Not long ago, I was having a discussion with some friends about lottery tickets. The jackpot in one of the big multistate lotteries was up into nine figures, and the group -- none of whom are regular lottery players -- was debating how much was enough to motivate non-players to buy a ticket.
The group quickly agreed that the amount in question had to be life-altering -- enough to "live like a rich person." How much is that? I asked.
"$100 million," one friend said. "The jackpot is $100 million, but that's the annuitized amount. You take the full-payout option, that's $60 million, lose half to taxes, that's $30 million. $30 million would make me feel rich."
"Hmm," I pondered. "Put that in the bank at 4%, that's $1.2 million a year. That's 10 times what you make now. You really need that much to feel rich?"
That set off another discussion, which I won't recount for you here. But it showed me how people carry a stereotyped image of what it means to be "rich," as if "rich" were a magical land of Bentleys and 50-room houses and liveried servants where it was impossible to feel anything less than serene happiness, all the time.
Of course, that's not reality. So what does it really mean to be "rich," and can we get a little more of it in our not-yet-rich lives right now?
Unpacking the term
Ask a dozen people what it means to be rich, and you'll get a dozen answers. But some themes come up over and over, and while people often put these in their mental "if I get rich someday" file, there's no reason we can't have a little more of them now. For instance:
- Travel. If I were wealthy, I'd spend a lot of time traveling. But exotic vacations don't have to cost a fortune. Cheap travel is a highly developed art form that's easy to learn.
- Quitting work forever. Fool contributors Billy and Akasha Kaderli retired at age 38 and have spent the last 17 years traveling the world. They're not zillionaires -- just smart people who planned well and saw a possibility where others didn't. Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss automated his business and lives an almost-retired, globetrotting lifestyle full of adventure -- and wrote a great book explaining how anyone can do what he did. Again, he didn't start out rich, just audacious and willing to do things that were out of the ordinary.
- Having luxury goods. This one may seem the most forbidding, but in some ways, it's the easiest one to access right now -- if you're smart about it.
Being smart about luxury goods
Providers of luxury goods have seen boom times in recent years. Handbag specialist Coach
That makes it easier than ever for those of more mundane means to acquire the good stuff. Buy that Mercedes or Lexus gently used. Prowl eBay for bargains on designer goods and high-end clothing. (But be careful -- counterfeits abound.) Sure, you're not going to live like an Upper East Side zillionaire on an Astoria accountant's cash flow. But if you're careful with your budget and shop wisely, you can get more of whatever you consider to be the finer things into your life.
Also, consider rethinking your approach to stuff in general. Sometimes less is more, if the "less" is higher quality. For a few months when I was in college, I had a part-time job working in a premium men's clothing store, the kind of classically upscale place that sold high-quality clothes in timeless cuts. The store's owner used to be fond of saying, "It's better to own a few really nice pieces of dressy clothing than a lot of mediocre ones. They look better and, with care, last much longer than the cheaper stuff."
I think he was right, and I think the point applies far beyond men's clothing. It's amazing how quickly you can change your life with a few deliberate choices. Whether we're talking about shirts, vacations, or dinners out, buying them a little less often -- and choosing the better and more memorable ones when we do -- is a great way to increase one's perceived wealth right now. What do you think? Drop me a line and let me know.
Fool contributor John Rosevear does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy would happily trade a thousand fast-food dinners for one five-course feast at the French Laundry.