Seems that worrying about money is something working people do at most income levels. Bloomberg magazine surveyed members of the Top 10% — Americans with household incomes over $175,000 per year — about whether they consider themselves rich.
About a quarter of survey respondents said they felt Poor/Very Poor or like they are Just Getting By. Remember that this is the top 10% of earners. Some of those featured in the accompanying article have incomes above the 95th percentile. By no stretch of the imagination are they poor. They're not even middle income. But they don't feel rich.
Lifestyle creep certainly plays a role in why people don't feel rich. For many people, more money is their signal to spend more — private school, a fancier car, a home in the tony part of town. They have the capacity to spend more, but not quite so much capacity that they don't have to think about money. That's a surefire way to feel, um, “un-rich.”
There's also the comparison factor. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, is a sociological look at households who earn $250,000 or more annually. Some of these families also have net worths in the millions. A few have net worths in the high five or low six figures.
As its author, Rachel Sherman notes, people who compare themselves to people further up the income and wealth ladder feel less rich than those who compare themselves to people further down the ladder. In other words, $250,000 seems rich, or at least very comfortable, if you're comparing it to the U.S. median income. It feels less comfortable if you know a guy — alas, it's usually a guy — who earns two or three times as much. Such people often describe themselves as “comfortable,” “fortunate,” and “upper-middle class,” but not necessarily “rich.”
This is precisely why I do not feel rich. My/Our income — such as it is — depends on labor, not wealth. Our wealth means we have a longer runway for withstanding a job loss. But after a couple of months, we'd need a job or some projects to start rolling in.
And I think that's why so many six figure earners do not feel rich. The bottom might be a little further away from us, but we can still see it.