Becoming wealthy has never been easier in America thanks to quantitative easing, improved financial education, an improving economy, a widening safety net, and a bull market in stocks and real estate. Surviving as a wealthy person on the other hand, has never been tougher. The government goes after you if you make much more than $200,000 a year (medicare tax, AMT, deduction phaseout, credit eliminations, education tax, etc). If the government doesn’t get you, regular citizens will. Who did you cheat or rob to get to where you are? This is a real problem for those who want to make it big in the land of dreams and hand guns.
Freedom is one of America’s greatest attributes. Yet, if you go too far on the income curve you’ll start feeling like a prisoner to society. Despite the rich giving more to charity in one year than many others will give in their lifetimes, people will protest their wealth and hate them forever. Class warfare is no fun, even if you do have the financial means to own a bazooka.
Most readers here are ambitious folks who want to improve their financial health. In a recent survey about whether there is a correlation between the number of credit cards one owns and net worth, a good 22% of you indicate net worth amounts over $500,000. Another 13% of you have a net worth of between $250,000 – $500,000. Those are great figures for the average reader age of between 27-34. In another 10 years, I’m sure everybody is going to be that much wealthier. But once you get to where you are going, you’ll wonder what’s next. Never lose site of the fact that it’s really the journey to financial independence that’s most rewarding.
When society turns their back on you for being successful, just recollect on all your struggles and take a deep breath. Be proud of your accomplishments because you know you’re not just doing it for yourself, but for your family as well. You don’t have to be ashamed for not being the dumb ass in high school who thought it was cool to skip class every week to smoke weed. You shouldn’t feel bad that you worked summer internships during college while your buddies went off to play. And you should certainly not feel embarrassed by your frugal habits and smart investments once you found a job.
Unfortunately, society has a fantastic way of discrediting your achievements. “Nobody is self made,” and ”You didn’t build that,” are my two favorite retorts. Just try taking yourself completely out of the equation and see where that logic goes when there’s nobody to think, dream, and execute. When you are outnumbered, resistance is futile. You must blend in and rage with the rest of them. Or you can Go John Galt to protest government waste.
With the below suggestions you’ll be able to better walk amongst the shadows without fear of retribution any longer. Your family will be more guarded from bullies lurking to recondition your children every chance they get. Once you finish reading this post, never speak of its matters beyond your immediate family and friends again. We’ve got to protect our own little community on the web.
A GUIDE TO STEALTH WEALTH
When Forbes came out with its Top 10 Wealthiest Chinese in China, there was huge outrage by the public and a massive anti-corruption crackdown ensued. Half of those guys fell off the list or went to jail within a couple years. As America attempts to reverse Capitalism due to widening income inequality, blending in as a middle class citizen has never been more vital. Below are 15 recommendations to help you assimilate better in society. (Read: Definitions Of A Middle Class Income)
1) Never drive a nice car to work or to any public setting. Drive the most economical, safe car you know so that when you ultimately run into your co-workers, they’ll think you’re frugal or poor. Take public transportation and proclaim your love for buses and trains profusely. You don’t want to roll into the office in a Benzo and have your boss see you. His or her immediate thought will be to cut your bonus since you are doing so well. Driving up to an employee salary negotiation meeting in a Bentley isn’t going to work in your favor either. Instead of choosing a new Range Rover Sport and deducting the vehicle as a business expense, consider a more moderate BMW X3 or Jeep Grand Cherokee instead. When cops huddle for breakfast thinking about which car they want to ticket, do you think they are going for the guy in a 10 year old Toyota Corolla? Cops make $50-$60,000 a year on average and are on a mission.
2) Be careful who you give your home address to. People love to snoop on Zillow.com to see what you paid for your house. Not only will they see what you paid for your house, they’ll also be able to tell whether you’re under water or making huge equity. Instead of giving an exact address, you can give them cross streets and a description of the house. e.g. I’m at the corner of Jackson and Teller. Brown wood shingle house. You can’t miss it. Inevitably, they will find out your exact address if they pay attention, but delay that information for as long as possible. Your house is your sacred abode. Protect its privacy. I recommend claiming your house on Zillow and trying to make the house look as bad as possible. Property tax assessors look at Zillow all the time now to try and jack up your taxes!
3) Always say it’s fake. Whether it’s your Panerai watch, Birkin bag, Armani suit, or Loubotin shoes, always tell the person who asks that it’s fake. Resist the urge to brag about your material things. You’re already an established individual. You can tell them you got it at Ross, Target, or at a flea market overseas and marvel with them how good knock-offs are nowadays. The quality things that you buy are for your own pleasure after all. Pretend you don’t know brands or how much things cost. Just say you like how it looks.
4) Never reveal your full income. Without question, never reveal the full extent to how much you make. Only those who are insecure, seek adoration, or want to make money by teaching you how to make money enjoy flaunting their wealth. There’s definitely an inverse correlation with how much wealth you have and how much you show. You’re an invisible tycoon remember? If you have a particularly high income level and you’re hanging around with people who make a fraction of what you make, be cognizant not to talk about your vacations or things you’ve bought. Be aware that the median national household income is $52,000. Earning anything more than 2X your state’s median household income will put you under fire.
5) Only show one leg. Sexy women know that it’s better to only show a little skin and leave the rest up to the imagination. For men, jeans and a t-shirt is a timeless look that transcends all wealth. Besides never revealing your entire income, you should also never reveal your entire net worth, how many cars you have in your collection, how many vacation properties you own, and so forth. Study the median amounts for everything and stay within the 80% bell curve.
6) Spread your assets around. Do not become one of the biggest land owners in your community. Do not become one of the biggest shareholders in a private equity deal unless you really, really believe in it. Spread your investable assets around so people can’t really tell how much you have. Diversification also ensures that your wealth doesn’t take a beating in case of violent downturns either. Take a look at The Recommended Net Worth Allocation By Age Or Work Experience post for more.
7) Get out of your bubble. Once you know your State’s median household income and average net worth, adjust your outlook accordingly. Not everybody had nurturing parents, attended great schools, worked hard, got a lucky break etc. Some people are born into poverty, and it’s damn hard to get out because of negative influences all around. Believe that people truly want to do better. When you do, realize that despite all your hard work, you are luckier than most as well. The better understanding you have of others, the less chance you’ll come across as an arrogant snob and the better you can assimilate.
8) Pretend you do not understand. You might be a brilliant person, but brilliant people are intimidating. Instead, pretend you don’t fully understand what another is saying by asking questions. Don’t think you’re better than others just because you see solutions easily. Guard your intelligence like you guard your full income and wealth. It’s better to start your intelligence at a base level and dial it up if the occasion requires. Some of the smartest people I know have this eery look about them that screams stone cold aloofness. You know they are already thinking multi-variably, but from the outside it seems like they are a dull brick wall.
9) Praise others for their success. Always be encouraging and positive of other people’s milestones. People who are insecure tend to be the ones who want to toot their horn the most. You know the types who constantly post pictures of themselves online, name drop who they hung out with the other day, or constantly share how great they are. Once in a while is absolutely fine. All the time just cries for desperation and attention. Try really hard to bite your tongue and not “one-up” someone else despite any successes you have. Give glory to them. Be happy for others and never belittle their achievements.
10) Volunteer to be on various charitable boards. Although charitable boards are a breeding ground for some of the wealthiest people, it’s hard to get attacked if your name is prominently on the brochure for good. Your role as a charity board member is mainly to fundraise since it is assumed you are relatively well-connected. Rich people attract other rich people, who enjoy rallying around a cause. The more money you can raise for the charity, the less bad things other people will have to say about your wealth.
11) Always stay humble. Sooner or later, people will figure out you are not as poor as you make yourself out to look. When they do, they will realize how humble and unassuming you were all those times they were talking about their wealth and their achievements. You know those movies where a girl falls in love with an ordinary guy she meets at a park, but he turns out to be a prince instead? You want to be that guy. They’ll love you even more and you may even affect their financial lives in a positive way.
12) Donate aggressively to both parties or donate nothing at all. If you donate aggressively to one party, you run the risk of being ostracized if another party comes into power. Think about all the senior government officials and big backers who were loyal to Bush Jr. when Obama assumed power. Their access just got shut down. The solution is to donate to both parties equally and sing their causes for a greater American. Once you identify yourself as an American rather than as a Republican or a Democrat, it’s easier to justify being a patriot.
13) Set up trusts for your children and charities. One of the great ways to hide and protect your wealth is by setting up trusts. You don’t want your heirs to go through a public and potentially messy probate court to fight for what they think they should get. Trusts are all about leaving a legacy you desire without other people getting up in your business. Just be careful not to leave your kids too much, or else they might become spoiled brats with no purpose in life! I also recommend putting businesses you own under someone else’s name or under the shelter of a trust. Keep the inquisitive eyes guessing and even play along if they start getting very aggressive. A trust within a trust, just like a dream within a dream.
14) Stop smiling so much. One of the biggest annoyances is being around someone who is always so happy. The happy person usually serves to bring your spirits up. But if they are always happy, you start thinking what’s wrong with them and more importantly, why aren’t you just as happy? People are much more empathetic to people who are feeling down and out. Just look at the 100+ positive comments on this post where I shared I was feeling glum. If I start writing “look at me” posts about how awesome I am at making money, most people would look away in disgust, including myself. Develop a poker face in your daily life and practice your frump. Since money can’t buy happiness after $200k, society will be thrilled if you are worth multi-millions and sad.
15) Understand pop culture and sports. The more you can connect with someone, the less they will hate you. Americans spend 5-6 hours a day watching trash TV instead of producing. Read the Wikipedia synopsis of The Real Housewives of Wherever, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Jersey Shore. Make sure you know who are the top four contenders in the NFL and NBA. The more sports and pop culture you know, the more you are able to assimilate. The greatest thing I like about sports is that it breaks down all race, cultural, and economic barriers. It’s what you do on the field that counts.
THE BENEFITS OF STEALTH WEALTH
1) Truer relationships. When you’re powerful or wealthy, you’re never quite sure whether a person showing interest likes you for who you are or for the benefits they think you may provide them. When it comes to romance, we’ve learned from a previous post one should look out for one’s mannerisms to unveil stealth wealth. A good life is all about genuine relationships that are not soiled by the taint of money.
2) Less people come out of the woodwork to bother you for money. As soon as your old acquaintances and relatives find out you have money, you’ll inevitably get e-mails and phone calls from people who are looking for financial assistance. You might even get a call from your baby mama or baby papa to discover a child you never knew you had!
3) Lower expectations for you to always pay. There’s a tendency to push the group bill on the wealthiest person in some cultures or circles. You may very well be the wealthiest person at the table, but it starts getting incredibly annoying when people who are not starving are always asking you to pick up the bill. The same lower expectations go for when it comes time to donate to charity. People should pay or donate out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they are simply wealthier than others.
4) Lower chance you will look like a cheapskate. People who don’t have as much money enjoy highlighting what a cheapskate some rich person is for not tipping more than he should, or buying up to the limit of what they should be able to afford. A large reason why people are wealthy is because of the financial discipline they’ve practiced all those years while working. Wealthy people tend to save more and invest more of their money. Less wealthy people tend to take their extravagant spending habits and extrapolate them if they had X amount more money.
5) Less likely you will get ripped off. If you are a foreigner landing in Mumbai, the taxi driver will easily try to charge you double because what’s an extra 200 rupees to you? You’ve got to spend your time haggling for the standard downtown fair for all passengers. Highway patrol officers tend to target fancy cars over beaters because they know fancy cars tend to move faster and there’s less guilt associated with giving a wealthy person a $250 ticket. Sales people are trained to look out for wealthy customers. They’ll see what type of watch you’re wearing, what type of car you drive, what type of handbag you hold, and what type of shoes you wear all to size you up and see how much they can extract within an acceptable range.
BONUS: Less likely to get kidnapped or mugged. No kidnapper is going to bother kidnapping a person from the slums. They are going to go after some rich doctor’s son playing in the park after school one day. Muggers are wise to drive five minutes further to a wealthier zip code in San Francisco to mug unsuspecting pedestrians. Why mug in the Bronx when you can mug in the Upper East Side? All one has to do is look up online those people in society magazines, or those who frequently report their outsized incomes to target. Kidnapping and mugging is a high risk business. Might as well get the most bang for your buck!
TIP TOE AWAY FROM THE BOOGYMAN
If you have a substantial amount of wealth be grateful. You might feel ostracized by the world, and hence end up hanging out with only rich people who won’t attack you for being you. However, I encourage you to not lose sight of reality. Learn to diversify away from those who spend $25,000 a year on private high schools, $1,000 on fund raiser galas, $75,000 on Range Rovers and $100,000 on fancy country clubs. Flashing your wealth is a sure fire way to get the hammer by not only the IRS, but by your fellow citizens who can’t stand your success.
If you are not wealthy based on your own definition of wealth, I encourage you to channel your frustrations for the wealthy at improving yourself. The rich and powerful have a tendency to get more rich and powerful. Their children will likely have a huge head start over the average kid graduating from school. We’ve just got to try harder to get ahead by studying more, coming in earlier, leaving later, taking more risks, and being steadfast in our resolve of never giving up until we find success.
Readers, have you ever come across a person who you thought was middle class or poor, only to find out s/he was extremely wealthy? What were some of the attributes s/he displayed to hide his/her wealth? What are some of the ways you keep your wealth hidden from society? Why do you think people show off their wealth so much?
Update: Please read The Stealth Wealth Compendium Of Useful Phrases to deflect attention.