continue. Keep up the good work.
And better yet, get used to it: this excessive calm you are feeling is the base upon which you will build your new life. Once you have flushed out the false excitement of consumerism, a busy career, and financial drama, you get to create an actual life for yourself instead. What do you really want out of life? What things make life most worth living? Try the inexpensive and challenging things along with the usual pricey ones and see which ones really make you happy. Make a note of your results, and keep experimenting and improving whenever you can.
Welcome to the world of the rich!
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