Never enough

A study about millionaires, and 7 other things worth your time.

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A read a study about millionaires a while back — and something that many of them supposedly have in common. 

I was going to say it’s not flattering, but on second thought it might have something to do with how some of them became millionaires in the first place.

First, a quick story. Then, we'll get to the data.  

Maybe three years ago now, I was visiting a good friend. We have a lot in common. We're about the same age, roughly similar education, same strong work ethic. 

We've followed different paths though, and frankly he's a lot more financially successful than I am.

Even though I've met a lot of very wealthy people as a result of my writing, he might be one of the richest dudes I know.

It's not a big deal in our friendship; I've got no complaints about my own situation, and it doesn't get in the way of anything. But that doesn't mean it's not noticeable. 

In fact, when I was out with him and a half dozen of his work colleagues that evening, it meant everyone at the table had a net worth that was a multiple of mine, many times over. 

Here's what I realized: It's never enough. 

Even the wealthiest people in the group spent a lot of time talking about things they wished they could afford: Bigger houses, more expensive boats, more extravagant cars, more impressive vacations. All that kind of stuff.

They were completely self-aware about this, by they way. They even joked about it—a sort of rich people's gallows humor.

But I remembered this when I later read a fascinating statistic from Ameriprise Financial, which surveyed “more than 3,000 U.S. adults ... with at least $100,000 in investable assets, including more than 700 millionaires.”

The big takeaway: Only 13 percent of people with more than $1 million in investable assets think of themselves as “wealthy.”

Note that “investable assets” in this context focused on liquid assets—excluding things like a primary residence, which is what makes up the lion's share of many people's net worth.

So these are people who likely are worth several million dollars, at least, all in.

Business Insider, which reported on this statistic, also cited two other studies with similar results:

  • The 2019 Modern Wealth Survey from Charles Schwab found that Americans think it takes $2.3 million for someone to break into the ranks of the wealthy.

  • A separate study with Morning Consult that found wide disparities among how much money people think you need in order to go from the middle class to the wealthy. In some cases, people earning as little as $50,000 a year felt rich; in others, people earning $100,000 felt poor.

Of course, $1 million today ain’t what it used to be. It also matters where you live, and how old you are, and probably whether having a few million puts you in line with or ahead of your friends or peers.

But still, the median net worth of a U.S. household is only about $97,300, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances.

Even at just $1 million, you'd be 10 times above that. So, does a few million dollars make you wealthy?

I guarantee you that a lot of people in America would say yes, it absolutely does. But I can also imagine how it feels differently when you get there.

And, I automatically think of a quote (man, I’m all about the quotes these days) — something the author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote nearly 100 years ago: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”

How wealthy are you? For the vast majority of millionaires, apparently, the answer is: Well, compared to what?


7 other things worth your time

  • Apple says it wants to start building cars by 2024. It’s not the first effort, but this is the new target, apparently. (Reuters)

  • President-elect Biden got the first dose of the two-phase Covid vaccine, live on television, and said the Trump administration “deserves some credit getting this off the ground with Operation Warp Speed.” Vice President Pence got his shot on TV over the weekend. (NY Post)

  • The Catholic Church issued a statement saying that it’s “morally acceptable” for Roman Catholics to receive Covid-19 vaccines, even if they were based on research that used fetal tissue from abortions. (National Catholic Reporter)

  • Stanford University issued an apology after the first draft of its plan to rollout vaccinations left all of its 1,300 medical residents off the list. (NPR)

  • Here’s an interesting summary of why Dave Chappelle is imploring people not to watch reruns of Chappelle’s Show on HBO Max. Basically, it’s because the contract he produced the show under, which was before streaming was a thing, leaves him with no royalties for streamed content. But it’s part of a bigger discussion about creative people getting screwed on deals for their IP. (Vox)

  • Millions of packages that should have been delivered by Christmas won’t be, according to the U.S. Postal Service, as a result of “continuing fallout from a hobbled cost-cutting program launched by the postmaster general,” along with employees out sick and high volume. It’s a similar story in the U.K. — lots of packages that were supposed to arrive by December 25, won’t. (Washington Post, $, Daily Mail, which I just realized is quite ironic)

  • College tuitions are going down. Down, I say! Well, at least at a small handful of very expensive liberal arts colleges, like Oberlin, which cut tuition by $10,000 (but only for new students), now that “the Covid-19 pandemic has upended college life -- and college finances -- for millions.” (Bloomberg, $)


Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, as I only wish I had stacks of hundreds lying around like that. I wrote a while back about millionaires like this at Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. 

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