How to Live a Truly Rich Life: A Letter to My Kids

Dear Helena and Lucas,

When I was growing up, my family and I spent a lot of time shopping. Some of those weekend afternoons were spent looking for deals at malls – to which we had to drive for an hour because we lived in a small town – but mostly we went window shopping. We would browse tiny antique boutiques in charming tourist towns, or luxurious coat sections and cosmetic counters of high-end department stores. Likewise, we would often drive around the neighborhoods built on the local country club, admiring the columned colonials and eaved tudors.

These excursions had two messages. One, that there were things out there that we could not afford, and those things represented a better life. While my mom spent a lot of effort making my two brothers and me feel loved and special in many important ways, window shopping for things that were better than what we had told me that the people who could afford them were better than me.

The other message was that there is happiness in things. If life in our tiny rental were tense or stressed, somehow those homes and trench coats and china would make things right. Those possessions promised a worry-free life. They also took away responsibility for being happy regardless of finances.

By osmosis, I learned that things equal worth at its most profound level. The message was that money equals happiness.

When I grew older and started earning my own money, I quickly found that money can indeed be a fantastic asset. But money’s greatest power is not its ability to help you acquire pricey furniture or luxury cars.



One of the greatest luxuries money has afforded me is the ability to not worry about whether the rent check will clear. That position affords me sound sleep, which allows me to be an energetic, engaged mom to you. Having a little money in the bank also empowers me to make financial decisions from a place of confidence rather than fear or envy. I am more likely to take strategic risks to grow my business, which gives me joy, creative fulfillment and pride. Having enough money gives me the peace of mind to blow off work on a sunny spring weekday afternoon to take you out of daycare and fly our dragon kite at the park.

You may notice how little I like shopping now (when you need new sandals or a bike tire pump, I just go online after you’re in bed and buy what we need). I’m proud of our pretty apartment, and appreciate my few good pieces of jewelry. But letting go of any urge to invest in expensive or precious things relieves me of the stress those things can induce – especially as the mom of little kids. After all, if I replaced our threadbare rug with a lovely Tibetian masterpiece, I would lose my mind with every drop of finger paint or raspberry that landed on its fibers. If I splurged on an expensive cashmere coat, I would be less likely to rumble around the jungle gym with you, or take you sledding.

Contrary to the lessons I internalized when I was a child, fewer things, I’ve found, equal more freedom and more flexibility – both of which are the foundation of a full, rich life. And I’ve found that, like any asset managed well in its truest sense, money can indeed bring a measure of happiness — but in a deeper, more real way than I understood as a kid, and in ways I hope you will carry you through your own lives.

Love and riches to you both,


Emma Johnson is a freelance business and personal finance writer in New York where she blogs at

You Might Also Like:

Need vs. Want: The Eternal Debate

Having It All Doesn’t Mean Doing It All

The Life Lesson My Mom Left Behind

Join the Discussion