6 Moments That Make You Feel Like a Million Bucks

Wealth need not require cash. Learn from these 24 people who discovered surprising riches in memorable “aha!” moments.

With the economy acting like a cat on a leash—come on! come on!—it’s great to know that even the simplest event can make people feel as if they’re swimming in dough.

1. Finding something of value on sale

Melinda Ballengee, 34, of Jersey City, New Jersey, was at an Annie Sez store, “digging through piles and piles of crap,” as she so poetically recalls, when she noticed a dress had fallen to the floor. “Because I am polite and because I worked in retail when I was in high school, I put it on a hanger.”

Good girl. Because when she performed her good deed, she saw what she had there: a $450 Tahari dress. Exactly her size. Exactly her style. And exactly her budget. Squeals Ballengee, “It was on sale for $12!”

Which is not to say that bargains are the secret to feeling incredibly rich.

Scratch that. Of course bargains are the secret to feeling incredibly rich! And happy! And smart! But there are other ways too, including …

2. The help of random strangers

As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” High school teachers Bonnie Caul and Gary Silver would have to agree. They were staring at what had been their suburban home a day earlier—but was now a charred skeleton—when a driver stopped by. He rolled down his window and handed Silver a $50 bill. “My house once burned down too,” said the stranger. And off he drove.

That moment, the couple felt inexplicably buoyant. Giddy. Rich. “I just couldn’t believe that someone could be so thoughtful,” recalls Caul. They had lost pretty much everything, yes, but in that instant found what they really had: a network of friends they knew—and didn’t know—ready to pitch in. That sense of community can make you feel richer than anything because it means you’re not facing life’s mood swings alone.

Air Force Major Dean Tow was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1993 when his wife called from the States to say their landlord wasn’t renewing their lease. There was no way Tow could get home in time for the move, so he called a fellow officer back home. “I expected her to just offer advice or moral support, but instead she mobilized her entire office,” says Tow. “They moved us lock, stock, and barrel from our old place to our new one in about two hours. My spouse provided food and drinks to the ‘crew,’ and what started out as a nightmare concluded with a very happy ending.”

3. Almost losing the most important things

Haley Haines’s happy ending had a truly horrific beginning. It happened on her last day at a piney Poconos sleepaway camp a few years back, when she was 12. All the other kids had been picked up already, and she was waiting for her mom and brother to come get her. The shadows were getting longer and longer when a counselor finally got a call: Haley’s mom and brother were in the hospital. They had been in a serious car crash, with a fatality in the car that hit them. The counselor was instructed to calm the girl, then tell her that her dad was coming.

It took him six hours to get to his daughter. Together they drove to the hospital, and when they got there, “I just burst into tears,” says Haley. But these weren’t just tears of sorrow. “Seeing the tubes attached to my mom and my brother—it made me realize how fortunate I was.” She had come so close to losing them—but hadn’t. “That’s when I felt rich.”

Now Haley’s in high school. Her mother and brother have both recovered. But tucked into her memory, she will always have that picture of them in their hospital beds. And she can never feel ungrateful again.

4. Giving to others

If Haley Haines felt richest when she almost lost what she valued most, Silvana Clark felt richest when she did lose everything—voluntarily. She and her husband got rid of their house and moved into a 240-square-foot RV. Their chosen vocation: to travel around the country delivering donated shoes to shelters.

“We cooked in a tiny RV kitchen and washed dishes in a small sink,” says Clark. “We drove to battered-women’s shelters, group homes for abused children, and homeless missions to deliver the new shoes.” Seeing people in such desperate situations made Clark realize just how well off she was. “I felt richer than Oprah!” she says. “I had a loving husband, a clean warm bed, and a safe environment.” She no longer took the basics for granted. And she had enough things—material and ethereal—to be grateful for.

5. Finding out you are a good parent

Sometimes it is the gratitude of others that gives us that golden feeling—and that goes double when the folks feeling grateful are our kids. Ask Cat Mosley.

The Virginia publicist and her eight-year-old son were going through some tough family times just this past Christmas when his babysitter gave him a present: $25. The boy actually loves to shop, says Mosley, but that’s not what he did with the money. No, “he handed it to me and said, ‘Mom, this is for you because you have been a good girl.’ ”

Mosley’s heart went to the moon. And the money? She spent that on something really special.


Giving and getting really are the same thing.

6. Realizing being a good person matters

Now if you’re lucky, the whole giving and getting thing comes with a real-world cherry on top. Something substantive. It did for Nicholas Powell, 14, of New York City, last summer. “My friends and I were playing on the street, and there was an old man carrying grocery bags. We asked him if he needed help, and he said no, but we should walk over to his house, he had something to give us.”

Call the cops? Cue the scary music? After all, the kids followed the man. And then, says Nicholas, “he went inside and brought down a football. He said he didn’t need it anymore. And he told us we were going to go somewhere in life if we kept that attitude.”

That attitude of helpfulness, he meant. That attitude of reaching out, even to strangers. Even to old ones.

There’s every reason to believe that those boys will indeed keep it up. Because at that moment, Nicholas, at least, felt richer than anyone.

And smiling at him was an elderly man who no doubt felt the same.

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