What it means to be rich, according to 9 financial planners who would know


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  • Being rich doesn’t necessarily mean having a big account balance, according to financial planners.
  • We spoke to nine experts who defined “wealth” in many different ways.

What does it mean to be rich? The answer probably depends on who you ask. For some people, wealth might mean the ability to buy whatever they want. For others, it might mean living without debt. And to some people, being rich might have nothing to do with money at all.

Financial planners are in a unique position to define “rich” — they work with people across the financial spectrum, from young couples starting to buy homes and plan for retirement to the super elite, so they have a particular understanding of what it means to be wealthy.

Curious how people who deal with money all day define “wealth”? Here’s what being rich means to nine certified financial planners (CFPs).

1. Being financially free and comfortable

Financial planner Jeff Rose, founder of the wealth management firm Good Financial Cents, says that for him, wealth is all about living with financial independence.

“Wealth means enough to live happily and comfortably without the fear of not having enough money,” he says.

But he emphasizes that this comfort isn’t just about having lots of money — it’s about knowing when and how to spend it.

“Giving back to the community by donating funds sometimes scares those with money because of the fear of losing financial security,” he says. “Part of having money is celebrating its value by sharing it with others, and this goes hand in hand with good financial health.”

2. The ability to meet your spending needs and wants

Everyone has different expenses — and different aspirations. Denver-based financial planner Elizabeth Windisch says wealth isn’t about the money you have in your savings account, but whether you can meet most of your spending needs and wants with that money.

“Some people with millions and millions of dollars will never be rich, because no amount of money is ever enough for them,” she says. “I’ve had other clients who, by traditional standards, don’t have a lot of money, but they are thrilled with their life and have everything they want.”

3. The need to plan for succession

While financial planner Dillon Ferguson, financial head of product at Zoe Financial, recognizes that real wealth is a mindset, he says someone is technically wealthy when they need to make plans for succession.

“If you have to think about putting together an estate plan, you’re likely in the rich category,” he says.

4. Being financially comfortable enough to meet your own goals

Wealth is subjective, so comparing your financial situation to another person’s isn’t helpful.

Financial planner Emily S. Boothroyd says she sees wealth as relative: You can earn $1,000,000 a year, but if you’re spending $1,000,000, you have a lower net worth than someone making $100,000 and spending $80,000.

“When you are financially comfortable enough to meet your personal goals, have a plan in place to not outlive your money, and feel freedom when it comes to money, that’s a rich life to me,” she says. “Trying to attain someone else’s version of rich usually only makes for an unhappy person with a nice bank account.”

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5. The ability to make decisions without considering money

When money is no longer your primary consideration for decision-making, financial planner Eric Croak of Croak Asset Management would consider you to be rich.

“A wealthy person has the ability to walk away from a job without wondering if they can eat dinner the next day, month, or even year,” he says. “Wealth allows people to work towards their passion instead of their survival, which leads to higher levels of happiness and self-worth.”

6. Being able to spend on your personal values

Misty Lynch, a financial planner with Beck Bode, says being rich means having the ability to spend on things that reflect your personal values.

For example, as a parent who values family and education, Lynch enjoys being able to donate books to her children’s schools’ classrooms. “It’s not a house in the Hamptons, but it makes me feel rich when I can use my money to have an impact!” she says.

7. Enjoying what you have

Yes, being rich means having enough money to cover your lifestyle and fund your goals. But to Brittney Castro, a financial planner, wealth is also an awareness of your abundance.

“Living a rich life is living in a way where you feel full of love and happiness, and you are able to enjoy the material things in your life as you desire,” she says.

8. The ability to quit working and maintain the same lifestyle

For Matthew Hamilton, financial planner and CEO of Hamilton Capital, true wealth is having amassed enough financial resources to quit working whenever you choose, to maintain the same lifestyle through retirement, and to have a larger investment portfolio at the end of retirement than at the beginning.

“We believe it comes down to how effectively investment returns compound over time,” he says. “This is the focus of our investment portfolios, and how we judge success.”

9. Having time freedom

Dan Routh, a financial planner with Old Peak Finance, equates true wealth to time freedom — having the financial ability to delegate activities in your life that you don’t value or enjoy.

For example, if you hire a house cleaner once a week so you can have more time with your family on the weekends, you might be wealthy.

“Wealthy people spend time doing things they enjoy and delegate everything else,” he says. “They work on things they’re passionate about, even if they make less money, they travel if and when they want to, and they spend as much time with their family as they please.”

This article was originally published in January 2020.

Being financially free and comfortable

CFP Jeff Rose.Courtesy Jeff Rose

CFP Jeff Rose, founder of the wealth management firm Good Financial Cents and regular Business Insider contributor, says that for him, wealth is all about living with financial freedom.

“Wealth means enough to live happily and comfortably without the fear of not having enough money,” he says.

But he emphasizes that this comfort isn’t just about having lots of money — it’s about knowing when and how to spend it.

“Giving back to the community by donating funds sometimes scares those with money because of the fear of losing financial security,” he says. “Part of having money is celebrating its value by sharing it with others, and this goes hand in hand with good financial health.”

The ability to meet your spending needs and wants

CFP Elizabeth Windisch.Courtesy Elizabeth Windisch

Everyone has different expenses — and different aspirations. Denver-based CFP Elizabeth Windisch says wealth isn’t about the money you have in your bank account, but whether you can meet most of your spending needs and wants with that money.

“Some people with millions and millions of dollars will never be rich, because no amount of money is ever enough for them,” she says. “I’ve had other clients who, by traditional standards, don’t have a lot of money, but they are thrilled with their life and have everything they want.”

Talk to a financial planner today to make a plan to reach your financial goals. Use SmartAsset’s free tool to connect with a qualified professional »

The need to plan for succession

CFP Dillon Ferguson.Courtesy Dillon Ferguson

While CFP Dillon Ferguson, financial head of product at Zoe Financial, recognizes that real wealth is a mindset, he says someone is technically wealthy when they need to make plans for succession.

“If you have to think about putting together an estate plan, you’re likely in the rich category,” he says.

Being financially comfortable enough to meet your own goals

CFP Emily S. Boothroyd.Courtesy Emily Boothroyd

Wealth is subjective, so comparing your financial situation to another person’s isn’t helpful.

CFP Emily S. Boothroyd says she sees wealth as relative: You can earn $1,000,000 a year, but if you’re spending $1,000,000, you have a lower net worth than someone making $100,000 and spending $80,000.

“When you are financially comfortable enough to meet your personal goals, have a plan in place to not outlive your money, and feel freedom when it comes to money, that’s a rich life to me,” she says. “Trying to attain someone else’s version of rich usually only makes for an unhappy person with a nice bank account.”

The ability to make decisions without considering money

CFP Eric Croak.Courtesy Eric Croak

When money is no longer your primary consideration for decision-making, CFP Eric Croak of Croak Asset Management would consider you to be rich.

“A wealthy person has the ability to walk away from a job without wondering if they can eat dinner the next day, month, or even year,” he says. “Wealth allows people to work towards their passion instead of their survival, which leads to higher levels of happiness and self-worth.”

Being able to spend on your personal values

CFP Misty Lynch.Courtesy Misty Lynch

Misty Lynch, a CFP with Beck Bode, says being rich means having the ability to spend on things that reflect your personal values.

For example, as a parent who values family and education, Lynch enjoys being able to donate books to her children’s schools’ classrooms.

“It’s not a house in the Hamptons, but it makes me feel rich when I can use my money to have an impact!” she says.

Enjoying what you have

CFP Brittney Castro.Courtesy Brittney Castro

Yes, being rich means having enough money to cover your lifestyle and fund your goals. But to Brittney Castro, a CFP with Mint and Turbo, wealth is also an awareness of your abundance.

“Living a rich life is living in a way where you feel full of love and happiness, and you are able to enjoy the material things in your life as you desire,” she says.

The ability to quit working and maintain the same lifestyle

CFP Matthew Hamilton.Courtesy Matthew Hamilton

For Matthew Hamilton, CFP and CEO of Hamilton Capital, true wealth is having amassed enough financial resources to quit working whenever you choose, to maintain the same lifestyle through retirement, and to have a larger investment portfolio at the end of retirement than at the beginning.

“We believe it comes down to how effectively investment returns compound over time,” he says. “This is the focus of our investment portfolios, and how we judge success.”

Having time freedom

CFP Dan Routh.Courtesy Dan Routh

Dan Routh, a CFP with Old Peak Finance, equates true wealth to time freedom — having the financial ability to delegate activities in your life that you don’t value or enjoy.

For example, if you hire a house cleaner once a week so you can have more time with your family on the weekends, you might be wealthy.

“Wealthy people spend time doing things they enjoy and delegate everything else,” he says. “They work on things they’re passionate about, even if they make less money, they travel if and when they want to, and they spend as much time with their family as they please.”

A financial planner can help you set money goals and reach them. Use SmartAsset’s free tool to connect with a qualified financial expert today »



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