Do You Consider Yourself Rich?

I hate to admit it, but because I spend almost all my time on the phone for my day job, I have come to the point where I often choose not to answer my own phone after hours. I figure they’re telemarketing calls for the most part, and if they’re from friends or family, they’ll leave a message and I’ll call back. Call it an occupational hazard.

But one time not too long ago, I did answer and it was a telemarketer or, to be fair, someone conducting a survey. I guess I was in a more charitable mood than usual that day and I went along with it, in part because I know how it feels to call someone who’s uncollaborative. Granted, my outgoing calls are to offer assistance and training that the client itself has requested and thus aren’t unsolicited calls, but I still feel the pain of those people who make their living calling other people.

The survey was about smoking and had all the hallmark questions that I despise in such surveys. I contend, for instance, that normal people simply don’t consume products and think themselves high class for consuming them. However, one question caught me off guard and I stubbled as to how to answer it. That question was, “Do you consider yourself rich?”

I think most people wouldn’t hesitate and answer “No” even if they make a very comfortable living. And besides, what is “rich”? The nominal sum a lot of us make per year these days would have seemed enormous some 15 or 20 years ago, but today it provides a normal living.

As I think back to the survey, I don’t recall what I answered. But the reason the question stumped me is the reason I’m remembering the survey just now. I still have no idea if the day job will continue after March 15. However, I do know that by that one-year anniversary, I will have brought a 27K debt down to about 2.5K. Yes, in one year! And it’s not like I socked away every spare penny to cover the debt. In fact, by my standards, I’ve lived pretty high in the last year, seldom thinking twice about eating out or getting that bottle of wine. But those things I did or got while otherwise maintaining the relatively spartan existence to which I’ve become accustomed for so long.

So for me, being effectively out of debt soon for the first time in my adult life gives me the opposite feeling of being poor. And if the day job continues for a while after March 15, I’ll be able to maintain that enviable status and start saving as I should have long ago if I had had something to save. But given that the norm is to be in debt up to one’s eyeballs, I wonder if being debt-free and being able to pay-as-you-go is what should be considered “rich” in 2007.