How much money does it take to feel and be rich in the United States? It all depends on where you live, and what you want out of life.
For this next installment of OOTS on Wealth, OOTS spoke with Gary Owens, a Mississippi entrepreneur, about the three things a person needs for a happy and fulfilled life.
GO: I’m an entrepreneur, a businessperson. Prior to that I was in the cabinet business. I owned a custom cabinet shop. My wife had been disabled for a number of years. She had been bedridden for about fourteen years. And we finally got to a point where we had to put her to a hospital bed at home. And I know you know how those things look, they’re so ugly and institutional-looking and depressing and so being a woodworker and a cabinet builder, I’ve always been a problem solver. I decided to do something to help her so I invented a headboard and foot board that simply flips over the ends of a hospital bed that turns a hospital bed into a beautiful piece of furniture.
And I did that for her not knowing it wasn’t already on the market. I found out that there was a market for that so I started a company about oh, a little over two years ago called TenderCare Beds. And we’ve done phenomenal. We’ve carried our market all over the United States and moving into some offshore markets at this time and so I have spent the last 2 years taking my invention and making it accessible to everybody. Our home office, corporate headquarters is in Alpharetta, Georgia.
I have a team over there, a business partner. I still live in a little town in northeast Mississippi called Fulton. I’m a fulltime caregiver for my wife. I work out of a home office and spend my days on the telephone literally with people all over the country, all over the world and take care of her at the same time.
OOTS: So now tell me your perspective on wealth.
GO: Envision a wagon wheel. You got spokes and those spokes, you got to have a balance for that wheel to work like it’s supposed to work. And if you remove one spoke, well then you’ve changed the balance of that wheel and it no longer functions and I think the problem that people have is they don’t have the balance.
Some people look at wealth as just being all money and they don’t have some other things in their lives that they need to balance that out with and so to me wealth a balance of having a security, an income or money.
Basically it takes three things I think to be happy: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. And that’s just as much part of the balance as the income or the money part of it. To me you can have all the money in the world and not be wealthy if you don’t have some of these other things you know, someone to love, someone to share it with. You’ve got to be a giver. You’ve got to feel like you’ve accomplished something. You’ve made a difference in this world. And basically that’s what wealth is to me. It’s having that wheel balanced and it rolling efficiently, getting you from where you are to where you want to be.
OOTS: So the impetus for this article is that you know, of course there was a proposal to raise taxes on people earning $250,000/year, they were sort of put in the category of wealthy. A bunch of lawyers sort of earning just $250,000 or a little bit more who came out saying, you know, they are not wealthy. They have these very sad stories about how basically every penny that they take in is accounted for now and that they couldn’t possibly afford paying any more in taxes. That their whole lives would fall apart. And it just got me curious, you know, what would it take to be wealthy?
GO: Well you know, you can be broke at different levels. I’ve got friends that are very, very wealthy and you know, I’ve had times in my life where I’ve had more money than I have now. And I can remember back in the mid-80s, I went from one job or one career to another career where overnight I doubled my income.
The goal in life is to make more money so you can have more things and ultimately to have more things, you have to spend more money and people develop status and always with status, buying things you don’t want to impress people you don’t like with money that you don’t even have.
It’s not what you make; it’s what you get to keep. And a lot of times that’s a decision on your part as to what you get to keep and you know, like I said in the thing I sent back to you, you make $3million/year but if you’re spending $3million+, you’d be as broke as the guy down the road making $50,000/year and spending $51,000. People get accustomed to things and once you get used to that. You can live in a mansion if you’re used to that, that’s not anymore special to you than the person who lives in an average house, who’s used to that.
What we’ve got to do is what I’m trying to do right now – is to develop a good life and a lifestyle that will make me very, very happy that doesn’t take all of my income. That I can actually have a significant amount of income leftover and when you do that, you’ve got choices.
OOTS: In the town where you live, or in the area where you live, how much money do you think a person would have to have in order to not feel stretched living a sort of ordinary life?
GO: If they were good managers of their money, they wouldn’t have to have a lot of money. I live in the state of Mississippi and unless you’ve never been to the state of Mississippi, all you know is what the media has told you. But you can drive up the roads all around me. I mean there’s 3,000-4,000 sq ft homes everywhere, beautiful homes on large acreage of land that if you were in California those homes would cost you one million plus apiece and here you can buy them for less than a couple of hundred thousand.
If a person in my area is making even $100,000/year, they’re considered, you know, fairly wealthy or fairly successful. And that’s not the same where my office is in Atlanta, obviously.
OOTS: Well it sounds like the here is we should all move to Mississippi.
GO: There’s a lot of areas like our area. It’s not just in Mississippi. We’re the fattest state in the country I just saw that. We also have the lowest income but another statistic I just read is more charitable donations, the state of Mississippi residents give more money than any other state.
OOTS: So can I ask you a very personal question? What were you earning at the time where you had this 3,000ft house on the hundred acre lake?
GO: Probably only about $20,000/year.
OOTS on Wealth is an ongoing series on what it means – and how much money it takes – to feel and be wealthy in America. Read previous pieces from the series here.