In Discussions, Wealth

The Guilt of Stealth Wealth

I sort of introduced the topic here about quiet and loud wealth but I thought I’d explore the idea more of stealth wealth, or the ones I referred to in the post as MNDs (Millionaire Next Doors).

I got started in personal finance by reading The Millionaire Next Door.

It is not the best book to start out with in terms of learning about personal finance, or even to take control of your money, but…it made such an impact, an impression on me that people could be wealthy without looking like they had a single penny.

It floored my 22-year old brain (yes, that is how young .. old ? … I was before I started even caring or thinking about my money, being a solid $60K in student debt and desperate to stop paying 7% interest rates on it).

That book made me at a young age, realize that there are people out there who do not want to look like they are wealthy.

They deliberately DO NOT want to show off and go to great lengths not to do so.

They refuse drive flashy cars, live in big homes, drip themselves in designer logos head to toe, or try to look rich in any way possible because they simply don’t want to.

So I started trying to look as poor as possible

I started adopting that kind of mindset myself in my early 20s.

Of course it was easy, I had no money only debt… but once I started amassing some semblance of a net worth by using The Budgeting Tool (when I hit my first $10K, and then my $100K they were real milestones for me), I purposefully wore non-designer items without logos (still do today for the most part, and I try to keep as under the radar as possible), and shunned, nay, decried everything that said “money”.


I drove only the crappiest, most beaten up secondhand cars, and didn’t own a cellphone or a TV for a long time (still don’t own a TV but finally relented and bought a cellphone with an actual data plan 10 years later).

I went so far into this extreme, this mindset of being ‘stealth wealth’, that I was in the end, not enjoying my money. I felt like I was just amassing it but not happy about it – what was the point of it all? I asked myself one day.

…but I was so unhappy

I felt like I was punishing myself and trying to prove a point … of what exactly?

That I have money but I don’t show it off?

Who cares? WHO CARES????

The only thing I was a little concerned about was that I did not want to drive too expensive or flashy of a car because I did not want my clients to think I was being overpaid, so I still try to keep that on the down low, but I am less self-conscious about it these days.

It wasn’t until recently that I got that cellphone with a data plan and I bought (finally) a nice, new car, that I felt at peace with myself.

I didn’t have to pretend I didn’t have money. I could just be who I am with or without it. It doesn’t really define who I am, my net worth.

If I wanted to enjoy a nice car, and wear (secondhand) designer clothes, I would. I would not feel guilty about this, and I would enjoy my money.

If someone wanted to comment on it, they could, but I would be secure enough to know deep down inside that I don’t have to answer to anyone or anything about spending MY money.

Now I am happy (and still am) with a smaller apartment (1000 square feet) because it is fully paid, rather than a McMansion with a McMortgage.

I ignore the people who say things to me about why I don’t live in a bigger home or apartment if I can afford it, and about how I am depriving Little Bun of a childhood by not giving him a huge backyard to run around in (true story), because I know that I am doing the right thing with my money by personally choosing to be debt-free.

I do not need feel the need to send Little Bun to a private school at the age of 5 with a yearly tuition fee of $25,000+ (net after taxes!!) plus another $10,000 (I am sure) in activities and book costs. I would and could be happy sending him to a local elementary, and then adjusting as he grows older and his needs change (or not).

I make choices about where to spend my money, and for instance on the flip side of it all, decide to buy a car that actually costs as much as a home in some areas, and ignore people who think that I was wasteful with my money in that respect, and be done with it.

I am not going to be shamed (by myself, by ANYONE) into doing what I don’t really want to do with my money.

Ultimately, I shouldn’t compare myself to others….is what it is

Sure, there are millionaires out there, even billionaires like Buffett who still live in the same home he bought all those years ago, but he is making a choice to NOT move to a huge, private, gated community or small island because it isn’t something he cares about.

What he does care about, is playing the money game, which he does very well, and it shows.

In the same vein, you have millionaires and billionaires who have purchased their own islands or countries (Micronesia I think was purchased by Bill Gates), and they do it because they wanted to and could afford to (well, maybe not Johnny Debt … I mean DEPP..)

I think to some extent, I feel jealous.

I feel jealous not in that I don’t have their money (I mean it would be nice but I am not delusional), but more that these MNDs have such a frugal, strong will to not spend on anything that it is quite admirable.

I admire being surrounded by millions/billions and not just that they don’t spend it like crazy, but they don’t spend the money even on stuff that I even purchase!

I admire that they choose to not fly business class with all that money (I would, if I had hundreds of millions), and they drive a small, frugal economy crappy car instead of something bigger and more comfortable.

Perhaps, it is also a bit of a disease as well.

I feel like if people don’t spend their money, it is also a problem when you can’t enjoy it. I’d like to think I have a balance, and I am trying to be more of a saver than a spender, balance-wise.

Jealousy is useless, turn it into motivation to do better with your money

See what you can learn from them and do better.

Sometimes you can’t replicate what they have done or are doing, but you can at least get ideas.

All this boils down to is that at the end of the day, someone is always going to comment on your money, but at the end of the very same day, they are going to go home with their bank accounts as-is, and your money will still be yours.

Shut out the noise, and set your own personal priorities.

As long as you save enough (or more than enough!) for retirement, you are not shopping your child’s education fund away, and you have your money house in order, you do not need to feel guilty about being as ‘stealth wealth’ to be respected, or to be taken seriously.

You don’t need to prove to anyone how rich you are or aren’t, and you can only set your own pace to your own situation and rhythm.

The only thing I never plan on doing is bragging about it.

I actually second-guessed myself and wondered if talking about my net worth was bragging.

I talk about my money pretty frankly here on the blog (even that causes me trouble because people don’t know my background and sometimes judge me on just one post) but I would never, ever broadcast my situation like a donkey to anyone in real life.

I only say things to certain people after I feel comfortable (if that!), and all things considered, stay under the radar for the most part, although I find that people tend to assume things for better or for worse.

I’d rather they assume I am poor and in debt than rich, to be honest with you, but if they ask, I won’t lie.


I just might be a bit vague and evasive. And just smile.

What about you? Do you practice a Stealth Wealth mindset?

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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10 Comments

  1. ArianaAuburn

    I practice a stealth_wealth mindset due to bad memories from getting mugged and living in a dangerous area in my early 20’s. Being a crime victim causes paranoia and makes it harder to enjoy wealth.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Wow, that is traumatizing. Have you talked to anyone about this? Maybe therapy could help… I’m sorry to hear that.

      Reply
  2. GYM

    Great post! My husband and I are pretty stealth wealth, he’s even more stealth wealth than me but he doesn’t feel the need to buy nice things for himself because those things don’t matter to him. For me it’s the simple pleasures in life like being able to buy a $6 bubble tea drink lol whenever I want to that I’m grateful for.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I need to scale back my luxuries, you’ll be my new role model…

      Reply
  3. Sense

    Seriously, the first thing I would do if I had the $$ is upgrade to more comfortable air travel. Business class so I can sleep on planes, but I’d continue staying in low budget accommodations like my own rooms in nice hostels, campgrounds, air bnb shared houses, etc., because I enjoy their atmosphere and socialness.

    Also because I hate snooty hotels where you have to pay for ALL extras like wifi, or where they carry your bags upstairs and then expect a tip. (I used to have to stay in those hotels for work, and work DID NOT reimburse me for tips, so it was always a fight with the bellhop to carry my own bag upstairs. It was so embarrassing to have to tell him that I couldn’t afford to tip him and that work didn’t reimburse me. I made $50K/year in southern California–no way could I afford tipping to the extent that they expected! Yet it was mandatory to stay in that hotel for work.)

    To me, money is for doing what makes you the most comfortable and happiest. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That sounds like nonsense — I understand they live off their tips but .. I see completely what you mean by not being able to tip them. It is not like you were in the position to give them $5 each time.

      Reply
  4. Tim

    Oh, this really reminds me of this article on CBC (https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/why-no-one-feels-rich-1.5138657) where we basically all compare ourselves upwards (and not down) and thus regardless of wealth we never feel wealthy. That hit home for me because I tend to compare myself to other PF bloggers and think I left work too early and I should have saved more….despite the fact I haven’t had a full time job in almost two years and still have roughly the same net worth as I started. I’m better on doing the stealth wealth thing because my tastes lean towards not very flashy, but I agree you should do what works for you (not anyone else). Wealth is very personal and you have to do what works for you. As an example, a family member of mine recently bought a new boat and he expected me to give him crap for it when instead I said “It make perfect sense to me…you used X’s boat more than anyone else so good for you.” Yes, I congratulated him on spending a lot of money because it makes sense for him. So yes, if you have your shit together on retirement and some savings please do spend money on what makes you happy. After all, why else do we save it for?

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That’s it — if you have all of your ducks in a row, what’s the point of all this money if I CAN’T SPEND IT

      Reply
  5. Financial Orchid

    Nice article about personal preference/priorities.
    I’m accustomed to long haul business class now which probably sounds snobby but I don’t even own a car n bike + transit + carshare everywhere! To each their own!

    While coworkers tell me to forego the car while I live close to work I also avoid telling them I fly business out of pocket.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That is not snobby at all. A bit enviable….

      Reply

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