Rich vs Wealthy: What’s the Key Difference Between the Two?

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The difference between being rich vs wealthy is 2 completely different concepts.

Although being “rich” and being “wealthy” may be considered similar, they mean 2 very different (and 2 very opposite) things.

And trust me, you’ll want to be known as being wealthy over being rich.

Keep reading.

In this article

What Does it Mean to be Rich?


If you want to know what being “rich” means, then I want you to think of some popular rappers, football players, and Hollywood superstars. 

Sometimes, it seems like they are screaming the words “I am rich.”

That’s because being rich is about:

  • Having a lot of income
  • Spending a lot of money
  • Showing off how much money you have

Yes, being rich means you have a lot of money. 

But being rich doesn’t necessarily mean you have a high net worth – or that you will always be “rich.”

In fact, being rich could mean you are in debt.

Why?

Most people who “are rich” spend more than they earn. 

And if you’ve read any of my budgeting articles, then you would know that to become rich (or wealthy), you need to spend less than you earn.

To build a positive net worth = Spending < Earn

I’ll never forget this story:

I was a teenager and met with one of my parents’ friends: He was a former American baseball star.

When he was playing baseball, he was:

  • 30-years old
  • Earning $4 million a year
  • Considered the next superstar

Then, an ankle injury put him out of the game and he was forced to retire at 34. 

That was 6 years ago (he’s 40 now). 

He and his wife are:

  • Driving $200,000 Ferraris
  • Live in a $3 million mansion
  • Earning $30,000 a year (from a lawnmower business)
  • Buy their 16-year old daughter a $60,000 car (which she crashed in week 1)

And you know what?

They are broke. Massively. And they will have to file for bankruptcy.

You cannot build wealth if you spend more than you earn. 

If you don’t believe my personal story, check out the many other celebrities that had “rich” lifestyles but ended up worse off than before they entered the starlight. 

Celebrity That Went Broke A Reason Why They Went Broke

Michael Jackson

The whopping cost of $10 million a year to operate Michael’s Neverland Ranch (he was at least $400 million in debt)

Lindsay Lohan

Partying, addiction, etc. causing Lindsay to file for bankruptcy in 2012

Mike Tyson

Divorce, excessive spending, etc. (was $23 million in debt)

50 Cent

Excessive spending (was $32.5 million in debt)

Source: TVOM

As you can see, you can be super-rich and famous, and still be massively in debt.

fiona smith the millennial money woman

The Bottom Line:

You can be rich and you can be on the verge of bankruptcy. Being rich is more about showing off your money than using your money as a tool to build long-term growth. If you’re rich, you’re also likely to go broke.

What Does it Mean to be Wealthy?


If you want to 
achieve financial freedom, then chances are that you’ll want to become wealthy.

Wealth has everything to do with your most precious asset: Time.

Becoming wealthy means you have:

  • Time to do the things you want to do
  • Time to spend with the people you love
  • Time to learn about the things you want to learn about

When you are wealthy, you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

Instead, when you are wealthy, you can decide when (and where) you want to work because you have the luxury to just walk away if you don’t enjoy your job. 

If you are wealthy, you have a large net worth.

To become wealthy, you’ll want to amass a positive net worth.

If you are wealthy, then you likely:

  • Have a large net worth
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Want to build long-term wealth
  • Are understated (aka don’t own the flashiest things)

Wealthy people focus on income-producing assets because they buy time.

Think about it: When you own income-producing assets and earn passive income (even when you sleep!), you’ll have all the time in the world to do what you want. 

That’s why wealthy people often diversify their assets through:

  • Real estate investing
  • Stock market investing
  • Investing in their business

If there is a shortcut to becoming wealthy, it has to do with building a business.

66% of millionaires own their own business

Source: The Millionaire Next Door

A business will pay you income (likely for the rest of your life) and your income earning potential is virtually unlimited, since you are your own boss. 

In fact, the majority of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners:

Wealthy Individual How They Gained their Wealth

Jeff Bezos

Business Owner (Amazon)

Warren Buffett

Business Owner (Berkshire Hathaway)

Elon Musk

Business Owner (Tesla, SpaceX, etc.)

Mark Zuckerberg

Business Owner (Facebook)

Bill Gates

Business Owner (Microsoft)

Larry Ellison

Business Owner (Oracle)

Chances are that you won’t see Warren Buffett approaching you with a gold chain necklace, golden rings, and a $300,000 Lamborghini. 

In fact, Warren Buffett is known as the frugal billionaire, living in the same home (in Nebraska) that he first bought, back in 1958. 

Even better, Warren Buffett “splurges” on $3.89 for breakfast at a McDonald’s drive-through…

So you see that being wealthy is very different from being rich.

True wealth is:

  • Health
  • Freedom
  • Relationships

In the end, it’s important to realize that money buys you time, which ultimately gives you freedom (and happiness).

fiona smith the millennial money woman

The Bottom Line:

Being wealthy means you have a positive net worth, you spend less than you earn and you have the time to do what you want to do in your life.

The Difference Between being Rich and Wealthy


The difference between being rich and wealthy has to do with time, freedom, and sustainability. 

A wealthy person has built sustainable, long-term wealth, which buys them time and freedom to do what they want to do. 

A rich person’s money often does not last very long, and rich people often go into massive debt because of their flashy, glamorous lifestyle. 

Someone earning $80,000 could be wealthier than someone earning $500,000.

It all comes down to:

  • How you spend your money
  • How much debt you build-up 
  • How much of your money you save
rich vs wealthy the differences

If you are truly wealthy, then your money will serve a specific purpose. 

For me and my husband, our money serves the following purposes:

  • Save enough for a sustainable lifestyle
  • Save enough to retire our parents early
  • Save enough to live without money worries

I would say these 3 purposes are pretty good reasons why we are so diligent when it comes to saving and investing money (we save just over 70% of our income). 

Wealthy people typically build their wealth by investing in real estate or by investing in the stock market.

how to become wealthy in 7 steps

How to Become Wealthy: 7 Actionable Steps


If you are ready to become wealthy, then you will love the 7 actionable steps that I’ve outlined below. 

Remember that to build long-term wealth, it doesn’t necessarily matter how big your paycheck is, but it matters how much you save and invest.

Let’s dive right in.

Save and Invest 20-30%

How to Become Wealthy Step #1: Save and Invest 20-30% 


If you want to become wealthy, then you need to start saving (and investing). Aggressively.  

Personally, I think saving and investing 20% to 30% of your paycheck is not enough. 

My husband and I save more than 70% of our gross paycheck and we haven’t looked back since. 

We spend money on:

  • Food
  • Mortgage
  • Bare necessities

And believe it or not, we still live a happy life. You don’t need to spend money to be happy.

So, what are some ways to invest your money?

  • You can invest your money at work, through your 401k plan
  • You can set reminders for yourself to invest a portion every so often
  • You can automatically have your bank account deposit a percent of your paycheck into your savings account

If you’re new to investing and don’t want to stash away $100’s right now, then consider checking out Acorns.

Acorns is probably one of the best beginner investment apps because you can start investing with as little as $5.

And trust me, any amount invested will make a difference in your financial future – as long as you are consistent and persistent when it comes to investing. 

Invest as much as Early as Possible

How to Become Wealthy Step #2: Invest as much as Early as Possible


There are 2 key factors that will determine your long-term wealth:

  • Time in the market
  • How much you invest

To optimize your wealth, you’ll want to invest your money as early as possible – and as much of your money as possible. 

The worst thing you can do is doing nothing.

If you’re just starting and don’t exactly have the means to invest $100’s, then you should check out the popular investing app Acorns.

If you can invest $100’s at once and still want a little investment guidance, then you may want to consider looking at M1 Finance.

With M1 Finance, you can select (or you can create) your own investment allocation “pie,” which will invest your money in different stocks, bonds, etc. 

You just need $100 to start investing for regular accounts or $500 to start investing with retirement accounts.

Foster Close Family & Friend Relationships

How to Become Wealthy Step #3: Foster Close Family & Friend Relationships


As you 
build wealth, don’t forget to foster your relationship with your family and your friends. 

Remember that your network is your net worth.

Don’t go through life only focusing on money while neglecting your family and friends.

It’s important you take some time out of your busy day and spend it with those people who have always been there for you – no matter the ups or the downs.

Pay off High Interest Debt

How to Become Wealthy Step #4: Pay off High-Interest Debt


The next step is to pay off high-interest debt ASAP. 

If you carry high-interest debt, then you are robbing your future self.

High-interest debt is typically debt that has interest rates in excess of 10%, which could include:

  • Credit cards
  • Payday loans
  • Personal loans

It’s very important to pay off your debt fast so that you can focus on pursuing your other goals – like investing for your future.

Below are some of the steps my husband and I took, as we pursued our goal of paying off debt and better managing our money:

  • Refinanced our mortgage
  • Paid off credit cards every month
  • Paid off all student loans as fast as possible 
  • Bought cheap, used cars at low-interest rates for life

My husband and I worry about money when we know we have high-interest debt – and that’s the worst feeling ever.

So, we make it a point to pay off debt as fast as possible.

If you want to find additional (and somewhat crafty) ways to pay off your debt, you may want to look into debt consolidation with LendingTree.

LendingTree is a nationally recognized company that has been in business for decades (since 1996) and offers a variety of services, including debt consolidation. 

With debt consolidation, you could:

  • Receive favorable interest rates
  • Maintain a fixed payment schedule
  • Consolidate multiple lenders to 1 lender
  • Simplify your finances when it comes to paying back debt

Just remember that debt consolidation is only a temporary fix.

If you have a spending problem, then debt consolidation will not fix the underlying issue – which is spending excessive amounts of money and racking up debt. 

Focus on your Long Term Goals

How to Become Wealthy Step #5: Focus on your Long-Term Goals


The key to building wealth lies in your 
mindset

If you focus on your long-term goals, then you can (and very likely will) become wealthy. 

The important part is to:

  • Stay patient
  • Stay focused
  • Stay consistent

Saving and investing money won’t always be easy, and you’ll probably see your wealth fluctuate throughout the years, since the stock market fluctuates, too. 

Whenever you feel unmotivated, remember your “why” – the reason why you’re doing everything that you’re doing. 

My why is:

  • My family
  • My future
  • My parents

Never forget what drove you to become wealthy in the beginning.

Stop Buying Stuff you Don’t Need

How to Become Wealthy Step #6: Stop Buying Stuff you Don’t Need


One of the fastest and easiest ways we seem to lose wealth is by buying stuff we don’t need to impress people that don’t care. 

Stop spending money on unnecessary things.

No, I’m not saying that you’ll become a millionaire if you cut out avocado toast and lattes from your life.

But, if you spend $10 a day on avocado toast and lattes (that’s $3,650 per year), then yes, you could be missing out on quite a chunk of wealth (in the long term). 

That’s why it’s important to live frugally today so that you can make your tomorrow a reality.

Before you start spending money, think about what it is that you are buying.

I try to ask myself these questions before I buy something:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Will it improve my life?
  • Will I regret the purchase?

If I answered no to any of those questions, I seriously reconsider my purchase.

Guys and gals, if you want to change around your financial picture but just don’t know where to start, then check out the budgeting app, You Need A Budget (aka YNAB). 

This is easily one of the best budgeting apps out there.

If you sign up today, you’ll get a 34-day free trial, after which you’ll have to pay a subscription fee every month. 

New YNAB users claim that they:

  • Saved $600 in the first 2 months of using YNAB
  • Saved $6,000+ in the first year of using YNAB
Increase Income

How to Become Wealthy Step #7: Increase Income


Now that you have your financial picture in order – you’ve:

  • Created a budget
  • Paid off high-interest debt
  • Stopped splurging money on stuff you don’t need
  • Started saving and investing 20%+ of your paycheck

…it’s time for my favorite step in this guide: Making more money!

Saving money is limiting. Earning money is limitless.

Not enough personal finance articles talk about this – your ability to save money is limited by 2 main things:

  • How much you earn
  • Your basic living expenses

There is a finite amount of money you can save. Unfortunately. 

That’s why, if you want to accelerate the amount of wealth you build, you’ll want to focus on increasing your income.

And one of the best ways to make money is to start a side hustle.

Do some research on your own time as well to figure out which side hustle could be the best for you – and then start saving and investing that extra income!

Related: 13 Ways to Make Money Fast

FAQs

Being labeled “wealthy” really is a subjective matter. 

There is 1 part of the definition that everyone can agree on: Whether or not you are wealthy depends on your net worth. 

In a recent 2021 survey, Americans said that to be “wealthy,” you would need a net worth of $1.9 million.

Being wealthy has to do with your most precious asset: time. Being rich has to do with showing off your money through material objects. 

Being rich could mean you are massively in debt. Being wealthy, on the other hand, means you have a positive net worth, which gives you the time to do the things you want to do.

Being wealthy also means that you:

  • Have a positive net worth 
  • Don’t need to work every day
  • Aren’t living paycheck to paycheck
  • Have the time to do what you want to do

When you are wealthy, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Being wealthy has to do with 2 things: The quantitative side (the numbers) and the qualitative side (the feeling). 

But, to be wealthy, you don’t have to look at the quantitative side of things.

Being wealthy also means looking at the qualitative side. You could feel wealthy if you know you have:

  • A steady job
  • A loving family
  • Wonderful friends
  • A roof over your head
  • Food to provide for your family

That could be the best feeling in the world – and you are certainly better off than many others in this world if you have those 5 things. 

For other people, feeling wealthy may have to do with having a higher paying job, a higher net worth, belonging to exclusive social clubs, etc.

The Bottom Line: Rich vs Wealthy


Being rich and being wealthy are 2 very different mindsets. 

If your goal is to:

  • Spend sustainably 
  • Build long-term wealth
  • Achieve financial freedom
  • Become financially literate

…Then you will be wealthy.

On the other hand, if your goal is simply to have a lot of income (a high-paying job) and show off your income through the coolest high-tech gadgets, then you might as well call yourself rich.

Being rich, however, could also mean you:

  • Are in debt
  • Spend more than you earn
  • Don’t have a high net worth
  • Don’t understand personal finance

If you just want to show off your money, then you’re rich.

If you want to build a lasting legacy so you pass your money down to your kids, your grandkids, etc., then you are building wealth

Wealth is nothing more than a mindset.

Anyone can become wealthy – and it’s not like there is a magic number that you have to hit to become wealthy. 

Becoming wealthy has to do with these 7 steps:

  • Increasing income
  • Paying off high-interest debt
  • Focusing on your long term goals
  • Stop buying stuff you don’t need
  • Investing as much, as early as possible
  • Fostering close family and friend relationships
  • Saving and investing 20% to 30% of your income every month

The path to becoming wealthy is not easy and it will certainly take time, energy, and effort to build your family wealth.

But it’s absolutely worth it. 

As you build your wealth, remember to focus on your long-term objectives: Focus on why you are building your wealth.

My “why” is my family.

As you build your wealth, you’ll likely start to notice a shift in your mindset, your behavior, and your actions that will help you move closer to your financial goals.

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the rich vs wealthy? Let me know in the comments below!

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Fiona Smith
Fiona Smith
The Millennial Money Woman was founded by Fiona Smith. She holds her Master of Science Degree in Personal Financial Planning and has co-founded a local non-profit community teaching financial literacy to young professionals.

4 thoughts on “Rich vs Wealthy: What’s the Key Difference Between the Two?”

  1. Wealth is the real American dream – those 7 steps are also the key to living a very happy and rewarding life. It’s important to remember what our real priorities are, rather than spending everything we can get our hands on.

    Great article, as usual!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂
      Absolutely, lifestyle creep is a real thing and it’s very important to live below your means in an effort to build long-term and sustainable wealth.

      Cheers!

      Fiona

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