10 Ways to Be Rich without being Wealthy

Have you ever noticed that some people who have little money seem to live very well—they almost seem to be…rich? It’s as if they’ve found a way to be rich without being wealthy. Have you also noticed that many people who are rich in terms of money seem to struggle? There are definite reasons for that, and it’s mostly a matter of personal choice. It’s not that money isn’t important; it’s more that we should never measure wealth solely in terms of money.

When we do we can sink ourselves into a Catch-22 that we can never win. After all, how much money will ever be enough? Being rich is more about the quality of a person’s life than it is a certain salary or portfolio level, but only if we dare to consider the alternatives.

I’ve come up with a list of 10 forms of wealth—all of them non-monetary in nature—that can lead to a rich life and require very little emphasis on having or earning a lot of money.

1) Mobility

10 Ways to Be Rich without being Wealthy
10 Ways to Be Rich without being Wealthy
The ability to live where you want, to travel, and to do what you want to do in your life is a form of wealth. And it has more to do lifestyle than anything else, so even a person of modest means can have it. As an example, think of how young people are often in this position, even if they have little in the way of financial resources.

How do you achieve mobility if you’re already trapped in the “rat race”? Start viewing life in terms of experiences, rather than possessions–they usually cost a lot less than possessions. Begin gradually reducing the possessions you have, especially if they have debt attached to them. Mobility depends mostly on a willingness to travel light in life.

2) Ability to quit a bad job

This might be the most basic reason people feel poor, even if they really aren’t. You can’t quit a job if your budget is too tightly stretched. This can happen to someone making $300,000 a year just as easily as it can happen to someone making $30,000.

Having this ability—this form of wealth—starts with living well beneath your means. If you can live on less than you make, you can afford to leave your job to take one that pays less, or even to take some time off and get your head together for the next push.

3) Liquidity

How we feel about our financial situations has much to do with the sense of control we feel in regard to our money. If our money is tied up and/or if nearly all of the paycheck goes to paying bills, we won’t feel rich no matter how much money we have or earn.

Liquidity is a form of wealth. It’s having the ability, but not the obligation, to spend or to save and invest what we do have. If we have liquidity, we’re more likely to actually feel rich, even if we don’t have a lot of money. Spending less than you earn, having at least a small pile of cash, and being debt free are all it takes to get there.

4) A debt-free position

You can be debt free at just about any income level, but you have to decide that you hate debt more than you love the possessions it will buy. That may mean driving a $2000 car, rather than a $20,000 one, or buying your clothing at thrift shops rather than the mall. Yes, on the outside you may look “poor”, but your finances won’t be dominated by debt, and that’s most definitely a form of wealth. And an absence of debt will help bring about nearly every other form of wealth we’re discussing here.

5) Strong family ties and social connections

This is one of the most overlooked forms of wealth in the modern world, but it’s quickly being degraded by the rapid pace of life. Strong social connections can give us a sense of belonging—that feeling of validation that we might otherwise look to career and money to find. Family ties and social connections are also a part of building a life based on experiences, rather than on possessions. They can add tremendous value to your life but cost very little. Much of the money spent today on entertainment, home security and therapy is an attempt to offset the loss of social connection.

6) Good health

If you’ve never thought of good health as a form of wealth, close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine you don’t have it. No further analysis is necessary.

7) Freedom of thought

Debt, career obsession and complicated investments can and do impact how we think. At times their influence can be so severe that we can’t even perceive reality. Most of our ability to survive, to move forward and to seek happiness in life depends on our ability to think apart from our immediate circumstances. Can we do that when we’re working 70 hours a week, or struggling to service a mountain of debt? Freedom of thought may not be wealth in itself, but it is the launching pad from which all the other riches of life are possible.

8 ) Abundant free time

The whole concept of free time sounds almost frivolous, but on closer examination it’s anything but. Free time is time we spend with others, for maintaining our health, for self-improvement, for planning our next move, and for creating those experiences that make life worth living. The more of it we have, the richer we are.

That may mean spending less time earning a living, and you can start doing that by lowering your cost of living. It’s easy to forget that it isn’t standard of living that we need to chase, but quality of life. That should be the end game, but it requires free time to make it happen.

9) Relative lack of worry

There’s a Bible verse that sums this up perfectly, “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.”–Ecclesiastes 5:12. Worry often comes from living a complicated life, and that’s what happens when you have too many obligations, too many expenses, or too much debt. It can even come from having too many assets–think of people who are over invested in stocks when the market crashes, or those who have exotic investments heavily reliant on certain big picture events breaking in the right direction.

We’ll never be completely worry free, but we can be relatively so if we have confidence in our ability to survive and earn a living, come what may. You don’t have to be rich to have that confidence.

10) Creativity

Creativity is often the very force that generates wealth because you’re using the skills and talents you’re best suited for. If you can be creative in your work—even if it never makes you wealthy—you’ll be tapping your best talents and doing the work you are “meant to do”. That kind of work doesn’t feel like work, which means your career will be more rewarding, less stressful and less of the grind that wears so many people out.

Unfortunately, being creative in your work doesn’t happen for most people—most employers hire you to do “Job X” and not to discover and nurture your hidden talents. You may need to find a new career or be self-employed, and while that comes with risks, it also has enormous rewards. If you can achieve it you will attain a level of “wealth” that most people never do.

True wealth is determined by the quality of your life and can’t always be measured or even achieved with money alone.

Can you think of other ways to be “rich” that have little to do with having a lot of money?

( Photo from Flickr by L. Richard Martin, Jr. )

16 Responses to 10 Ways to Be Rich without being Wealthy

  1. Got here from J. Money’s roundup. Really like this list, so much that I’m going to print it out to read and remind myself!

  2. This is a great list. There is one huge benefit that comes with following these items. When you do all of the above, as your income rises and you continue in this way, you will get actual wealth. If instead your lifestyle rises with your income you’ll stay at the same level or worse loose ground.

    As Mary notes in her comment, people should print this or bookmark this and read it often. It’s a great list.

  3. Hi AJ–That’s so true! I think that before you can become financially wealthy you first have to clear away some issues in life. Once you have your life under control you’re free to concentrate on building the green kind of wealth.

  4. This post is excellent and I plan to use it as a basis for discussion in my high school personal finance class this semester. You touched on a spiritual component in #9. That is something I believe you could add to the list. Having a spiritual connection with God adds richness to life we really cannot measure.

  5. Hi Brian–You’re right, especially since it’s foundational in my own life. I sometimes hesitate to add faith to discussions on wealth because the connection is often misinterpreted along purely monetary lines.

  6. Great article Kevin. I’ve found that having liquidity and extra cash gives you options and choices that most people don’t have. Back last spring I was able to attend a conference simply because of managing my money better.

    I also agree that haveing to many possessions can trap in so many ways as well. I use to have 2 snowmobiles because all of my other friends had them. However the cost to maintain them was very expensive so I gave them up and I can’t really say that I miss it either.

  7. Hi Chris–It’s virtually counter-intuitive, but you gain when you give things up, at least as far as possessions are concerned. Most of us have more possessions than we even have time to manage.

  8. Thanks, Kevin, for this. It helped me realize how rich I am! That’s not usually the way I’d describe myself these days, having just made a major relocation and other life changes and being in the process of looking for a new job … but when I look at my life through these filters, and see that I have mobility, took the step to leave a job I wasn’t happy with, am debt free, have loving family and friends and good health, have abundant free time (sometimes I feel like it’s way too much and I want to get busy already–but I shan’t complain any more), and a certain sense of knowing I’m going to be okay … rich, rich, rich. Great perspective.

  9. Hi Michael – Happiness is something we all need to study and embrace. I would like to point out that Dr. Lyubomirsky’s work focuses primarily on the emotional and mental aspects of happiness. What I’ve tried to do in this post is to lay out achievable steps that once incorporated into your life will bring you to a happier place in life. Some people have already attained some of these 10 forms of wealth, they just need to embrace them for the true blessing that they are, even if other areas of their lives aren’t as well ordered.

  10. I agree totally with every way of being rich without being wealthy except for the fact that you can look great on thrift store clothes and with very little money to work with. I always get compliments. I also drive a 22 year old car that has never let me down. To sum it up, my daughter was challenged by one of her friends. Her friend claimed that it was a shame that my daughter was so poor. My daughter didn’t miss a beat and told her friend that she was quite rich in spirit, where some people had little as well as an imagination!

  11. Hi Karik – I think your daughter demonstrated that she knows who she is, even without flashing a lot of money. A lot of people think you have to do that to let others know you’ve “arrived”. But that’s a waste of money, and one of the reasons why people who live well often have very little money.

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