What Does Wealth Mean to Me?

Photo credit: Pictures of Money, CC BY 2.0.

Yesterday, I wrote about figuring out how much to put into my Roth IRA and Billfolder Alex C. left this comment:

“But when I look at these numbers, wealth still seems really far away.” YUP!

I’m struggling to define what “wealth” means to present me and future me. It keeps shifting, it mostly keeps growing to a bigger and bigger number that feels farther and farther away.

Would love to know if you’ve defined it for yourself, Nicole!

I should note that in yesterday’s post I used the word wealth in direct reference to The Value of Debt in Building Wealth, e.g. follow this plan, save these amounts, build wealth.

But that’s the book’s definition, not mine.

What does wealth mean to me?

I have no idea. Sometimes I think about how lucky I am to have as much as I do: an apartment with two rooms that’s within walking distance of a park and a grocery store and a library; a career that I love; enough money to put towards clothes and trips and books and the occasional massage.

Plus I’m debt-free and able to put 15 percent of my income towards savings. If life could be like this for the next ten years, I feel like I’d be happy with it.

But the trouble is that I don’t know what life will be like in the future, and I feel like I need wealth to protect me from what might be coming.

It is interesting that I automatically think “I should stockpile money in case of a job loss or a health issue,” rather than “I should stockpile money so I can buy a house someday,” because… hahahahaha that feels impossible. Also, at this point in my life, what would I do with an entire house? I’d have to spend time cleaning it, and dealing with the roof and the lawn and the hot water heater.

I wrote this long thing on Nicole Dieker Dot Com about my trip to Disneyland last week—also yes, how can it have been just last week, there’s been so much news since then—and the relevant part of that post is this idea that I came up with on a plane, after watching two kids try to climb on the seats and touch everything: I experience the world internally, not externally.

I was never the kid who wanted to touch everything. I was the kid who wanted to read everything.

Because of that, wealth feels like having enough time to read and a comfortable place in which to do it, and the knowledge that I won’t have to leave this place tomorrow. I was also the kid who liked writing and making things, so… add that to the list. A laptop, a decent microphone, the right kinds of clothes to wear to a reading or a show that I put on with my friends. Enough money to fly to the place where we’re going to put on the show, plus money to visit my family or go to a wedding.

External things matter but they’re always the lowest on the priority list, which is why it took me forever to get a new mattress and why I still haven’t gotten a new couch.

I also feel like there’s enough future ahead of me that I can’t count myself as wealthy until I’ve saved up enough money to prepare for that future—and that’s going to take a lot of money. Like, we’re all supposed to have a million dollars saved for retirement, right? So there’s part of me that thinks “I won’t be wealthy until I’ve gotten all of those savings taken care of.”

Thinking about the future in terms of one million dollars is too big of a goal. Thinking about hitting the next level in The Value of Debt in Building Wealth—that is, going from what Tom Anderson calls “independence” to what he calls “freedom”—is easier, and I’m theoretically supposed to be able to do it by saving 15 percent of my income.

But I need 15 times my monthly income to get there, which—at a 15 percent savings rate—takes about eight years to save.

So that’s what I mean when I say that wealth still seems really far away.

And, I guess, what wealth means to me—or at least as best as I can define it right now.

What about you? What does wealth mean to you, and are you close to it or far away from it?