Honey, Do You Want To Be Rich?

A few months ago, A and I were hiking up in the hills of Portland.

We had been hiking for hours, through beautiful canyons and crevices and between those perfectly-oregon pine trees.

Everything is peaceful, and quiet, and smells like the woods. 

Then we pass a McMansion.

The first of many McMansions.

They are perched in the hills like sparkling gnomes, the walls of windows glinting with the sunlight.

Finally, after thirty minutes of hiking uphill, we come to the biggest of them all – the mother gnome.

In the backyard, there is a pool, and a patio, and french doors. A Williams-Sonoma chicken coop (I pinned it…they bought it…), and a custom brick fire pit.

On the edge of the hiking trail is a sign warning about their home security system.

“One day we’ll live in a house like this”, A says.

“Think of the utility bills”, I say.

“We’ll be so rich we won’t care about bills”, A says.

“The pool would get dirty. We’d have to pay someone to clean the pool.”

“So we’d hire a pool-cleaner. And a cook. And a housekeeper.”

“But how could we be carless if we lived on top of a mountain?”

“Why would we need to be carless? We could have a Porsche SUV, and a vespa, and a convertible.”

“That’s like two grand in monthly payments. Think about the car insurance, and the gas.”

“We’d buy them all cash.”

“How are we going to make that kind of money?”

“We win the lottery.”

“Do you know how likely that is? Broke people play the lottery, rich people make smart financial decisions.”

“You’re no fun,” he says and stomps ahead.

A dreams of being rich, and I don’t.

I didn’t realize this until we hiked 1000 feet above sea level to the highest point in the Tualatin Mountains.

Then, I feel angry and anxious and I can’t figure out why, but I know it’s something to do with the Williams-Sonoma chicken coop.

When he says he wants to live in a mansion, I think, “isn’t our house good enough?”

The key to being happy is learning when enough is enough.

And making more than $75,000 doesn’t make you any happier.

$75,000 a year doesn’t buy much of a mansion.

When I see a mansion, all I see are the years I’d have to work to afford it.

And when people say they want to be rich, it makes me uncomfortable. Because wealth and happiness and materialism and success and achievement and satisfaction and jealousy are all concepts that are kind of scary to talk about with my partner, or even with myself.

On the way back down, I tell A that my idea of rich doesn’t involve a mansion.

It involves a little house that’s completely paid off, and rental properties that cover all our bills. The freedom to quit our jobs. Empty days to hike in the mountains, and be with my family. Hours and hours to pour into books, and writing, and creative projects.


“What about you?” I ask, and he says he’d like to be a stay-at-home dad, and maybe coach basketball. Work on his arabic. Travel the world.

“See? Doesn’t that sound better than a mansion?” I say.

“But if we won the lottery,” he says. “We could have all that AND a mansion.”

**this post was inspired by this fascinating article in the NYT, and this poem by Kurt Vonnegut.

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  • I like to play the what if we won the lottery (even though we rarely buy a ticket). I like us to talk about what our dream life would be, then I like to try to make our life now a little more like the dream life.

    It’s funny how excited we get over dreams like coffee and fresh pastries for breakfast. And it super easy and doesn’t cost millions of dollars to do that right now.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted…5 Frugal Gifts on Cheap Mom’s Christmas Wish ListMy Profile

    • Yes, I totally agree! When I think about what I’d do if I won the lottery, it’s always to spend more time on my relationships and my interests…which is of course very doable right now! Without the extra million dollars!

      There’s certainly something powerful about asking yourself what meaning your life would have / how you would live, if you didn’t have to work or worry about bills.

    • I read your comment to my boyfriend, and he said, “If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a man say that about a woman, and a woman say that about a man…you could quit your day job.” I think materialism is a true equalizer :)

  • Sometimes my husband and I also play this game where we fantasize what we would do if we were billionaires. But we don’t play the lottery. I don’t want a McMansion – but I do admit I wish I could have a housekeeper. And, when I travel, I’ve rented for a day or so some pretty nice places on a mountain, with a view, with the hot tub… but been just as happy to come back home after. It’s a bit of a pain having to walk so far to get anywhere inside a McMansion it turns out!
    Pech recently posted…Recipe for Cheddar Garlic Oven Baked Chicken BreastMy Profile

  • I have a slightly different perspective. I’ve lived in a great big house on a hill with a view of five mountains and more space than anyone needs. Now I caution my kids, “Never live in a house that is so big that you can, if you choose, go a week without seeing anyone else who lives there.” Sometimes if your house is too big, you lose the things you love.

    My life is very different now. I live in an much smaller house in town, with a view of my neighbor’s back yard, and I have never been happier.
    Renée recently posted…The New American Herbal {Book Review}My Profile

  • My mom always said she never aspired to be rich, and I would reply “well, I do.” I think in a way her comment was a defense mechanism to make it less disappointing to not be rich. I, on the other hand, thought that trying to become rich was motivating. A kick in the butt to keep on working toward that goal. Ironically, my mom actually became a millionaire, although she never recognized that fact and basically lived like a pauper.

    • Kathy, I think that’s part of why I resist wanting to be rich – growing up, it seemed better to say you didn’t want luxury items rather than admit that our family couldn’t afford it.

      Certainly, there’s a middle balance. For me, being financially independent is a very inspiring (kick-in-the-butt) goal for me, but wanting a large house…not so much…

  • So interesting. You would think the hiking would help clear out the “stuff desire.” When you’re in nature, with no man made stuff, your head clears and you can see that enjoyment is found in things that are totally free.

    I went to a yard sale once at one of the biggest homes I had ever seen. Every square inch of their five car garage was stuffed with JUNK. We bought one thing, and umbrella among a stack of 7. That was enough for me to see the fruitlessness of the stuff ridden lifestyle.
    Mrs. WW recently posted…Where to stuff the stuff?My Profile

    • I’ve always noticed that the amount of stuff you have expands to the available space you have. When we lived in our 3-bedroom house, the two extra rooms slowly started to fill with stuff, same with the garage and all the closets…now we have no extra rooms and just 1 closet for the entire apt, so every item has to count.

    • I totally agree about the cleaning. I also think of how many people went bankrupt because of their mansions in 2008…it seems like such a silly reason to stretch yourself thin

  • Really beautiful writing here. Glad to have stumbled on your blog, via Rockstar Finance.

    I quibble on one point, but only because the relationship between money and happiness is so critical. The study in the NYT article you cite notes that you really do feel more happiness (and I’d argue that it’s the more important kind) even after earning more than $75k.

    “Before employers rush to hold — or raise — everyone’s salary to $75,000, the study points out that there are actually two types of happiness. There’s your changeable, day-to-day mood: whether you’re stressed or blue or feeling emotionally sound. Then there’s the deeper satisfaction you feel about the way your life is going — the kind of thing Tony Robbins tries to teach you. While having an income above the magic $75,000 cutoff doesn’t seem to have an impact on the former (emotional well-being), it definitely improves people’s Robbins-like life satisfaction. In other words, the more people make above $75,000, the more they feel their life is working out on the whole. But it doesn’t make them any more jovial in the mornings.”
    Done by Forty recently posted…Power of the BaselineMy Profile

    • Good point- but I would argue that the deeper “life is working out on the whole” feeling comes more from our cultural mindset that money = self-worth, and from the feeling of being valued by your employer, rather than the satisfaction being directly derived from the money itself.

      An alternate route would be disconnecting your worth from any dollar amount, and in a person with a mindset like that, I doubt you’d see any drastic change in happiness.

      I’m so glad you found my blog :) come back anytime!

  • More people should read this post before getting married. Not that couples can’t work through being differently financially-minded but it’s a big part of the reason why people fight so much about finance.

    I’m lucky, my wife is just as cheap as I am. Ok, not so much lucky but knew she was that way before we got married. Couldn’t imagine being married to someone that spends everything while I am trying to save it.
    Joseph Hogue recently posted…Master your Debt with America’s Money Answers ManMy Profile

    • I noticed that too with our 3-bedroom house. We were always constantly in the tiny kitchen, or the little living room, but never enjoying our office, guest bedroom or giant master bedroom :) I think we’re all drawn to warmth…

  • Great post. +1 for freedom as opposed to riches. Love the Vonnegut poem (even if it doesn’t have any rhymes :-)

    A related favorite quote: “The more you own, the more it owns you.” ~Henry Rollins

    Here’s another NYT article related to Ron’s that is also a good read wrt wealth and happiness:


    P.S. Found your post via Rockstar Finance. Kudos to J. Money.
    Bill Dwight recently posted…Young Parents Earn Baby Bucks for Learning Life SkillsMy Profile