The key differences between rich and wealthy are, for some, a matter of perspective. For someone who earns $15 an hour, struggles to pay their student loans, and worries about being able to afford a car repair, the woes of someone who earns twice as much don’t seem like trouble at all. “If I had THEIR problems,” one might hear them say, “I would have NO problems.”
To someone who doesn’t believe they will ever be able to earn what they feel they are worth (no matter how wrong that may be in reality) the household that earns six figures will seem rich, wealthy, or both.
Someone reading this is complaining that we’re splitting hairs over two words which seem to mean the same basic thing. But there ARE key differences between being rich and being wealthy. A lot of the difference lies in the ability to endure financial hardships without major personal consequences. Some might call it your level of “financial endurance”.
What Does It Mean To Be Rich?
The 70’s era George Romero zombie horror film, Dawn Of The Dead features a group of four protagonists who stumble onto a deserted shopping mall during the global zombie pandemic. Our heroes break into the mall, clear out all the zombies in it, and take full advantage of the shopper’s paradise they “owned”.
This is a GREAT example of what it means to be RICH. The four had plenty of free time to explore their own goals and priorities rather than investing eight hours a day or more giving their labor to someone else.
The “catch” to being rich in this context is that everything depends on our heroes maintaining their status quo in the shopping mall. Without the assets of the mall, our heroes would be back out in the “real world” hustling to stay alive.
What Does It Mean To Be Wealthy?
Let’s use a different George Romero zombie movie to illustrate what it means to be wealthy. In the George Romero zombie movie Land Of The Dead, the late Dennis Hopper plays the man who establishes a sort of post-apocalyptic Pittsburg including a luxury high-rise for the privileged called Fiddler’s Green.
The Dennis Hopper character runs the place like a feudal lord would, bolstering his already considerable holdings. Hopper’s character has all the material things that a rich person has, but he also has an abundance of additional resources including a staff of people who carry out his wishes more or less without question.
Why is Hopper’s character wealthy instead of rich? Because in this case, he represents the moneyed gentry; a class of people who have generational wealth tied up in investments, owning things with long-term value, and the ability to weather serious financial setbacks with a minimum of interruption of their daily lives.
The key differences between rich and wealthy? Being rich often involves being just ahead of financial disaster (in the early stages of being rich) to being fairly secure as long as the rich person continues to make good choices with their investments and resources. Being rich can sometimes be a one-mistake proposition and it’s easy to lose a small fortune with risky financial behavior.
The wealthy person has all of this to deal with but also far greater layers of protection against financial ruin including long-term investments, high-value assets, and financial arrangements that are difficult to undo with one bad decision or two. Wealthy people experience financial setbacks in areas where rich people may have to file bankruptcy.
Joe Wallace specializes in personal finance, military affairs, and consumer protection topics. Since 1995, his work has appeared on Air Force Television News, The Pentagon Channel, ABC and a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year Air Force veteran and collects unusual vinyl records, which gives him an excuse to write the vinyl blog Turntabling.net.