What Wealthy Means Around the World

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. Read our disclosure to see how we make money.

what wealthy means

Just recently I was promoting the idea that we should give kids fewer gifts for Christmas. I received several different responses to this idea, mostly from parents who said it would be really hard to cut back on the holidays, especially when it’s our American culture to make things really lavish on Christmas Day.

They said they couldn’t disappoint their kids, who have gotten used to receiving a pile of gifts under the tree. They warned me that I probably wouldn’t be able to skimp on Christmas either once I’m a parent, and that I’d understand when the time comes.

What Wealthy Means in Grenada


When I look at the monstrosity of Christmas in the States, I just can’t help thinking of what Christmas was like in Grenada and the poverty that was so pervasive there. In Grenada, you should see how elated the kids were when local volunteers shipped in shoes from the United States. SHOES! That they would wear to school until they got shoes again the next year! I’m not talking about games or name brand clothes or toys. I’m just talking about shoes, people. And here in the States, kids are throwing fits if they don’t get the latest game system.

To the kids in Grenada, what wealthy means is having enough money to go to a fast food joint for dinner. If you could afford to go to KFC (one of the only fast food places on the island) then you were considered well off. It was such a status symbol, in fact, that people would carry around their KFC cups and bags for a few days just to show that they had been there. There were also some kids in Grenada who had never been to a movie until a volunteer took them. Some were 14 years old when they saw a movie for the first time in the theater. The theater in Grenada, I should mention, was about $4US per ticket when you went on the discount day.

What Wealthy Means in India


Similarly, when my husband traveled to India for three weeks last summer, he was also deeply affected by the poverty. He rotated through some hospitals there as part of his medical school training, and while the hospitals were clean and nice, they certainly did not have flat screen TVs and all the niceties we are used to in the States.

While in India, he met a family in the hospital. The dad needed a heart stint but couldn’t afford to have the stint placed, so the cardiologist gave him meds instead to try to manage the issue.

When my husband talked to the doctor about the stint afterwards, the cardiologist said the stint was about $1,500 US and because the family couldn’t afford it, the dad would probably die in the next 6 months.

My husband was crushed, mostly because there was nothing he could do to help the family but also because just the day before, we had spent $1,500 on plane tickets and tour tickets for him to go see the Taj Mahal. He was so upset about it when he called me that night, saying it just didn’t feel right to go on this nice tour by himself for 4 days when this family was going to lose their dad before the end of the year.

My husband and I complain about being in student loan debt all the time, but with the opportunities we’ve enjoyed, the education we’ve been able to afford, and the places we’ve seen, we really do understand how lucky we are.

I don’t mean to be a downer with this post, but around the holiday season, I do think it’s important to think about what the holidays are like around the world and to teach kids that Christmas really is different depending on where you live. It’s one of my greatest hopes in the world that my kids are culturally competent and know how lucky they are, even though we might feel like times are tough or we don’t have enough money from time to time.


What does being wealthy mean to you where you’re from?


Photo Credit: GeezaWeezer

The following two tabs change content below.
Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    Great post. We really are very lucky to live in the place that we live in.

  • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

    Living in the US (and other developed countries) we certainly have a different perspective…..just last week I was publicly complaining about how ATT’s customer service couldn’t help me get my cell phone’s multi-media text messaging working right. In the whole grand scheme of things, it’s not much to complain about. Sometimes we all have to take a step back and reflect upon what it is we have, and how lucky we are. Personally, that’s why I love Thanksgiving, because that’s the time when that kind of reflection is the focus (at least for me).

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      I’ve had my fair share of “first world problems” too this week. It’s a good reminder. I mean, the cribs I wanted are no longer available at target. Can you imagine the nerve!? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Def. a good reminder to be thankful.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    This really puts wealth in perspective for Americans. It’s so easy to complain about not having this or that, when other people would already view us as wealthy. Great post, Cat.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Great post, Cat. We live in a bubble here and it’s easy to forget that the way we live is crazy. I get very guilty when I think about how privileged many of us live. I am very serious about not spoiling my children and helping them understand how the rest of the world lives.

  • kathryn says:

    When our 4 kids were little, we spent a certain amount of money on each.We didn’t have a lot, but we tried to make it go as far as we could, even buying some at yardsales. Depending on what they wanted, basically decided how many gifts they received from us. The only time we ever bought them presents was for their birthday and Xmas. Easter, was only candy…unlike some families, who buy presents and treat it almost as a second Xmas.

  • Kathy says:

    This is a great time of year to reflect on how fortunate we are to have as much wealth as we do. Even the poor in the U.S. have so many things compared to a great majority of the world. The poor here still have televisions, cell phones, heat and air conditioning, indoor plumbing. I could go on and on. We are so much better off simply due to where we were born. Something to be truly grateful for.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      It’s true, and I’ve never felt so grateful to be an American after living somewhere else for a while!

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter says:

    Wow, shoes eh? Yes, we take so, so much for granted! Think of how many pairs of shoes you own! This morning I had trouble finding my work winter boots, in amongst all of our footwear in the closest and in the hall.
    The level of our priviledge and wealth has been hitting me a lot lately. The cashier at the grocery store asked if he could have my points yesterday when I didn’t have my card, so he could get his daughter a guitar. He hasn’t been home to the Phllipines in SEVEN years to see her and she’s only 10! That’s just unfathomable to me.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      Girl, yes. I have a ton of shoes. That really is amazing that the gentleman hadn’t seen his daughter in 7 years! How sad! ๐Ÿ™

  • Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial says:

    Great post, as it’s a wonderful reminder of how much we really do have. Sometimes when we think about our financial goals and how far we still have to go to achieve them, we can forget about all that we already have and already accomplished. We are so, so fortunate that we were lucky enough to be born into a wealthy country with an abundance of everything but we really do take that for granted.

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction says:

    Excellent post Cat! I think we are just de-sensitized with how good we have it (generally) in the more developed countries. I have friends who had done relief work, or gone on internships in remote parts of Africa, etc, and when they come home – it’s like they’re being punched in the face at every turn. They were fighting for clean water, or women’s health initiatives, and we’re doing what? It’s similar to what you explained when you got back to the States after being in Grenada for years – the choice, and excess are startling.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      The choices really all startling. I’m just trying to hang on to the amazement I continue to feel and not get all wrapped up in our culture again.

  • Pauline says:

    In Guatemala you have to work half a day at minimum wage to afford a Big Mac meal. But people with low income go there like you would go to Disneyland, because the kids can play all day in the games while the whole family shares a burger.
    Braces are also an exterior sign of wealth, young adults making it and earning a bit more often get braces their parents couldn’t afford when they were kids.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      That’s really interesting about the braces. I bet you see a lot of interesting things in Guatemala.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    Great post. I’m a new parent and I can understand wanting to see the joy in your child’s face on Christmas day. Although the baby is too young to get exciting about gifts now so maybe I don’t understand either. However, my parents were immigrants and growing up, we lived a frugal life…we did get Christmas presents, but it was not lavish nor did it need to be. We do live in a bit of a bubble like Holly said…and I’d hope my kids understand gratitude and that we are truly blessed because others are not often as fortunate.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      Knowing what I know about you Andrew, I know you’ll do a great job in teaching your kids gratitude!

  • Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet says:

    We are so blessed to live in a country where we don’t have to worry about things like having shoes on our feet or whether or not we have food to eat. Andy Stanley has an interesting definition of being wealthy, he says it is “having more than you need”. If that is the case, than 99.5% of people in America are wealthy and many of them don’t even realize it.

  • Broke Millennial says:

    You aren’t being a downer, you’re bringing in great perspective. However, I will say that people shouldn’t feel guilty about their accomplishments (monetary or otherwise). It is wonderful to have an compassionate heart and to share your abilities with the less fortunate, but it’s also okay to enjoy what your hard work has earned you.

    Growing up overseas, I also had a lot of opportunities to see terrible poverty. Frankly, I have yet to see the same kind of poverty in the US that I visited in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia or Tibet. A place where $2 could change the course of a week for a child peddling their goods on the streets.

    One Christmas, my mother had found a family living in a wall (literally, they had burrowed into a construction site) and we brought them all gifts on Christmas morning of clothes and food. I’ll never forget that moment. But I do still enjoy giving and receiving Christmas presents to/from my family and friends.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      That’s an incredible story and you’re so right. It’s good to be proud of accomplishments and to work hard, and generosity is a beautiful thing!

  • alicia says:

    Don’t worry. Thanks to Obamacare, there soon will be many Americans who won’t be able to afford medical treatment also. Yesterday it was announced that Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York will not become part of the Obamacare family, thus if you have insurance through Obamacare and have cancer, you’ll probably die in 6 months also. So, fear not. Americans will be dying soon, just like those in India and other 3rd world countries. Unless they have the money to afford Sloan Kettering etc. etc. etc. Yup, America is a great country. NOT!

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      Well, the post was more about discussing how fortunate we are with what we do have, not really zoning in on current political issues. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    Awesome post Cat. It just shows that wealth is relative to where you live and position you are in.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I think everyone should be able to see poverty at least once to appreciate what we have. When I did a couple of trips during optometry school to do eye exams in poor countries, it blew me away that people just gave up seeing anything in detail or reading because they have no access to glasses. When someone complains at my office because their glasses weren’t done in a day or the color isn’t what they wanted, it makes me want to scream sometimes, but I don’t think it’s bad to enjoy what we have. We just need to remember how lucky we are and pass along what we can in time or donations to help others when we can. As for Christmas, I was very certain we were only going to do three things for our daughter and that was the limit, but with all the grandparents and others who give her gifts, it just doesn’t work. I would suggest just going with the flow and maybe adopting a foster child to shop for when your kids are old enough to understand that everyone doesn’t get that many presents.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      That’s a really good suggestion, and that’s so cool that you were able to do volunteer work while in school. We had a group of optometry students in Grenada that I showed around, and they did some fabulous work!

  • Josh R from says:

    It’s amazing how humbling an experience like working with those in a poor country can be. I’m in the US, so wealthy usually means having tons of money, property, owning a business that’s thriving, ect… but have none of that and still consider myself wealthy. Why? Well, I don’t worry. I’ve got all the money I need to survive, a great family, an amazing fiance and a core group of friends that really take care of me when I’m down. As far as I’m considered, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world! Thanks for the great morning read!

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Great post, Cat! We are very fortunate and sadly so many of us take it for granted. Yes, it CAN be hard to curb back spending at Christmas but it also can be done and should be done if you’re going into debt to provide a lavish holiday. I want to provide a magical Christmas to my girls but I also want it rooted in reality. I can only imagine how heartbreaking that experience was for your husband. I don’t believe we should feel guilty for the things we have but we do need to appreciate our good fortune and not take our daily luxuries for granted. A very good reminder in a season of excess.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      Thanks Shannon!! I agree with you. Live a guilt free live and enjoy the fruits of our hard work but always keep an open mind and be grateful. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • E.M. says:

    This was a great post with a great message. I agree with giving kids less for Christmas. If I ever have kids, I have no plans to spoil them. I can only hope they grow up knowing what is truly important during the holiday season, like love, family and kindness; not material possessions. It’s a somber moment when you realize how lucky/well-off you are compared to others. Being wealthy where I live is having a house in the Hamptons/on the beach, or generally being able to afford living here really!

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    Cat, you’re spot on here. Comparatively, we don’t spend nearly as much as most do on our kids for Christmas, and although I’m sure they envy their friends and family at times, I know too that they’re super grateful for what they get, too. It is hard not to load them with gifts at Christmastime, but it also teaches them very valuable lessons about many, many things, among which is the unimportance of things.

  • hungry hungry artist (@blerghhh) says:

    The wealth problem hits closer to home then you may think… If you have $10 cash in your pocket, no debt, and somewhere to sleep you have a higher net worth then 25% of ALL Americans.

    I minimum wage job puts you in the top 10% of income earners in ALL THE WORLD.

    The loose change you walk over (and not pick up) on the street today represents an entire weeks worth of wages to a textile worker in Bangladesh.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      Oh yes! I know it hits closer to home. ๐Ÿ™‚ After all, I’m from New Orleans and am still watching the poor in our city bounce back from a hurricane that happened 8 years ago! The post was more specifically tailored to an “around the world” theme but I’m sure there’s plenty to write about in terms of the struggles of our own nations as well. Good ideas for future, and it really is amazing how much we have!

  • Michelle says:

    This post is definitely an eye opener. Whenever I see a kid complain because they can’t get a video game and they acts like the world just ended, it always makes me cringe. Everyone needs to be grateful for what they have.

  • The First Million is the Hardest says:

    It’s amazing some of the things we take for granted here in the states. Similar to your story about the KFC cups, a good friend of mine spent some time working in China & told a story of how he threw out his Starbucks cup one day and someone raced over to grab it out of the trash so they could carry it around. Its weird how things like that can be status symbols in poorer countries & areas. It definitely makes you think twice about how much we “need” for the holidays though!

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    My sense is one wouldn’t have to look too hard in the USA to find similar stories. It’s just that most of us who cruise personal finance blogs–myself included–don’t run across these people in our day-to-day lives. Travel through rural Kentucky or Mississippi sometime for a shock.

  • Micro says:

    I think it’s a bit easy to be caught up in spending being the only way to light up a kids face on christmas. That’s what parents are really going for I believe. You might have to get creative but I think there are many ways you can achieve that same goal without spending a ridiculous amount of money on trinkets.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I think in the US wealthy means buying whatever you want and having all your dreams come true. For so much of the world that is simply not true. I don’t participate in gift giving for the holidays and part of it is because we don’t need more stuff! We need more experiences, friends, community and eye openers like this to really change the world.

    • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says:

      I agree. Experiences are way better than material items. You and I would def get along well in real life!

  • Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    Thanks for writing this, Cat. I just wrote a post the other day about my experiences in a developing country. It breaks my heart to think that we’re so spoiled here and we have no idea. We like to isolate ourselves in our little bubble to ignore what’s going on in the world around us. I’m glad you aren’t afraid to write about it. And I’m glad you think we should stop giving our kids so much junk. I stopped giving my nieces and nephews birthday and Christmas gifts years ago because of all the junk they already have. It just seems pointless.

  • Demaish @ Borrowed Cents says:

    Great post. I have seen both sides of the coin here. I am from Kenya and even though there are people who live large there and a growing middle class whose meaning of wealthy is the same as most people here in the US, there is a lot more people whose being wealthy is being able to put a meal on the table every day for their family, getting education for their children and such stuff. Christmas to us is not more of a gift fest. We were all taught Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. So whether ones get a gift or not, it’s not a big deal.

  • JoeTaxpayer says:

    GlobalRichList can offer an amazing view on this topic. It shows that $850 is the world median income. It puts into perspective when you buy that TV, for example, that half the world would work a year to just make what you might have spent on a whim.

  • Tushar @ Everything Finance says:

    We are very fortunate in the Western world that we have the creature comforts that we do, and the means to find food and shelter. Even when things get really bad, the government steps in and offers assistance. It’s easy to take our fortune for granted.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I’ve seen a lot of documentaries over the last couple of years where all the children want is enough money to go to SCHOOL! So many have to stay home and help work, even as early as 5 years old. Can you imagine? I mean kids here don’t even know what a privilege that is. And it’s not their fault really, because they don’t have anything to compare it to. I think having open conversations with your kids about such things is probably a good start. But take what I say with a grain of salt since I’m not a parent. I would probably want to spoil my children to if I could. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • C. the Romanian says:

    In Romania things are a bit better than they are in Grenada or India, but people here are still generally poor as we are second to last in terms of the average wage in the European Union (about $460) while minimum wage and pensions are extremely low.

    I wrote an article a while ago on my blog about the situation in my country, and there is a scene that I will probably never forget: an old lady in a shop, buying a loaf of bread and some rice, digging down her wallet trying to find the equivalent of 10 cents – what she needed to completely pay for the products. When the cashier realized she didn’t have the money, she said that it’s OK and she doesn’t have to pay. The old woman was so extremely happy for this gesture and the fact that she spent 10 cents less and she could spend them on something else in the future that it almost made me cry.

    This means that most of the time we should be extremely grateful with what we have because many have a lot less.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *