Are the wealthy so different from us? Well, some of them are: Jeff Bezos’ outrageous net worth is so alien to most Americans that it may not teach us anything. But for every Jeff Bezos, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of people who have earned fortunes that — while large — are a bit easier to conceptualize. And these people — the owners of subcontracting businesses, the hard-working app developers, the lawyers, the entrepreneurs — we can learn a lot about how to live with success and fulfillment in mind. For those who built fortunes with care, living as a wealthy person isn’t all yachts and lobbying checks; instead, it’s about strategy, frugality, and values. Here’s how to live like you’ve already made your first million — do it right, and you might just have that first million sooner than you think!
Making your money make money
“I want to do that thing rich people do,” Liz Lemon tells Jack Donaghy in an old episode of 30 Rock, “where they turn money into more money.” It’s a great joke with a lot of truth to it. The key to growing wealth is to make your money work for you. And while that’s certainly easier to do when you have lots of money and can afford to put a big chunk to work for you for a while, it’s still possible to pull off in more familiar tax brackets.
The key is to make sure that you put excess cash in places where it can earn interest. Everyone who can afford to should have an emergency fund of highly liquid wealth, like cash in a checking account, to cover a few month’s worth of expenses (or more, if your income is less reliable). You will probably also want a savings account for long-term goals such as buying a home. Beyond that, though, you should be stashing cash in places where it will generate more value. Retirement funds should be housed primarily in tax-advantaged investment accounts (like 401(k)s and IRAs); as the term suggests, these investment accounts are for investing the cash in stocks and bonds, which can grow in value. You can also have a regular investment account, of course, and you may find opportunities over the years to create passive income — for instance, your cash could go into a rental property.
Caring for valuable assets
Your cash isn’t the only source of your wealth, and rich people know this well. Any millionaire or billionaire will have lots of value in his or her stocks, bonds, home, cars, and other non-cash assets. In fact, some billionaires have far less cash on hand than you might assume.
Some assets don’t require much care; you should keep your eye on your stocks and bonds, but they don’t need your attention in order to grow. But other things that you own will fluctuate in value depending on how you care for them.
Take your car, for instance. Without regular maintenance and proactive repairs, explain experts who offer automotive and diesel certifications, your car could depreciate fast. Remember: Waste not, want not. Invest in maintenance and care for your vehicle, your home, your business space, and anything else that you’ve got a chunk of your net worth tied up in.
Living like the wealthy will help make you wealthier. But if you ever get as rich as the people you’re emulating, you’ll find out an old truth: Money really can’t buy happiness. A higher income can help you cheer up only to a point (and it’s likely that this has more to do with career success and avoiding the stresses of poverty than it does with fancy cars and diamonds). But, at a surprisingly low figure, the progress stops. Keep adding wealth if you want, but you won’t get much in the way of mental health gains after you reach a comfortable middle-class salary.
So how can you feel satisfied and happy? You can succeed professionally and build a happy home life. You can seek work-life balance. And you can live your values by giving back to the world that you’ve gotten so much out of. That’s what philanthropist Howard Fensterman would suggest, and he should know: His successful career in law gave him his fortune, but it’s his philanthropic work that’s reaching more people in need.
You don’t need to be wealthy to do this: You always have your own time, which you can donate by volunteering. Just remember that no matter how far you get in life, there is always a reason to help out the less fortunate.