In his book Automatic Wealth, author Michael Masterson (aka Mark Ford) keeps re-iterating the difference between having a lot of money in your bank account and living rich. I was skeptical when I first read the title of the topic. How can someone live rich without having piles of money in his/her bank account? As I read the topic further and further, it became more and more convincing. After reading the last few words from this compelling section of this must-read book, I had a big smile on my face and an invigorating thought, “YES. I can live rich TODAY and RIGHT NOW.”
What is ‘living rich’?
Popular belief says that you can only ‘live rich’ if your bank account balance has at least 7 figures. It is believed that you must work your socks out all your life until the day you can say, “Okay, I am rich today. I have millions in my bank account. I will no longer work. I will buy a mansion with a swimming pool, a bar with exotic drinks, an expensive car and the best gadgets money can buy.” Hanging onto this belief, people can’t wait to retire and start living rich. Some people NEVER achieve the lofty bank balance goal that they set for themselves and are miserable that they can ‘never live rich’. They see themselves as failures.
Well, it turns out that living rich is a process that you can apply in your life, DAILY and even EVERY MINUTE. Without having to spend a fortune. ‘Living rich’ is an attitude and a way of life. It has NOTHING to do with bank balance. You can live rich today and right now, whether you are a software engineer with just six months of earning, a single-mom in mid-thirties with 2 kids to feed or a 70-year old veteran.
You only need a few tiny shifts of attitude to start feeling rich today.
(a) Stop believing that you need to ‘own’ the means for an experience in order to enjoy it.
(b) and due to point (a), stop believing that you need to earn and save hoards of money to be able to acquire the means to enjoy the experience of your dreams ‘someday’.
(c) Just because some brands of merchandise create the image of exclusivity for their business motives doesn’t mean that you need them to live or feel rich. You need to examine what those brands stand for and start searching for and experiencing those qualities even if means using alternatives to those brands.
(d) You don’t need to hoard toys and materials to feel rich, you need to invest in experience that those toys make possible for you. Those experiences may be possible without those toys.
You only need two day-to-day processes to live rich right now.
(i) create the feeling of opulence around you
(ii) be ready to experience a long cherished dream activity immediately
Rules for ‘living rich’
(a) Don’t try to ‘own’ your dream experience: Priya, my wife, and I have often been testily questioned for living on rent in Mumbai’s fast growing Thane locality instead of buying our own house. Advice hinges on ‘investing’ in monthly loan repayments rather than ‘squandering’ on monthly rent. They suggest that loan repayments are better since we will then own a house. We also point out that real estate at Thane is expensive and that our monthly loan repayments would be thrice our rent if we were to buy a house. “So buy a house outside town at Badlapur.”, they say, “You can afford a house there. What’s the need to live at Thane? You can work harder, earn more money, sell the Badlapur house and get a home at Thane later in life.”
With plenty of malls, restaurants with varieties of food to eat, view to a creek, a flamingo sanctuary, green hills, a national park, Thane is the best of both worlds: in the lap of nature and close to all the urban facilities. Rather than being sparsely functional, Thane also nourishes the soul. It has an art gallery, institutes that teach photography and European languages and has clubs like trekking clubs and Toast Masters. Thane has people from different cultures. Living in Thane feels rich. On the other hand, Badlapur is an chaotic mess of concrete buildings with no facilities nearby. There may be shops and roads, but the town is soul-less. No clubs and no good institutions. There are a handful of restaurants, but you’ll probably get the same type of food in all of them. Living in Badlapur is an ordinary experience and not enriching. We know that we cannot afford to own a house at Thane today. But we can and are living the Thane lifestyle. Today. Right now. We had a clear goal to ‘live’ the Thane lifestyle, but we did not confuse ourselves by trying to ‘own’ it.
Want to go yachting in the lake? Don’t buy an expensive yatch. Rent one for a few hours or even a day or two. Jewellery is available for rent too. I know many ladies in cities like Chennai, who rent jewellery for important, but infrequent occasions like marriages and then give them back. You can’t wear that kind of jewellery while commuting to work anyway. But wearing that piece of jewellery for a marriage decks you up and makes you feel rich.
(b) Don’t buy brands, look for what they are good at: We often associate high quality with expensive brand names. We hear how iPhone is the best phone or how Zara makes the best shirts or how Rolex makes the best watches. They may make phones, shirts and watches of the best quality possible, but unless you are addicted to that brand, I don’t agree that they make THE ONLY best phones, shirts or watches. Most of what you pay for is for the name of the brand and the prestige of owning it. Instead, probe deep and examine what those brands stand for. Brands are excellent at ensuring consistently high quality, whereas the not-so-famous brands are not. Every Zara shirt or every iPhone you pick will always be good with few bad apples. However, there is only a certain peak that you can reach in terms of quality with today’s technology. With textile technology available today, a Zara shirt is at best twice as soft and can last twice as long as a Peter England shirt. But a Zara shirt costs 10 times higher. That’s paying 5 times over for brand name and prestige. What if you can do some homework, experiment and find a brand that makes shirts as good as Zara’s, but costs 5 times lower? You can do similar exercises with mattresses, smart phones, smart watches, hotel rooms and nearly everything. You can find what makes the experience rich, but doesn’t cost you piles of money just for brand and prestige.
(c) Don’t hoard materials: People are often asked to picture what life looks like when they are rich. The pictures contain a lot of material wealth. Mansions, gadgets, cars and private beaches are some of the things that pop in mind. Materials as a way to feel rich are often preached by huge brands. Why wouldn’t they preach? They get to earn huge profits from them. They give you instant gratification until the next shiny object stands in your way. It’s better to pause and question why those materials make you feel rich. Do they automate and offer convenience and give you more time to do things you care about (gadgets)? Do they give you the ability to do activities that you cannot do otherwise (oxygen mask and flippers for a scuba diving hobby)? Most of your answers will often reveal that the materials themselves are just symbolic and you don’t actually need them to truly feel rich. If your answer is prestige and an upper-hand over others, then you are treading the wrong path. The gratification from prestige is extremely short-lived and will wane as soon as something more sophisticated comes along.
The day-to-day ‘live rich’ process
(a) Create opulence around you: Priya and I have been travelling around India for eight months as part of our one-year trip around the country. We have stayed in low-priced lodges in several towns across 8 states. For the same price, an average of ₹ 600 per day, we found places which looked marginally better than a slum and those which looked like five-star resorts. In addition, we also saw royal palaces, now functioning as museums. We started finding answers on what makes a room look rich, in turn making us feel rich. We agreed on the following points.
(i) Spotless cleanliness: All the rooms where we felt were similar to five-star hotels were spotlessly clean. The walls had no spots, the floor tiles shone, the electrical switches had no grubby finger prints, the bathroom fittings were sparkling and even the door knobs reflecting our faces like a mirror.
(ii) Wall colours and lighting: Pearl-coloured walls with soft yellow lighting looked best. An equally big room with plain white walls and tube light / CFL lighting looked less rich.
(iii) Use of wood and natural materials: Needless to say, plastics looked cheap. Wooden furniture looked spot-on and went well with wood panelled windows. In states like Uttarakhand and Himachal, the use of wooden floors was practical due to the cold, but it also made the floor look rich. However, it didn’t have to be wood. Even plastics or metals painted in the earthy brown shade of wood looked rich. Natural decors like sea shells and potted plants too made the room look richer.
(iv) High ceiling: The higher the ceiling, the more palatial the room felt.
(v) Use of framed paintings or photos: Instead of unadorned walls, walls with framed paintings and photos looked richer.
(vi) Colours: Certain colours made certain decors look richer. A maroon bedsheet or a shiny metallic black ceiling fan.
(vii) Carvings: Carved wood looked richer than plain wood. Likewise, pillars with carved art looked richer than plain pillars.
(viii) Lawns or gardens outside: A green space such as a garden or a lawn outside the room or around the building immediately made the place look richer.
Do you see the pattern? The prices were nearly the same. The costliest we paid all trip was ₹1200 during peak season for a room that looked really cheap.
It doesn’t take a lot of money to make something look and feel opulent. You should study and observe what makes someone or something around you look rich and introduce that change into your daily life. Is is really the silk that makes a saree look rich or is it the superior artwork? Do shirts look better in solid colour, pin stripes or checks? Richness can be exhibited by a small change in material or even a type of behaviour. It doesn’t have to break your bank.
(b) Get ready for your dream experience immediately: “The day I get rich, I am going to live in a houseboat in the middle of a lake.”. This is a common dream. But even the richest people aren’t living on a houseboat everyday. It is impractical to commute between the water body and the city on land to get around to meet people. We saw the hassle first-hand at Srinagar. Most rich people use their owned houseboats as a getaway during vacations, a holiday home of sorts. You don’t have to own a houseboat, but you can take a houseboat vacation too. At places like Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) and Alleppey (Kerala). A high class houseboat for a day on the backwaters at Alleppey costs less than your smartphone (₹ 8000 or so). A luxurious houseboat room with a view at Dal lake in Srinagar costs less than a week’s supply of groceries (₹ 2000 or so). Isn’t that an amazing price to pamper yourself for a couple of days? Yes, it is possible to do that today, whatever your income is.
Living rich is an attitude and an experience. It is a feeling that you get when you two things happen around you: things around you seem rich and you are ready to enact your dream experiences immediately. So what are you waiting for? Do some tiny make-overs to your home. Get ready to go skiing in the Himalayas. Do something to make you feel rich. Today. Right now.