As a kid, I wanted to own a huge mansion with so many rooms you could get lost in it.
A mansion with its own basketball court, tennis court, and hell – golf hole. The bigger the better! This was THE goal.
But the irony is that I grew up in very nice houses. Not the kind I described above, but nice homes in nice communities. I just didn’t know how well I had it.
Growing up upper middle class
My parents both grew up with successful and hard working parents (my grandparents) in a middle to upper middle class lifestyle.
But everyone wants the best for their own kids, so by the time my parents had kids, they wanted to create an even better life for their children.
We went from living in a typical suburban neighborhood when I was a toddler, to slightly nicer communities as an elementary school kid, and finally to fancier more expensive country-club type neighborhoods during junior high and high school.
By the time I was ten, I was living in what some might describe as a small mansion.
Anyone on the outside would envy the houses I grew up in and the lifestyle that my parents worked very hard for.
So my parents are wealthy right?
So you think my parents are wealthy right? Wrong.
They are house wealthy, but that is about it.
As an adult, I’ve realized how much my parents were living above their means, stretching themselves to look even more successful than they are.
You see, they were chasing the American dream of bigger and better, and chased it hard.
But the chase is leading to what will likely sub-par retirement result.
I don’t want to bash on my parents too much, because I doubt that they regret any of their housing choices or life decisions. That is not the main point of this article anyway.
I had a great childhood. I enjoyed living in those nice houses.
But it still didn’t stop me from wanting more.
The human condition: wanting more
When you live in a neighborhood with large custom homes, you can never not feel inferior.
We would walk around the neighborhood and drool over the even bigger houses, with even better amenities.
And that is how my dream of owning an even bigger, better house, came to fruition.
When you see it daily, you end up wanting it.
But having a big house as we have seen with my parents, does not necessarily mean that you are looking at a wealthy person.
A big house does not equal true wealth
Morgan Housel’s quote sums it up very nicely. Wealth is what you don’t see.
The most likely wealthy people you know are the ones who practice stealth wealth as described in The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley:
Many people who live in expensive homes and drive luxury cars do not actually have much wealth. Then, we discovered something even odder: Many people who have a great deal of wealth do not even live in upscale neighborhoods.– Thomas J. Stanley, The Millionaire Next Door
Indeed, the more you spend on the flashy things, the more likely you are putting your retirement and future plans at risk.
Evelyn from Better on a Budget has the right view:
True wealth is what you aren’t spending.
It is what you are saving.
It is what you are investing.
It is making the choice to NOT buy a bigger house, SKIP buying a fancier car, and REFUSE to buy all the things that are constantly marketed at us that we don’t actually need.
I’m not saying that you should forgo everything.
In fact, I’ve never, ever, lived like that.
I still live in a nice house, in a nice community.
But I also know now that I have enough.
I enjoy where I am right now. I love my life as it is.
You must find the right balance between spending and saving.
Between paying for the things that bring you joy, and saying NO to the superficial things that do not.
So while, I still like to daydream about the nicer houses in my own neighborhood, I can rest assured that I have enough.
Someone will always have more money, bigger houses, and fancier cars.
You can either stay on the hedonic treadmill like my parents did, or you can choose to be happy with what you do have.
Thankfully, I realized the error of my parents ways early in my adult life, and I have lived a more balanced financial life.
Most of all, I choose to be happy with what I do have. I have enough.