What it means to be rich.

I stumbled into an article in the Washington Post this morning that includes this comment about the aspirational difference between “middle class” and “rich.”

“The middle-class aspirations include a decent home in a good neighborhood with a good school, and the ability to save for college and to make sure that your children have the opportunities to put themselves on a path to match or exceed yours,” Bernstein said. “If you’re upper class, you think about whether you want to move your horse from one barn to another barn.”

There are several things I find interesting about this notion, including one that happens to be purely about timing.

Teela’s riding instructor (I’m Teela’s dad) just decided to move her business to Arizona, so several of her riding buddies are thinking about new barns for their horses. All but one of them probably makes less than I do. For sure, none of them are rich. I wish I could afford a horse for Teela – a good one – because she’s put a lot of effort into her riding, and is at the point where she could start to compete. But I really can’t afford one, and if I could, I couldn’t afford to keep it.

My household income puts me in the top 6.5% of US households. The NY Times defines “rich” as the top 5%, which is a mere $157,176 in 2004 dollars. I live in the third richest county in the richest country in the history of the world, but I still worry about whether I’ll have enough money to cover a major illness or injury; whether I’d be able to find a job before my savings run out; or whether, if I save and invest carefully, Teela can go to a first or second tier university.

We’ve done a lot of things well, and we’ve been very fortunate, but from either an income or an aspirational perspective, I don’t think I’m rich. That puts me closer to Hilary Clinton than Barack Obama on the definition of “rich.”

tc>

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2 Comments on “What it means to be rich.”

  1. Jerome Says:

    I’m interested in my own reaction to the concepts of middle class and rich. I never in my life thought I would be struggling to make ends meet on mid-40K a year, but it turns out that, in fact, not only am I struggling, but making long-term decisions based on that suddenly becomes rather important. I’ve often thought that any emigration I would do would be politically motivated, but my current contretemps about switching to the Toronto Office and moving to Canada is based not on politics but on simple economic pressures: it’s an automatic 5% raise, plus whatever I save by dropping my healthcare costs to 0. Even with the adjusted tax rates (including the VAT), I’d still be making more money doing the same job in another country.

  2. Ryan Says:

    This is the American dream? I guess that I shouldn’t complain. It could be worse, but in the past five years, I’ve watched all the extra money that I used to have turn into everyday necessities. I make $65k which isn’t too shabby for a guy like me, but it seems to keep being less. Every thing is going up faster than my paycheck. My wife doesn’t work which is nice. She complains louder than me.


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