It took me a while to notice though.
You don’t usually become wealthy overnight and you definitely don’t feel wealthy immediately. For me, and many others, you feel wealthy after you receive some sort of windfall or financial progress. This could be after getting a promotion and raise or having an investment pay off, you have a moment where you have extra money that wasn’t budgeted for. You weren’t expecting to have the money and don’t have any plans on how to spend it. This is a great feeling because it allows you to go out to do whatever you want for a moment (or longer) without feeling guilting, you feel like you are ahead. I remember my first good job, I got my first paycheck, I was in a state of disbelief, I had only gotten a check that large a few times in my life. I really felt weird two weeks later when they gave me another one. These checks kept coming every two weeks, each time it felt a little less special, reality sunk in and I had started to adjust my lifestyle. I tried very hard to limit my expenses and be responsible with the money, and I did save quite a bit. Eventually the novelty wore off and this became my new normal. Then a got a new job, with even bigger paychecks, that feeling of disbelief was back. This time it took a littles time, only about six months before it felt “normal”. Each step along my career I’ve made improvements to my finances and adjusted my mindset towards my money.
For years though I never felt wealthy, I just felt like I had some extra cash. I first time I felt successful (not quite wealthy) was when I met up with some old school friends over the holidays. A couple of them were still close friends that I stayed in touch with, some of the other people I hadn’t seen since graduation. We were at dinner catching up and chatting about our lives and I came to realization, not everyone turned out like me. I know most people have limited opportunities growing up, they don’t get the right guidance or have the right role models that I had which helped me succeed. These people were all from private school though, they came from wealthy, high status families, they had all the advantage you could imagine. These are the kids you expect to all become doctors, lawyers and bankers. We were all in our mid twenties at the time and half way through dinner I was the only one with a legitimate career. One had bounced around pretending to be a professional musician, another was a bartender, another had been going to college part time for 7 years. Between the six people at the table, our parent collectively spent well over $1 million on tuition, which only produced one financial independent career … mine. This was the first time i realized not everyone has it in them to be successful, not everyone really wants it.
The first time I felt wealthy when my grandfather died. He was in the air force during the war, then came back and worked for Union Pacific Railroad. He worked there his entire career, feverishly saving and investing money the way most personal finance writers tell you two. Using your 401k match, buying index funds, buying company stock at a discount; 65 years of pinching pennies, making the responsible financial decision every single day. When he died my dad told me how much money he had, it was a lot, he had been a millionaire by the time he retired 30 years earlier and this had multiplied by the time he passed. What I realized though is that he did everything by the book for several decades and ended up with a comfortable retirement, but nothing extravagant. I realized that I made relatively more money in my early 20’s than he did after 40 years with the same company. When I was in my 20’s I had accumulated investments and assets greater to what he accumulated at age 95. Up until this point I part of me thought that a lot of people were deadbeats. That those without a lot of money had themselves to blame and if they wanted to be millionaires all they needed to do was work a little harder. Parts of this is definitely true, I think our outcomes are largely determined by our decisions. What I realized though is that my grandfather was someone who did everything he was supposed his whole life and had some financial success; but I was on pace to go far beyond him. I realized that there are a lot of people who put in the work every single day, make responsible decisions, and only have a small fraction of the resources I have.
This is when I realized I was wealthy. I started to approach the world differently after this. I started realizing that in the grand scheme of the world, I was doing pretty well. I wasn’t hurting for anything, I could get everything I needed. I quit worrying about the small things. I just did what made me happy, I focused on doing things that I wanted to do. I started saying no to more things, I no longer felt like I had to doing everything to impress everybody. I knew I could support myself and my family without “getting lucky”.
This is what happens as people get older. When I was young, I was taught to treat every person like they were my boss. What happened was that I was constantly nervous, life felt like a job interview. This is a miserable way to live. As you get older, you start to accomplish things, and you don’t have to rely on getting picked anymore. Once you have a career, you don’t need to walk around trying to impress every person because someday they might help you. You can rely on you experience and skill to get you places. Once you are married, you can quit worrying about impressing women. Men spend years trying to impress every women they meet, trying to create positive impressions. Once you are older, you can forget about a lot of this. You have a career, you have a spouse, family, friends; you don’t have any need to impress people anymore.
This is what happens when you become wealthy. You don’t need to pander to people anymore. You don’t have to live at the mercy of someone else’s opinion. It’s liberating.