Four Stages of Wealth


Barbara Stanny describes the four stages of wealth as Survival, Stability, Wealth, and Affluence.  Based on thousands of hours as both a client and a counselor in the money coaching process, here is my understanding of each stage.


You know you’re in survival mode when you stash unopened mail, count the days and hours until the next paycheck, and run out of money each month or each pay period faster than expected.  You’re riddled with fear, negative thinking and have crippling financial insecurity.  You’re truly living paycheck to paycheck and the cycle of concern about about money seems never ending.

People in survival mode:

  • Carry balances on their credit cards
  • Spend inordinate amounts of energy moving money around
  • Feel regret and remorse about past financial decisions
  • Feel powerless and resigned about catching up
  • Owe back payments
  • Obsess yet avoid their money
  • Face threats of collections and service shut-down


You know you’re experiencing financial stability when you’re current with your taxes, have steady income, and pay your bills in full and on time every month.  You live in housing that works for your bank account and your lifestyle.  You’re able to sustain savings and cover periodic non-monthly expenses (car repairs, vacations, Christmas, etc.) without putting it on the credit card or freaking out.

Though for the most part, people in this stage have a good handle on their personal finances, there can still be occasional dips in financial and emotional security.  People in this stage try to save money only to quickly transfer it back and continue using credit cards paying this month for last month’s spending.  A surprising number of 20 to 40-somethings have yet to reach sustainable control over their finances. 

Basic milestones of financial stability:

  • Thorough understanding of monthly and annual spending and earning
  • Six months of living expenses set aside in a safety net savings account
  • Regular contributions to retirement
  • Appropriate insurance: health, home, car, life, and long-term care


The dictionary defines wealth as an abundance of valuable possessions or money.  The archaic definition is well-being or prosperity.  Wealthy people demonstrate security and they exercise their right and deservedness to choose.  These men and women have transcended daily and monthly concern over bank account balances and are now giving back to themselves, their families and society.  Not that being wealthy gives you permission to stop caring, in fact, it mandates taking responsibility for what you’re doing with your money.  In this particular stage, there is abundance, in other words, enough to donate time, money, energy and resources to making the world a better place.   All basic financial needs are met and there is more pleasure, self-care and adventure on the calendar.

Act like a wealthy person:

  • Hire a certified financial planner
  • Strategize for periodic income: bonuses, commission, gifts, tax refunds, and reimbursements
  • Work with an investment advisor
  • Have a will, a living will and a medical power of attorney
  • Hand over your taxes to a strategist or beloved and successful CPA
  • Understand your parents’ wills
  • Be educated on the details of your entire estate including inheritance
  • Ensure that everyone in your family, across generations, is on the same page about family money, empowered with personal finance accounting skills and clear about the elders’ end of life wishes


Affluent people leverage their wealth.  They use their money to grow more money.  The danger zone here is excess.  One of my affluent clients, a single man, had 26 magazine subscriptions and nary the time to read one per week.

Common pitfalls of affluent people:

  • An unhealthy or unconscious relationship with money due to outsourcing, overdoing and overwhelm
  • Too much stuff, too many houses, and a loss of contact with simple, natural, connected and meaningful experiences
  • Entitlement that encroaches on their personal and professional relationships
  • Severe loneliness

Affluent people have access to services, savings, investments, tax and business loopholes and outright wealth accumulation that other people don’t.  They have an extraordinary opportunity and responsibility to channel this flow of energy for the good.  Have you ever dated someone using a black AmEx?  It’s pretty unbelievable what this exclusive credit card allows you to do.  Spontaneous trip to Turks and Caicos, anyone?  In all seriousness, let’s acknowledge the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation, Oprah Winfrey’s schools and hospitals around the world, and innumerable other non-profits created by affluent people with missions to serve.

Of course it is possible to have behaviors, experiences and feelings from more than one stage at a time.  Conflict and stress over money arises when the outside doesn’t match the inside.  Sometimes, people have “the stuff” but are emotionally exasperated over money anyway, while others have little to nothing and have joy, gratitude and faith enough to add years to their life.  As a money coach, I work with people in every stage of wealth for the sole purpose of alignment.  When your personal vision of financial and emotional security is fulfilled, or at the very least your actions are in integrity with your intentions and goals, lasting peace of mind about money becomes possible.

This is a post by NY Money Coach, Carrie Birgbauer. Carrie is a member of Moven’s Financial Wellness Community.

Image Source: jongordon.com

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