ON ONE OF OUR TRIPS to visit my in-laws in South Carolina, my mother-in-law asked me what I thought of her home in a 55-plus retirement community.
“It looks like a house,” I said sarcastically.
Her response gave me food for thought. She said, “I feel rich living here.”
My mother-in-law’s home was far from being a McMansion. It was a single-story two-bedroom house, but it had cathedral ceilings. I think it was the high ceilings that, in the eyes of my mother-in-law, made the house more majestic than it really was.
I’m sure most HumbleDollar readers want to be wealthy, or well-off, or financially comfortable, or some similar goal. But what would make you feel rich?
There are plenty of people who are rich but don’t feel that way because they compare themselves to “the Joneses,” who appear to have even more. Knowing others have more can make us feel poor. That’s a shame. What good is being rich if you don’t feel rich?
I don’t have a degree in psychology, so I’m not qualified to say why some folks feel rich and others don’t. But I would venture to suggest that, if you have money and you’re content with what you have, you probably feel rich.
Now, if you took a survey of HumbleDollar readers, I bet we’d all have different notions of what makes us feel rich. The behavior that makes me feel rich is buying everything with a credit card. Thanks to that magical piece of plastic, I never feel like there’s something I can’t have. Don’t get me wrong: I never carry a balance on my card from one month to the next and, in fact, I never buy anything unless I have the money in the bank to pay for it. Still, having this piece of plastic in my wallet makes me feel rich.
I’ve read reports that say people who use their credit cards have a tendency to overspend and get themselves into financial trouble. That’s probably true, but I still feel rich using a credit card. If I had to take cash out of my wallet every time I bought something, I’d feel poor, stressed and unhappy. There are too many things in this world that can make us feel unhappy—which is all the more reason to identify those things that make us feel rich.
Another behavior that makes me feel rich, especially now that I’m retired and not earning a salary, is having a sizable checking account balance. From a financial standpoint, this isn’t a wise thing to do. The money in my checking account isn’t earning a lot of interest. But it makes me feel rich to know the money is there and that I can easily pay my bills. I think of it as my sleep insurance.
It reminds me of a scene from the movie Love Story. Ryan O’Neal comes home from college and asks his rich father, played by Ray Milland, for money for something out of the ordinary. Ray Milland opens his checkbook and says, “How much?” Now, that’s rich.
I watch the TV show American Pickers on the History channel. It’s a fascinating study of people who accumulate what I consider junk. When the hosts of the show try to buy this stuff for their antique stores, many times the owners don’t want to sell at any price. The hosts know what sort of things people come into their stores to buy, so they know what’s valuable and what’s not. By contrast, the owners of this stuff think everything they have is valuable. Their stuff makes them feel rich.
A recurring theme among a lot of these people: At a young age, they were denied many things. It could have been during the Great Depression or because of their family’s financial position, or maybe a natural disaster caused them to lose everything. But the stuff that these folks have accumulated now makes them feel rich, which I think is wonderful. Many have said they like to surround themselves with their possessions.
Life is too short to sweat the little things—or anything else for that matter—so it’s important to identify those activities, habits or possessions that help you appreciate your life, regardless of how much or how little you have. Which raises the question: What makes you feel rich?
David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.