Living with credit

How do you define wealth? For me, it’s a menu

Erica Sandberg

Like countless Americans, I struggled financially throughout young adulthood. During those lean years, I fantasized about an easier life, one that did not include trying to stretch every single cent to the maximum.

Everyone has a different definition of wealth. As a young adult, mine was focused on my stomach. Or, more specifically, it was centered on menus.

My daydream went a little something like this: I’m hungry, so I start searching for an appealing restaurant. The place with the most enticing cuisine and aromas wins.

After being seated, a server hands me a menu. Let’s see, what am I in the mood for? Steak? Crab cakes? Oh, everything looks good; I’ll take it all!

Most importantly, not once do I review the prices. At that point in my life, my definition of living large was the freedom to order anything I was in the mood for, despite the cost or portion size. What is cheapest and most filling – that’s irrelevant.

Wealth, for me, meant no more:

  • Sharing cups of soup or tiny salads with a fellow penny-pincher.
  • Gorging on the free bread and then asking for refills.
  • Panicking when friends suggest an eatery that is outside my means.
  • Sticking to tap water instead of a glass of wine, a cocktail, ice tea or other beverage.

That was a long time ago, and my circumstances have changed a lot since then.

Sure, I still pause when I check the menu prices, becoming outraged at a $20 burger (fries not included — what madness is this!?).  However, there are occasions now when I go for the lobster roll without carefully weighing the cost. Opulence, I has it. Wow.

Identify your personal marker of affluence. I bet you have one, and it’s probably not nearly as elaborate as living in a mansion, flying in private jets or having drawers full of jewels. Millions or billions in the bank? Wonderful, but your definition of “wealth” may be a lot simpler than that. Achievable, even.

When you do reach your personal level of affluence, celebrate. Remember to be amazed when you:

  • Fill up the tank without having to poke around sofa seat cushions for enough change that will add up to a gallon of gas.
  • Comfortably answer the phone because you paid off your bills and no longer receive calls from creditors.
  • Can pay for your kid’s ballet lessons or hockey league fees with cash, and not have to beg for a break.
  • Delete your debt and maintain a zero balance on your credit cards.

The old you would rejoice at such achievements. Congratulate yourself – today you’re rich.

Please share with me what wealth means to you, and how that may have changed over the years. Email me at or tweet me your tips at @EricaJSandberg.

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