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What is stealth wealth?
Stealth wealth is when a wealthy person avoids displaying the outward trappings of wealth in order to blend in.
This young retiree has gone pretty extreme by not even telling his friends and family that he is financially independent and retired!
Deception of family and friends whilst trying to hide the fact your retired sounds awful!
But perhaps playing it cool and low key by not showing off your wealth is an approach that may suit you.
Why Practice Stealth Wealth?
-Relationships Struggle When Wealth is Unequally Distributed
The financial independence +/- Retire early movement has rising popularity. Many young people are saving aggressively and accumulating impressive levels of wealth as a result.
We have all heard horror stories about big prize lottery winners. Those that have had a big win often tell of unanticipated difficulties associated with having so much money.
Long lost friends and family members pester them for money.
New friendships can feel tainted with doubt they are motivated by the hope of financial gain.
Early retirees and young people that have accumulated significant assets on their journey towards financial independence are reporting similar problems.
People seem to resent these young go-getters success, despite it coming from hard work and delayed gratification.
These attitudes can even come from their own family. Having raised kids willing them to succeed, not all parents are immune to the green-eyed monster. When a child far exceeds expectation, family relationships can become strained by jealousy.
The Wealthy Are the Common Enemy Everone Loves to Hate
People love to judge the rich.
Regardless of how they achieved their wealth, the wealthy are often seen as greedy money hoarders.
Those that have earned an equivalent income and spent it on new cars, top of the range televisions and jewellery tend to be less judged. They are the ones often seen as “doing well” and “smart” rather than greedy.
There is also small minority that are on the look out for opportunities to gain wealth without the hard work.
The worst-case scenario would be to attract a spouse who intends to divorce and take as much of your assets as possible. If you want to appear wealthy to attract a mate, first consider what kind of partner you are keen to attract!
Australia is becoming a more litigious society, though luckily still far behind the United states. Advertising your wealth really make you an obvious target for those looking for an easy law suit.
Asset protection often seems irrelevant to the young professional with a negative net worth! But within a few years, if you spend less than you earn and invest regularly, asset protection will soon become an important issue. No-one wants to delay gratification and save their cash instead of blowing it for someone to take it away with a frivolous law suit.
Do You Really Need to Show Off?
I suspect readers of this blog aren’t prone to spending on frivolous status symbols.
The only reason to have a flashy status symbol such as a Rolex watch is to show off. I hope no-one really pretends to themselves it has anything to do with telling the time!
What do people really think when they see you wearing that watch? Do you think they are impressed and like you more?
Or do they assume you’re a bit of a tosser? This might be motivated by jealousy, but the end result is the same. It seems rather distasteful to flaunt wealth when plenty are still struggling.
If there are any desperate people about, it will surely identify you as a good target to rob!
Options 1. Look Wealthy OR 2. Be Wealthy
Probably the most important reason is that by “looking rich” people are usually preventing themselves from becoming rich!
Luxury status symbols, if desired, should be brought after a family has secured their financial future. By this, I don’t necessarily mean financially independent, but on target to all goals.
With the time it takes to reach financial security, you will be well practiced at weighing up your spending choices. And you will be more aware of the environmental and financial wastefulness of consumerism.
You will be able to consciously prioritise spending that brings you and your family the most joy. This will allow you to spend far more effectively than haphazardly buying every next best thing.
Most will have developed the maturity and self esteem to value discretion over showing off.
Disadvantages of Stealth Wealth
In the short term, many initially feel they are missing out on those self indulgent consumer purchases. Especially for high income earners, there are societal pressures that encourage a certain way of living. If you are still developing self esteem (and many of us take a while!) this can be challenging.
As a doctor, it’s pretty hard to practice stealth wealth. There are societal expectation that doctors are wealthy. I find this expectation rammed down my throat at every opportunity. It is a large reason, I suspect, that doctors can struggle to save enough for retirement despite well above average incomes.
We are constantly being told we can afford it, and can feel pressure to keep up with the Dr Joneses. There are some occupations where a fancy car and house are an important part of painting the image of success. Estate agents may feel the need to project a picture of successful affluence (with a flash car) to provide social proof of their ability to sell homes. Beyond smart work attire, I don’t feel this is the case with doctors. I suspect a flash car in the driveway of a private clinic is inclined to make patients resent the fee more.
Perhaps it’s best to be a stealth doctor too! Advertising yourself as a doctor, in my experience, will result in larger invoices (you can afford it!). There is also an expectation to deal with random niggling medical issues at the most inappropriate times. I once got asked for a script for blood pressure pills in a jacuzzi! For once, gender stereotypes work in our favour, ladies. Almost everyone assumes you are a nurse if you tell them you work “at the hospital”. I often don’t bother to correct outside work.
Impact of upbringing on Attitude to Wealth
If, like many doctors, you are from a wealthy family, you may see things a little differently.
What I think of wealth likely seems normal to you. Stealth wealth is probably not going to work for you.
Inheritances, however, are never guaranteed. The lifestyle expectations you have been brought up with may hold you back in creating financial security independently. Never rely on money that may never come.
For those from humbler backgrounds, the implied financial and educational success as a doctor can be awkward. You can easily find yourself as an outcast among family and old friends.
I would not be caught dead by my extended family driving a frivolous status symbol, or carrying a designer handbag!
For many of us, we find we fit in more (if not in the medic crowd) by practising stealth wealth.
Think Ahead and Start As You Mean to Go on
It can be difficult to roll back the lifestyle once you start displaying your wealth publicly.
A job in a new city may provide a great opportunity to reinvent yourself as an average Joe. But generally, it’s easier if you start as you mean to go on.
And by not spending on expensive status symbols, you obviously have more ability to save, invest and actually become financially secure.
Consider carefully how much you would like to display wealth if and when you have the means. If in doubt, keep things low key as you can always upgrade later.
Aussie Doc Freedom is not a financial adviser and does need offer any advise. Information on this website is purely a description of my experiences and learning. Please check with your independent financial adviser or accountant before making any changes.See full terms and conditions in footer