Bullish: How Wealthy Are You Really?

How wealthy you are doesn’t have all that much to do with what’s in your bank account.

It also has to do with where you’re reading this from right now, and whether it’s possible for you to get “in trouble” for reading TheGloss during “work hours.” It has a lot to do with how much of your time you have to yourself. It has a lot to do with whether many of the things people rich people wish for are things you already have — free time, being able to finish a novel without being interrupted, attending mid-day yoga class when it’s less crowded.

I live on Wall Street, where the people make a lot of money, and spend a lot of money on dry cleaning their Thomas Pink shirts. Everyone has such sharp creases!

I often encounter these people when I am getting my morning espresso. Around 9:30 (but sometimes as late as 11), I roll out of bed, throw on a sundress, and go grab some coffee. I suppose the Blackberry addicts waiting in line with me might seem wealthier than I am. But what good is wealth if someone tells you when and where to be nearly every damn morning of your life, and every coffee you ever drink is to-go, because financial instruments simply don’t get traded from sun-drenched tables near the window in cafes? What’s the fucking point?

Four-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss (whom I also wrote about in a previous column) offers a “Lifestyle Quotient” calculator that purports to measure wealth more usefully than in dollars. You enter how many hours per week you work and how many vacation days you get per year. That’s it. Your “LQ” is how many hours you have to work for one day of vacation.

Of course, there are limits to that approach. For instance, most people would prefer LQ of 80 at a job they love than an LQ of 40 at a job they hate. Also, if your regular life is as pleasant as a vacation, vacationing is hardly the end goal. People who like their work sometimes like to work on vacation. It blurs a bit. (This is true. Working — typically writing math and logic problems for textbooks — gives me something to do in cafes in foreign lands where I don’t speak the language. I also like to add up how much money I’m making by doing this, and then actually make a profit on my meal. It really depends on the exchange rate. To each her own).

I wrote a column two weeks ago in which I alleged that real friends are the ones about whom you know how much money they make and how much they pay for rent. Here’s another test of how wealthy you are:

How many hours per week do you have to work to pay your rent? (Please feel free to post your answer in the comments!)

Financial writers always say you shouldn’t spend more than 25% of your income on rent, so we can infer that your number shouldn’t be higher than 40. (Actually, if you limit rent to 25% of your after-tax income and you work a “regular job,” then the first 40 of the 160 hours you work per month just goes towards taxes, so 25% of the 120 hours you have left is 30 hours, not 40).

When I first moved to New York in 2003 and made less than $20,000 per year, I still managed the number 18. By 2008, after building a business, doing six months of unpaid training to get a high-paying part-time gig, and then moving in with a boyfriend, I achieved the holy grail of 8.5. Now, my income is higher — on paper, I seem wealthier than I did back then — but my number is currently 24. You can get richer and still get poorer.

Of course, this method has its limitations. If you live rent-free with Mom and Dad, your number is 0, but that’s hardly the goal. Also, back when my number was 18, I lived in East Harlem; now I live in a neighborhood where absolutely never has a stranger on the street quizzed me about whether I like his particular ethnicity of cock. Freedom from unexpected cock-based inquiries is a little-acknowledged form of wealth.

Another little-acknowledged form of wealth is spending most of your day in an environment suitable for people who live in human bodies. This does not include most offices. No one can comfortably use the bathroom in a stall next to one’s coworkers, knowing that people can identify you by your shoes. It’s easier to lose weight and stay healthy if you can cook your own food, and eat when you’re actually hungry. And how many frustrated individuals have been caught masturbating (NSFW) at their desks?

(The Stuff Magazine video linked above is really mean, actually. Some guy’s employer set him up — videotaped him jerking off while alone in the office and posted it everywhere — although the guy isn’t really recognizable. While it’s obviously not appropriate to look at porn and masturbate at work, does that really mean that this guy couldn’t have been a good worker? He lives in a human body, and that human body is full of testosterone. If he had been permitted to work at home, perhaps he would’ve decided to complete eight hours’ worth of work in ten hours by taking jerk-off breaks periodically throughout the day. Great! That would probably make him a lot more productive, and he could happily count his flexible, wank-friendly work environment as a form of wealth).

Of course, money is important. I don’t mean to imply that the belligerent homeless man who shits wherever he wants to, like on the A train platform, is truly the wealthiest of us all. There’s also cultural capital. Living in a developed nation is its own source of wealth; we have libraries, clean water, public schools, etc. Anything else people spend money for that you already have (speaking good English, a youthful appearance, being thin) is also a form of wealth. There are also, of course, forms of privilege that one wouldn’t want to count as “wealth,” even if they have a similar effect on a person’s life. But still, who doesn’t love a quiz?

How Wealthy Are You Quiz?

Answer “true” or “false” for each.

Questions About Actual Money:

  • You make enough money to pay all your expenses (10 points)
  • You make enough money to buy all the little things (lattes, new music, drinks out with friends) that make daily life decent. (5 points)
  • You make enough money to do whatever the hell you want, if you could only get the time off, which you can’t until you retire. (2 points)
  • You make enough money to do whatever the hell you want, and you have all the time in the world, and you totally earned it all yourself. (1,000,000 points)
  • You have a lot of money provided by your parents or someone you’re having sex with, and you have no self-respect. (0 points)
  • You work less than 20 hours per month to pay your rent or mortgage. (5 points)

Questions About Freedom:

  • Most days, no one tells you when to wake up in the morning. (1 point)
  • You can choose to work less for less money: You can take time off without “losing your job,” even if you don’t get paid for time off. (1 point)
  • You can choose to work more for more money: You have the ability to make more money than you make right now by working more or harder, beginning immediately. (1 point)
  • No one can make you do work you won’t get paid for (i.e., salaried employees being forced to stay late or come in on the weekends). (1 point)
  • You could take three months off to do something awesome without quitting your job. (1 point)
  • As long as you’re cool with not getting paid for not getting anything done, you can look at whatever you want on the Internet. (1 point)

Questions About Health and Normal Human Needs:

  • You can use the bathroom, cook food or eat in a restaurant, watch porn, or take a nap whenever you want to. (1 point)
  • You can exercise whenever you want, including more than once per day, or whenever it would help you be productive. Similarly, you can work in your exercise clothes. (Exercise, by the way, directly improves executive function. The inability to punctuate your workday with exercise is literally making you less productive). (1 point)
  • You don’t commute. Or else, you do so during non-peak hours. Studies have shown that commuters suffer the same level of job-related stress as combat pilots and riot police, mostly due to lack of control over the situation. (1 point)

Questions About Cultural Capital:

  • Your family members are well-off enough that they could take you in if needed, thus allowing you to take bigger risks in life. (1 point)
  • You know people who could get you a job if you really needed one. (1 point)
  • You live in a country whose main language you speak and write well. (1 point)
  • You are attractive. (1 point)
  • You have access to public libraries, public transportation, and other services that don’t depend on your income. (1 point)
  • You live in a city that provides free arts events, free museums, and enjoyable public parks. (1 point)
  • You have access to health insurance and disability benefits that don’t depend on your employment situation or history (i.e., Europeans, Canadians). (5 points)
  • You are Swedish. (15 points)

As with any measure of wealth, including just counting up your actual dollars, there are many different definitions of wealthy, and of course the wealthy usually still want to be wealthier. And I’m certain I haven’t thought of everything that should be included in such a quiz. But, as this scale goes, I’d say 25 points or so is pretty wealthy.

Now, if someone could just give me the name of an editor at Seventeen and I could only get them to publish this quiz instead of “How to Tell If He Likes You!”, my work here would be done.

Share This Post:
    • beth

      It’s funny… for the quiz i wasn’t doing so well until the very last section, where I got pretty much all of them (apart from being Swedish). Shows that anyone living in a First World country is pretty wealthy compared to many places in the rest of the world, who don’t have a lot of those things that we all take for granted.

    • judy

      I got 38. Feeling pretty good right now.

    • amelia

      this statement “You have a lot of money provided by your parents or someone you’re having sex with, and you have no self-respect.” made me so angry i could spit fire.

      I do get a lot of help from my parents right now. They have endless patience with me and have blessed me with the opportunity to go to college and get a job and know that i won’t graduate in 10s of thousands of dollars of debt. It does not conjure any feelings lacking of self worth in me. If anything it grants me humility for the people I know who work hard in and out of school to make it.
      I still respect myself when I know i’ve worked hard to earn good grades. I still respect myself when I go home from my part time job, which is what allows me to buy the little things like lattes.

      It makes me angry that this quiz assumes that I’m some how taking advantage and I am not grateful of a gift or opportunity that it would be illogical to not take!

      • diana

        i agree, amelia. for me, that was what made this post go from something that seemed well-written and thoughtful to trashy and totally unprofessional. i don’t even need to justify why that line was so awful, because how people get their money is pretty much nobody else’s business. the whole thing reeks of jealousy to me. not everyone who gets money from their parents is an ungrateful, unappreciative brat.

    • Zara

      Feeling pretty awesome about my 34. Yay for being Canadian!

    • Emily

      I found your column today via Gala Darling’s blog and devoured every post immediately. I would love to see posts on negotiation, making extra money on the side and developing skills.

    • Jen Dziura

      Emily, thanks so much! You will definitely see at least some of those topics covered.

      Hi, Amelia. I edited that item a couple of times, and specifically wrote “and,” not “therefore.” It sounds as though that item does not apply to you. It only applies to you if both those things are true. I did cover a similar topic in the column, “If a Man Pays Your Bills, No One Will Respect You as an Entrepreneur.” However, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to give 15 points for being Swedish (and 5 points for living in other countries where college is basically free) and then blame young (presumably American) women for not being able to pay for college on their own.

      • Michelle

        I have to agree with Amelia. Even if you have softened that bit with an ‘and’, I found it quite insulting as well. Adding in the ‘no respect’ part as an ‘and’ still implies that it is linked to the pervious statement.

        As a masters student in a country where I do have to pay for tuition (not the USA), my fiance and I made the decision that I would stop working until I finished my masters and he would cover the bills during this time. I don’t feel that there should be any shame associated with any person in a similar position, as I would do the same for my parter and would not think any less of him, or anyone else.

    • Jen Dziura

      Beth, I really enjoyed your comment. You get all the credit for that insight. I wish I had been clever enough to have designed a quiz engineered to make us all grateful for the rest of the day :)

    • shirley

      The quiz would have been a lot more fun to take if it automagically added up the points and then gave you an interpretation of your score at the end.

      There are WordPress plugins that do that, by the way. So you wouldn’t have to code it yourself.

    • Hannah

      yay for belonging to Sweden. I’m not Swedish but a permanent resident, and I tell you: the benefits outweigh the terribly depressing winter weather. I score pretty low in the beginning but Sweden makes up for a lot I guess.

    • Foush

      This was such a great post Jen! Ive been meaning to comment for ages but this one really spoke to me. Ii have so many friends that work in investment banks pulling 100 hour work weeks and sacrificing weekends, evenings and every minute of free time for this idea of being wealthy. I work for myself and although it’s not as steady as a full time gig, the fact that I can roll out of bed at 11 somedays, and work on a Saturday when I just wasn’t feeling it on a Tuesday means more to me than a lot of coin in the bank. At the end of the day for meni just need a lot of freedom in living my life and the flexibility to enjoy every day is totally worball the risks.

    • Becca

      This was a great article, just wanted to say I really liked your humor and wit.

      “Freedom from unexpected cock-based inquiries is a little-acknowledged form of wealth.”

      just. perfect.

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