A personal finance pet peeve of mine is ‘rich vs. wealthy blog posts, memes, and social media posts. For starters, the terms are synonymous and effectively mean the same thing. It is appropriate to say Jeff Bezos is either rich, wealthy, or a rich bastard depending on your bent. In fact, according to the dictionary, being rich is described as having wealth, i.e., wealthy.
Adjectivehaving wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds; wealthy:a rich man; a rich nation. having wealth or valuable resources (usually followed by in):a country rich in traditions.
Somewhere along the line, a money guru decided to unilaterally change the definition of rich to meaning a person who has a high income but has not accumulated much in the way of assets or wealth. For example, an IT professional making six-figures who has a big home, fancy car, and loads, and loads of debt, they are “rich but not wealthy.” Comparably, Wealthy was redefined as someone who accumulated assets and is ACTUALLY rich. For example, if you have 1 million dollars in the bank and can live without working, you are “wealthy.”
Rich vs. Wealthy
Redefining rich and wealthy, despite them literally meaning the same thing, lends itself well to memes and blog posts such as “It's Better to be Rich than Wealthy” or Rich Vs. Wealthy. I don't think one day goes by that I don't see some personal finance ‘influencers” tweeting or sharing this tired out and semantically incorrect meme. Now, before you start accusing me of missing the point, I am perfectly aware that it is better to save money and invest in assets instead of spending all of your income. I don't take issue with the premise; in fact, I don't really care about the semantics, English is an interesting and silly language, and we are all free to take liberties with it.
Instead, what I have an issue with is this concept drips with condescension and judgment. “Rich vs. Wealthy” memes are just another tired trope in a long list of worn-out cliche's created by an industry that frankly suffers from rampant self-righteousness, grandstanding, and smugness. Some other examples are “rich people do this, poor people do that,” and “you are poor because you spend too much.”
Note: I'm thrilled you paid off your rental property fancy-ass money dude, but why you gotta bring your coworkers business into it??? The personal finance community suffers from a case of “what I do with my money is smarter than what you do with your money.” Rich vs. wealthy memes are an extension of that. For example, if you buy a fancy car, you are behaving like the “rich' or financial unenlightened. However, if you buy a rental property, you are acting like the morally superior wealthy.
Blogging at Its Worst
Dealing with personal finance bloggers can, at times, be exhausting. There is a good portion of the community that can most accurately be described as the spoiled rich kid in middle school who watched the Matrix and decided to go all ‘goth' and have an existential crisis at age 14. However, instead of listening to The Cure on infinite loop, money bloggers have Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Ted talks. The bloggers believe anyone who hasn't caught onto their new money religion, is too ignorant to perceive a reality other than “keeping up with the Joneses.” It is not a lack of information that keeps most from building wealth, rather its a lack of opportunity.
Why Most People Fail to Build Wealth
This may come as a shock to the most high-income bloggers, but most people in debt are not in debt because they are buying BMWs and yachts. The leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. Many households have to work two or three jobs; just maintain a standard of living my grandparent's generation was able to sustain with one income and more children. The real barriers to wealth in this country are the exorbitant cost of health care, child care, and education. Most people don't have a BMW or yacht because they are too busy paying off their overpriced college degrees. McDonald's recently released a budget trying to show Americans can live on minimum wage. The budget had the people working two full-time jobs and living in some fantasy land where rent is just 600 dollars a month, and homes don't require much heating.
The typical response from the spoiled blogging elite is these jobs were intended for high school and college kids. However, many individuals, particularly minorities, do not have equal access to education to pursue higher-paying careers. This has nothing to do with conspicuous consumption and has everything to do with the fact that as a country, we have failed to ensure everyone can pursue the “American dream.”
Why We Gotta Cut The Bullshit
Personal finance blogging should be about helping people. Regurgitating the same tired stereotypes, tropes, and memes does little to help people improve their lives. Not only is passing judgment on people extremely counterproductive, but it also shifts blame from the real culprits. While many Americans could stand to spend less and save more, the real barriers to building wealth in this country are taxes, ridiculously high education costs, health care costs, and child care costs. Let's focus on real issues and stop acting like dicks.