I've got to tip my hat to J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly for prompting my thoughts on this topic (and yes, he also did a post today on this exact topic with this exact title... I never claimed I was terribly original :) ) but there have been a few thoughts rolling through my head regarding this, so I figured I could put my own spin on this topic.
It's easy to think that we have things tough because gas is expensive, food is expensive, living in the area that I do is expensive, and to bemoan the fact that "boo hoo, I can't go and do whatever I want to whenever I want to! If I was rich, I could!" Now, to be frank, I don't often have little pity parties like this for myself, but yes, there are times where I look at a goal in the future and just think to myself "this is just not going to be possible" and yes, I get a little self wound. It's times like these that guys like J.D snap me to my senses, or to borrow a line from Montgomery Gentry "I look around at what everyone has, and I forget about all I've got" (for those who know the rest of the song, I could just print out the rest of the lyrics, but what fun would that be (LOL!)).
Stepping back and taking an objective view... I have a family that is able to make ends meet on just my income. We have no debts. We own our home free and clear. Outside of income and property taxes, we have no other earthly obligations (I do have some Heavenly ones, though ;) ). We are able to, for the most part, live and make choices in our lives that allow us to do things for less than what we make, and we are able to save some of our income every pay period. Objectively speaking, I earn lower than the median average for households in my town (my choice, as we are not a two-income home, and we're cool with that), but we are in the top 25% for the US as a whole and we are (and this one freaks me out, to say the least) in the top 1% compared to the rest of the world population.
So what does it mean to be "rich"? Is it monetary purchasing power? Is it financial freedom? Is it having no obligations or dependence on others? I could argue that, on the balance sheet, while I may not make as much as many, I have managed to set things up so that I can live relatively independent from a need for money... let me make clear what I mean by that. I don't mean that I don't need money to live. Everyone does. What I mean is that our needs are actually much smaller than many other people that we know. Our house isn't the biggest, that's true, but it's large enough and comfortable enough to meet our needs, and it's owned free and clear. Our car's aren't the newest or flashiest, but they meet the requirements that we have for them, they are paid for and they have very minor upkeep needs. They don't necessarily get the greatest gas mileage, but they do pretty good for what they are. We enjoy a lot of activities that take place in our community that are of low or no cost, in many cases, and we do our best to be frugal and thrifty with our resources (note: frugal and thrifty means we try to make the best use and stretch our budget to get the best value out of things, not necessarily try to get the lowest price on everything... minor nit :) ). Thus, the actual income that is required to sustain us and carry us through is quite a bit less than many others that I know, which allows us to save and invest quite a bit of our income every month, and I feel very blessed to be in that situation.
So by these accounts, I should feel rich, I guess... but I don't. I'm not sure if it's because I've been so long accustomed to our consumer culture that I equate being rich with being able to go out and buy whatever I want to on a whim. Is that an accurate description? Or is there something more? Is the true meaning of what we refer to as "rich" better being described as being "content"? If that's the case, I think I'm closer to the word "content" than I am to the word "rich", but it's possible that they are both one and the same when you get right down to it. If you are content, you have a heart that is full. If your heart is full, you have room to give and care for others, when you can care for others, you have the ability to shape and effect the world around you, and when you can shape and effect the world around you in a good and positive way... isn't that sort of the whole point of being rich?
OK, I lied, I will close this entry by shamelessly borrowing from Montgomery Gentry, but please replace the word "coffee can" with "cookie jar" to be accurate (LOL!):
But I know I'm a lucky man
God's given me a pretty fair hand
Got a house and a piece of land
A few dollars in a coffee can
My old trucks still running good
My ticker's ticking like they say it should
I got supper in the oven, a good woman's loving
And one more day to be my little kid's dad
Lord knows I'm a lucky man