One of the most amazing things about San Francisco is that there are wealthy people everywhere, but you’ll never be able to tell based on how many dress. Mark Zuckerberg is 30 years old and likes to wear a grey shirt, jeans, and a hoody most of the time; yet he’s a multi-billionaire. Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the paparazzi and society’s expectations for Mark and his money.
But for the rest of us who are looking to build our own modest fortunes, there’s still hope to live peaceful lives away from society’s rage or government scrutiny. Wealth has gone from being a celebrated goal to one that is increasingly being looked down upon due to the obnoxiously large wealth gap.
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Although there is an enormous logarithmic difference between the wealth of the top 1% and the top 0.1%, society still views them all the same: in a suspicious and often disapproving way. Not even the top 10% income earner (~$115,000) is safe anymore.
Look around the room for a moment. Chances are high someone has a cushy trust fund. It’s more than likely that a colleague’s parents paid for his/her house down payment, took care of graduate school tuition, or bought him/her a car. After living through the biggest bull market ever, helping adult children financially is commonplace. You can’t take it with you after all.
I used to be very envious of these lucky folks as the son of middle class government workers. While my classmates or colleagues vacationed in Europe over the summer, I had to work at McDonald’s making $4.25 an hour for a power-tripping boss. At least we could eat all the yummy apple pies we wanted. But I snapped out of my envy because there’s never any use complaining or feeling sorry for yourself.
The Stealth Wealth movement is growing and I encourage everyone to join. Let me share with you five reasons why.
THE BENEFITS OF STEALTH WEALTH
It’s human nature to experience anger, jealousy, and envy. While climbing the mountain towards financial independence, you will undoubtedly encounter people who will try and keep you down. Perhaps they are jealous you are happily married with a beautiful family while you’re stuck going home to an empty apartment. Perhaps they are threatened by your abilities. Or perhaps they simply don’t like your race, culture, ethnicity, or sex.
Discrimination and hate are more common than people realize. Life is already difficult enough. Your goal is to minimize the amount of headwinds as you climb towards the top.
Five reasons to adopt Stealth Wealth:
1) You become the underdog. It’s more fun to root for the underdog, rather than the 27-point favorite. We’ve all seen movies where the scrawny football player named Rudy makes it on the Notre Dame team. We’re always cheering for the child with a muscular growth problem who befriends a three-legged dog and goes on to win dog show after dog show. If you roll up in a $55,000 automobile and repetitively talk about your amazing trip to Bali, your colleagues will secretly despise you. Your boss will think, Why the heck should I give her a raise and a promotion when she’s already living the good life? Take the bus and focus on the tortuous 20 hour flight instead if someone asks about your trip. Once people think you’ve got it tough, they’ll be much more inclined to help you out.
2) You deflect attention. When people think you are just struggling to get by, you no longer receive as much attention from your competitors, enemies, or the government. Having more freedom to do as you please is glorious. You can work at your own pace in peace because less people will care what you are doing. The IRS doesn’t secretly assign someone to profile your finances because you haven’t made it to some publication’s rich list. When Forbes came out with their China’s top 10 most wealthy list in 1998, several of the individuals went to jail over the next five years! Those who seek attention are only asking for scrutiny.
3) People’s expectations of you decline. One of the secrets to getting ahead is to always underpromise, and overdeliver. If people think you’re rich, they might also think you’re smart or highly connected. A friend of mine who worked as an institutional broker at a mid-tier firm always ranked between 6-15th place in the latest broker vote. When I asked him about his seemingly dismal results he responded, “What’s the point of reaching top five? Once I’m there, my bosses will expect me to always be in the top five. I’d rather rank within the expectations range and continuously get paid as much as the bulge bracket employees than set myself up for future disappointment.” He’s still making a tremendous income today being a marginal player.
4) You don’t have to always pay the bill. If you’re the rich one in the group, some people will naturally expect you to pay a larger percentage of the bill, or pay for everything. Even though you’d happily pay for everyone or buy your buddy a drink, you certainly don’t want to feel like you’re always expected to pay. It’s like going out on a date. If you ask someone out, you wouldn’t expect them to pay, but it’s nice if s/he offers. People also come out of the woodwork once they’ve seen you on TV or know that you’ve received some type of financial windfall. The first step when you receive a lot of money is to never tell anybody you’ve received a lot of money.
5) You’ll be much happier overall. Everybody just wants to fit in, develop good relationships, and be happy. The median household income in America is ~$52,000. Rocking 5X that amount isn’t going to win you any friends. Although the median household income in San Francisco is roughly $80,000 a year, you’ll be hard pressed to find affordable housing at that level with the median house costing roughly $1.1 million. If you’re making multiple six figures a year, certainly commiserate with everybody else by agreeing that housing costs are out of control. Money has a great way of destroying relationships. If your friend is making just $1,000 more than you a year and you believe you’re doing a better job, you might not be friends for very much longer. The great feeling of having more or better relationships trumps the ephemeral feeling of having more money.
A PROTRUDING NAIL GETS HAMMERED DOWN
The other day I was classified as a Millennial by an older colleague. I turned around, wondering if she was talking to someone else, but she was talking to me. As a 37 year old man born in 1977, I never thought of myself as a Millennial before. I thought the Millennial generation was born after 1980, at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.
After the initial surprise of realizing I wasn’t part of Gen X, I began owning my new Millennial status with pride by figuring out how to use YOLO (You Only Live Once) in a sentence. “Hey buddy, there’s no point making money if you don’t spend it. You won’t have to pay back your debt once you’re dead anyway. YOLO!” How was that?
I asked my 29-year-old colleague whether he could share with me the secret Millennial handshake, and fill me in on what Millennials like to do over the weekends and after work.
“We want things, and we want things now! But we don’t want to own a home,” he joked.
I laughed and gave him a virtual high-five over text, of course. I was happy to know that I’ve successfully been able to cultivate an image of being younger and perhaps poorer than reality.
Being perceived as wealthier or older would be detrimental in my ability to progress. I’d much rather be classified as a Millennial with lots of upside and all the stereotypes that go along with this generation. For example, getting in on time might be considered early for those who think Millennials lack punctuality. Being perceived as younger tends to allow for more forgiveness.
Practical Stealth Wealth Tips
1) Drive a beater and leave the Porsche at home unless you’re already at the top of the corporate ladder.
2) Avoid name brand clothing altogether, or name brand clothing that cannot be easily identified.
3) Always say you bought your shoes and clothes from Ross, Target, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, or Kohl’s.
4) If they keep inquiring, tell a joke e.g. “You mean my Folex?”
5) Never tell anybody how much you fully make or have.
6) Never reveal you have a trust fund or received a large inheritance.
7) Keep your bus pass in the outside portion of your wallet so that it’s more visible when you whip out your wallet.
8) Do not own a nice wallet or purse that has the letters L, V, C, G, H, or B in its name.
9) Talk about your experience flying economy in the back row, middle seat, next to the bathroom instead of all the incredible experiences you had on your amazing vacation.
10) Wear casual clothing to the extent casual clothing is allowed.
Let’s say you’re now convinced Stealth Wealth is the way to go. It’s time to keep track of your growing assets with the free Personal Capital Dashboard. Finances get messy, but Personal Capital helps keep your information private and in order. If you don’t aggregate, you might trick yourself into thinking you’ve got much less than you really do. There really is no point amassing a fortune if it’s not properly spent.
Embrace your wealth in private, but keep others guessing. There’s no hope for the already famous. But there’s still hope for the rest of us.
Readers, won’t you join the Stealth Wealth movement? What are some other benefits for looking younger and acting poorer than reality? Is Stealth Wealth too difficult because of our egos?