Knowing the Difference Between 'Rich' and 'Wealthy'

By Rebecca Lake · November 21, 2023 · 11 minute read

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Knowing the Difference Between 'Rich' and 'Wealthy'

If someone has a lot of money, you might say they’re rich or even wealthy. But there’s actually a difference between wealthy and rich in terms of how much money you’re talking about and how someone uses their financial resources.

A rich person can have a lot of money or earn a high income, but their money may only go so far if their lifestyle is extravagant or they take on significant debt. They may live in the moment or spend freely, compared to a wealthy person who’s more focused on securing their long-term financial picture.

Is it better to be rich vs. wealthy? Here’s a closer look. Understanding the difference between them can help you to shape your personal financial plan.

Key Points

•   There is a difference between being rich and being wealthy in terms of money and financial resources.

•   Being rich typically means having a lot of possessions and material wealth, while being wealthy is more about having sustainable and lasting wealth.

•   Rich people may focus more on spending and maintaining a certain lifestyle, while wealthy people may prioritize accumulating assets that produce income or appreciate in value.

•   The distinction between rich and wealthy also lies in how they approach investments, expenses, and financial planning.

What Does ‘Rich’ Mean?

If you ask friends, family members, or coworkers whether they’d like to be rich, quite a few of them might say yes. After all, if everyone was satisfied with their financial situation, then get rich quick schemes wouldn’t exist. But what is the difference between rich and wealthy, and does it matter?

If you look up “rich” in a dictionary, the most common definition centers on what a person has. Someone who’s rich has a lot of possessions and material wealth. So a rich celebrity or social media influencer, for example, might own multiple homes, cars, or jewelry that’s worth millions. They may spend their time jet-setting around the world or partying with other rich people.

That’s what it means to be rich in a financial sense, but someone could also be rich in other ways. For example, someone who has an extensive personal network may be said to be rich in friends. And someone who’s extremely well-learned or well-traveled may be described as being rich in knowledge and experience.

There can be significant differences in how one person views being rich compared to another. For example, a Gen Zer thinks that, on average, $394,000 in income is sufficient to achieve rich status. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, believe that you need over $1 million in income to be considered rich, according to a survey from luxury real estate website RubyHome.

What Does ‘Wealthy’ Mean?

When discussing what it means to be wealthy vs. rich, it’s easy to assume they’re similar. Both rich people and wealthy people may maintain a lifestyle that’s posh and out of reach for the average person. The distinction between wealthy and rich, however, is that wealth is more sustainable and lasting than simple riches.

There are different ways to measure wealth. The Census Bureau, for instance, uses net worth to estimate the wealth of American households. Net worth is the difference between your assets (what you own) and your liabilities (what you owe). Someone who is wealthy may prioritize accumulating assets that produce income or appreciate in value over time, while limiting their exposure to debt.

Wealthy people may enjoy much higher incomes than everyday people, and, importantly, they may spend less than they earn. Some wealthy people are born into money; others build their fortunes through a combination of career, entrepreneurship, and careful investment.

When talking about wealth, some make the distinction between new money vs. old money. New money is earned while old money is passed down from generation to generation. In the U.S., many of the wealthiest individuals are well-known business owners or investors, like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few. Some of these billionaires were born into wealthy families while others were not.

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Key Differences Between Rich and Wealthy

When comparing rich vs. wealthy people, the way they approach money matters. Rich people may see money as a means to buy things and maintain a certain lifestyle. Wealthy people, on the other hand, may view money as a means of creating more money, either through investments or business ventures.

Here’s a closer look at the difference between wealthy and rich.

Amount of Money

There’s no set dollar amount at which someone goes from being rich to wealthy. Instead, it’s largely about perception. For example, you might feel rich if you normally keep $500 in your bank account and you decide to use a tax refund to bump that up to $5,000. Meanwhile, someone who wins $100 million in the lottery after working a minimum-wage job for years might think of themselves as rich rather than wealthy.

Generally, the higher your net worth, the closer you get to the wealthy vs. rich divide. Someone who has $10 million in assets and no debt, for example, may be in a better position to invest and fund philanthropic efforts than someone who’s making $200,000 a year but has a negative net worth because of debt. The person with the $10 million in assets is wealthy, while the other person’s earning power could put them in the “rich” bucket, though their debt actually erases that upon a closer look.


People who are rich may put spending and funding their lifestyle ahead of investing. So even though they might pull in a six- or even seven-figure income each year, a lot of that money goes right back out of their bank accounts. They might have some retirement savings if they’re participating in, say, their 401(k) at work, but investing may get pushed to the backburner.

Wealth investing can look very different. Wealthy people tend to invest their money so they can grow it and turn it into more money. They may have money in real estate, the stock market, and other investments that provide them with passive income or aids in building additional wealth for themselves and future generations.

How They Live Their Lives

Money can be a tool for improving your quality of life, but what that life looks like can be very different if you’re rich vs. wealthy. A rich person might think nothing of dropping $10,000 on a shopping trip or last-minute travel. They live in the moment and don’t consider how spending that money today might affect them tomorrow.

A wealthy person may still enjoy the finer things, but their approach might be more balanced. For example, billionaire Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest people in the U.S., but he notably lived in a relatively modest home that he purchased in 1958 for over seven decades. Other wealthy millionaires and billionaires may similarly adopt a frugal mindset or focus on giving away large amounts of their wealth to good causes.


Certain hobbies and pastimes are the domain of the rich or wealthy, simply because of how much they cost. Yachting, big game hunting, and polo are just a few examples of activities that are more commonly the domain of wealthier people who can afford the associated costs.

Rich people may also indulge in those kinds of pastimes but on a smaller scale than those who are wealthy. Instead of buying their own private yacht or plane, for example, they might lease one when they want to plan a getaway. Or instead of going to their private island for the summer, they may splurge on a couple of weeks’ vacation in St. Tropez.


Rich and wealthy people can have very different expenses, depending on their lifestyle. A rich person may have a mortgage payment, car payments, private school tuition payments for their kids, and all the regular day-to-day living expenses such as utilities and food. And they may also have credit card bills or student loans to pay each month.

Wealthy people may not have debt-related expenses, such as a mortgage or car payment, since they might own those assets outright. If they use credit cards, those bills might get paid in full each month rather than accruing interest.

Ultra wealthy people may have unique expenses that the rich don’t, such as maintenance for one or more vacation homes, insurance for a private jet or yacht, and staff payroll if they employ housekeepers, landscapers, and other individuals to work in their home. They may also pay out expenses to financial advisors or investment advisors for wealth management services.

Streams of Income

A rich person may rely on their paychecks from working a regular job as their main source of income. They might also earn money from side hustles or businesses they own, but generally, they’re typically working for a living in some way. If they don’t keep up their pace at work, they could lose that status of being rich.

Millionaires and billionaires may be more diverse in terms of where their income derives from. An oft-cited IRS study suggests that wealthier people have seven different streams of income on average. They may have a job, but a large part of their income may come from different types of investments or business ventures. Wealthy people can also generate income from pensions or annuities. It this way, they are less beholden to what you might call the daily grind.

Budgeting and Financial Planning

Rich people might make a six-figure or even seven figure income or more, but they may not save or invest much of that income. (Think about those actors and singers you may have read about who have frittered away their fortunes on luxury real estate, travel, fashion, food, and wine.) They might have a budget, but they don’t always stick to it. Perhaps they’re spending more than they make as they attempt to cover their lifestyle. Rich people may not be very forward-thinking in terms of planning for retirement or other long-term goals.

Wealthy people may not have to live by a strict budget either if their assets substantially outpace their spending. But they may take financial planning more seriously and be proactive about things like investing and retirement planning. They may also focus on estate planning and the best ways to pass on as much of their wealth as possible while minimizing taxes for their heirs.

Is It Plausible to Become Wealthy?

Can a regular person become wealthy? The answer is that it depends on where you’re starting from, where you want to go, and your strategy for getting there. Building wealth in your 30s, for example, could be easier if you have a solid income, no debt, and you’re committed to living well below your means. The odds of starting a billion-dollar company and becoming wealthy overnight are, on the other hand, much slimmer.

Having a clear plan and getting an early start are two of the keys to building wealth. The longer you have to save and invest money, the more room that money has to grow through the power of compounding interest. It’s also important to choose investments wisely to maximize their growth potential. Understanding your individual time horizon for investing and your risk tolerance can help you to decide which investment types to include in your portfolio.

Talking to a financial advisor can help you get some clarity on what you might need to do to begin building sustainable wealth. An advisor can review your situation, offer advice, or suggest tactics for creating a realistic budget, paying down debt, saving, and investing for the long-term.

Banking With SoFi

Whether you consider yourself rich, wealthy, or neither of the above, where you keep your money matters. Choosing a bank that charges fewer fees while offering a higher rate on your account can help you make the most of the money you have.

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Is a millionaire wealthy?

Whether a millionaire is wealthy depends on how much money they have and how they use it. Someone who has a million-dollar net worth but spends much of what they earn buying things might be rich but not wealthy, compared to someone who has a $100 million net worth and no debt.

Is six-figures rich?

Someone with a six-figure income might consider themselves to be rich if they’re able to enjoy an upgraded lifestyle. For example, traveling frequently or buying luxury items are often associated with people who are rich. However, if that person lives in an expensive city, has a couple of kids in college, and is supporting a special-needs relative, they might not feel rich at all, despite their income. In other words, it depends on personal circumstances.

Is it better to be rich or wealthy?

Being rich vs. wealthy isn’t necessarily a matter of one being better than another. It all comes down to what you do with your money. If you think of yourself as rich, can live the lifestyle you want, and are avoiding debt while investing wisely, then that may be more than enough. And remember that being wealthier might ensure that you’re financially secure, but it doesn’t guarantee greater happiness.

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