Here’s a fun question for your next date night: “Do we feel rich?"
Notice that the question here isn’t, “are we rich?" That’s a much less interesting question, one you can easily answer with a quick Google search.
"Do you feel rich?" is a much better question because it turns out to have almost nothing to do with the dollars in your bank account.
We first learned this in our interviews with couples for The 80/80 Marriage.
One couple we talked to decided that they were tired of grinding away at their corporate marketing jobs in New York. So they quit. They bought a van. And they spent the next decade or so experiencing amazing adventures throughout the world on a razor thin budget.
This couple wasn't rich. They didn't have an infinity pool in their backyard. They didn't even have a backyard. But here's the thing: they felt rich.
Other couples had the opposite experience. They were rich. They had millions of dollars, multiple houses, fancy cars, and memberships to exclusive country clubs. And yet they didn’t feel rich.
Despite all their money, their lavish trips, and their unlimited spending power, they somehow managed to get sucked into the game of comparison. “Sure, We’re doing well," they might say. "But we don't have a private jet like our friend from business school or a house in Napa like our neighbor.”
This points to one of the startling truths of money psychology: being rich isn’t the same as feeling rich. These two don't go together because feeling rich isn’t an external condition. It’s not a measure of your net worth. It’s not a function of how many $100 plus bottles of wine you drink in a week.
Feeling rich is a mindset.
So how can you and your partner feel richer?
Feeling rich starts with getting clear on your values as a couple. Do you value adventure? Do you value freedom? Do you value unbounded time? Do you value dining at fancy restaurants?
These questions matter because the easiest way to feel rich is to live in alignment with your values. If you value being in nature, feeling rich costs you almost nothing. But it does require that you create time and space for long hikes, camping trips, or picnics in the park.
If you value service and philanthropy, feeling rich requires different priorities and trade-offs. It might require carving out more time for volunteer work or cutting down on personal spending so you have more to give.
So see if you can identify your top three to five values as a couple (check out the "Shared Success" chapter for more instruction).
We experienced this trap during a barbecue this summer. The moment we arrived at this event, we felt like we were living in an alternate reality. The hosts had a house worthy of the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. They catered the event with enough food to feed a small village. It felt less like an informal barbecue, more like a gathering on the East Lawn of the White House.
We drove home feeling poor. "We couldn't throw a party like that,” we thought. But then we realized what was actually happening. We were caught in the trap of taking on another couple's values. We felt poor not because we were poor but because we were subconsciously seeing our life through somebody else’s value system.
The point is this -- to feel rich, you must also become aware of this tendency toward comparison that can lead you to take on the values of others and forget what really matters to you.
Feeling rich is a mindset. But it also requires action. It requires that we align the way we save and spend with our values.
Imagine if you didn’t do this. Imagine that you say you value having an impact in the world and spending time with your family but you end up working long hours and weekends, all so you can buy that new Tesla or Mastercraft for your weekend boating excursions.
No matter how much money you actually have, you're likely to feel poor because your life is out of alignment with your values.
If you want to feel rich, you’re better off lining up your values with the way you save and spend money. To do this, try following these two basic guidelines.
Guideline 1: Save by cutting back on the things that have little to do with your values. This might be all those impulse buys at Costco or the new clothes that you don’t really need or those expensive happy hours out with colleagues.
Guideline 2: Spend more on the things that bring you joy. If you value health, spend more on the monthly massage or acupuncture treatment. If you love cooking together, spend more on cooking classes, recipe books, or grocery shopping. By spending more on the things you love and value, you begin feeling richer.
Want to go deeper? Check out the Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You to Be Rich. It’s a book that explores this strange psychological phenomenon around money and values in greater depth.