You'll Never Be Rich Enough to Stop Worrying About Your Money

The wealthy have a bigger cushion to fall back on in turbulent times, but they're still afraid of falling.

Even before recent stock market volatility, digital wealth management company Personal Capital found that its richest investors had considerable anxiety about their finances. In a Personal Capital survey, 60% of affluent investors — including 87% of Millennials — admitted to making financial mistakes in 2017. Those errors included not saving enough, paying too much for luxury items, and paying too much in investment fees.

At the same time, 42% say they fear they can't deal with a market downturn. Another 38% are worried that they will lose their wealth entirely. Though affluent investors surveyed by Charles Schwab have said that wealth is enjoying life's experiences (24%) or having loving relationships with friends and family (12%) can be considered "wealth," they also made clear that having lots of money (27%) and affording anything you want (22%) still constitute the "wealth" they want to maintain.

When asked how much is required to be considered "wealthy" in America, survey respondents say it's an average of $2.4 million, or nearly 30 times the actual median net worth of U.S. households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"It doesn't matter whether you have a lot or a little — what matters is that you think about the money you have as your wealth, and that you pay attention to it," says Terri Kallsen, executive vice president and head of Schwab Investor Services.

Yet even those with wealth aren't sure it is a permanent condition. In a survey of 2,215 U.S. investors with more than $1 million, UBS found that three-quarters of millionaires (77%) grew up middle class or below. Working their way up the socioeconomic ranks was a conscious aim, as 61% aspired to become millionaires and 65% felt it was an important milestone to reach the $1 million mark.

While nearly three-quarters of millionaires (74%) surveyed feel like they have "made it" and 44% said hard work was the single most important factor in becoming a millionaire, there's clearly greater satisfaction with increased wealth. Of those surveyed, 73% of those with $1 million to $2 million reported being "highly satisfied" with their life, compared with 85% of those with $5 million or more. 

Roughly 58% of all millionaires report feeling increased expectations for their standard of living over the last 10 years. Among working millionaires with children at home, 52% feel like they are stuck on a treadmill, unable to get off without sacrificing their family's lifestyle.

"The majority of millionaires say they have worked hard to earn their wealth and appreciate the lifestyle it affords them and their families," says Paula Polito, client strategy officer, UBS Wealth Management Americas. "But enough never seems to be enough — even the wealthiest continue on the treadmill to achieve a better life."

Market turbulence only makes the wealthy more skittish. Half (50%) of those with $1 million to $5 million are afraid that one major setback (job loss, market crash) would have a significant impact on their lifestyle. Even 34% of those with $5 million or more feel the same. Give those same millionaires kids, and suddenly 63% feel that one major setback would have a significant impact on their lifestyle.

Maintaining that lifestyle comes at a cost, as 64% of millionaires report that they have had to give up family time to achieve their dreams. Most millionaires (68%) admit to having regrets, most commonly around making mistakes in a relationship with their spouse or family and not spending more time with family.

So how do you strike a balance? Well, having a written plan helps. Charles Schwab found that 54% of those with a written plan have increased their 401(k) contribution in the last year, compared to those without a plan. The folks thinking ahead are also more likely to rebalance their 401(k) portfolio (50% to 24%), stick to a monthly savings goal (40% to 19%), have an emergency fund (45% to 26%) and be aware of fees in their brokerage account (83% to 67%).

According to Schwab, more than a third of Millennials (34% of those ages 18-36) say they have a written financial plan compared to Generation X (37-52, 21%) and Baby Boomers (53-71, 18%). Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Millennials developed their written financial plans with professional help, and 91% of them review or update their financial plans at least annually.

Among older Millennials in their thirties, nearly 60% (57%) say their financial health is better than it was five years ago and nearly half (47%) say they have a household budget compared to those in their 20s (35%) who admit they do not.

"The positive behavior changes we're seeing among older Millennials are encouraging. With their focus on planning, they're already poised for success," says Kallsen. 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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