Philip Wasserman | What Does It Take to Be Rich?

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor
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What is wealth in America today?  

In my June 7 letter about the last episode of HBO’s “Succession,” I said the real money in America is made when you own the company and that you can’t get wealthy on a W-2 paycheck. 

That begs the question: What is wealthy? 

Charles Schwab has just released a survey about wealth in America. Charles Schwab asked 1,000 American investors what they think about wealth and how much money it takes to be wealthy in America. 

The survey found that you need $2.2 million to be wealthy. 

In Southern California that number is $3.5 million. 

No surprise, right? As Chris Rock once said in a standup special, “Shaquille O’Neill is rich, but the guy who writes his paycheck is wealthy.” 

The Charles Schwab survey found that wealth is more about not having to stress over money than having more of it. 

Charles Schwab himself (yes, he is a real person) is estimated to be worth $8.7 billion. I would like to think that his days are stress-free. 

The survey found that being in good health ranked seven percentage points below not having to stress over money. 

I would argue that is backwards. You can always try to make more money but can’t always get good health. 

Other results from the survey may show a paradigm shift in American’s attitude toward money. Money is important, but the survey found that owing nice things ranked only 30%, while enjoying experiences ranked 70%, which tied with not having to stress over money. 

Travel was up 31% in March 2023, compared with the same pre-pandemic period in 2019. Since the pandemic, do we all realize that we are short on time and need more experiences over more stuff? 

Enjoying experiences even ranked 8% higher than having healthy relationships with family and loved ones. You know, leave the kids and in-laws behind, and take that Polynesian cruise or trip to Italy! 

The stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelias said, “Do not act if you were going to live 10,000 years.” 

But travel takes money. If you want to take a trip into space on Virgin Galactic and become an astronaut, it will cost you $450,000. 

To get rich on a W-2 paycheck takes both discipline and planning, and it takes time. The rich people I know got rich by living below their paycheck and making steady investments to their work retirement plans, whether that was a 401(k), IRA, or similar plan. 

Their biggest investment was in themselves, improving their education and/or skills to continue to earn more money while maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends. 

In other words, they got rich slow and steady. 

The Charles Schwab survey closes with something that should be common sense. Wealth “is more about what dollars do for us and how we use them to achieve our financial and life goals.” 

Yes, you can be wealthy and miserable. But I still think that most of us would be very happy if we had the wealth to cover the Lakers’ payroll.   

Philip Wasserman 

Stevenson Ranch

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