Should We Conceal Our Wealth?

How I felt at the end of the day.

“Today my teacher asked me how we are able to go on another cruise so soon after the last one.  I told my teacher that my daddy is retired and my mommy is about to retire, too.  Then a kid in my class asked to borrow a few thousand dollars from me.”

That’s what my nine year old told me at dinner a few days ago (continue reading to hear the rest of the dinner conversation).  Some parents might freak out about how honest their kid was with their teachers and fellow classmates.  Not me.  But should I be more concerned?

At some schools, I don’t think it is that unusual to have kids with retired parents.  Wealthier women tend to postpone having children, often until they approach age 40.  Add in a hypothetical husband ten years older than his wife, and it’s not hard to have a 55 year old father when a kid starts kindergarten.  At a wealthy school at least.  Plenty of folks retire at 55 (anyone who started working in government by age 25 and stuck with it for 30 years, for example).

My children’s school is the complete opposite of wealthy.  In fact, it is the second poorest school out of 146 elementary schools in the district (check out my next post for the analysis on why we chose such a “crappy” school).  Over 80% of the students receive free or reduced price lunch (the metric our school district uses to define “economically disadvantaged” students).  Gauging from the parents I see at the school, most are very young and probably in their 20’s and 30’s.  There aren’t a lot of parents nearing retirement age at our school.  Being retired at a young age makes me a very noticeable outlier at this particular school.

 

Keep Early Retirement a Secret?

Should I worry that our household’s socioeconomic status is known around my kids’ school?  Or, to consider the bigger question, should I care if people in general know that I’m retired in my 30’s?

My answer is that I’m not worried about people close to me knowing where we stand financially.  I don’t think I have a positive duty to tell people, but I don’t see a big reason to keep it a secret.  Your close friends and family shouldn’t resent you for reaching a comfortable financial position.  And trying to create a cover story is a lot of work.  Telling the truth is easier than lying.

For more casual acquaintances, they don’t really need to know much about how we run our household finances.  I don’t think a lot of harm would come from others finding out about our relative wealth.  But it really isn’t any of their business.  Should I go out of my way to keep our wealth a secret?  I share all the juicy details right here on this blog after all.

For those that I don’t know really well or at all, I don’t feel like mentioning the fact that I’m retired.  At the most basic level, retirement is just a shorthand way of saying “I don’t work”.  I’ll embrace the other parts of my life that define me and are also truthful to varying extents.  They are cover stories to some extent, but also completely true:

  • “I’m a stay at home dad”
  • “I work out of my house”
  • “I’m in between jobs”
  • “I run a website”
  • “I do some freelancing when I can get the work”

I have used all of these descriptive phrases to explain why I’m home in the middle of the day or hanging out with my kid at the Tuesday morning pre-school play time at the community center.  People feel comfortable when others fit into a box.  If it’s just a casual acquaintance, I don’t mind jumping into a box for a few minutes if I can avoid an interrogation.

Here’s an example.  I’m at the park at eleven in the morning with Mr. RoG Jr. and a stay at home mom asks me “so, you stay home and take care of the kid?  That’s rare to see.  I’ve never actually seen a guy that does that.”  My answer was “why yes, yes I do just stay home and take care of the kids.”  That’s absolutely true!  There’s no need to say “well, actually I’m retired” unless I want to open a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Sometimes I’m in a hurry or don’t want to talk about early retirement.  Or I don’t want to be labeled as a “rich person”.  I’m just me, after all.  I can talk about money, finances and early retirement in relative anonymity here on this blog.  Most people that stick around here have some interest in building their wealth and “get it”.  In real life, it’s different.  People jump to conclusions, they think they have you all figured out, and stick you in the wrong box.

For the uninitiated, early retirement is kind of weird.  Statistically, there just aren’t that many people that do it.  Having perfectly marketable skills yet not keeping a job to make even more money?  Craziness.  Blasphemy!  Think about all the stuff you could have if you just kept working.  For those still firmly lodged in the make more, spend more recursive loop, early retirement doesn’t make sense.

To recap: family and friends get the real deal, casual acquaintances often get a “cover story” that fits the accepted version of how a society is ordered, and readers of the blog get almost all of the real deal (as long as I can stay relatively anonymous).

 

How To Keep Wealth A Secret

From participating in early retirement online discussion forums for a decade, I know many early retirees are concerned about how others perceive them.  Maybe early retirees aren’t strange in this regard, since everyone seems to be concerned about how they appear to others.

My friend the Financial Samurai shared a good guide to “stealth wealth”.  I follow some of the advice he offers, but don’t stick to the guide very closely.  FS’s guide seems more closely tailored to those that have conspicuous signs of wealth like expensive clothes and accessories, blinged out jewelry, luxury performance cars, and expensive house(s).  I like to keep it simple and I’m proud to say I don’t want to own any of those things.

I don’t have to hide the fact that I spent $100,000 on a new high end BMW because I don’t have one.  No one thinks I’m rich when they see my 15 year old Honda Civic.  Best wealth disguise ever.

I like FS’s advice on being humble and not losing touch with “the common people”.  That isn’t too hard since I consider myself to be one of “the common people”.  Just a very financially secure common person.

Here’s another trick: Spend like you’re poor, earn like you’re rich.  You can make a lot of money from a job, invest most of it, and let it earn you even more money in your investment portfolio.  But when it comes to spending, just think of yourself as just another common person.  You can slip in the occasional indulgence here and there, but keep the overall consumption low key.  That way you won’t have to hide all your luxurious goodies.  What’s the point of owning really nice stuff if you have to worry about keeping it a secret?  That sounds overly complicated.

Spend like you’re poor, earn like you’re rich.

I’m not talking about dumpster diving or extreme self deprivation.  I almost said “live like you’re poor, earn like you’re rich”, but changed “live” to “spend”.  With a few clever tricks here and there, you can live a pretty decent lifestyle while spending like you’re poor.

 

jean-talon-market

We are so poor, we have to shop for groceries while we are on vacation.

 

Benefits To Keeping Your Financial Success Hidden

Those that have followed my last few monthly spending updates from November and December are aware of my major exterior home renovation project.  We hired a contractor to install ten new windows, replace the exterior siding, and replace a large section of our roof.  The final cost was $8,700.  I am certain that the total would have been well over $10,000 if the contractor knew we were financially well off.

From the start, the contractor observed that we didn’t look particularly wealthy.  Our house is located in an older neighborhood that’s not in the fancy part of town (that’s a mile or two west of here!).  Two old cars sitting in the driveway.  Old siding that was at least a few years past the point where it needed to be replaced.

After walking through the inside of the house measuring windows, the contractor suggested I could buy my own windows to save some money.  At that point I asked about payment terms.  Could I put the job on my credit card, or is it cash or check only?  Maybe he thought I didn’t have the money for the renovation.  He suggested that if I bought the windows myself then I could put the windows on my credit card and pay for them over time.  I only mentioned the credit card because I wanted the 2% cash back.

Throughout our conversations, I let him know that cost was very important to me, but I don’t mind paying for value or for extras if it will enhance the quality of the job.  He structured the quote and fee estimate in such a way that I could pick the line items I wanted and decline those added costs that didn’t bring much value.  He even suggested ways that I could save money.  Cost savings that would also reduce his own fee and profit.

And to cap off my performance of a poor homeowner, my two year old runs outside naked from the waste down.  He sprints across the backyard where we are discussing options for the fascia on the rear.  Then he starts screaming about wanting to poop.  Or he just pooped.  Something poop related.  This was the ultimate sign that we might have trouble affording new siding.  We had all these kids running around, after all.  And kids cost TONS of money (not really).  The contractor also probably noticed that in spite of visiting during the middle of the day on a weekday, none of the adults were ever at work.

Once I received his fee estimate, I declined a few line items and mentioned that another contractor gave me a lower quote with a little extra in the scope of work.  My (eventual) contractor threw in for free the extra work the other guy was going to do, and even agreed to do some of the upgrades for free that I declined to pay for.  I hope the guy still made some profit off of me, because I didn’t need all that charity!  But I wasn’t going to negotiate against myself.

I will wager that if I lived in a million dollar house with a few luxury cars parked in my four car garage, then I wouldn’t have received a lot of concessions from any contractor.  In fact, I bet they would put a little extra fluff in the quote just because they figure the rich guy can afford it and they wouldn’t question a few hundred here and a few hundred there.

 

What We Discussed At The Dinner Table

Now to circle back to our dinner time discussion that motivated me to write this post.  After hearing about our nine year old sharing the news about our retirements and how someone immediately asked to borrow money, we launched into a discussion of “how to handle your wealth”.

After reading the majority of this post, you might be left wondering “if material possessions don’t equal wealth, then what makes you wealthy?”.  I think it’s how you act, what you think, and not needing to work for a paycheck.

In our house, we try to think wealthy and convey that knowledge to our kids (so they can grow wealthy on their own one day).  At the dinner table, we explained to our children that it’s okay to loan a few thousand dollars to a classmate, but you better get collateral for your loan.  “What’s collateral?!” they asked.  They were obviously listening and intrigued about this new concept of collateral.  “Collateral is security for your loan”, we explained.  It provides security to ensure repayment of the loan.  If the person who owes you money can’t pay you, you get to keep their collateral.

This provided the perfect segue into a discussion of mortgages and the security interest that the bank receives when making a loan.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t hand over a six figure check to just anybody!  Now my kids are going to be much savvier creditors and ask for collateral whenever they make a loan in the future.  Or at the least, appreciate the fact that a loan made without collateral is an unsecured loan and comes with higher risk of default.  I better be careful about what I say or they’ll grow up to be dirty investment bankers.

Knowing how the financial world works was a big factor in our own path to financial independence.  Passing that knowledge to our children will give them a head start on their own path to wealth.

Don’t worry about our kids though.  Some of our dinner time discussions are pretty normal. Last night we discussed the proper way to respond when someone farts loudly at the dinner table (it was the two year old this time, not me).  You don’t laugh and then scream out “ewwww, someone farted!!”.  To quote a line from one of their favorite Disney musical cartoons, you just “let it go”.  Maybe no one else heard it, or maybe they thought it was a loud motorcycle passing on the road outside.

Whether it’s abnormal wealth at an early age or an errant fart, the moral of the story is to keep it low key.  Don’t make a big deal out of it.  Maybe others will notice.  Then again, maybe they won’t.

 

 

Are you open about your financial status?  Any consequences?  Please share any and all embarrassing moments.  

 

 

83 comments

  • I think we’re going to need a youtube video of your 9 year old asking a classmate for collateral! 🙂

    “Look, kid, I’m not running a charity here. I gotta get my taste. 8% / week and your little brother as collateral — and we have a deal”

    Very, very true about how tradespeople bid on work based upon how wealthy you appear. My parents, bless them, always get hosed by carpenters, plumbers, arborists… because they live in a nice neighborhood. If they are paying more per hour to a plumber in Charlotte than I am in Boston… there’s something fishy 🙂

    • By 5th grade she’ll be packing the collateralized debt into CDO’s and selling them to institutional investors. Little brothers and all. 🙂

      I don’t have any evidence that tradespeople judge the wealth of a client and then factor that into their fee estimate, but I know I would factor in “willingness to pay” when I was putting together quotes for engineering services. Skinflints like walmart wouldn’t pay jack (they were very prudent at managing expenses) whereas some clients (*cough* the military *cough*) seemed to need help emptying their pockets on this budget cycle in order to refill them on the next cycle.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods’ observation about how contractors jack up their estimates if it looks like you are well off really resonated with me. I pride myself on consistently being able to get low bids on big home improvement jobs (Justin, you may remember you commented on that post), but it has never occurred to me that it may have really helped me to have a 1996 Dodge Dakota sitting in my modest home’s driveway instead of a late-model BMW. Or that most of the time I am dressed in jeans and sweatshirts!

      • Yeah, I remember reading and commenting on your post about how to get a good deal on home improvement quotes. I’m sure the modest appearance helps. To the contractor, they are okay as long as the quoted price covers their profit and risk plus actual project costs.

  • Definitely, DO NOT conceal your wealth. Honestly, I see it more as an issue of good “stewardship” in that your wealth is clearly not completely defined by dollars and cents. It’s obvious that you make many sacrifices along the way… picking and choosing what really matters and what doesn’t. It’s a great picture of the old adage “Is this a need or a want?” I guess if I had one request from you it would be if you could teach us more about how it all started for you… how you learned to manage your finances to the point where you were able to invest. Sadly, for some of us… it’s akin to speaking a foreign language. I scan the comments people post and find them incredibly interesting but truly have no idea where to begin? Always look forward to what you have to say. Thanks tons! Gina

    • I might have to expand this into a separate blog post one day. My start in investing was pretty crazy and not very successful. But very educational. I was an undergraduate in college and had a $1000 CD maturing. I didn’t know what to do with the cash. I knew stocks were going crazy (this was back in 1998). On Feburary 8, 1999 I bought $978 worth of Compaq computers (everyone needed a new desktop computer, right?!). The stock didn’t do very well. It dipped a bunch and eventually recovered. I sold it ten years later and made $40 (in other words, I lost money after considering inflation).

      But after I bought that stock in early 1999, I got into tech stocks and made some money then lost nearly all of it. I’d have to dig up how much I lost. Probably $10,000. My whole scholarship for a year I think. 🙂

      So I learned to invest the hard, expensive way. I wish I started out learning about diversification, risk, investment expenses, and tax efficiency. I would dig into those four topics and figure them out. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is a great starting point for a novice investor: https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Getting_started Another great resource is here at J Collins’s blog: http://jlcollinsnh.com/stock-series/

      In terms of the mechanics, you save money that you don’t need in the short term and then you invest it. 401k, IRA, taxable account, whatever. Try to be average. Average is way better than most fancy investing methods.

  • We are 100% open on our blog and with any family and friends that ask for advice or anything. Everyone else we pretty much just let them think what they want about our lifestyle. We’d probably be honest if they asked, but they never have!
    I’m not anticipating FI being all that weird to people we know as we’re framing it as a sabbatical that we are saving up for some extended travel and where we live (retiree central) it’s very common for people to have hobby or seasonal businesses but otherwise avoid the 9-5, so we think we’ll blend into the background there as we think there’s a good likelihood we’ll do some sort of seasonal or hobby business later on after a few years of decompression/travel. (SUP yoga instructor?!?).

    • Sounds pretty nice! I’ve started to realize that there are enough night shift workers (like nurses, police officers, etc) and telecommuters/freelancers floating around that you can’t necessarily assume much about anyone being idle in the middle of the work day. Maybe they just came off a 12 hour rotation in the operating room or worked 4 hours overtime on an urgent case.

      I like your plan to take a few years to relax, decompress and travel, then see what happens. I don’t think I’ll be doing anything like starting a “real” business within the next few years, but beyond that I have no clue what I’ll get into!

  • I think the Honda Accord should keep you safe from people assuming you are loaded! In thinking about how I will answer those wealth questions in a few years when I am finally in early retirement mode with the kids at the park, I will probably keep to your list for the most part. My problem is I still want to try and convert people, so I need to learn to just keep my mouth shut more.

  • Unless you’re concerned about folks visiting your house with lockpicks, I wouldn’t worry what they think about your wealth. You know you don’t have valuables, but they don’t, and they may be likely to come looking for them – which while not devastating is still annoying. I agree with your current strategy – put yourself into the box you want to be in in people’s minds. Talk more if they ask about it, but otherwise, let them think as they will.

    • Let’s be clear, my house is absolutely devoid of all valuables (for any really smart thieves out there trying to case good targets). Zero iAnythings. You’ll get a few low end electronic items and that’s about it. 🙂

      You bring up a good point though. I think our house and cars scream “skip this house, maybe the next one has nice stuff in it”. Talking about all the stuff you have can lead to casual acquaintances deciding you might be a nice juicy target. Which is one reason I’m a little more reserved around people I hardly know.

  • Great post! This is an issue I think about quite frequently since I’m a single mom so people automatically think I must be broke and generally an emotional basket case. My net worth is about $750K and I’ll be retiring in a few years. I’m happy to report my children and I are content, well-adjusted members of society. 🙂

    I was more willing to share my financial situation in the past, but changed my mind a few years ago when I crossed the half-million mark because I started getting questions about whether I was doing anything illegal/criminal to have that kind of money. Um no I just live a simple life and don’t buy crap I don’t need. That was pretty foreign to your average consumerist, so now I just keep my mouth shut. People see that I drive a used car, live in a small house, don’t do recreational shopping, etc and I guess they feel sorry for me given all the stereotypes about single mothers. Oh well, I guess I’ll have the last word when I check out of the labor market sooner than most people!

    • It sounds like you’re doing a great job at stealth wealth with the house and car! 🙂

      At some point you have to focus on living your life like you want to and not concern yourself too much with misconceptions of others.

  • Great post, and very thoughtful.

    One thing that wasn’t addressed though may well loom in the future. When kids in a class have very different financial situations there is often resentment and then social exclusion. While you make a wise, considered decision on how to share knowledge about your situation, you may want to further explain how to deal with this especially if your 9 year old is a girl, other girls can be very mean when they’re jealous.

    It’s tough as it would be natural for your child to be bursting with great stories of a cruise, but that might lead to a permanent rift. And kids really care about not being excluded or bullied

    • That’s a good point. The jealousy/envy angle is somewhat easy to deal with as an adult. We know we didn’t luck into our wealth by being given a winning lottery ticket.

      For kids, it might be different. So far we haven’t seen any “mean girls” stuff going on. I think it might be that classmates are focused on other indicia of wealth. That seems to include the classical shoes and clothes (hint: my kids aren’t wearing the most expensive wardrobe in the class). And pokemon cards. And phones. Maybe when they get older cruises will seem more enviable, or maybe they already cause jealousy. If the 9 year old brags too much or does it with poor taste, this might be a good learning lesson for her in terms of appropriate ways to share information about yourself.

      In a couple of years, the older 2 kids will be in middle school. Plenty of new social challenges, but a much bigger pond which would allow more obscurity. And it will be wealthier than our elementary school, so we probably won’t be such parental outliers.

  • I don’t know how people do it. I’m 24 and already tired of the rat race. It’s so boring, and non-challenging. But we must earn money to get to FI!

    • I agree with you! The rat race is boring and stressful! I rather be reading my books and walking in the park. Life is too short to be doing something that you don’t like.

      • Sounds like a good life to me! I sort of envy the folks that genuinely love their job. Unfortunately I’ve never found anyone to pay me to read books and walk in the park. Alas, I’m stuck engaging in those activities for free!

  • Love this post!
    I started saving for FI a couple of years ago. At the beginning, I love to share my thoughts and findings on FI with my colleagues. But most of the time, they looked me like I am a big loser who is trying to find an outlet for feeling insecure at my current job. One colleague commented, “why I need FI? I am doing well at my job and I can have this good paycheck till I retire”. I then asked “do you like what you do?” He then said, “why is that important? I am paid well. Working for your passion is a fairy tale. Wake up!” I realized that people need to come to FI on their own. No one could convince others to do or appreciate things they don’t understand. I stopped talking about FI with friends and colleagues. But I still hope to share my journey to FI with someone, which makes the journey more fun and traceable. This motivated me to start my blog to talk to people who might be interested in similar topics.

    Your blog, along with Gocurrycraker, Jim Collins, Miles Dividend MD, Mr money mustache, has definitely made my journal much easier.

    • “Working for your passion is a fairy tale” … I think that is what your colleague said from what you wrote…

      If he/she is still your colleague, realize that comment is way more about themselves than about truth.

      My wife and I are financially secure and financially independent. I did what I love as a passion for 24 years (flew for the US Air Force). I loved flying from the moment I took my first flight. Was blessed and fortunate enough to do it for an entire career and after leaving the Air Force, still get to fly airplanes.

      I will say it made my career not seem like work — ever.

      R
      Fred

      • Funny, I’ve encountered several former military pilots and most LOVE LOVE LOVE it, but hate some aspects of it. But almost all couldn’t imagine doing anything else and they hardly consider it work (getting paid to fly megamillion dollar toys you could never afford in real life? Yes please!).

  • I talk to my family and close friends about finances and wealth if they ask. But, for the most part, I try to not talk about it. When we first decided that we wanted to retire early, I started telling people about it and then people automatically assumed that we had more money than we actually did. I tried to explain to people that wasn’t the case, but they just couldn’t wrap their brain around how we could retire early if we weren’t extremely wealthy with millions of dollars in the bank. So, I’ve found it easier now to just not bring up if not needed or directly asked of me. With random acquaintances I try to not bring up personal finance info at all so we don’t risk going down that road of awkwardness. It’s hard to bite my tongue and not speak my mind at times, so that’s the main reason I started blogging.

  • I think that people who are open to the world about their finances are opening themselves up for a lot of potential trouble. I do not see any benefit to you personally from saying out loud that you have $1.4M (maybe your Net Worth is higher) and you are retired. Your closest family and friends do care – so they know.

    But I think strangers are a wild card. It is not fair to you, if everyone else knows that you are well off, when the intentions of everyone that has that information about you are unknown. There is information disparity, that is not fair to you.

    I am more for stealth wealth, millionaire next door style. Driving a 15 year car ( mine is 15 as well), owning generic clothes, and accumulating assets (e.g. stocks be it in individual securities or mutual funds). I also do not discuss how much I have on my site – it is noone’s business. The things I say and believe in are relevant and should stay on their own weight, whether I say I have a certain amount of wealth or not say it.

    Best Regards,

    Dividend Growth Investor

  • Thanks for the post, RoG. I’m like a lot of us in the community that defines wealth as “total ownership over our lives.” Those that aren’t wealthy own little or nothing. Their employer owns their time, the bank owns their house and/or cars, rent-a-center owns their couch, and on and on. The wealthiest people are those that own everything–time especially.

    Eric

  • You know you want that Bimmer Justin! Just do it 🙂

    One of the biggest challenges I wanted to try was seeing if I could grow my site just through writing. It’s tough but fun.

    • I actually haven’t liked the BMWs I’ve driven or sat in. I like cloth seats and not leather for one thing (yeah, I’m weird that way). Plus I’d hate to be seen with a BMW sitting in the driveway. Might make me the target of a burglary, or even worse, jealousy! 🙂

  • Hard as we try, others have a way of finding out more about your financial situation than you would like. Sometimes they are educated guesses, sometimes they are WAGs, and other times they are putting 2 and 2 together about you from familiarity. Therefore it is tough to conceal your wealth from all.

    That being said, you can still project a certain standing, or lack thereof, with most people. A lack of flashiness as others stated helps, but in reality the best defense is just keeping ones mouth shut. Let others tell you what they want about their finances; I do and just smile, since I won’t do the same in return. It has stood me in good stead for decades and will continue to do so into the future.

    • Yeah, people close to you seem to be able to get a general feel for your level of wealth whether you like it or not. And there’s no better way to make random strangers think you have money than to drive a flashy car or wear $10k of jewelry and accessories dripping down your body.

  • Mr. Maroon and I are so excited about the idea of financial independence and early retirement that we feel almost selfish for keeping the idea to ourself, especially with the people we love. We wish we’d heard about it earlier, so we want to shout it from the mountains so that others can have the same awakening. We still get funny looks and doubt from some folks. But Mr. Maroon was almost giddy when he told me about a coworker that came in to announce that he and his wife were thinking that they’d like to start working towards retirement at 45. Victory!!

    • For those that you think will benefit from hearing about your goals to accumulate wealth, I think it can be a huge benefit to share that knowledge. As Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker mentioned, sharing what you think is a great way to meet like minded people who share your values.

  • So, OK. I can’t believe nobody has commented on the fart bit! Or maybe I’m just completely immature…

    But teaching your kids the ability to downplay things (whether wealth or farts) is a great lesson. I was raised bi-culturally by a Tiger Mom so this too was drilled in me from a young age.

    It’s funny you mention farts because my brother and I (now 21 and 24 respectively) dealt with this the other day from a dinner guest!!! We were finishing up dinner and had pretty much cleared the dishes from the table. It was dark out so we were to walk our guest home (neighbor). Well, she was kind of loitering around the entryway waiting for us, and just going at it! Not like quiet, oopsie! farts but just really letting them rip! My brother and I exchanged shocked looks and didn’t miss a step. Only later did we discuss it and laugh until we cried.

    So, yeah. Teaching your kids about just letting things go is important… you never know when that lesson will come in handy one day!

    • Hey Tiffany! Hope you’re doing well.

      I’m glad someone commented on the fart topic, although I’m also glad that it wasn’t the sole focus of comments here. You might be the only one that read the entire article! 😉

  • IMO, any financial discussion with your children is a good one. There are so many lessons to learn-one can’t start too early. I agree it’s best to answer non immediate family member financial questions with short answers. We live on a very nice street but drive crappy cars, my husband was a volunteer stay at home dad for a year and I think most people can’t figure us out because we don’t fit this area’smold. Fine with me I like being an oddball it’s so much more interesting.

  • I usually am a closed book when it comes to our finances with people that I know including family. My parents do know and they are genuinely happy that we do well for ourselves. In my experience there are only a few people who would be happy when you achieve something (True Friends I guess) , most people tend to hate and resent. I could care less, but that said I do not need that negative energy so I keep my mouth shut.
    Teaching kids to downplay wealth and making them understand value of money is one of the best life lessons that you can impart.

    • Since I’m not working and get to choose who I interact with on a daily basis, I guess I’m able to ditch any negative nancies I might encounter. Who has time for negativity when there’s so much good stuff going on around us?

  • Great advice! I often ponder what to do when we hypothetically retire in 4 years. Mostly, I think that we are going to go with the stay at home parents thing. Of course, I know that there will be questions about how we pay bills since both of us stay at home – but I plan to say that we worked our butts off and saved a bunch when we were younger, so that we could take a hiatus while the kids were growing up to focus on being parents

    • “we could take a hiatus while the kids were growing up to focus on being parents”

      That’s as good a reason as you need to provide to anyone. If some start prying, feel free to be as vague as you want about how you managed to get into the financial position to do that.

  • Love the article. Your explanation of why you’re at home in middle of the week is great. Of course you can go into greater details when necessary. Keeping wealth hidden is the best way to stay rich and grow your wealth. If you need to buy expensive toys to show off your wealth, the wealth probably won’t last too long.

    • Absolutely. Having a $50k car just means you have $50k tied up in a depreciating asset instead of one that will grow at ~10%/yr on average. Hey, maybe that person is a megamillionaire. Probably not though.

  • Justin-

    I used all those titles to describe my semi-retirement, “Oh i’m just taking a sabbatical,” “My husband keeping moving me around it’s hard to have a regular job,” Most people feel sorry for me because they think I must be so bored sitting at home all day or I am confused about what I should be doing with my life besides enjoying it. Ha.

    I have unlimited time to learn everything I need to know and apply toward my FI. I have worked from home part-time for 4 years like a little gnome squirreling away knowledge and cheddar.

    When I discuss wealth with other people I never disclose the exact numbers but I do emphasize to people that it is a much better to live like a poor person from a tax point of view. I tell people I value my time and freedom not money which is why I choose to live a simple life. I choose the path of least resistance when it comes to wealth. Live simple, save and save.

    Every time I see someone middle aged driving an old Honda or Toyota I stop and think, “There goes the millionaire next door.”

    • Nice. Keep it that way. Let them think you are living the impoverished life! 😉

      I think the same thing when I see people driving the non-blinged out toyotas or hondas. And I always wonder how many other millionaires I’m rubbing shoulders with at Aldi or Walmart. Probably more than at Whole Foods.

  • I think not disclosing numbers is concealing wealth and is a great way to keep it as such. If you start getting into specifics, ie 350K in my 401K or my 35K BMW, I think you will start getting a lot of questions you probably don’t want.

  • I’m with Sam about Stealth Wealth. People just don’t understand…and are very prone to jealousy. Sure if they genuinely seem intrigued and want to get their finances in order, we can chat but mostly they like to find excuses as to what you were able to do it but they can’t and won’t. Looking forward to your post about “crappy school” because that is one thing that makes housing (which is expensive in NYC metro area) more expensive because I want to be in a good school district. Sure I did fine in a not so great area, but it’s not something I want to put my kids through.

  • Since my husband and I are young and have a kid, people assume we are poor. But we are the only grad students to own a duplex so they know we are good at money. They also know we don’t spend much. I don’t plan on telling people that I am FI, when I get there but while we are working on it, I don’t mind telling people that is my goal. It is pretty easy to find out who I am online/read my blog and I am open up to the amount people are comfortable with.

  • I’m all for the stealth wealth.

    Definitely no reason to share with people you don’t know well. Even among friends, the specifics aren’t always a good idea. People can know your retired without knowing the details or the numbers. Money (or lack thereof) can cause a lot of weirdness between acquaintances, friends and even family.

    • I wonder how much of a difference it would make to know I’m early retired in generic form versus I’m early retired with $1.4 million net worth? I think either way (with specifics or without), it’s really about the same. Although wearing a NW figure on your sleeve would be kind of weird if it was ever brought up outside of a discussion of finances. 🙂

  • There are pros and cons to everything. If you share that you are retired, or wealthy, or religious, or political, or other taboo topics, you risk having bad experiences with certain people. But you also have the opportunity to create lifelong friendships with people who have similar values.

    You win some, you lose some

    In our case, we are an open book. Because you know, whoever smelt it dealt it
    http://southpark.cc.com/clips/410873/whoever-smelt-it-dealt-it

  • Inspiring post. I am really learning a lot from you as well as so many other great personal finance bloggers. Why did you show up late? Hahaha

    BeSmartRich

  • My father always told us to “not flaunt money/income, because it could make others envious”. So I don’t talk about it. Something I have realized, also, is that what you see is NOT what you get. Some people seem wealthy but are in deep debt, while others look very frugal but have big savings… I teach my kids to not trust appearances, haha

    • I think “flaunt” is the proper word to focus on. Flaunting wealth is in poor taste for sure! I would put some of the conspicuous consumption items in the “flaunt” pot. A $10,000 watch for example. Nothing says I have too much money like a watch that’s $9,900 more than just about everyone else’s watch (do people still wear watches?).

      And yes, there’s a paradox of wealth. The run of the mill wealthy looking person (nice car, tailored suit, $10,000 watch) may not have much of a net worth but might have a pretty high income. In contrast, I know more than a few millionaires that look like they might be on welfare.

  • Another great post Justin! Around here in the Ozark hills (you know where Sam Walton came from and where the greatest concentration of wealth in the world is) a lot of the very wealthy drive 20 year old pickups and wear well worn clothes.

    Multi millionaire kids sit in classes next to kids with no food at home. (kinda like your school?)

    Regarding the school lunch 80% number, that is pretty much the norm in most of the country. They try to qualify everyone. I think you can have a family income of 45K and still qualify for the reduced lunch portion of that program.

    • There are probably other well off families at our school, but I don’t know of any. They draw from all over the county district with 150,000+ students.
      You’re right on the school lunch program trying to qualify everyone. I think 45k is the threshold for a family of 4 and it’s even higher for a family of 5 like ours.

  • At work, since I’ve always pack my food. They’d just assumed that I’m a cheapskate instead of looking how healthy my food is. I carry a varieties of fruits some of it they haven’t even tried – pomegranate, dragon fruit, lychee, guava, etc (there fruits are by no means cheap). My lunch is always interesting compare to their Chick-fil-A sandwich. Luckily, there are some people at work started to pack lunches too because within 6 months of starting they gain so much weight, after 3 years … I now motivate who ever pack fruits I’d make positive comments. Hopefully, the whole workplace will be a healthy community all together, becoming more wealthy so no one would care about anyone rich or poor.

    • Way to be a trend setter! I brown bagged it almost every day where I used to work and a few other coworkers jumped on board. Then we had a nice social lunch in one of our offices. Better healthier food for a buck or two from home. Can’t beat that. I did miss the walks around downtown though. 🙂

  • Nice read, RoG.

    I think we’ve all faced the difficulty of having wealth and deciding who to share that information with. The reality is that when you don’t think like other people, you can become alienated from them if you make that fact known.

    I often find myself just “blending in to the crowd” in terms of discussion points rather than going out on a limb to talk about the things I really enjoy. Maybe that’s the Dale Carnegie side of things in the sense that people aren’t interested in what I AM interested in. They want to talk about what THEY are interested in. I’m okay with that and do it to make nice conversation.

    A general rule of thumb I follow is that I don’t bring up money/personal finance/investing unless someone else broaches the topic first. Then it’s open season.

    Thanks again,
    – Ryan from GRB

  • When I had been getting close to paying our mortgage off, we told the kids we would take a vacation as a little celebration. My youngest rode to school every day with a neighbor friend, and told them he would be going on vacation over Spring break. And he added, “yea, and all we had to do was pay the house off!” Later that night he relayed the story and was a little insulted that the parents thought he was mistaken. And assured him that his parents “didn’t pay their house off, people don’t do that. They make house payments.” Correcting what they were sure was him not hearing us correctly. My wife and I laughed a little and said it was fine if they didn’t believe him and it was maybe better they didn’t.

    • Ha ha, awesome! I don’t think I would go out of my way to fix my neighbor’s misconception about us paying off the mortgage. Although I think some of my neighbors are totally on board with paying off their mortgage and it’s within reach eventually due to cheap houses around here.

  • This is a tough one so thanks for sharing your thoughts. Our kids seem to be somewhat ostracized both for being rich and for being poor and I wish I would have developed better skills for talking about wealth early on, we are still figuring it out. On one hand they are made fun of because we buy their clothes from Goodwill and drive an old car, the things kids actually see day to day put us in the ‘poor’ category. But then they can’t figure out why we do this but we can afford 6 homes. We have explained it over an over what ‘real wealth’ is, but I think it just takes kids a long time to understand.

    • Six houses? I’m hoping 4-5 are rentals or you really are rich! 😉

      Yeah, it’s a challenge to get kids to think of wealth in the right framework. We have convinced our kids that $100-200 sneakers worn by some classmates generally aren’t good indicators of wealth.

  • I’m open with our finances on the blog, but nobody we know knows about the blog 🙂 We don’t particulary hide our ‘wealth’ from people, if somebody asks directly about our investments, we don’t like to lie, but usually we don’t get many questions. We live pretty modestly, in a 3 bedroom inexpensive house, drive an old beaten-up Corolla and a brand new Corolla (our little splurge). We’re not interested at all in projecting a richer appearance, and I just love what you said ‘spend like you’re poor, earn like you’re rich’. That’s awesome.

    • That’s how we started out. Not many people in real life knew about my blog. Over time that has changed and now family, friends and neighbors know about it (probably because I shared it on facebook lol). Overall it’s been a positive experience. Even had a good chat with a neighbor about The Millionaire Next Door and instilling positive attitudes toward money for the next generation(s).

      We may end up with a brand new (insert fairly nondescript car here) eventually if the new prices are more favorable than used. With your corolla, I doubt anyone is getting too envious. 😉 Just the way you want it, huh?

  • Wow, can I relate to this post. We’ve been travelling for nearly a year with our toddler and everyone we meet (who are usually on 2 week vacations) always say ‘you must have won the lottery’. Umm no, it’s actually about the same cost as staying at home (we, like you, are so poor that we have to buy groceries on vacation – haha)

    Also we live in a low-mid socio economic area and drive an old car. That helps keep everything in perspective and people just assume we are poor because we don’t act any differently. If I lived in a more expensive neighbourhood I’d probably be more conscious of my crappy car but I’m quite happy with the situation.

    • “You poor thing, you have to buy groceries on vacation” says the person with 50 weeks less vacation than you get each year! 😉

      We aren’t quite ready to hit the road for a year like you, but perhaps some day we will. After minor travel attempts with 3 kids, I can say it’s definitely a challenge, albeit a rewarding one I’m sure. I think we have resigned to staying local this summer when the kids are out of school. The youngest kid will be turning 3 just in time for summer, but it’s a bit exhausting keeping up with him at home (where we have grandparents to hand him off to occasionally). I can’t imagine 3 months or a year on the road with him at this age, but maybe next year when he’s older.

      I think living in a more modest area helps you blend in without spending a ton of money. We are certainly enjoying that aspect of where we live!

      I checked out your blog and it’s pretty great. I subscribed to the email list so I’m looking forward to future updates on travel (or prepping for the next big trip).

  • Unfortunately, having a lot of money can come with a stigma. Should it be that way? No. People who reach financial independence should be proud of that, but not arrogant. Thanks for being open about your finances here on this blog…I think it is beneficial to a lot of people. Great Post!

    • Thanks, Christian! I think the groupthinking masses brand wealthy people with a stigma while simultaneously envying those with wealth and wishing they had it themselves. See, for example, the long lines at the gas station when the lottery exceeds $400 million. Everyone wants to be wealthy, they just hate those that actually achieve that goal. And they like to complain about the rich fat cats with their fellow man while in line to buy lottery tickets. 🙂

  • Awesome topic – thanks for your honesty. I think it’s pretty badass that you’re so straight forward with your kids, and the people you meet. We need more people like you.

  • I love your comment about the ultimate cover-up for wealth is a 15 year old Civic. Mine is “only” 13 years old though.

  • Hey Justin!
    This is my first comment! 🙂
    I came across your site recently and I’m loving the content! This is a GREAT article and something that I struggle with from time to time as well.

    I live a fairly modest life myself. We have 2 older cars(which are both paid for). Our house isn’t huge or luxurious and if a contractor came inside – it would probably resemble most other homes that have 2 young kids( a complete war zone) with no fancy furniture and scratches and scuff marks on the walls.

    But we do like our technology(we have i-everything), and I do like cars. And eventually, we are looking to move up in house and replace our cars(save and pay cash for them). We’re completely debt free(including our house).The car I’m looking to get is a M series BMW. But this isn’t just to get a fancy car just to have a fancy car – I’ll be looking to buy it used. I have always liked cars, and I appreciate how a car handles, etc… that others may not.

    I know when we eventually upgrade – people will think that “we have money” now. Not knowing that we’ve been saving for years ahead of time.

    I know you mentioned about having the ultimate cover up (your car) and that if you had luxury cars and a fancy home – that you wouldn’t of received the quote that you did.

    But some people really do enjoy sports cars & other luxuries – and they don’t buy things just to “have them”. On the other hand – some people may not enjoy cars, but really enjoy a custom tailored suit, or designer purses.

    What if you can live in a nice house, have a luxury car – and still be saving lots of money, investing wisely and be debt free at the same time.

    So my question is – do you think that you should “fake the funk” and intentionally make it look like you don’t have the money, just so that people don’t judge you?

    Or should you enjoy your money, and buy things you like (as long as you can afford them) and not worry about what other people think?

    Would love to hear your perspective!

    • I would go for “don’t fake the funk”. If a nice house and nice cars are really important to you, then go for it. You’ll be perceived as wealthy (which wouldn’t be in error if you’re paying cash for all those assets). I would focus on building wealth over time to enjoy those things you want in life and not worry as much about how others will judge you.

      If you’re a car guy, people will probably say “hey, Ryan’s a car guy. He knows everything there is to know about his M series”. You won’t just be the guy that bought an M series because that’s what you do after you decide a 3 series is for small timers and not befitting of a truly successful person. I have a friend that’s into cars and that’s his hobby (not that it’s all that expensive since he buys older luxury cars). He knows it costs money and that money could also be directed toward investments, but they are already investing pretty well. So he spends money on cars.

  • Wonderful post!
    Especially loved the ending. It was funny and astute.

  • Nice blog. I really identify with this and I’m even tempted to write a book, but I won’t. See, “stealth wealth” could very well be my middle name. My networth is somewhere around 2 million, while my income (passive streams) hovers somewhere around the poverty level. How’d I get there? I lived the life of the ultimate cheapskate, thanks to my frugal parents. Simple living, simple pleasures. Never wasteful. That’s a key word: never Wasting anything but, rather, recycle, repurposing, reusing. I was conditioned to “rough” life. Consequently, I spent very little and allowed my money to compound in banks and mutual funds. Before long I was surprised to see it rise substantially and find myself being a millionaire. To this day it still hasn’t hit me. I don’t Feel like one. Again, that lifelong Conditioning can’t be shook off. I still use coupons, shop at dollar stores and Kmart, buy the cheapest everything just about (look up Planned Obsolesence sometime!) and basically evolved into a Neo-luddite type. Yeah, when I was younger I was a bit different but today I’m satisfied not being a materialistic moron. That was made even more so by the fact that my town became high class suburban in recent years. I absolutely despise being surrounded by wall-to-wall garish McMansions. People who judge one another by Excesses. Not one of them can cut their own 2-car-lenght long lawns; rather, they have teams of 3-6 landscaper helpers come in trailers to ride-around on lawnmowers For Hours Once Every Week on this, shattering my ears with a chainsaw-like symphony! Not one of these people can even pick up a twig on their property by themselves. They also have bottled water delivered to their doorsteps (I’m the only guy you’ll never meet who’s never purchased bottled water!). Everything about their lifestyle emphasized inequality and Look-at-Me: from the multiple (unused) garages attached to their mansions to the multiple luxury vehicles parked 24/7 in front. Conversely, my one-bathroom 50 year old house with all-natural ground coverings is laughed at, and often littered upon. Yet I don’t work anymore nor will I ever have to. I enjoy my frugal, simplistic lifestyle…and am greatly misunderstood. The neighbors despise me as an unwanted intruder (despite predating their mansions by 2 generations!) and don’t trust me. Then again I also don’t dress like a millionaire, just wearing old jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps… But Image over Substance is what modern America has become. America is clearly a showoff nation today. Bigger is better. Louder and flashier triumph.

    • I am sure many would look at your material possessions and say “you can’t be happy with that!”. Because you’re right – there’s an addiction to more better flashier.

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