Wealth Is More Than Money

The meaning of "wealth" goes far beyond having a lot of money. It's more about what money can do for you.

What does wealth mean to you?

If you're like many Americans, your view of wealth goes far beyond having a lot of money. It's more about what money can do for you.

At Schwab, every year we survey 1,000 Americans on what it means to feel wealthy. In our 2023 Modern Wealth Survey, I find it encouraging that the findings confirm this view: feeling and being wealthy is about much more than a bank account balance. It's about choice, control, and clarity and also social life, family, career balance and flexibility, experiences, and good health.

Let's discuss key findings and thoughts, as you invest, build, manage, and use wealth.

What money can—and can't buy

When it comes to feeling wealthy, survey respondents increasingly say they place value and lean into things that money can't buy. For 62% of survey respondents, enjoying healthy relationships with their loved ones better describes wealth than having a lot of money.

Clearly, money helps. Otherwise, why would any of us work, save, and invest? But in the emotional yin and yang of finances and investing, it can be the freedom and ownership that money can "buy" that provides the choice and control many of us aim for. Saving and investing is the path to that freedom.

A higher percentage, 70%, agreed. They said that wealth is more about not having to stress over money than having more of it. Again, having more doesn't hurt. Having enough, though, and managing it to live well, retire, and achieve key financial needs can reduces stress, increases confidence, and provides more choice and control.

What wealth means to me

Table of responses when survey respondents were asked to choose what statement best describes how Americans think of wealth.

What's particularly interesting is that those surveyed mentioned well-being (40%) over money (32%) or assets (26%) when describing what it means to be wealthy. And they did this not by choosing their favorite answer to a multiple-choice question, but in their own words. Well-being was more important than anything else.

What's most important to you, in your financial life?

Well-being takes discipline—and planning

I've had the privilege to work with a number of researchers in the financial planning world and many professionals who have studied in academic programs, and it's interesting to note, this academic field has come out of the study of home economics and the effective use of our resources. We all have resources—financial, social, and human. Planning is about maximizing the effective use of the resources we have.

A financial plan—that ultimately leads to a wealth management plan as financial assets grow—is a process. Done well, it's a step-by-step commitment to identify clear priorities then action steps to manage our financial resources to create stability and flexibility so we can use money to achieve our goals. More money helps, certainly. But absent winning the lottery, we've found that building wealth through investing takes commitment, discipline, and a plan you execute over time.

Here's another thing I find encouraging: a record number of Americans have started investing in the last few years. Now, in a more challenging market, it's more important and beneficial than ever to set a clear path and have a plan that goes beyond picking a stock, a cryptocurrency, or a high-profile "winning" trend. A good plan helps put discipline, direction, and guardrails in place to guide us through the inevitable market swings so we can manage risks during times of stress, but also identify potential opportunities to continue to grow, preserve, and use wealth.

Whether you're an experienced investor or a new investor—what principles and steps guide your strategy?

What does it mean to have a plan?

No surprise that in this year's survey, respondents said that social media and friends effect how they think about and then "plan" investments—and money overall. A third (33%) said they make financial decisions based on input from friends or "influencers." Yet, only 5% said that the financial advice they receive on social media is the advice they trust the most. An interesting finding—and paradox. Why do we seek out, and then follow, these sources in an area of our lives as important as finances?

Americans have more access to investing than ever before. They also have more access to information, education, and "noise." Most people likely want and will benefit from straightforward educational tools, insights, and guidance to "put the pieces together" to create a plan to build the assets needed for financial flexibility and freedom – then preserve and ultimately use those assets.

Why is this important? Among survey respondents who have a documented financial plan, 70% said they feel more in control of their finances, 90% said they feel confident that they will reach their financial goals, and 65% said they feel "wealthy." And feeling "wealthy" is much more than a dollar amount, as we've learned.

"Plans" and "planning" come in many types. The most impactful planning, research1 tells us, occurs when you tap knowledgeable experts for their insight, but also for their coaching and support when you need it. A documented financial plan—completed with a qualified professional—with guardrails, check-ins, actions steps, and triggers for when and when not to make adjustments (e.g., panic in a down market) is more impactful than a less formal plan without this support.

What type of plan do you have to manage your investments—and what support works best for you?

Bottom line

"Wealth is good," someone famously said. But wealth is more than dollars. In our 2023 Modern Wealth Survey, we find that for many of us, "wealth" is more about what dollars do for us and how we use them to achieve our financial and life goals. Planning is a process—and a path—not just to personalize your goals, but to tie in to the discipline and direction of why you save and invest. A documented, living plan helps. So does access to professionals, when you need them, to plan—and invest—to achieve your goals.

1Blanchett, David M. "Financially Sound Households Use Financial Planners, Not Transactional Advisers." Journal of Financial Planning 32 (4): 30–40, 2019.