When someone says they are “wealthy”, what does that really mean?
If you think about it, the word “wealth” likely has very different meanings to different people.
For some, they will follow the dictionary definition of “a large amount of money and possessions”. Perhaps they desire a fleet of expensive cars, or an enormous house on a large property. Or, maybe they want to pull a Scrooge McDuck and take a swim in their piles of money.
But for others, the definition of being wealthy may have a simpler meaning. Perhaps they desire the ability to leave their boring day-to-day job and travel the world. Or, be free to pursue their dream career of writing cheap supermarket romance novels. Some may want to find a small homestead in the wilderness and subsist off the land, without any outside contact. Still others may want to open their own small business.
None of these necessarily means you need to have a lot of money, nor do they entail having a lot of material possessions.
I would argue that the truest definition of wealth is closer to the second set of examples. Being wealthy means that you are able to spend your time and energy as you desire, rather than simply trade your labor for the goods required to maintain your life. For example, if you are able to live comfortably on a minimal salary, and as a result can take work as a freelance writer on a part time basis, you free up considerable time for pursuing whatever projects suit your whimsy. I don't think anyone would call such a person wealthy by society's normal definition, but if you ask them, I would suspect they would say they feel wealthy.
Take, for example, the story of Trent from The Simple Dollar. In 2008, he quit his full time job and started working at home full time writing and doing other smaller scale jobs. An explicit reason for his choosing this was because he saw his children growing up, and wanted to spend more time with them. Between his regular daytime job and working on his blog, he found his days become every fuller. So, he chose to cut the cord from his nine-to-five job and focus on his dream. Years and many, many posts later, he certainly seems to be doing well. While I don't know Trent, I would guess that if you asked him, he would probably agree with the statement that in the broadest sense of the word, his life is certainly full of wealth. It's an inspiring story, and one that I would love to some day follow.
I think that becoming wealthy in this sense is really all about focus and sacrifice.
It requires focus, in the sense that you need to keep that goal of financial independence in your mind at all times. Remind yourself every morning what it is you are working for, be it the ability to spend more time with your children, or start that small business you've always wanted. Keep these reminders close by, so that they never slip from your mind.
It also requires sacrifice, in that you need to be able to give up the ability to spend your money, time, or effort on things that don't get you closer to that goal. Life is full of random temptations, and while I'm not suggesting that you become a slave to your goal, it's foolish to think that you can simply carry on living on a whim, rather than carefully considering the minute-by-minute decisions and actions that move you closer to where you want to be.
I think that the notion of wealth today has been twisted by the reality-TV / tabloid driven media such that many view the excessive lifestyles of the super-rich with great envy. I wonder though, if we all got back to basics and thought about the things that are truly important to us, and what we would do with our lives given freedom from reliance on our paychecks every two weeks, if a more achievable and simpler vision of being wealthy might emerge.