The Rise Of Stealth Wealth: Ways To Stay Invisible From Society If You Have Money

Invisible Man in Boller HatBecoming 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. Read: Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?

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?

Related: The Stealth Wealth Compendium Of Useful Phrases to deflect attention.

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. MD says

    I always seem late to this blog. Sorry, just so busy. 6 years ago, I would have laughed at this post. That is no longer the case. The points made are excellent. Much of my net worth, ironically, has been built over the last 5 years. I am bit older than the average reader here (I am 47) and I know the world of poverty because I lived it once upon a time.

    It seems as though the American dream that you can make it no matter where your starting point begins is dying. Not because people can’t make it but because they are being conditioned to believe that. When I was 26, I had a child, GF (who I would later marry) and lived in an apartment in a high crime area. I was underemployed but worked various part time jobs to pay my $465 per month in rent. I probably could have qualified for a gov program or 2 but I would have rather slit my wrist than ever apply for that. I delivered pizza, was an inspector for those annoying circulars that get thrown on your lawn and I shoveled snow. All this with a college degree.

    In October of 1992, I looked at my checking account – I had $2.92 left but fortunately had a strong week of pizza delivery and my GF just got paid. We had $520 to put it so we could afford the rent and some food. I drove a 1983 Corolla and my wife had a 78 Dodge Diplomat which was a nightmare.

    Finally, I got a job that could be considered a career builder in November of 92. I was immature and thought I deserved a lot more than what I was being paid which was $23,000 a year. I struggled through 4 years and made a little more but gained a ton of maturity. Since I was a 3rd party contractor, I was at the mercy of a contract renewal. After 4 years, the contract wasn’t renewed. I actually had a contract that gave me 3 months of severance (I was making $26,000 at the time). I collected UE for 6 weeks and hated every minute of it. I had begun my studies for a CFP and took a job actually making less than what my starting salary was 4 years earlier. My wife thought I was insane. However, I was determined. I did every hard job no one else wanted to touch and everyone thought would lead to failure. I always find a way, through sheer determination, to make it work. After 10 years, I received a big break and landed a job with the potential to make very good money. Even then, I had to create my own opportunities since this was not a market we were in previously.

    To make a long story short, after spending numerous hours in airports, having hundreds of meetings that led to nothing, being away from my growing family for long stretches, things broke and I began to make real money. Today, I am proud of what I accomplished but am careful about showing it.

    I drive a BMW 328 XI and actually get ribbed about that. My lease is up next November and I am going to downgrade to a Sonota. I have had a relative tell me that I should feel fortunate to be where I am. Fortunate? I earned it with sweat equity over a long period of time. We give a ton to charity yet I have been accused of being a “fat cat”. I don’t wear expensive watches, I get my shoes re-soled, I use coupons all the time and I generally watch what I spend. I was called a fat cat because my wife mentioned to one of my cousins how much we enjoyed a dinner at a fancy steakhouse.

    By the way, my efforts ultimately led to 20 people being hired. So, others have benefited as well. Still, that no longer seems to matter. It is clear that we are the enemy now and need to go even further underground. It is frustrating to say the least. My wife has also achieved success and now has a thriving accounting practice of her own.

    We have now become a country where success is frowned upon and relying on the government is thought of as a “right”. It is sad to see how far the country has fallen. I don’t think we have seen the bottom yet.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      Do you often wonder why folks just don’t just try harder if they want to get ahead? Instead of waking up at 7:30am, why not get up at 4:30am and work for a full 3 hours before anybody? 3 hours a day more is 90 more hours of extra time a week to get something done!

      Hard work is hard by definition, but there’s a great correlation with hard work and progress on America!

  2. MD says

    Sam,

    I think it is important to also figure out how to work smarter as well. I have watched people work 70 hours a week and not get very far because they focus on everything that does not matter and ignore the few things that do matter.

  3. Kathy says

    Working my way through your archives of articles and thought this one was exceptionally good. One thing the current administration is very good at is creating class warfare. It has promoted class envy and hatred especially directed at wealthy and conservative people. It really pays to keep your mouth shut about what and how much you have. Wannabe rich people would do well to read “The Millionaire Next Door” to learn about how people with genuine wealth act. My mom and step-father were true millionaires due to a vast number of rental properties yet they lived like paupers in a rickety old house that he was born in. No one would ever believe they had the amount of money they had. I wouldn’t advocate living like paupers but living like the middle class might be more reasonable.

  4. Leslie says

    We are stealth wealth and want to stay that way. (The only outward indication of wealth is our house — although it is sparsely and cheaply furnished.)
    This article helped me realize that an issue I am grappling with is that of maintaining our status as stealth wealth.
    So far I’ve been keeping tabs on finances at home via Quicken, but I want to use a program that combines information so I can do more-complete portfolio analysis. I can’t find anything that will do this analysis offline on my computer. We don’t trade often, so I don’t need a site that goes to each bank to get updates (and therefore I had ought to be able to bypass the worry of putting account and password information online.) But even Morningstar’s portfolio manager requires stock purchase history. We am very reluctant to let anything online know the details of our wealth . It just feels wrong to us as both a security risk and opening us up to marketing aimed at those who might spend big money.
    Are our worries justified?

    • says

      Hi Leslie,

      I think your worries are justified, but they are also not because any company who violates your privacy will quickly get crushed.

      I asked Personal Capital (who does the portfolio analysis for free in their Investment tab) about privacy, and they said they have this massive encryption software that protects information, and nobody in the office can pull a client’s information if they are not an advisor. I’m in their office 2-3 times a week currently advising on their blog buildout, and will ask for you. But I’m pretty sure nobody but an approved advisor can see all my details.

      • Leslie says

        Thanks for your quick reply and offer to make inquiries at Personal Capital. I want to clarify your first sentence. You wrote “I think your worries are justified, but they are also not because any company who violates your privacy will quickly get crushed.”
        does this mean:
        Worries justified, but also not justified because any … crushed.

        I hadn’t thought that if our privacy is violated, almost certainly so would others’, and the person doing the violating wouldn’t know just how the wealth = power equation might affect him / the company. (Because we live like “the common man”, and he usually has few to no resources to go after a big company.)

  5. Sunil says

    Sam
    Here is one more to the list. Never reveal where you go for vacation. I pick up my son from school everyday. Couple of years back one of his classmates mom asked me if we were planning for a vacation somewhere… I said Switzerland and Austria and her jaws dropped. Since i mostly shop at target/ross and drive a toyota corolla, she never expected that from me. The next question was where I lived. I was somewhat vague, but she figured it out. From then on, if someone asks me about vacation I just say “Lake tahoe” or “Disneyland” or something closeby…
    Sunil

  6. AJ says

    I don’t like this post much. I’m not wealthy, but I’m young and am working to be eventually so that I can raise a family the way that I was raised and to be able to pay to educate my future kids…However, I really dislike the entire tone of this article. It’s so cynical and really encourages people to be ashamed of themselves for doing well. All it really should say is don’t flaunt your wealth and keep perspective, knowing that not everyone has what you have. I think your advice is sensible enough, but there’s an air of plain dishonesty to it. Now, with that said it’s a great blog, had to say it.

    • says

      How young is young? I’m giving you the perspective from being poor, to slaving away, to having money, to not making nearly as much anymore.

      Everybody is pro big government and free services as a student and while not paying taxes. Once they have to work a lot and pay a lot of taxes, their attitudes change. And once they are retired, their attitudes change once again.

      I would love for you to check back on this post in 10 years and see if you still feel the same way.

      Welcome to my site!

      • Laura says

        I agree about the tone. It sounds like you were maybe hurt or feeling frustrated when you wrote it. While I agree with a lot of what is written the tenor comes across as I have to hide or change who I am in order lessen the negativity. There is a difference between being private and downplaying your success in order to be humble vs. outright lying on purpose to protect yourself from being hurt.

        While I’ve not yet accumulated my riches, it did take us 7.5 years to pay off all non mortgage debt. When we tell people we have no debt and only $120k left on the mortgage, I do get derogatory attitudes sometimes.

        Now, I don’t run around telling everyone of our success. But those that are proud of me tend to share and exclaim how proud they are of me to others. When I see a negative reaction I immediately focus on the negative so they don’t feel worse about themselves. Then I move along. It takes time to surround yourself with positive people. I choose to feel grateful that the negative person displayed their hand by being negative. It lets me know they are not in a place right now to want help or to share in someone else’s happiness. So I consciously stay away from personal talk with these people. I guess I just see the negativity as my cue to stay away. It helps to know where you stand with people In order to build up a good network of people.

        I’ve never felt I needed to hide or change myself. They need to change! Not me! If your child was experiencing such negativity would you really expect them to appear to change who they are by pretending to not like studying and focus on the bad in front of the naysayers? Or would you tell them to focus on finding better friends? Friends with whom they can freely be themselves? I completely disregard the naysayers because I don’t care what their attitude is. Having enough positive people in my life allows me to be understanding enough to know the naysayers are just insecure because they feel hopeless or overwhelmed, etc.

        I do love your writing. I was reading personal capital articles and thought how well written they were and looked and the ones I liked were written by you and Justin. I just think there is a more honest and happier way to approach the issue. Sorry I rambled a bit at the end.

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