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Stealth Wealth: The Secret Lives of Millionaires

Stealth Wealth: The Secret Lives of Millionaires

What is stealth wealth? Stealth wealth is the desire to conceal your net worth from others. While some millionaires like to flaunt their riches, others do their best to hide it.

Why would someone want to hide their wealth? That’s an interesting question. Ask a wealthy individual why they practice stealth wealth, and they’ll most likely talk about preserving their assets.

They may also rattle off a list of rich people’s problems. Here are a few:

  • Wealthy individuals face more lawsuits.
  • Contractors and businesses charge higher prices.
  • They can’t distinguish real friends from fake ones.

Have you heard these reasons? They all focus on the need for wealthy individuals to protect their money. The premise is that you’ll be a bigger target if people know how much you’re worth.

Are These Assumptions Accurate?

As a millionaire myself, I don’t believe this list is entirely accurate. Here’s why:

  • The average person isn’t getting sued for tremendous amounts of money. If they do, umbrella insurance can mitigate most lawsuit fears. 
  • Contractors and businesses may charge higher prices, but you can easily shop around for better deals.
  • Ordinary people don’t cling to the coattails of wealthy individuals. Fake friends may be a problem for celebrities, but this isn’t likely to happen to the millionaires that live next door to you.

Money is a Detractor, Not a Magnet

Contrary to popular belief, money is not a magnet for friends, relatives, or acquaintances. In real life, it often acts as a repellant. It’s easy to feel jealous, angry, disgruntled, or just plain annoyed by those who have a lot more money than you do.

People tend to tense up around financial conversations and public displays of wealth. They don’t clutch on to the people talking about their fortunes. Instead, they run from them.

That doesn’t mean stealth wealth isn’t important. It just means the standard list of reasons might not be applicable.

In my opinion, the real reason for stealth wealth isn’t to protect your assets. It’s to protect the feelings and perceptions of those around you.

The Benefits of Stealth Wealth

When I first graduated from college, I worked for a successful financial institution with substantial perks and benefits.

In the beginning, friends and relatives would ask questions about my job. How was the company stock performing? How many days of vacation did I receive? When did I expect to receive my next big bonus?

After a few years, I began working from home several days a week and took the opportunity to work from our beach house. Close relatives started making snarky comments, and jealousy began to rear its ugly head. 

Success is tricky. We can cheer for those aiming to succeed and still feel jealous when they reach the pinnacles of success. We can applaud those who attain more, then quickly feel like they already have more than enough. Comparison is the thief of joy and misery loves company. It was easier for people to feel angered by our success than feel happy for us.

Do you know what happens when you become successful? Some people begin to compare their success to your own, which can lead to complicated feelings and severe jealousy.

By practicing stealth wealth, I shield myself from those negative emotions, but I also protect my friends and relatives from feeling them. Why create emotional turmoil where it doesn’t need to exist? There are many benefits to being secretly rich, but preventing jealousy, anger, and sadness may be the most important.

Leaving the Door Open for Honest Conversations

I’ve written before about the negative aspects of being rich. It’s easy to judge others based on how much they have and earn. In many circles, rich is a dirty word.

In the United States, the gap between rich and poor is continually growing. I recognized this early on in my career.

As my earning power grew, I became more aware of my wealth’s privileges. In the beginning, I lost friendships over my newfound wealth and created unnecessary family tensions too.

Practicing stealth wealth allows me to fit in just about anywhere I go. When I sit on the beach, no one knows I own or buy real estate on the coast. Most beachgoers assume I rent a home just like they do.

As a former small business owner, I can talk easily with a neighbor who owns her own plumbing company. Answering the door in jeans and a t-shirt, I can also chat easily with a plumber who comes to fix a leak in my home.

As my wealth has grown, I’ve become a better listener. I base what I share on how other people speak and what they are say. I hope to make others feel comfortable. To do that, I can’t openly talk about all that I own, nor should I.

Practicing stealth wealth leads to more genuine and honest conversations. We treat others as equals, and they do the same in return.

Stealth Wealth is More Difficult Than You Might Imagine

My family members don’t know about my blog. They don’t know I’m worth millions of dollars either. I’ve been writing here for over 15 years, and I’ve never told them about the money my husband and I saved. Most of my friends don’t know either.

To practice stealth wealth, you can’t let anyone know how much you earn or how much you’ve stashed away. Unlike some millionaires, I’m not the kind of person who likes to flaunt my money.

In general, I prefer to blend into the background rather than come into the spotlight. For me, modesty and financial success fit hand-in-hand.

Stealth Wealth Signs

Some people say it’s easy to hide your wealth with a stealth wealth lifestyle. To look like the quintessential millionaire next door, you shouldn’t wear expensive clothes, drive luxury cars, or choose the biggest house on the block, but material possessions aren’t the only signs of success.

What other status symbols exist? How about expensive vacations, trips, and experiences? 

To practice stealth wealth, you must consider material possessions alongside your adventures. Social media images of trendy hot spots are just as flashy as fancy cars and big houses, and expensive activities, projects, and events can accidentally blow your stealth wealth cover.

How to Spot Stealth Wealth

Even if you try to hide your wealth, your profession may provide clues. It’s easy to Google for the salaries of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It takes a few short clicks on a web browser to estimate the average pay rate for most careers.

In reality, most jobs have rather large pay ranges. Imagine a software engineer earning between $50,000 and $200,000 per year. No one knows if you are at the top or bottom for your selected profession, but that fact doesn’t matter. Many people will hear your job title and assume you make six figures, not a middle-class salary.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Just because you earn a high salary doesn’t mean you’re wealthy. Student loan debt and poor spending habits can eat away at high wages, but the average person doesn’t consider that when judging your financial success. To them, the job title indicates wealth.

The ability to attain stealth wealth depends partly on what you do for a living. A doctor or engineer will have a more difficult time hiding their wealth than a teacher or social worker.

I am a stay-at-home parent living just outside of an expensive city. Where I live, a 1600 square foot house costs $750,000. The cost of living is so high that most families require two working parents to pay the mortgage.

I can wear t-shirts, jeans, and drive an old stealth wealth car, but the minute I tell someone I stay at home, they assume my husband earns a lot of money.

How Your Experiences Impact Stealth Wealth

Exotic trips and pricey excursions also undermine stealth wealth. I rarely discuss my beach house with others, but even new friends and neighbors begin to wonder why we travel out of state multiple times a year.

I often say our beach house is a “family home.” Some new friends may assume it belongs to my parents or in-laws, but subsequent questions usually follow.

“Does your family rent the house?” they’ll ask. “Would they rent it to me?”

At this point, I tell them the truth. “My husband and I bought it years ago,” I say.

Some proponents of stealth wealth condone lying, but I don’t wish to cover up my wealth that way. As I mentioned above, practicing stealth wealth leads to more genuine and honest conversations, and I can’t be genuine if I cover up the truth.

Should I Share My Financial Knowledge? 

Proponents of stealth wealth often avoid the topic of money. Many rich people think you should lie about your wealth or pretend you don’t know anything about financial matters.

I’m afraid I have to disagree. It feels selfish to hold back on financial wisdom that could help others become wealthy. I talk openly about money, while leaving out personal facts and figures.

My husband and I recently talked to a friend about buying her first house. We openly shared the thought processes behind fifteen-year mortgages, bi-weekly payments, and using bonuses to pay off balances. Then we discussed the importance of balancing saving goals like investing in the market while paying down her first home.

We didn’t jump in with our ideas. Instead, we let the conversation flow freely into these topics. We discussed all of these matters in general terms. Of course, this may blow our cover, but we don’t intend to keep all of our financial knowledge to ourselves. 

I’m not willing to keep these financial details to myself in the name of stealth wealth. We didn’t mention the price of our home or that we are mortgage-free, but we provided a ton of helpful information. 

To hold back feels selfish and stingy. Being secretly rich isn’t about hiding the keys to becoming wealthy; it’s about finding ways to share them.

Stealth Wealth Leads to Real Wealth

We also talk to others about the lure of consumerism, including advertisements and lifestyle inflation. It’s easier for some to part with their hard-earned money than save it. The fewer status symbols you feel pressured to purchase, the more money you can stow away.

We don’t discuss our net worth, but we talk a lot about how content we feel. A rich life isn’t just about having a bunch of money in the bank. It’s about being rich in other ways too.

I could keep these keys to success to myself, but I want to share my knowledge with those who are open to receiving it. I want to teach others to save money, build wealth, and become financially independent.

Embrace Stealth Wealth

Some people may feel the need to hide behind stealth wealth, but most of us aren’t intentionally hiding anything at all. We aren’t purposefully avoiding the purchase of fancy stuff. We just don’t feel the need to buy much of it.

My husband and I prefer cooking at home to eating in fancy restaurants. We choose backyard barbecues over hosting meals on fine china. We avoid lifestyle inflation and aim to be true to ourselves. We can blend in with our neighbors by living simply with less.

That is until we head out of town. If we’re gone for a while, at least a few friends and neighbors will notice and ask where we’ve been.

The average family can’t afford to spend a month away from home. We could hide the truth or openly enjoy our money and tell people we were away on vacation.

Matthew

Sunday 27th of March 2022

Hello, I've got a problem about replying to people's questions about what I do. I'm too young to say that I'm retired. Retired from what? What did you do to be retired before 55? I say that I'm and administrator for some investments and trusts. People what to know the inside money investing secretes. I say it's for others and not myself. Who are my clients then? I then say that they prefer that I don't tell. By now the story is getting too complicated. I just want a job title and a good cover story that doesn't bring on too many questions. I don't want to tell people how much I've got. Where I got it from and why, at 55, I don't have to work anymore. I am a middle aged backpacker who does fly first class, stay in hostel dorms, sit on over night buses and goes to the opera.

One Frugal Girl

Monday 11th of April 2022

@Matthew, Can you say you're taking off work for a while? A friend of mine has been using this line instead of saying they retired. You never know if you'll go back to work in some capacity, so she feels like it's not a lie.

Jack

Monday 20th of December 2021

We've been diy remodeling our house one room at a time for years. But we haven't done anything to the outside of the house. Stealth wealth in this case is just the order that we choose to work on our home. It has the added benefit of keeping the assessor from knowing how much nicer the inside is.

One Frugal Girl

Friday 24th of December 2021

I guess that works until your friends and neighbors come inside :-)

Rajeev

Thursday 25th of November 2021

Practising a full-on stealth wealth can also lead to devoid oneself of the joy of spending. I think it is better to strike a balance between the two and do indulge in some spending once every few months.

One Frugal Girl

Sunday 28th of November 2021

Wonderfully stated. There isn't any sense in stockpiling money you'll never enjoy.

Joe

Monday 27th of September 2021

Is humblebrag one word or two?

Journal Club 9-17-21 – Passive Income M.D. – PROSPERTURE

Thursday 23rd of September 2021

[…] Some millionaires believe that flaunting your wealth invites unnecessary troubles. So, they practice something called “stealth wealth.” Are you familiar with this concept? The author of One Frugal Girl debunks some of the reasons behind practicing this idea and shares her take on the topic in the article – Stealth Wealth: The Secret Lives of Millionaires. […]