Have you ever asked yourself the question, Am I wealthy?
If youre living paycheck to paycheck and have tens of thousands of dollars in debtthen the answer is pretty simple. No, youre not wealthy. In fact, youre a financial disaster waiting to happen. Id seriously be scared if I were you.
But, if youve been reading this blog for a few years, have gotten yourself out of debt, and actually have a nice buffer of cash, well maybe youre finally one of the wealthy ones.but how can you know for sure?
If you watch too much TV or get a little too caught up in the lives of the rich and famous, you might think that wealth has to do with:
At this point, I think we pretty much all know that flashy cars and monster houses mean nothing about your actual wealth. Heck, you could drive a $40,000 BMW and live in a $500,000 home, but if youre $600,000 in debt, then youre actually worth less than a 7-year-old child! And you know what? Youre definitely not wealthy!
What you drive, what you wear, and where you live has absolutely nothing to do with your wealth. So what does?
I bet I know your next guess. About 70% of you out there probably think that wealth has everything to do with how much money you earn.
Doctors, lawyers, and corporate executives might earn a ton, but if they spend everything they earn (and many of them do, just to keep up with the Joneses) then they still arent anywhere close to wealthy.
Having a monster income can certainly help improve wealth, but its not the deciding factor.
If I want to know if youre wealthy, Im not going to ask where you live or what you drive, and I wont even ask about your job or your income.
All I have to do is ask this one simple question:
If you lost your job tomorrow, how long could you survive?
Oh and by the wayyou cant use your retirement savings or the sale of your house.Im talking about true wealth here which means I want to know how long you could survive without doing anything drastic!
So before I interrogate you and force you to answer this question (this comes at the end of the article), what does the answer actually tell me about you?
If you can live for quite a long time without your regular income, this tells me that you spend less than you earn on a consistent basis. If, on the other hand, your time-frame is quite short, you likely have debt and would quickly get behind on your bills in the even of a job loss.
Can you survive for quite some time without that consistent paycheck hitting your bank account? Thats probably because youve set aside a healthy emergency fund one that you can pull from in the event of an emergency such as this. Well done. If notits probably because you tend to save very little for that inevitable rainy day. Sure, theres no rain in sight, but even in the desert it pours from time to time
For some of you, your answer to my simple question is, Forever. But how could that be? How is it that some people could survive for decades without their main source of income?
The answer: Assets income producing assets to be exact.
When you own shares of stock, rental properties, or maybe even a flourishing side-business, even though you lost your day job, your other sources of income dont stop. And with that income, you could just keep on living like nothing ever happened. Now THATs what I call wealthy.
Alright, so theres obviously opposite ends of the spectrum some wouldnt last 8 seconds while others could survive for centuries but whats the gauge for wealth? How long do you have to last to be considered wealthy?
(Remember, you cant use your retirement savings or your house!!)
Lucky for you all (or unluckilydepending on where youre at with your finances),I developed a wealth meter.Check it out and let me know where you land! Are you wealthy? Or do you still have a ton of work to do?
So what about you, where do you land? Are you broke? Are you teetering on the verge of broke? Unless youre wealthy, Id say that you have some more work to do financially.
Enter your results in the poll below and lets see where we all stand!
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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.
Satisfactory today by the end of the year Well Off. Whoo hoo!
I do not consider myself wealthy but I can survive for more than a decade and still kicking myself for missing compounding in 20s. We need more blogs and awareness on Finance and thank you for bringing that awareness in small way.
Youre welcome, Subbu! I love spreading the news on personal finance. I dream of doing it for a living soon! 🙂
Yes, many people think the the new BMW and $500k home represents wealth. In most cases, it represents debt. Debt is the opposite of wealth. This paradox confuses many people. I like to measure wealth based on how many years of living expenses a person has in savings/investments.
Im ultra wealthy based on this scale, but only because Im old enough to take advantage of compounding. I wonder how we can factor age into your equation to make relative comparisons work.
Hi Menard. What if you couldnt use your retirement savings and couldnt sell your house? Thats the true measure of the scale. How long would you last??
I think my savings will outlive me, around 166 years. Thats because when worst comes to worst, Ill just use geographic arbitrage Ill move back to the Philippines where $500 can buy 1,000 bottles of beer.
Well that works I guess! For Liz and I, were working on our second rental property which should bring our passive earnings up to $22,000 a year. Since we have absolutely no debt and some added income from this website, I bet we could survive forever! A third rental sure would be nice though. Then I KNOW we could survive for infinity years!
It seems they are using other sources to fund (which is against what you stated) I do have retirement account and hopefully will work on having a 1 year emergency fund in time.
Yeah, it was pretty cool! And now this post is on too!
Great article Derek! No need to over-complicate what wealth means. This is just smart personal finance advice.
I really like this question and most people dont ponder it. I landed in the ultra wealthy classification, but I do not feel wealthy. I feel secure. I agree we are wealthier than most, but not rich yet. Id rather be able to pay all expenses with passive income, without selling stock. Then I would feel truly wealthy.
Id be broke for sure but I already knew that. The question is how do I change that?
Simple. Get out of debt, buy assets that make money, and re-invest, re-invest, re-invest! 🙂
I could last about 5 years on my savings BUT those savings are earmarked for a future down payment, its not my emergency funs as such. Does that count?!
It counts for now, but not when you buy that house!
Disagree with not including retirement accounts. Need to look at the whole picture.
Person A contributes to 401k just enough for the match and throws everything else into taxable accounts. If they have 5 years worth of taxable savings/investments. By your measure they are wealthy.
Person B keeps only 3 month emergency fund, and maxes out 401k & traditional IRA. By your measure they are not wealthy.
I want to see whos wealthy in the moment not in their retirement years. Basically, I want to see that people are investing outside of their retirement and could survive and thrive outside of their work income. By putting money into your 401k, youll probably be wealthy tomorrow, but not today. Id like to see both!!
Ok this makes a lot of sense; I see what you are saying. As long as you have a plan or valid method for withdrawing retirement assets (or as long as you are approaching or over age 59.5) I think those assets should count toward this metric. But I totally agree that they shouldnt be considered an extension of your emergency fund especially in the beginning accumulation years when tapping them probably means a stiff penalty.
I like this. How long can you go without a paycheck? I think I heard of it from Rob Kiyosaki who credits Bucky Fuller.
I may have to change my name to Ultra-Wealthy Doc!
Im not sure the scale is right though. It doesnt seem like having -say 6 years of basic expenses- should qualify for ultra-wealthy? Doesnt it take 25 years of total expenses just for most people to be able to be FI?
Hey WealthyDoc. What if you dont include your retirement accounts and the value of your house? Then how long could you last? Thats the true premise of the question.
To be fair in times of hardship there are ways to pull from retirement accounts (Roth IRA contributions can be pulled tax and penalty free at any time). By the definition in the article those in retirement with 25x expenses in an IRA or 401k but minimal in taxable investments could be considered broke. I like the overall point trying to be made but dont agree with everything as laid out. But the good news for you is that youre the one that wrote the article and can write it however you want haha! Definitely a good conversation starter for sure thanks for writing it.
Let me ask you this would you ever want to pull from your retirement savings before youre actually retired? Id say no, so why would I include it to see how wealthy I am today?
I get your point, and I do understand both sides, but youre right this simple exercise is just to get you thinking. 😉
I agree that not being able to count retirement assets doesnt really make sense in this context. If I lost my job now I could probably get by indefinitely if I tightened up the budget. In other words I can afford to retire today! Unless you dont count my retirement assets.
Lots of FIRE bloggers and others PLAN to pull from retirement accounts well before they turn 59.5 so acting like those assets dont exist isnt really fair. I want to keep working and put a lot more cushion in there so I dont ever have to scrimp (hopefully), but I plan to quit working well before traditional retirement age. I may be able to get by on all taxable until 59.5 depending on how long I make it in the workforce, but I will happily start tapping my Roths prior to that if need be via withdrawing my contributions directly and by establishing a Roth conversion ladder by slowly rolling my Traditional retirement assets to Roth.
There are too many people that just stock-pile money into their 401k without even thinking about what that means for their lives today. If you want to retire today, then its best to put some of your money elsewhere to avoid penalties and the hassles of trying to consistently withdraw without penalties. For us, we chose real estate, and its working AMAZINGLY well! Id recommend it to anyone that likes business, fixing up houses, and can communicate well with people.
Im in the wealthy range! Yay!🙂
Great question. Great score card. If I can use my savings and brokerage accounts Im an evil One-Percenter. My annual expenses are less than $40K and my combined savings and brokerage account balance is over $500K. So I got at least 10 years of living expenses at the ready. Hooray! Now I have another reason to ruin some beer today. Thanks for making the concept of FI even more simple. Your one question sets everything in motion. Bravo, sir.
Fair enough. I do see your point. Maybe its just the word wealthy that doesnt feel right in this context. For me wealth is a measure of everything, liquid and illiquid assets. Not sure what a better term would be maybe YOEHILS (years of expenses held in liquid savings)? Haha
YoeholsHmmm I dont know if that will catch on, but Ill try to remember it! 😉
What a great single question to determine wealth. Im personally FI (based on 4% rule with no debt) but still work and make a good living. Im padding my retirement and bulking up my kids 529s. A previous comment on a 500K house and a bmw made me think of the Dave Ramsey show intro and I laughed a little. My FI story started in 2010 when a former coworker told me about snowballing debt. I soon after kicked that debt to the curb (Im in the pay off the mortgage camp). Though we never stopped investing in 401ks and IRAs when available. Staying focused on eliminating debt and investing as much as possible made my life at 40 pretty stress free.
Focus on debt, investing, family, and taxes. Yall will be fine.
Well said, Andrew! If my wife and I dont inflate my lifestyle, my answer to my own question will soon be infinity because of our 2 rental properties and the income from this website. It sure is a great feeling when life it totally stress free financially!
Derek I do not agree with the rental property theory. I have them also and without some serious budgets in place for them, they can cost a bundle for repairs, lawsuits etc. That aside, assuming you lost your job due to the market conditions, so have many others and your income stream would be seriously hampered it happens all the time. Also assume you are holding mortgages on the properties, there is a question on the infinity part probability possibly.
Hey Bob, thanks for dropping in and commenting!
My rentals are paid for, so even if they produced very little it would be easy to cover the costs. Right now, theyre cash cows and I love them. I wish I had 10!!
Good question, and article. I am 60yrs old my dividend income form 401k 403b and roth would cover our yearly needs without changing our standard of living, I still work but do not need to, however bad health can take anyones wealth.
You live by the decisions you make but more important are the actions you take
Very cool. I can see myself being there someday. Ill work because I like it, but financially, well be covered.
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My name is Derek and I am a no-debt kind of guy! Stick around and youll learn how to pay off your debt, buy houses for cash, and load up your retirement!
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