Recently, we were talking to my son’s preschool teacher and she wanted to validate if my wife was an engineer. My wife gave the affirmative and the teacher proceeded to say, “We were not sure whether your son was telling the truth because he told us she was an engineer, but then again he tells stories about going to Germany too”. The reality is we have taken our son to Germany as a tag along to my wife’s business trip, in fact we had done so twice. Yet, to the day care teacher, the thought that a kid that age would travel to a foreign country in Europe was, well, foreign.
We’ve found over the years that even though we live a very frugal lifestyle, our choices in life have netted us experiences of which many other people can only dream. The problem discussing them with our friends as it always leaves me uncomfortable, almost like a braggart. As such, I simply don’t discuss anything about our financial positions or the more exotic aspects of our lifestyle with others. I practice stealth wealth.
I’ve mentioned over the last few months during comments on other blogs that I practice stealth wealth. I’ve gone out of my way not to tell people what we have, either on the blog or elsewhere in life. I have insinuated that I might meet the definition of FU money, but that is as far as I go. There is a simple reason for that, I don’t want to appear Tone Deaf.
The average American has no money saved for retirement. They can’t even afford $400 dollars for emergencies. The chances are that anyone you talk to about your financial position in your day to day life will not be able to identify with your position if you spend any time managing your finances. Now, if you tell them you have more than a little saved, imagine how it will be perceived.
Examples Where Others Did Not Practice Stealth Wealth
To put things in perspective, I once sat in a meeting at work with a senior leader. This was during the start of the depression in 2008 and the company had decided to cut our pay by 10% to avoid layoffs. Admittedly, this was a tough pill to swallow, but the leader who was elected to tell us attempted to sympathize with the group. The statements came from a leader who was wearing a thousand dollar suit and mentioned delaying a house remodel. Needless to say this went over like a lead balloon with the crowd. Never mind that the leader did not make these decisions and they lost out on more money than we did. The leader’s problems were perceived to be inconsequential compared to what the standard employee was experiencing. This leader was tone deaf to the situation and it caused a lot of dissension and demotivation in the organization.
How I Talk to Others About Finance?
In the same way this leader talking to the crowd about a pay cut while they make 3x as much as the other people in the room went over poorly, so does someone who has no debt, a decent job, and/or decent savings. The feeling is usually that you don’t have their problems or you had some sort of leg up from a benevolent rich uncle. You couldn’t have possibly had the same problems they have and worked your way out of it. That’s usually where the conversation stops, the person has stopped listening and never hears the advice you may give for improving their financial position.
For this reason I avoid talking about my financial situation both in real life and in detail on this blog. I’ve worked for all I have, I’ve been unemployed, poor, in student debt, made financial mistakes, and everything in between. However, I realize even if I provide solid advice the average person will stop listening due to simple psychology.
Psychology and Others Wealth
The human mind views others’ success as an admittance that someone can do something that you have failed to do so. Thus, in order to protect one’s ego from admitting failure you tell yourself their experience can’t be real. Never mind that if your life’s not complete then you haven’t failed as it is never too late to start good money practices. Even I myself unconsciously do this about various things, though thankfully not about money.
As such I just don’t mention my experiences in personal conversations. Instead if I give advice at all I simply focus on the person. If I need to reference examples, I use some nebulous financial professional. Ultimately, I go out of my way to avoid my situation or my experiences. Thankfully, here I can write from personal experience because if you’re reading this you’re likely looking for financial change advice from that nebulous financial professional known as Full Time Finance. How ironic if I started using my own blog as that nebulous professional… No, mom this isn’t my blog 😉
Other Risks of Not Practicing Stealth Wealth
The ability to talk to others about finance is just one justification for practicing Stealth Wealth. There are a few more:
- It could undermine my ability to negotiate for pay raises. Studies show that married men make more than single men. I can theorize that this is because bosses expect that married individuals are both more stable and need the money more to support their families. It shouldn’t be that way but I’d bet there is some semblance of reality there. Everyone wants to help the underdog, it’s not necessarily a good thing to be the foregone conclusion.
- It could change how my friends or family see me, potentially leading to judgement as Mr. 1500 days covered a few weeks ago. They could make an assumption that someone better off in our family favored us with gifts. Friends could hit us up for a loan because we “can afford it”. Family could judge us as cheap because we don’t spend money on “X” or give “Y” gift.
- Someone I am purchasing something from could evaluate my ability to pay as higher because of my financial position, thus choosing to negotiate a sale or service at a higher price. Admittedly, I would say this has a low likelihood, but you never know.
- My employer could take umbrance with something I’ve said, or worse want to take ownership of it. While technically not their style and probably not contractually legal, I have heard of companies trying to take ownership of what their employers create regardless of whether they are on the clock. I’ve also heard of people losing their jobs for saying something counter from a companies position.
Do you talk to people about your financial position? How do you handle conversations with others about financial independence? How do you give financial advice to a friend?