How Does One Define WEALTHY?
A few weeks ago, an impromptu conversation with a few of my workers really got me thinking about the idea of “wealth” and how a person defines whether an individual is wealthy or not. I think in a general sense, most of us would instinctively define wealth by the amount of money that a person has. I’m not going to get all philosophical or spiritual and all and start defining wealth by non-materialistic means and for the time being, let us concentrate simply on a numeric and monetary value.
Having grown up in a tradition Chinese setting, the use of money has always been very conservative. From day one when I began handling money, I was taught to save-save-save, something that (out of the words of my coworker), that North Americans tend not to do… they spend whatever happens to be in their hands. Looking at people I know, I can definitely say that it goes without saying that there certainly is truth… most of my friends/colleagues who are your general “white Canadian” families tend not to keep money “lying around”. Although I come from a wealthy family, my immediate family (mom/dad) did not arrive in Canada with that wealth. The money that they came to Canada with went to pay for their rent and they had to actually save up over a course of a year before being able to pay back the money for the flight over.
Let’s skip too much detail and jump to ‘now’. Growing up for me was definitely a very “make do with what we have” lifestyle. I can honestly say my parents were the type to give up everything just for me. I was always able to attend school events (in fact, they urged me to) albeit our financial situation. While we were never “poor” – we were certainly not rich either. What prompted the discussion between my coworkers and I was the fact I always mention the word “poor” when I describe myself and they like to make a note that poor should not be the world I use to describe myself because I really “don’t know what the word POOR means.”
This leads me on to the topic of how people perceive the difference between degrees of wealth. Suffice to say, I don’t think anyone in this world has the same definition or “amount” they would label between everything from poor to filthy rich. For instance, I consider myself poor, much to the chastise of my coworkers because I do not feel I “make enough money” and that I “don’t have enough to spend” when clearly, they feel otherwise. Personally, I feel a better has to make > $100,000 before they can consider themselves “rich” – which I currently don’t make, therefore, I class myself as being poor. Working in a unionized, government institution, all our salaries are available to the public (provincially mandated information) so essentially, all my coworkers know exactly how much I make a year. They ask me how given the amount I make, I could actually consider myself poor. After a good 2-hour talk with them, they made me truly reevaluate the money I make and why I feel poor. They started putting things into perspective for me, that the average Canadian generally do not even have enough money to maximize contributions in both TFSA (Tax-free Savings Account for the non-Canadians who don’t know) and RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) in a single year. Most people are tied up paying off mortgages, loans (student or otherwise), credit cards, bills, car financing and the likes that to be able to max-out contributions to both those accounts is impossible. Yearly, I am able to comfortably pay off all those bills/loans/owing balances while maximizing contributions to my RRSP/TFSA and invest my money into steady investments (such as GIC’s) and even have money to play the stock market. They made a point to tell me to look at my overall assets instead of simply what I keep “liquid” in my Chequings accounts. Surely, I cannot be THAT poor when I still have money to buy food, spend on entertainment (and girls? LOL… by that, I don’t mean hookers/strippers), and splurge on new technology once in a while.
While I’m generally not comfortable with sharing financial information with people, my coworker (who has been close with my family) asked bluntly how much money I had in my accounts all together. I told her and her jaw must’ve stayed opened for a good 2 minutes. I can remember her words very clearly, “You are what? How old? 24? You OWN a house, drive a luxury vehicle, have no debt, maximize yearly contributions, invest into stocks, live comfortably, and have xxx amount of money in your accounts and you call yourself POOR?!!” – that really smacked me in the face.. not as in negatively – but it really set things into perspective with how wealthy in comparison I am to many. Over the past few weeks, I really took some time to think about all that I really do have and that has changed on what I felt is considered “wealthy.”
Of course I am far from being wealthy in comparison to the rest of my family who own billion-dollar computer corporations, chairman of an international organization and CEO of 5-star hotels – but I have a very SOLID footing for someone of my age. I know that at any time, I could be a part of the massive wealth should I return to Hong Kong, but knowing that I will lose my very comfortable lifestyle in Canada… my steady job, my own business, my (lots) of leisure time and standard working hours – which is something that does not exist when it comes to managing a large business. I for one, prefer to simply be spoiled out of my mind every time I return “home” instead, even though I do not get the same luxury here.
How do you define wealthy? What are your expectations and where do you draw the line before you title someone as wealthy? Is it simply by what they make in a year, the job they hold or the materialistic things they have to show for it?
I’ll tell you, my opinion of my status before talking to my coworkers have really turned around…. and that’s why it is always nice to have older and wiser friends who can really set things straight in your mind, because in all reality, I’m just a little boy in a big guy’s body 😛
Posted on January 23, 2010, in Personal and tagged Blog, Culture, Family, Family Life, Hong Kong, Life, Money, Opinion, People, Personal, Perspective, Thoughts, Wealth, Work. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.