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The Sushi Wealth Test: Do You Pass?

This week’s PhREI Network post comes from Dr. Daniel Shin at the Darwinian Doctor. And it’s all about the sushi wealth test…

Don’t know what that is? Neither did I at first. But after reading, I realized that Selenid and I definitely have used food items like sushi as our “wealth test.”

For us, the biggest test or maybe just realization that we are in a better financial position than let’s say a year ago when I was in training is that we can go to the grocery store without a budget. It feels good.

Anyway, let’s see what Daniel has to say about sushi!

This is a story about the sushi wealth test and how my definition of being rich has changed in the last 20 years.

wealth test

My wife and I met almost 20 years ago in undergrad.  I now call her the Darwinian Dr-ess on the blog, but back then she was just my sophisticated girlfriend.  Soon after we started to date, we branched out from pizza and pad thai to the local sushi joint called Samurai.  

I still remember our usual order:  a chirashi bowl for me and an Alaska roll for her. This was two decades ago in a small city, so the bill was something like $20 including tax and tip.

As a penniless college student, $20 was a lot of money to me. So I’m fairly certain that the Dr-ess picked up the tab most of the time. 

I still remember feeling uncomfortable every time I saw the check appear on the table. Then the flash of sheepish embarrassment when she’d give her credit card to the waiter.

The sushi wealth test

A few years later, the Dr-ess and I were hanging out with some good friends in Cleveland, and we were talking about money.  I think this was either before I got into med school, or just in the beginning of my four years as a still-penniless medical student. 

We got on the topic of money, and were arguing about what it means to be rich. I thought back to those halcyon days of undergrad and declared:  “I think I’ll be rich if I have enough money to order sushi every night for dinner.”  

I remember my friends giving me a funny look.  Thinking back, I believe they were implicitly stating that they could already afford to have sushi every night.  They both had great jobs at that time, and were well on their way to a great financial position.  By my definition, they were already rich!

The sushi wealth test, the LA version

Sushi prices have risen over the last 20 years.  So that same dinner in Los Angeles today is probably about $45.

If I decided to order this every night, this would be $315 per week and about $1260 per month.  

When I think about our finances, we could actually afford to do this now.  We’d have to divert some of the money that currently goes to real estate investments, but we could do it. Even with high annual expenditures, the Dr-ess and I have high salaries and are lucky enough to save about a third of our income. 

So does that mean we’re rich?

By the sushi wealth test, I guess so. 

Definitions change

My definition of “rich” is different now.  I think the catalyst was learning about personal finance and the FIRE movement. After my enlightenment, it’s moved away from the materialistic sushi wealth test and has instead evolved to a definition based on time freedom.

Now, I think I’ll feel rich when I have freedom over my time.

  • Do I want to see patients in clinic and do surgery?  Let’s do it.  
  • Do I want to spend a few weeks slow-traveling around Sicily?  Game on.
  • Do I want to catch up with some college friends across the country?  Let’s fly.

In the near term, I just want to have the freedom to have breakfast with my kids more than just on precious weekend mornings (when I’m not on weekend call). 

My new definition of being rich

So now, I have a much broader, less sushi-centric definition of being rich:  

Being rich is having the freedom to live life on my own terms.  

Of course, this entails financial freedom. Given the way the Dr-ess and I have structured our lives, we will need fairly massive streams of income to achieve this. We’re on our way to this goal, but still have a lot of work to do.

This also entails freedom from societal norms, though. It’s generally accepted in the US that everyone works in our society until retirement age. There are a lot of reasons why our society is structured like this, and I want to explore this in depth in later posts. 

But my definition of being rich now includes the freedom to self-actualize exactly how I see fit. This will definitely involve working, but on my own terms. This is a much higher bar than just pure financial freedom, and will be much harder to achieve.

Back to the sushi

Let’s take a second and go back to the sushi wealth test.  No matter how much money I make, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel OK with having sushi every night.  It seems really indulgent and financially irresponsible to spend $15,000 a year on takeout sushi. 

Part of the curse of financial literacy is that I now have many better uses for that money. 

Do you want to know where a lot of our money goes? Here’s a glimpse:


Once upon a time, before the kids and my real estate obsession, my definition of being rich was the ability to eat sushi every night.  As I’ve evolved, so has my definition.  

Now, It’s now more about financial freedom and self-actualization, and less about fancy raw fish.

What’s your personal sushi wealth test? How has your definition of being rich changed? Comment below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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