The Obligations of Wealth

Connie writes in (I edited her question a bit to protect privacy):

I recently married a business owner who had a net worth of around $10 million before we got married. He has lived in the same medium-sized town all of his life and has kept many of the same friends since his school years. Lately, though, he has noticed that a lot of them seem resentful of him. I asked a few of my friends about this and they said that the feeling in the community was that he was being wasteful and ungiving with his money. I don’t feel that’s the case at all. He gives substantially to our church and to several charities. It is hurting him to watch some of his friendships fall apart because of this greed. Do you have any thoughts about this?

I certainly do.

First of all, I think there is some inherent distrust of the rich in the mainstream of American society. People assume that if you have accumulated money, then you are either using it in some unworthy way or you’re a miser, both of which are negative stereotypes. Many wealthy people solve this by either being extremely public with their giving (Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, people who donate to universities to get their name on the door), being extremely quiet about their wealth (John Madden, for example), or just not caring what other people think (every ostentatious display of wealth you can imagine).

A big part of that is that for many people, having $10 million is an enviable position to be in. There is, flat out, going to be a lot of envy of your position. People imagine all of the things they could do with that kind of wealth – both selfish and charitable – and they feel some sort of resentment towards others who don’t do the same (even if, often, it’s not what they would actually do with their wealth). “This person doesn’t share my values,” they think, or they feel simple jealousy.

Obviously, at some point, your husband has done something to not conceal his wealth. Maybe you live in a very high-end house. Maybe you drive expensive cars. Whatever it was, it made clear to your friends that you had significant money. Because of that, what you’re now seeing is a mixture of envy and jealousy and opinions on what your husband is doing.

Yes, it’s not nice. But at the same time, it’s human nature. No one is immune to jealousy or envy. Your husband’s success has made him a target for this.

Another thing to consider: has money changed your husband from the kind of person that he used to be? It could very well be that the wealth in his life has altered his values, his political beliefs, his ways of interacting with people, and so on. I’m not saying that they have, I’m merely saying that it’s something to think about. A good source to look at here is old friends that have been there for the long haul – ask them what they think.

So what can he do from here? He has several options.

He can just ignore it and go on with his life. This falls into the “just not caring what other people think” category. He can continue to do exactly what he’s doing now and decide that the friends who are falling into the jealousy trap aren’t contributing positively to his life (because, honestly, if they’re making him feel guilty about the things he’s worked hard for in his life, they’re not being good friends at the moment).

He can make a very public display of charitable giving. He could give a chunk of his wealth to some sort of civic charity, like sponsoring a building for the Boys and Girls Club or something like that, and do it in a public way. Alternately, he could just make an effort to just donate as he’s donating now, but make it more public. This will smoothe some matters, but this still won’t make everyone happy – there will be people jealous of the reception he gets for his giving, too.

He can temper his public displays of wealth a bit. Whatever he’s done to make people think that he’s rich, he can just pull back on a bit. If it’s the car, get a less flashy car next time. If it’s the house… well, there’s probably not much he can do there. He can dress a bit more in time with how everyone else dresses if clothing is the problem. If you’re wearing a large ring, you can save it for special occasions. (I don’t know what triggered the response, so I’m guessing in the dark here.)

He can focus on actually shoring up the individual friendships that matter to him. Instead of fretting about this privately, he can instead focus on the friends that are actually closest to them. Have him sit down with them and talk through this stuff. It can sometimes be hard for males to do this kind of thing, but if it’s deeply bothering him, he should do it.

He can re-evaluate what he values and how he treats others. This works best if you come to the conclusion that, yes, wealth has changed you in some not-so-positive ways. Introspection and a serious focus on improving yourself can go a long way.

If I were you, I’d probably use some combination of these tactics. I don’t think he should bend over his life for these folks, but I think there’s something to be said for not making ostentatious presentations of your wealth. Similarly, I think there’s real value in always shoring up the relationships that deeply matter to you – and sometimes accepting that other relationships have moved on.

For those of you who don’t have a lot of money, put yourself in this man’s shoes for a moment. Yes, it would be wonderful to be financially secure for life, but what would you do if that security meant that many of the people you’ve had relationships with most of your life no longer were close to you? What price does wealth have? What’s the best way forward? I don’t think the answer is exactly the same for everyone, but spending a moment in someone else’s shoes can make for some surprising insight.

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  1. asithi says:

    This is the reason why my husband and I agree to never tell anyone if we ever win the lottery. Once people think you have money, expectations changes. But when people think you are struggling, you are either one of them or someone they can “help out.” Maybe this is the reason people from poor family sometimes outgrow their childhood friends.

  2. Des says:

    I think this is a difficult position to be in. While I certainly don’t have $10m, my husband and I got “real grown up” jobs before our peers did, and consequently had more money. Naive as we were, I thought that since my friends were real friends that money wouldn’t matter. It does matter. We live in a smaller house, drive an older car, and don’t have cable, but they *know* we have money and it just changes things. Part of it is that the struggles I have our different than theirs. I wrestle with whether to buy investment property or just save for a rainy day – they can’t offer advice. They struggle with getting out of consumer debt – I can’t offer advice because it will come off as holier-than-thou, and I can only offer so much monetary help (if any) before things start to get weird. You can try to hide this information, but it’s like hiding any part of yourself. Our life struggles are often related to our ability to pay for things, and it truncates the friendship somewhat. I supposed people will say that we need to find other friends in a similar situation to share those struggles with, but that just sounds sad.

    I am interested in what other commenters in a similar situation say. Trent’s advice is fine but (and I mean no disrespect by this whatsoever) I know he is not really in the same place. I would love to hear advice from the trenches, so to speak.

  3. Daniel says:

    The writer and her husband should change nothing about what they are doing. These so-called “friends” can rot by themselves. I’m with asithi above….I would try my hardest for the word *not* to get out if I ever happen to win the lottery or come into money from my business, job, or what have you. I’d like to keep the few friends I have now!

  4. Kat says:

    Those people that are complaining that they are “wasteful and ungiving” are going to be the same people that complain that they are just showing off if he is more public with his charitable giving. It is no one’s business if he gives $1 or $1m to charities, and his real friends would know he gives to charity without having to gossip about it. Trent, you would be the first to say not to buy a new car or a new swimsuit to fit in, why are you suggesting these people buy a banner at a charity event to fit in?

  5. Jeff says:

    How is it that two of the three commenters have plans about how they would handle winning the lottery? Methinks maybe they’re not quite understanding this site…

    I think it’s natural for people to change as their life situations change. And when people change, friendships change (or disappear). The friends I used to play frisbee with in college, well, we don’t hang out much now that we’re old and fat. The friendships that were built on long-lasting things have endured, regardless of the relative financial positions.

  6. Johanna says:

    This should be fun. There’s just enough information provided to allow rampant speculation about what’s going on, who’s at fault, etc., but nowhere near enough information to know for sure.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my speculation: Connie’s husband is a business owner, so he probably has several employees. How does he treat them? What kind of work environment does he provide? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was where the feeling of resentment originated. Even if he thinks he’s a good person to work for, he could strive to be a great person to work for, and see what happens.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m with Des. We make about twice what one of our neighbors makes (and they have 2 kids and we have none). It is hard to temper every conversation with that understanding. Basically it is hard to find common ground and avoid misinterpretation. Income/wealth discrepancies can lead to a lot of sticky situations and misunderstandings and there isn’t much you can do about it.

  8. Amy says:

    This is a good column. I think what both Trent and #2 Des say is reasonable.

    Here’s one thing to keep in mind. Even if you know your friends have less money, yet they offer to treat you to something (within reason, like dinner), let them do it once in a while! If you insist on treating them every single time, they may feel like you are lording it over them. It’s important to be able to accept from friends as well as give to them, and they like to feel good about themselves by treating their friends occasionally too.

    Once my husband and I insisted on treating his parents to dinner, after dozens and dozens of times they had treated us. I know the parent/child relationship is different, but still. They finally agreed — then ordered the cheapest item on the menu, wouldn’t order drinks, wouldn’t order dessert. It kind of ruined it for us.

  9. Sharon says:

    @#1 asithi

    You don’t get the option to not tell people about winning the lottery. Usually on the ticket and before you pick up your winnings you agree to let the lottery people use you image and name in advertising. If you manage to hide it from your friends but they see in the ads, I imagine they would be even more ticked than before….

  10. Trish says:

    Here’s a question – are these ‘friends’ struggling? Have they lost jobs, sold their house at a huge loss, are they caring for sick parents or children?

    If they are just jealous that is one thing – if it could possibly be something else why couldnt this wealthy family quietly give them a gift (isnt the IRS personal gift limit without incurring taxes on either side something like $12,500?) that could help them thru a rough patch. There is a big difference in ‘enabling’ stupid behavior and helping. Hopefully if that happened the recipients will be appreciative and will use this gift wisely.

  11. chacha1 says:

    Johanna’s right, there’s just enough information for us to speculate, and not nearly enough to actually advise on this one!

    So, my speculation! The LW does say it’s a medium-sized town. To me that says “small.” In a city, a business owner/employer is not going to be anything unusual, nor his/her relative wealth so obvious.

    This guy probably can’t win. The places he spends his money think he should spend more, the places he doesn’t think he’s stuck-up because he doesn’t shop with them. The people he has hired might resent him because he doesn’t pay them “enough” since he’s “so rich,” while the people he hasn’t hired resent him for that. The people he gives money to undoubtedly think he should give more, while the people he *doesn’t* give money to obviously think he should!

    The “feeling in the community” always starts with one spiteful, gossipy person. Getting to the bottom of who it is, is probably a waste of time, because you just can’t change people’s minds. He could be the most conspicuously virtuous person since Jesus and someone would still find fault with what he is doing.

    The best the LW and her husband can probably do is hunker down, work on business relationships and the few true friendships they have, and wait till the economy turns around. Many are inclined to hate the one who is prospering while they are feeling the pinch.

  12. JuliB says:

    We have friends who are multi-millionaires who just moved to a new state. When here, they had a very modest house and were just like everyone else. He had grown up and lived in the neighborhood most of his life.

    Now they have a very expensive house, horses, etc. She said that people treat her very differently because she’s obviously quite wealthy. But she still shops at Kohl’s. When we travel to see them, we act and think the same as we always have around them, but I can understand her perspective.

    Sorry – I wish I had some advice.

  13. lilacorchid says:

    I have something similar to this going on in my family but with different amounts of money. My sister is often homeless and she has a lot to say about what I do with my own (hard earned) middle class income. There was a lot of friction, but eventually because we’re family (and I would think this would hold true for the dearest of friends) we found ways of dealing with it.

    Money does weird things to people. We all have our own little pile, and to someone else it’s a massive amount. As long as I know I’m spending in a way that reflects my values and giving to organizations I feel strongly about, I can sleep well at night, regardless of what people say.

    What I’m trying to say is if her husband is doing his best and trying to make his community better, than it’s the townspeople that have the problem.

  14. Kathy says:

    In this economy, it’s easy to use people with wealth as a scapegoat for everything that is wrong with our economy and for things that are going wrong with someone’s personal finances. This goes to what Johanna posted about, if the job market happens to be tight and one or more of these friends have lost their job and having difficulty finding a new one, they might be using the LW’s husband as a scapegoat for their own issues and that might play into their attitude as well.

    Insecure people like to put others down to make themselves seem better in their own eyes. I suspect that there is some insecurity at the root of this, too.

  15. Anne says:

    The writer mentions that this is a relatively recent development. It sounds to me as though something has changed – and this is where I would look for answers. What has changed recently? (he has a new wife – anything else that’s new?)

  16. Ginger says:

    I can relate. I’m in my late 20′s and am far from being wealthy, but I am wealthier than most people in my age group.

    While I was a student, I killed myself working several jobs at once to pay my bills. The more I worked, the more people wanted me to work, and I ended up getting raises and steady income streams. I earned much more than the average student.

    It was very hard at the time but it really put me ahead. I paid my own way and graduated debt free, with a nice cushion in my account.

    So I treated myself to a year’s worth of travel! But I did it on the cheap and taught English so I wouldn’t deplete my account. By the end of it, my account was pretty much still in tact, and I came home ready to put down 20% on my first place in an expensive urban area.

    That’s when the jealousy kicked in. My friends found it noble that I struggled so much, and were proud of me for what I did. But they figured I would be flat out broke by the end of it, which I wasn’t. Not that I told anyone how much I had saved, but they could see that I wasn’t struggling as much as I ‘should be’. And now there is this awful tension between us.

    Please also know that my friends come from middle to upper middle class families, and always had much more money than me. This was the first time that I seemingly had more than them.

    It pains me but I cannot consider them my good friends anymore. I have outgrown them, perhaps. I can’t accept that my ‘friends’ were okay to watch me struggle for years, and now that I’m reaping the benefits that I’ve worked so hard to achieve, they resent me for it.

    This might be similar to what Des and the $10M networth husband is going through. If they are long time friends, they have seen the hard work that was put in, but do not want to see the fun times that come after the hard work.

    It’s very painful and money can change friendships.

  17. morrison says:

    This is why the rich stay together and some put up fences. The $10 million dollar man would do best to move to a more deserving area. He’s a big fish in a little pond.

  18. kingsley says:

    You know your husband – is he a good man? Yes? Then the problem is with the people in your town. If your friends and neighbours are so bent out of shape by your wealth then maybe it’s time to move on. Being accepted by your community IS important. Find another nice small town where people share your values and have some money. Don’t deny yourself the life you want.

  19. There’s nothing worse than a multi-millionaire who wants to pay $5 less on the bill because he didn’t order the appetizer. Oh, and who talked about being a multimillionaire the whole time.

  20. There is something I’ve never understood about wealth. It seems to me that many (probably a small minority) wealthy people seem ashamed to have money. Why??? I think people should celebrate their hard work and enjoy their money. It shouldn’t be a source of shame.

    Why should people who can afford the “finer” things in life [i]not[/i] enjoy them because they are concerned about how it might look to someone else? They earned it, its their money and their life. Anyone who complains about the wealthy would no doubt change their attitude when the money is in their hands.

    I think the rich should do what makes them happy with their money and not feel like they have to “fit in”. Maybe the people without money should try harder to be accepting of people who have money instead of looking at them with contempt and being judgemental.

    And, no, I’m not rich and I don’t have much money.

  21. Johanna says:

    Some more speculation, but first, an aside:

    My parents don’t have $10 million, but they do have enough money that they could retire at age 58, buy a second house, and travel frequently. For a while, it was hard for me to hear about all their travels and leisure activities while I still have to go to work every day. (Not that I expected them to give me enough money to let me stop working – that would be absurd.) Now, I have no more bad feelings about that, I’m happy to look to them as an example of what a lifetime of being sensible with money can get you, and I’m proud to have such an example in my own family.

    What changed my mind? I think it was some comments my father made, that made me realize a couple of things: (1) They are genuinely happy. Which means that they’re telling me about their travels not because they want to rub it in my face that they can afford these things but to share the joy of their experiences. (2) They recognize that part of the reason they’re where they are now is that I managed to get an education and a good job without much financial help from them – which is something that worked out well for me, too. So it’s not that they have more because I have less.

    What does this mean for Connie’s husband? Well, if he’s lived in the same town all his life, even after he made enough money that he could live anywhere at all, there must be things about the town that he loves. He could try talking more openly about those things. Praise other people for the contributions *they’ve* made to the town.

    He could also try working to make things better for everyone in town, in ways that don’t involve just throwing money around. Depending on what kind of business he owns, maybe he could partner with other businesses in town to try to draw more customers in from out of town. Or – since building a $10 million business means he must be doing something right – he could share some of his advice and expertise with other business owners or would-be business owners in town. Maybe take on some interns or apprentices from the local high school. Or maybe he could volunteer his time and talents in ways that have nothing to do with his money *or* his business.

    But again, this is all speculation – there’s not enough information to know which of these suggestions might be relevant.

  22. I agree with a lot of what Trent said.

    When one or two people feel resentment for how he treats money, it’s most likely jealousy, but when you say the general consensus in the whole community feels that way then it could be something else.

    1. He is very private about his giving, in which case I would just continue on with life and forget jealous people.

    2. He really is a scrooge and you just don’t see it.

    3. Since you’re talking about old friends of his, I would venture to say that they have grown jealous of him over the years. It’s hard to see one of your friends succeeding and making millions when you share that dream, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the feelings of resentment grew over the years.

    Good luck with whatever you do.

  23. Kathryn says:

    I’m not saying this woman’s husband is doing this – but my FIL loves to “show off” with his money. It has actually backfired on him as his boss at work resents him & has passed him over for promotion & bonuses. Yet my FIL seems to be driven to boast about the things he has bought, etc. It is very uncomfortable for those of us around him, especially my MIL.

    I have a friend who is very well-to-do, heiress of a large American corporation. In general she lives a very modest lifestyle. I do, at times, struggle with envy over her not having to struggle with the mundane things many of us have to contend with. However, she has had her own challenges. Money doesn’t automatically “fix” our lives for the better.

    I do know that seeing others have what we perceive as “more than me” can create a lot of problems. But a lot of the time it IS perception. Often there is much else going on of which we are not aware.

  24. Troy says:

    What’s up with the “ostentatious presentation of wealth” issue.

    Wealth is usually a sign of success. Why taboo.

    Other forms of success are routinely touted and hearlded. Success in parenting, marriage, health, educational achievement, quiting your job, following your dreams, getting out of debt, starting a business.

    How about being a successful reader or writer. A successful teacher. A successful environmentalist or volunteer.

    Life is measured in successes and failures. Finanical success is only one of hundredes of yardsticks.

    If someone has achieved wealth, and chooses to live life commensurate with that success, good for them. Want a Ferrari. Buy one. If others don’t like it, that is their problem, not yours.

  25. This is a tricky position to be in. I actually had personal experience as the one on the other side of the table. Several of my friends became very rich – 10 million and above people due to their company’s going public. Things change, unavoidably, some friendships can’t bear the change, some can.

    What I found is that the ones that last are the ones where my friends gave me space to work out my own feelings of jealousy and admit frankly of the change (e.g. me: you’re rich now, man… he: yup. I’m. I’ve never thought that we will be this successful.).

    Then, there are also small things that both of us have to adjust, like eating out. My rich friends can afford going to expensive restaurants, I can’t. So we try to find activities where the price is reasonable for me. Sometimes, they will just invite me to their house and they just bought high quality food-to-go. I’ll bring drinks or snacks.

    So my advice to them, give your friends some space to work out their feelings, defuse their jealously compassionately, and try to work things out. After you’ve done all, let things fall as it be. Good luck!

  26. MikeTheRed says:

    Wealth is such a relative thing, and its perception is equally varied. But at the end of the day, a lot of it is based off of how you show it.

    If your cohort of friends is drowning in credit card debt, and you dig out and start watching your spending more carefully while they continue to spend with abandon, you stick out. They know something’s different. Your actions are not the same as theirs, and it shows. Whether or not you mean it, they will probably read into that as you being judgmental of them and their choices.

    Be one of the few to own a home while the rest of your friends rent, or own an even slightly nicer home than they do. Same goes for cars, clothes, gizmos etc. Any improvement over what your friends and community at large are living is noticed.

    The problem gets worse the wider the gap is. Past a certain difference, people at the low end start to feel like it’s not FAIR the other person has that money while they don’t. They start to feel like they’ve somehow been cheated or that the other person came by their wealth dishonestly. This seems to be a natural reaction to seeing someone who has vastly more than you do.

    The unfortunate thing is, you could probably dress the same, drive the same car, live in the same house as you did when you had vastly less, and other people would still know. You can’t completely keep your behavior the same (afterall, it was that altered behavior that got you the wealth in the first place!). The best you can do is not be obnoxious about it. Don’t brag about it. Don’t talk about how you’re going to build a home the size of a medium sized office building. Don’t get a new sports car every year. Do your thing, live your life, enjoy the rewards of your work, but don’t hit people over the head with it if you want to be treated the same as you were when you had less.

  27. Joanna says:

    Piggybacking on what Kathryn was saying. It’s so true that you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. I distinctly remember a conversation with a friend (Jane) who admitted to being jealous of another friend (Mary) because Mary & her husband have a nice house with a pool and all the latest techno gadgets (gps before people had gps, 100″ projection tv, etc.). Years later in a book club discussion of America’s Cheapest Family, we discover that Mary & her hubs were actually in over their heads with debt and had only recently really gotten into a comfortable situation. You really never know what’s going on with other people.

  28. Doug says:

    Actually, it doesn’t take an outrageous amount of wealth for people to feel resentful.

    My wife and I lived in a small house, earning good incomes. Such that we could bank her salary for two years. We dropped about $50k on a downpayment for a house in the country to raise our son. Now, who would be upset that someone moved out of the ghetto into a decent house? Yet it happened. Never from people who lived with good financial principles, but from the guy who drives an Escalade or an Audi to work, and has trouble with his mortgage. From the woman who insists that you need to have and use a credit card in order to get a mortgage (I’m living proof that you don’t!). From the person who insists on buying lottery tickets each week, because “her numbers” might come up.

    No, there’s not much use in worrying about what other people think. I know what my wife thinks. I know that my son will receive a decent start in life because we’re doing the right things now. Those two opinions are the ones that matter, not some fair-weather friends who can’t control their envy.

  29. Holly says:

    #7, Sharon–

    That depends on your state…where I live you are allowed to remain anonymous after winning the lottery, and you bet your booty I would!

  30. Amanda says:

    I can relate to what you’re saying Joanna and I think it’s mentioned a lot on “Get Rich Slowly” web site. Many people are in debt or have very little money because their view of being “rich” means having stuff. I think that’s why my mom has a bunch of junk. Then there is this little old guy who dies and you find out he had millions… LOL.

    I have a friend who is a millionaire. Smallish town, 100,000. He’s “normal” and doesn’t show off his wealth. Yes, they’ve got 3 kids that have Britax car seats. I know he paid cash for a suburban when they found out she was pregnant (they’ve been driving it for 6 years now), but before that she drove an older mitsubishi sedan. They’ve got a house that can hold their family. Large with high quality materials (i.e. granite), but in the neighborhood he grew up and not ridiculously large. He’s got his toys: 4 wheelers & RV. They go on two two week no expense is too high trips a year (to the same places every year!). THE BEST PART ABOUT THEM IS I DON’T GET THE FEELING THAT THEY DERIVE THEIR IDENTITY THROUGH THEIR STUFF. They just have it. He’s a workaholic, what would you expect? They’re generous. Gave us $100 for our wedding (that’s large to me ;) ). They donate to our congregations funds–even provided a large TV for ASL group that started up here. Anonymously, but some of us figured it was them. When I first moved here 8 years ago they were very kind to me. She gave me a housewarming party. I was usually at their house at least couple of times a month for dinner or movies or to play with their kids. I feel bad for them because he has a hard time trusting that people aren’t there to take advantage of him. Therefore, he tends to stick toward those that are also millionaires as their close friends. With me, when I was single I was working part time and volunteering the rest of the time, so I’m sure that was part of the reason they were so welcoming to me-but it was real relationship not based on money. Money was never the focus or even really noticed, it was just there. They had it, it was their life. When I got married we tried to do a few things together but it just wasn’t cohesive. At a certain point it’s uncomfortable to be the one with less. They invite us to something and we can’t afford it, they offer to pay, we don’t accept most of the time… I didn’t want to be those people that mooch off others. So, we’ve drifted into a relationship with another couple that is our equal money wise. I still see the other family a lot, but we’re not as close. I do think part of it is because we don’t have kids as well. Not sure how much is because of money but I feel that some of it is.

    My husband’s best friend when we got married is another story. These people irritate me. Mostly the wife. ;) They’re the ones that think they are rich. They honestly think they are in the category of people listed above. She compares herself to them. First of all they don’t have anything near the same kind of money. But more than that it’s their attitude toward the money, it matters. Whereas with my millionaire friend the money doesn’t matter. This wife complains because he was supposed to make $200,000 in year 200x but his knee got busted up and he couldn’t fulfill the contract, no health insurance. And yet she’s the one spending money like it grows on trees. The type of person that grew up thinking she was rich because her parents put a TV with cable in her room. He kind of married his mother though, because his poor dad could be retired if his mom didn’t like furs and expensive vacations–instead they still make mortgage payments.

    That’s my two cents and that’s all I’ve got to rub together. ;)

  31. getagrip says:

    He may not be doing anything different, but because others are taking hits in their financial lives, his actions have become magnified because of the bad economy. To me, it’s no different than someone winning a lottery because it’s “new” wealth to people who didn’t know or really recognize that he “had” wealth. So they have all the great ideas for a new business that he should fund. They have the need for a job or a raise that he should provide. They had to cancel their vacation because they can’t afford it but he just came over and talked up the exiting trip (or honeymoon) he just took or is planning. So before it wouldn’t be an issue because they had a job or took the vacation, but now it is.

    Couple this with the fact that maybe he did help his friends out more, or hid his wealth better, before he got married. How does Connie dress? What does Connie drive? Where does Connie shop? How much did he (they) spend on the wedding ring, the wedding, the honeymoon, the groom gifts, and possibly updating the house? Maybe his friends told him to take it easy or suggested ways to make more frugal choices and he (or maybe Connie to his friends’ girlfriends) let loose that he was loaded and not to worry? I’m not trying to slam Connie but it’s interesting that this seems to have occured since she entered the picture. It could have been a couple of lines in passing conversation or trying to cover a sore point about pressures with costs of the wedding, but add that now that he’s married he might not spend as much time with the buddies and that may be something else added to the economic woes as a possible cause.

    Regardless, I think it isn’t just one person who needs to consider what’s going on and how they’re presenting themselves and what they’re saying. It’s the partnership that counts here as well.

  32. Jerret says:

    @asithi – If you win the lottery, you have no choice but to tell everyone. You’ll be published in a dozen newspapers across the country. My grandma is a big lottery player. I tell her, “Grandma, if you win the lottery, you’ll have to move out of the country.”

    As for wealth, I think the situation described above comes with the territory. The higher up on the mountain you are, the lonelier you become.

  33. cp says:

    Interesting stuff:

    There used to be something called noblesse oblige. It was the assumption that the nobility who owed their well-being to the hard work of others, and were in a place of privilege mostly by accident of birth, and therefore socially obligated to give back to the larger society, and the local folk with less. Whether or not the nobility also worked hard was irrelevant- they were to share God’s blessing. It is a long European tradition, and the attitude came over with many of our ancestors.

    My husband is a Quaker. Quakers are very conscious about displays of wealth. Typically, well-heeled Quakers would live in slightly larger high-quality, but not flashy, homes. Conspicuous consumption or flaunting monetary success is considered vulgar, and insensitive, and therefore not good Christian behavior. Their indulgence, and vanity, was expressed in their very robust and personally tended gardens!

  34. Kate says:

    I’m with Kathryn on this one. You just don’t know what you don’t see.

    My sister makes twice as much money as I do. People see that she has a bigger house, a newer car, nicer wardrobe, and so on. They don’t see the mountain of debt behind it, just as they don’t see that although I’ve been unemployed for almost a year, and hubby for almost eight months, we’re doing just fine because of our frugal outlook and lifestyle.

    When people say “Oh, poor Kate, she doesn’t have what her sister has!” I just smile to myself and think “No, I don’t. I’m not in debt.”

  35. Amanda says:

    Wow, what a good example, Kate. Keep up the good outlook & habits!

  36. Linda says:

    My husband and I are frugal and have what some might consider a large asset base. This does not mean that it is liquid or spendable. Maintaining a payroll in this economy also makes an asset base fragile. He may have had to lay some of his “friends” off or cut benefits to keep his business going — these are all very very difficult choices. In a small community these choices have even more effect.

    Also, she needs to make sure that she is not causing some of this by her actions and purchases. Other than that, Enjoy life — he has probably worked very hard to create this large asset base.

  37. Greg says:

    Quite honestly, this is a fundamental problem with our current system. It seems to me that if you have a poor work ethic and an unwillingness to succeed that you are rewarded by way of Government assistance, benefits and not ridiculed. Contrarily, if you have a strong work ethic, are entrepreneurial, provide jobs, products and services that help and employ many, and have the apparent audacity to succeed for doing so, you are penalized, ridiculed and are cast out among your friends. Perhaps I am being too simplistic, but how about spending your time working on your problems which in turn could make you equally as successful as the peers that you envy and ridicule. This Country was built by the entrepreneurs and sustained by them as well.

  38. Joless says:

    My GF has always had money and she always struggled with being more priviledged when we were starting out because she was embarassed, for example, owning a nicer car than her middle-aged boss. We owned outright a 4-bed house while our friends were renting, we have newish cars and we took holidays we wanted to take. We love our friends though and, I really hope, never put them off. It’s easier now that people are catching up, lifestyle-wise.

    We are so very, very lucky, and definitely appreciated the back-up when we were both made redundant (I was out of work for 14 months). We moved into a smaller, older place and rented our house out so that our spending was reduced and we had some income. Now we are both working again, we can start improving the house we own now.

    It’s really hard when you feel different, whichever way around it is.

  39. Although this probably sounds incredibly easier said than done, if I were him, I’d tell them all to kiss my you know what, and go find other friends.

    His so-called current friends are being childish and shallow

  40. cindi says:

    WOW – Great conversations! Gotta’ say that I’ve never written in to a blog before, but this one really got me. I do feel for Connie and her husband. It does hurt to have others envy what you have and rescind their friendship based upon what they perceive people of wealth should or should not be doing. Every one has their own ideas of what money can buy and how it should be spent.

    First, let me suggest that a good book to read would be “The Millionaire Next Door”, (I forget the author). One just never really knows who might have the wealth. Those who seem to have it are usually those deep in credit debt. Those who often live frugally are those who have money in the bank, can afford to retire early, can afford to travel, and can afford to spoil themselves once in a while.

    Second, my x worked very hard in his job, not to mention ‘getting lucky’ with a start-up which went public. But, he worked long and intense hours to help make the company what it became. We changed almost nothing about how we lived our daily lives, but did change our efforts towards charitable giving – we gave far more away than what we needed/used to live on. We gave our gifts anonymously so as not to alienate members of those organizations. We saw our children treated as ‘less than’ in comparison to those children whose parents flaunted their wealth, or apparent wealth.

    Third, and almost most importantly is the responsibility that comes with having wealth. When we were living paycheck to paycheck, there was absolutely NO doubt where our money was to be spent – household bills, care of the family, etc. Some months there was absolutely nothing extra at the end of the month. When the time came where we ‘came into wealth’, we felt that we needed to make some very important decisions. What were the most important places for us to invest our funds besides the obvious care of our family. Coming from hearts of faith that God entrusts us with what is given to us, the decisions of giving to the community were an important aspect of having wealth. Without these funds, various charities would not have had the necessary funding for continued operation. Giving, though, was to be done in a way which did not shed light upon the giver!

    Making decisions on what to do with the wealth given to us was definitely much more difficult than having to work within a given and finite budget which sometimes did not even cover our monthly expenses in the past.

    In closing, frugality is a positive lifestyle which enables one to enjoy more fully other aspects of life. Also, envy of those of apparent wealth is unjustified – as stated many times above – you really never know what happened behind closed doors. And, look around, you may be neighbors with a millionaire and never know it. Money doesn’t make a person valuable; who that person is – their ethics, morals, values, loyalties, interests, etc. – is what makes a person valuable.

  41. deRuiter says:

    Connie and her husband need to get some successful friends. Drop those losers who with the dog in a manger attitude. Losers always resent the successful, while envying them their success. He will have more in common with successful business people than with his current so called “friends.”

  42. m says:

    Please remember money is not the only blessing.

    All the money in the world can’t buy my sister back her good health.

  43. Michele says:

    I agree with #11 Kathy, the wealthy are the scapegoat in this economy. Just last month we had Biden, Hillary and Obama going on about the rich are not doing their share in taxes and posing the question how much is too much money. Then you had the unions protesting at the home of a Bank Of America executive. I don’t see anything wrong with being wealthy.

  44. Katrina Ann says:

    After my divorce I ended up getting a one million dollar settlement, along with c/s and spousal support. My husband was having an affair and wanted out as quickly as possible. He was willing to give me whatever to get out of the marriage. He owns a huge mortagae company and it was doing well for many many years…not so much now. I have four kids. I work part time 4 days a week at a nursing home doing houskeeping. YES….housekeeping. I love it! I have great friends at work…my co-workers are super and we have made wonderful friendships. The work is easy and I love helping the older folks I see….I truly love making their day bright. I would never ever tell my work I have that money tucked away for retirement….. I keep it a complete secret. Pretty much no one knows but my parents.
    It sort of is like leading a secret life that allows me some flexiblitiy in my choice in my life.

    I lucked out in a way getting that money while having a huge awful life changing heartbreak at the same time. Yes people will dislike you if you have money…….sorry.I like to keep things simple in my life when it comes to people.
    Someday I will stop working and start a business or write a book about my secret life! Shhhh—-

  45. Kevin says:

    Re: Claiming lottery winnings anonymously

    As someone else pointed out, in most jurisdictions, you do not have the option of claiming a lottery win anonymously. It’s not because they want to use your image for marketing – it’s to instill credibility in the lottery itself. Otherwise, there’d be no way of knowing whether or not the lottery was being run legitimately. If jackpot after jackpot went to anonymous winners, how could you truly trust that the winners weren’t executives within the lottery company itself? How could you be sure that the drawing wasn’t “fixed?” You couldn’t. The only way to be certain that insiders aren’t manipulating the drawings and collecting jackpots is to require that all winners claim the prizes publicly.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t play a lottery that allowed anonymous winners, for that very reason. What’s the point? The jackpot would probably just be won by the CEO’s brother-in-law or something, and we’d never know.

  46. Kevin says:

    I also think society is largely to blame for all this rich-envy. The problem is that there’s been a growing acceptance of the idea that wealth is undeserved. Think about the language used when discussing differences in wealth: “They’ve been blessed.” “The less fortunate.” The very words themselves suggest that the person with more money only has it because they were lucky – not because they earned it. And when people are lucky, they should spread their winnings around, right? Hence the jealousy and envy.

    I think the solution is to move away from such chance-based language, and replace it with more accurate phrases that reflect the fact that a person’s wealth is instead a direct outcome of their own hard work and sacrifices. Maybe then people will make the association between hard work and rewards, instead of feeling entitled to other peoples’ wealth.

    But as our culture becomes more and more socialistic, I’m not holding my breath.

  47. megscole64 says:

    This society stigmitizes (sp?) the rich … and politicians define rich differently depending on who they are talking with. I don’t consider someone making 250k rich, and we’re nowhere near that salary. I HOPE to make that someday. But still don’t consider it rich.

    Why is it shameful to earn money? We have such a weird relationship with money in this country.

  48. I think real friends are not making those judgements. Real friends are happy for you, regardless of your situation. All the others are just acquaintances whose opinions just can’t matter to you.

    We made sacrifices to be able to travel full time, and to see this wonderful country that we live in.
    Most of our friends are excited for us, and want to know all about where we have been, and what we are doing. Some think we are just showoffs, and that we are being selfish.

    I decided to not let negativity affect my enjoyment of life.

  49. Kat says:

    There is a lot of talk in these sorts of blogs about how people with nice houses and nice cars are really so far in debt (and a pat on the back that WE are trying to get out of debt/aren’t in debt)…it perpetuates the idea that you NEED credit to buy nice things. This man can afford nice things without credit. This will make people jealous and this will make people angry. Especially in a recession where people’s use of credit has come back to bite them, there will be resentment towards people who aren’t suffering, and misplaced blame.

    In a medium sized town he has been in his whole life, there will be gossip if he has a successful business, doesn’t matter if he drives a Porsche or a Kia. If his conscience is satisfied with his level of charitable giving, and he has the money, why shouldn’t he buy whatever he wants with what’s left over? He earned it, he can get as “flashy” a car as he wants. Everyone says to spend on what’s important to you, if it is important to him to have a big house, or vacation, or wedding, or whatever else, if he is buying based on his own values, he should do so, who cares what the town gossip would have him spend it on?

    We shouldn’t change our purchasing choices trying to show off false wealth by going into debt. Same issue here, but you are advising he pretend to be poor by suggesting he change his car, house, lothing for the town. Isn’t the point of all this frugality and working hard to have money that you can spend? He succeeded in the same goal lots of us have, but just because I haven’t reached that goal yet does not mean others shouldn’t enjoy their success.

  50. matt says:

    I’ve had this type of thing split family on my fathers side, both he and one of his cousins managed to get out of the ‘family’ business of being factory workers for the auto companies and went to college instead. There is an attitude from the rest of the family that the 2 of them should be paying for everything for the rest of them (houses, vacations, dinners etc). (I can remember one particular instance when the family went out to lunch after a funeral and it was demanded that my dad and the cousin pay for the lunch for everyone. Needless to say we don’t have much contact with that part of the family anymore. If it can cause rifts like that in family…. I can only imagine what friends would be like.

  51. Joe Clark says:

    I’ll tell what he should do, donate to/rebuild/build a public library and have it renamed in his honor. Public libraries are in desperate need these days and anytime any one questions his charity he can just point to the library that bears his name.

    - Joe

  52. Chet says:

    I don’t understand this logic of keeping your money a “secret” – I mean, if you win $10m in the lottery, why would you not want to buy a nice car to replace the clunker you currently drive?

    If you gave me the choice, I certainly would buy the new car simply because not having my family stranded on the side of the road is far more important to me than to care about what others think about my wealth.

  53. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: If you really believe that a person with a net worth of $10 million has worked 100 times as hard as a person with a net worth of $100,000, I have a bridge to sell you.

    Here’s another way to look at it: Mr. Connie’s business was almost certainly not built on Mr. Connie’s labor alone. He either has employees, or he contracts out some of the labor, or he buys goods that were manufactured and transported by other people. Mr. Connie got rich, but those other people, who have also worked hard and contributed to the success of the business, almost certainly are not rich.

    “Our culture” (if by that you mean the United States) is certainly not becoming more and more “socialistic.” I’d like to see what evidence you think you have for that. If anything, it’s becoming more and more plutocratic. Over the last 30 years or so, the wealth of the top 1% has roughly tripled (adjusted for inflation), while the wealth of the remaining 99% has barely budged. (Are they working three times as hard? I don’t think so.) And it seems to me that more and more people who are *not* rich are completely buying into the idea that the very, very rich need to be given *more* wealth and *more* power, while simultaneously arguing that long-standing programs like Social Security are something that we just can’t afford anymore.

  54. It’s even tackier to make a public display of your charity than it is to make a public display of your wealth.

  55. Evangeline says:

    Everyone is right when they say money causes weird things to happen to people. I have a dear friend who thinks nothing of spending the bill money on something frivolous and telling me about it. But if I buy something and tell her, well she just looks at me with a slight smile and some eye rolling. Why? Because I recently sold some property I inherited. I didn’t make a fortune and used it to pay down some serious debt (but I still have debt I’m trying to tackle). If we are talking about tough times, financial binds, sales, you name it she always looks at me as if I have no right to be frugal anymore. It’s annoying and it really is hurting our friendship. I’ve been careful not to brag, not to show off. I haven’t done one thing flashy. It’s as if she has claimed all rights to being ‘worried about money’. Go figure. The best anyone can do is be comfortable how you handle your own finances and let the rest go. You can’t change people’s opinions, and it’s a waste of your time to try. And Trent, BTW, there is no ‘obligation’ for your wealth. It is your wealth and you only have to make sure you are comfortable with your decisions.

  56. CJ says:

    Beyond financial status, the article speaks to me about values.

    Asithi commented “Maybe this is the reason people from poor family sometimes outgrow their childhood friends.” I couldn’t agree more.

    I’m not rich; my spouse and I have upper-middle class jobs. However, we have NO consumer debt and a discipline about how we manage not only finances but our time, careers, friendships and property, among other things.

    We enjoy friendships with people who are much better off financially than us and we do not resent their successes. Just the opposite: we like to hear how they’ve done it so we can avoid making mistakes along the way.

    Similarly, we play sports with players who are much better than us, get busted up by them but learn from the experience. I think the same applies to life, except of course friends aren’t there to bust you up. ;)

    Perhaps the people we outgrow just aren’t willing to do the introspection needed to pull themselves up by the boot straps.

  57. Kat says:

    Johanna, I would say he was 100 times better at finding ways to earn money off of his work! His skills were valued in the free market at more than his employees. Maybe he worked harder than his employees (lots of self made businesses have owners working double the hours of their employees, which I believe is more than double the effort), maybe not, but he found a way to make money off of his work better than any employee he may have did.

    It can be argued that the constant desire to tax the rich at higher percentages than the poor is socialism, as these taxes fund things such as public schools (despite the rich using private schools) and social welfare programs that the poor use and the rich do not.

  58. MattJ says:

    #33 Kevin: “Frankly, I wouldn’t play a lottery that allowed anonymous winners, for that very reason. What’s the point? The jackpot would probably just be won by the CEO’s brother-in-law or something, and we’d never know.”

    Your point is true as far as it goes, but frankly, I wouldn’t play the most honestly-run lottery in the world.

    I thought about making the same point that you did to asithi, but chances that hiding the fact that she’s just won the lottery are going to be a problem she’s ever going to have is vanishingly unlikely. I’m surprised anyone engaged her on it.

    Sometimes I think about getting Jessica Biel to agree to marry me. I’m hoping she’ll want to have a medium-sized wedding ceremony in the the US Virgin Islands. Just the two of us and perhaps 40 guests or so. Do you think we should do that, or maybe instead have a huge/lavish wedding on the roof of a ritzy New York hotel? Then we could honeymoon in the Caribbean…

  59. Lynn says:

    I have to admit, I dislike how you put most of the blame on him. *He* must be showing off. *He* must not be doing enough.

    If they are close enough friends, they will probably be privy to how successful he is anyway. If they were *truly* friends, they’d find a way to get over their own jealousy…not expect this guy to feel guilty or ashamed of his success.

  60. Johanna says:

    Kat, the rich have *always* been taxed at higher rates than the poor. Ever since there has been an income tax, there have been tax brackets where the tax rate rises for higher incomes.

    Was Bush a socialist? Was Reagan? Nixon? Eisenhower? All of them presided over progressive income tax structures. The notion that Obama is now some kind of a scary socialist when he’s just doing what’s always been done is just bizarre.

  61. Kevin says:

    @Johanna:

    He may not have worked “100 times” harder, but he certainly worked harder. There’s such a thing as a compounding return on your effort, just as there is with money. He may have put in 80-hour weeks at the beginning, getting the business off the ground, while his workers calmly put in their 8-hour days, then got to go home and spend time with their families while Mr. Connie dealt with vendors, customers, and paperwork late into the nights.

    Also, while it’s true that his workers helped build his company, HE was the one shouldering all of the risk. If the market tanked and his business went under, his “workers” get to keep collecting (admittedly diminished) paycheques for 99 weeks (or whatever the current ridiculously-high limit is on unemployment insurance), while Mr. Connie loses his life savings, and does NOT get those same unemployment insurance cheques. The workers bore no risk – why should they be entitled to a fair share of the return?

    He deserves a higher return, because he took more risk. That’s a fundamental axiom of investing and finance.

  62. Joan says:

    I haven’t read all the comments so I don’t know if someone has already mentioned the fact that the wife SHOULD NOT be asking other people in the community about her husband. As for the husband; he just needs to be himself. No one has the right to tell him how to spend HIS money. If his wife is so upset; she shouldn’t have married him in the first place.

  63. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: You’re contradicting yourself. First, you say that getting rich is all about hard work and sacrifices, and doesn’t involve luck or chance at all. Then, you say that wealthy business owners deserve a higher return, because they took more risk. But taking a risk implies an element of luck – there is a chance that the risk will not pay off.

    Which is it? Is there luck involved, or isn’t there?

  64. Ryan says:

    Amen Johanna!

    Have you seen/heard about the leaked CitiBank memo they sent out to their wealthiest investors?

    In plain black and white, it said that the biggest threat to the status quo was that the rich still only have 1 vote even though they control the overwhelming majority of the wealth.

    I don’t understand how the US is more socialistic than before. Health care hasn’t been socialized. The gov. still doesn’t the own or control the means of production. Heavily regulated, yes, but personally, I like my health care companies getting checked up on!

  65. Crystal says:

    I wouldn’t want to be friends with anyone jealous of what I have. I’m sorry they are being so petty.

    My husband and I have more than most of our friends since we are savers and they aren’t, but they don’t hold it against us…there are non-petty people out there. Good luck.

  66. Shakti says:

    I sympathize with the letter writer and her husband. Most people’s friend groups tend to be people who have the similar education, similar amount of wealth and the same class. He’s jumped a lot of income brackets, and that’s something which rarely happens. On one hand, it might be less awkward for him to associate with people who have approximately the same amount of money. On the other hand, that comes with its own issues as most people with that sort of money are born to it.

    I’d count myself lucky to have a couple of lifelong friends.

  67. Tom says:

    @Johanna & Ryan: And who is stopping you from creating a profitable business and taking on the risk and/or luck?

  68. Johanna says:

    @Tom: I don’t believe that either of us has said that anyone is. What exactly is your point?

  69. MattJ says:

    #47 Johanna

    “You’re contradicting yourself. First, you say that getting rich is all about hard work and sacrifices, and doesn’t involve luck or chance at all.”

    No he didn’t. He objected to the idea that “the person with more money only has it because they were lucky – not because they earned it” [emphasis added because you missed it the first time]

    He’s not denying that there’s an element of luck. He’s saying that the idea that rich people are that way only because they got lucky leads people who are not rich to resent their wealth. Then he went on to describe how business owners take risks with their assets and their futures, and that is one reason why they deserve to be compensated more than someone who does a similar amount of work, but takes no such risks.

    Agree with him, disagree, I don’t care. It would be nice, however, if you would make more of an effort to confront what he actually says.

    Your paraphrasing of the arguments of others is consistently unreliable.

  70. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: I did confront what he actually says. He actually says this:

    “I think the solution is to move away from such chance-based language, and replace it with more accurate phrases that reflect the fact that a person’s wealth is instead a direct outcome of their own hard work and sacrifices.”

    “Direct out come of their own hard work and sacrifices” imples no luck. If that’s not what he intended to say, let’s let him clarify it for himself.

  71. Envy is one of those 7 Deadly sins. By the way that was made into a movie. The definition of Envy: Those who commit the sin of envy resent that another person has something they perceive themselves as lacking, and wish the other person to be deprived of it.

    I think this says it all. It is just natural that people will act this way towards someone who has more, especially $10M. Not that it makes it right, but it is just human nature. If I were him I wouldn’t give it two thoughts. Enjoy your life and don’t worry about what others think. Take care and enjoy.

  72. MattJ says:

    #54 Johanna: I did confront what he actually says.

    No you didn’t. You cherry-picked some of his language and ignored qualifiers in the rest of what he wrote.

    “Direct out come of their own hard work and sacrifices” imples no luck.”

    If that was all he wrote, I would not be pointing out to you to his other text and noting that it had a qualifier in it which indicates that he doesn’t deny the role of luck.

  73. Kevin says:

    I can’t believe I have to actually explain this, but Matt is correct. Of course luck is a factor in success. But “fortune favours the prepared.” Those who take no risks, and instead sit back and comfortably phone-in their 8 hours of effort every day will be rewarded appropriately. Those who seek out opportunities, consistently apply effort to improving themselves, and take risks, will also be appropriately rewarded.

    I’m not denying that luck exists. That would be absurd. I’m saying that those who WORK hard and take ADVANTAGE when luck turns their way DESERVE the rewards that come with that hard work and preparation. At least, moreso than those who simply sit back and let someone else take the chances.

    I thought that was obvious.

  74. jim says:

    There isn’t enough information to know whats going on.

    Connie and her husband may be a kind and giving people who lives within their means and are simply surrounded by a small town of jealous and greedy people. Or maybe Connie and her husband are wasteful and stingy and think that giving $100 a month to the local church is generous while they tool around their small economically distressed town in their Jaguar and Mercedes and pay their few employees minimum wage cause thats all they have to.

    We don’t know.

  75. jim says:

    Kat said: “It can be argued that the constant desire to tax the rich at higher percentages than the poor is socialism,”

    Actually the rich are being taxed at ever LOWER percentages.

    Today the to tax rate is 35%.

    In the 90′s it was 39.6%. In the 80′s it was 50%. In the 70′s-60′s it was 70%. In the 40′s and 50′s people paid taxes over 90%.

    90% -> 70% -> 50% -> 39.6% -> 35%.

    That is not socialism at work.

  76. jim says:

    Kevin, you mentioned the language : “They’ve been blessed.” “The less fortunate.”

    When I hear that language I think of a heavy Christian or religious influence. What does the word “blessed” mean?? Thats a religious word that comes from religious influences. THe people saying they are “blessed” are not saying “I’m stinking lucky” they are giving some credit to a higher power and being humble.

  77. MattJ says:

    Jim & Kat,

    I think your discussion misses a lot of the nuances of ‘what is socialism’. Income tax rates are not socialism.

    That said: Jim, you reply to her like so:

    “Actually the rich are being taxed at ever LOWER percentages.”

    If you want to address her complaint, your sentence should read

    “Actually the rich are being taxed at LOWER percentages than the poor.”

    Is that the case?

  78. Kevin says:

    Jim:

    I’m well aware of what “blessed” means. And it reinforces my point. Saying someone is “blessed” with wealth implies that they didn’t earn it, but rather some external, nebulous, sentient force arbitrarily decided that they would receive wealth. It takes the credit away from the person who earned it, and allows people to feel that the person doesn’t deserve their wealth.

    After all – they didn’t earn it. They only have it because God randomly picked them to have it. They were “blessed” with it, and it just as easily could have (*should* have?) been me. See what I mean?

    This attitude is particularly pronounced among lottery winners and trust fund babies (who, admittedly, are two classes of rare wealthy people who actually did *not* “earn” their wealth, but rather lucked into it). I see nothing to indicate that Mr. Connie falls into either camp.

  79. Connie says:

    Just to clarify, I’m not the Connie in the post, I’m a single woman in my twenties.

    I feel pretty bad for this couple. I think it’s ridiculous that the town he grew up in and has kept his business running in (which generates income for the locality) has turned on him like that. I agree with the jealousy comments; it’s human nature to criticize others who have more than you to justify why you have less. It’s no one’s business how much money you have or how you spend it. If you pay your taxes, it is up to you whether to donate and if so, how much and to whom. My mother has had similar things happen to her, and discovered that a lot of people who she thought were her friends when she was struggling ended up treating her like crap when her hard work paid off and she was able to upgrade her home and pay to send her kids to college. By the way, she ALWAYS donated at least 10 percent of her gross income anyway even when she was poor.

    I also think that if people want to spend their money on what others may think are frivolous purchases it is up to them and they don’t deserve to be judged by their community. So what if they want to buy a new sports car every year or buy nice clothes? I personally love nice clothes and I can’t believe that dressing well should classify me as an immoral or obnoxious person. I spend money on quality, and yes, sometimes designer, clothes because it makes me happy, but I don’t have a car and I don’t spend money on TVs or nice phones or any of that because I don’t care about those things. Others may feel that my choices are irrational or irresponsible, but I could also say that paying for cable and buying books is silly since there is Hulu and the public library. But it’s none of my business just as how I spend my money is no one else’s business.

    As for the tax issue Kat and Johanna are discussing, I have to agree with Johanna. Tax brackets make a lot of economic sense and exist because the less you make the less you can AFFORD to pay in taxes after living expenses. Higher taxes on the wealthy does not just benefit the less well-off, but services that are available to everyone.

  80. KC says:

    I get the impression that the wife may be feeling more guilt than the husband is; after all, she has new-found wealth. My husband is a physician and when he started making serious money I felt a certain amount of guilt with having all this extra cash all of a sudden. I started thinking people saw us in a different light. In reality I now realize it was more me than it was other people. Few peoples perceptions had changed, it was I who was feeling guilty for having money.

    Frankly I don’t feel that way anymore – I really haven’t changed the way I live. I have a nicer home, but I still have an older car and normal clothes, etc. I still give to charity, and I’m still a nice person who has the same problems as everyone else (so what is for dinner tonight?) Don’t change who you are and live the way you want to live – do what you think is best with your money and don’t worry about what others think (or what you believe others think).

  81. jim says:

    MattJ, I certainly don’t think income taxes or public schools alone are socialism by definition. I have no desire to have a deep debate on the meaning of socialism.

    Kevin, This is just my *opinion* of course … I don’t think that if someone says they are “blessed” with what they have that this implies they feel it was random, arbitrary or unearned. My perception is that people say they are blessed when they are recognizing their gratitude and thanks for having as much as they do and not taking their success for granted. It doesn’t imply “unearned” or “luck” to me nor an arbitrary divine act. You can be thankful for what you have and feel you worked hard and deserve it.

  82. MikeTheRed says:

    Inevitably, at some point in a conversation of wealthy vs less wealthy, someone has to toss out the “The CEO doesn’t do 100x the work of the guy answering the phones, so why does he get more than 100x the salary?” question as a way to demonize the rich and sanctify the less than rich.

    The implication is that each unit of effort (lets say it’s an hour of dedicated, focused work) is of equal value regardless of who produces it. This completely ignores skills and talents needed to do a given job. It also completely dismisses the fact that some jobs provide more value than others.

    Lets face it, a burger flipper at your local McDonalds does not create as much value as the guy who owns the local franchise, who in turn doesn’t create as much value as the CEO of the company. One guy makes hamburgers. The next guy manages a local store (or several stores) and all of its employees, operating issues, financial concerns etc. The next guy up the chain covers all of that, but nation-wide, plus countless other duties that keep everything running.

    The fact of the matter is, the higher up on the payscale you go the more difficult it is to effectively do a given job. There’s the erroneous assumption that anyone can run a company, or be the boss, when the fact of the matter is, most of us just don’t have what it takes to do the job well.

    Pretty much anyone can flip burgers though, so that skillset is worth very little.

    Try not to belittle the achievements of others, especially when you yourself haven’t gone through the effort it takes to get there. The walk a mile in a mans shoes idea applies here just as it does almost everywhere in life.

  83. An Accountant says:

    Jim, although the top marginal tax rate did decrease from the 50′s to the 90′s, the overall tax imposed became more progressive. Our tax system is complicated enough that just looking at the top tax bracket can not show the big picture. Several factors came into play, including fluctuations in the use of income versus sales tax, the addition of social security and medicare taxes, increases in exemptions, deductions, and refundable tax credits, etc. If anyone would like a little more background, check out http://www.ustreas.gov/education/fact-sheets/taxes/ustax.shtml. This does not include the recent health care bill, which will further increase the progressiveness of the tax system.

  84. Let’s assume that Connie is wrong, the townsfolk are right, and Connie’s husband is indeed “wasteful and ungiving” with his money.

    So what?

    If Mr. Connie is “wasting” money on jewelry, fine dining, or an ostentatious yacht, I’m guessing the local jewelers, restaurateurs and boat salesmen are overjoyed with his “wastefulness”.

    The time to attach a value judgment to a person’s wealth is when he EARNS it, not when he SPENDS it. As long as Mr. Connie isn’t a drug dealer or an organized crime boss, then presumably he’s earning his money through legitimate and honest means and should be praised for it. Even if he walks down the street blowing his nose with $20 bills, it’ll force him to work all the harder to maintain his position – thus benefiting the economy as a whole.

  85. Kevin says:

    Jim,

    That makes sense – I guess it comes down to semantics and interpretation. I never realized it, but I guess I attribute more credit to “luck” when someone uses “blessed” in that way.

  86. David says:

    …he crumpled up the copy and tossed it into the waste-paper basket; but not before he had, automatically and by force of habit, altered the word “God” to the word “circumstances.”

    G K Chesterton, The Purple Wig

  87. Ryan says:

    Tom:

    Um, no one? I don’t know where you got the suggestion that someone was.

    My point was just that there are some wealthy people and corporations who really are trying to keep it all for themselves.

  88. Bananen says:

    Honestly, I’d not give a damn if I were him. Friends come and go for the most part. If they resent him for what he is then they probably shouldn’t be friends anymore.
    If I were in his shoes I’d use this as an opportunity to see who really are his friends and who are just dragging him down.
    I have no money but respect people who do, because they (mostly) got where they are by providing something that others value highly enough to purchase. They are what makes a nation wealthy.

    Envy is a sad thing.

  89. Kevin says:

    Ryan:

    So what? Is that a bad thing? Who deserves the wealth more than those who earned it? Why does society have a claim on the fruits of my labours, *after* I’ve paid all the applicable taxes? Why, after giving 45% of it to the government, do I *still* owe some of it to those people who were too lazy to put forth effort, or too cowardly to take a risk?

  90. Ryan says:

    Kevin:

    Yeah because the government just takes 45% of your income and gives it to people who sit at home all day and they use it to buy mansions and sports cars.

    You of course, receive absolutely nothing in return from the taxes you pay.

    The point is that why would you want to keep it all? If you had say investments over 500 million, you’d just sit on it? Never give to causes you support? That is indeed selfish. And you’re also assuming that your hard work was the only factor that led to your success. That’s naive.

  91. Kevin says:

    Ryan:

    The bottom line is: Who are YOU to tell ME how to spend MY money?

  92. Ryan says:

    I’m not telling you how to spend your money.

  93. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: Who said anything about YOUR money? Are you a multimillionaire? Or do you just like to pretend to be?

    It really does amaze me how different segments of the middle and working classes squabble so much with each other – black versus white, employed versus unemployed, gay versus straight, immigrants versus native-born, urban versus rural, people earning *just* over $250K (or whatever the income threshold du jour is) versus people earning less, each of them saying, “I don’t want *my* tax dollars going to help *those* people” – while at the same time, thinking nothing of giving massive tax cuts to people who make more money in a year than they’ll ever see in their lives. It’s like they think that if they argue enough on behalf of the fabulously wealthy, they’ll get to join the club.

  94. Will Emerson says:

    I had an experience that allowed me to feel the hostility toward the rich. About 5 years ago I bought a 1987 Mercedes D300 to run on biodiesel. It was 18 years old, ran great, and I paid $5000 for it. But it had the Mercedes hood ornament and immediately people started flipping me off, cutting in front of me, giving me dirty looks. Several of my clients (I’m a computer consultant) expressed anger that I was charging too much and driving a fancy car. None of that had happened before. I pointed out that I had paid much less than they had for their Toyotas and Chevys and it was better for the environment and your checkbook to buy a used car and drive it on used cooking oil. They looked unconvinced. It was a good lesson in stereotypes.

    One suggestion for the questioner. Maybe they could sponsor a community event that brings people together and does not charge for admission. Experiencing events where money is removed from the equation makes people more generous and kind-spirited. We have a local Sundays in the Park series with great music that is wonderful. A larger example is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. Warren Hellman, an heir to Wells Fargo Bank’s fortune, pays for the whole thing and it is an incredible event with a great vibe compared to many over-priced concerts where everyone is worried about getting their money’s worth. Many good things happen in a community where giving is honored over consuming and the huge emphasis our culture puts on who has what is replaced with sharing our underlying humanity.

  95. Willard Dalfours says:

    The Middle Class: Definition and boundaries

    Can someone tell me what the middle class is? Politicians and the media always talk about it but no one defines it. It seems to be whatever you want it to be. It seems to be amorphous. It keeps changing. What is the basis for the high and low income amounts that define it and where do these numbers come from?

  96. Jan says:

    @Johanna
    “Here’s another way to look at it: Mr. Connie’s business was almost certainly not built on Mr. Connie’s labor alone. He either has employees, or he contracts out some of the labor, or he buys goods that were manufactured and transported by other people. Mr. Connie got rich, but those other people, who have also worked hard and contributed to the success of the business, almost certainly are not rich.”
    How would you know that? I know that a number of multi millionaire who have friends whom rise right with them. They discuss, they invest, they work- hard. Usually they tell their employees straight off that if they work hard, they can become rich as well.
    I have a good friend who is very wealthy. He worked in a shop, then owned the shop, then invested in land, then sold the land, then invested more into his shop, and continued the cycle. You may call it luck- in the US it is called free enterprise! It must be more common in my circles than yours?
    As for the “friends” in a small town- there is no way around it. Live the life that is best for you and ignore the idiots! In my religion it is worse to make charity public. I also know very few very wealthy who treat anyone poorly. The “new rich” who wear it on their sleeve are easy to spot and usually not that wealthy.
    BTW- I see no problem with naming a building after your family- I think it is a cool way to remind people what THEY could do with their money. You can thank Carnegie for public libraries all over the US.
    The largest problem comes in raising the children of the rich responsibly….Now that IS a problem!

  97. Ryan says:

    Johanna,

    I was thinking the same thing but couldn’t articulate it the way I wanted.

    Reminds me of a video I saw of a Tea Party rally. A (middle class I believe) woman said that she didn’t think a millionaire or even a billionaire should pay more taxes than her.

    Yet I have a feeling she’d change her tune if her “fair” system meant the US wouldn’t be providing SS or Medicare…

  98. Johanna says:

    Just to clarify: Of course there’s nothing wrong, in general, with advocating for the rights of a group that doesn’t include you. You can have male allies for women’s rights, straight allies for gay rights, and so forth.

    But when you put it that way, “middle-class allies for billionaires’ rights” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

    And what amazes me are the people (like Kevin, or like Joe the Plumber) who find it easier to think of themselves as the rich people who might get their taxes raised (but will still pay less than they paid under Ronald Reagan), than to think of themselves as the people who would benefit from the programs and infrastructure that those taxes would pay for, or as the future taxpayers who will have to deal with the interest on the national debt. Because, apparently, only those *other* people – lazy, bad, unworthy people – benefit from government spending. And deficits don’t matter. Or something like that.

  99. sophomore says:

    Could I make a humble request in line with poster #2 (Des)? If you don’t have at least $1 million in liquid assets, STFU and allow the people that do to offer potential advice.

  100. Georgia says:

    Johanna – I remember when Reagan was in office. At the time I was working for a staunch Democrat. She said everyone should vote straight party. She always did.

    So, when Reagan lowered the tax rate on the rich from 70% to 50%, I assumed she would be indignant. But – she said, “NO ONE shoud have to pay 50% of their earnings to the government!” It really surprised me.

    Jim – I see that you showed how the taxes on wealthier people went down. But you did not show how the tax on the poor also went down. In fact, many poorer people not only pay less taxes, but they get money back from Uncle Sam that they never paid in. My current tax rate runs around 15% and I am considered well off in my small town. I actually have SS and 2 small pensions-mine and my late husband’s. None are large, but added up, they amount to almost double what most people here at home are getting. And, yes, I feel blessed. However, I am saving as much as I can because of the economy. Soon my income might now amount to much.

    And a suggestion, if I really thought Congress would do it, would be to take all the programs the government funds and cut them all by 10%. Too many people, including our leaders have some that are their favorite and some they hate. This way everyone would take a cut, but all would still have the major portion of the monies needed.

  101. Nancy Blake says:

    I once failed someone I was very fond of – she was more wealthy than I, and I mistrusted my own motives about being her friend. So I held back, rather than trusting that I liked her for herself. Now we are good friends, and I learned that during that time, her life was falling apart, and she had really needed someone to be there for her. When you are wealthy, the saddest thing is that real friends may step back, lest they look like they are friends for the wrong reasons, while ‘friends’ who are there for the wrong reasons may come forward. Not an easy position to be in.

  102. John S says:

    I love that no one has questioned Connie’s assertion (her opinion stated as fact) that “[lately] a lot of them [his friends] seem resentful of him [her husband].” I hereby call into question this opinion. There are no examples provided, and she sounds awfully paranoid to me. What are the friends doing specifically? Staring and scowling? Making snide comments about how nice it must be to lease a brand new loaded F-150 every 3 years? Are they walking up to him and saying “I resent you”? Or what? Convince me this is not just in her head based on the information we’ve received.

    Just because she *feels* like his friends resent him, doesn’t mean they’ve given her an actual reason to think that; Connie could very well just be paranoid or delusional.

    It’s also possible that when she asked her friends about it, they simply told her what she expected to hear, to mollify her and avoid furthering an embarrassing conversation about hearsay and class jealousy, which frankly would make most people uncomfortable under any circumstance.

    It’s rather presumptuous to pretend she knows what an entire town is thinking about her husband. It’s also interesting that most of our comments are from the perspective that if Connie said it, then it must be true, and that’s somehow accepted as the starting point for the framework of our commentary.

  103. John S says:

    I *also* love the assumption by some people that Mr. Connie “built up his business from scratch with hard work”.

    Did he really? Do we even know? Why do some people assume every business owner started it up himself and works hard?

    I’ve known several small-town business owners in my day, and I’d lay odds that Mr. Connie may have inherited his business from his father or grandfather and simply owns it, and runs it the way he saw his dad run it. He probably also draws a sizeable salary from it to boot, while expensing anything he can through the business, (for example, a company car, gasoline, Internet, smart phones, Executive Costco memberships, airline travel (“business meetings” in Hawaii), meals out (with “clients”), trash removal (bringing their household trash to their company’s dumpster), etc.)

    I’ve seen first hand how business owners get away with using their businesses to siphon personal expenses through them, up the proverbial yin yang, so, not only do they not pay for these things out of pocket, but the cost of these hidden bennies actually get deducted from their company’s P&L as business expenses, thus reducing its taxable income at tax time.

    Whereas, you and I (the “normal” townsfolk) must pay for our own trash removal, cell phones, gasoline, etc. And for us, these expenses are all after-tax. We don’t get to deduct them. So our taxes go to make up for the lost tax revenue from the personal expenses Mr. Connie is sheltering in his business.

    Don’t shake your head; these are real-life examples I have witnessed myself because I happen to have been born into a business-owning family who are good friends with a lot of other local business owners. (No, I do not work for any of them anymore, but I know what goes on. It’s shady and nearly impossible to prove.)

    Does this apply to Mr. Connie? Who knows? I’d bet at least some of it certainly does, and if people know about it, they probably believe they are justified in resenting him (again, assuming they really do.) I live in a small town like Connie, and nearly all the millionaire business owners in this town got their money the easy way: they inherited an established business and simply succeeded in NOT running it into the ground. (Yay for them.) And they all abuse the tax system to some degree, by having their businesses pay for non-cash personal benefits as expenses. Many of them do this while making millions every year and paying their employees a laughable pittance.

    Having said that, I do feel that it is the “right” of any parent to leave any wealth-generating engine he may own to his children. (Who could reasonably argue with that?)

    However, it is also the “right” of the rest of the townsfolk who know about this to be jealous of it, and to recognize that the recipient of such wealth might *not* have earned it through any merit or hard work. Unfortunately, when this is the case, it makes it difficult for those who know the situation to respect him. Hey, that’s life. So what?

    Once you hit a certain degree of wealth, you are automatically forced out of touch with the situation of the common man. Connie and her husband can simply do what wealthy people have been doing for centuries: bury their heads in the sand and surround themselves with people who don’t make them feel guilty for being handed such a fortunate lot in life. Move to a gated community near a golf course. Take up equestrian eventing or polo or sailing.

    If Mr. Connie is inexorably tied to his local community then he is going to have to tolerate public opinion and public scrutiny. As the title of this article implies, this is an unavoidable “obligation of wealth”.

  104. John S says:

    And for the record, yes, I’ll admit it: Because of my intimate exposure to local business owners and knowledge about what they make versus what they pay (and how they treat) their employees, I *do* have a resentful bias against them in general. I’m sure there are exceptions in every bunch, but in general, business owners, as a class, have not earned a de facto benefit of the doubt from me.

  105. CD says:

    I know quite a few wealthy people – some have worked very hard to earn it – but not all. In my father’s day in the 70s, the top earners did earn 40 x the lowest paid salary. Today, that has gone to 40,000 times the lowest paid salary.

    I’m curious – what exactly does a CEO do today, that has increased his/her value by 10000 fold?

    My husband is a midlevel engineer, works long LONG hours, and is part of a team creating successful products. Do they get bonuses and big salaries? No.. It’s the guys who come in late, and leave early. It would seem that the rich are the ones who work the LEAST, and increase their own net worth by decreasing everyone else’s salarie (often through employing HB1 Visas and removing benefits).

    They have worked hard for those insane salaries in the exact way that drug dealers do – by harming others, and reducing everyone else’s quality of life.

    This country is not the country of my father’s – the ethics and morality that were at one time a core element to business has been replaced by a pure greed that people are begining to look towards government to mitigate.

    As one commentator said – when people believed everyone had a fair shake, they were willing to work hard and not worry if some were more successful than they. Now, people realize that hard work will NO LONGER pay off. Of course, I don’t think the government is any less corrupt than business – but it does explain why many feel there must be someone to mitigate the power shift.

  106. Kevin says:

    @CD:

    “I’m curious – what exactly does a CEO do today, that has increased his/her value by 10000 fold?”

    Ask Tony Hayward.

    Don’t know who he is? He’s the CEO of BP, and for the last 3 months, his life has been under extreme scrutiny. He’s been forbidden to take even a moment for himself. He’s expected to spend every waking hour toiling over a solution to the gushing well in the gulf.

    Even though he had absolutely nothing to do with the platform exploding. He was nowhere near it when it happened, and had nothing at all to do with it.

    But he’s the “CEO.” So he’s accountable. He gets to give up his entire life and any semblance of privacy until this thing is fixed.

    Meanwhile, the guy who actually screwed up and caused the thing to explode? Nobody knows his name. He’s off somewhere enjoying “paid administrative leave” pending an investigation. But he gets to keep his privacy.

  107. Kate says:

    I think that “blessed” or “lucky” have more to do with circumstances than with any outside influence …

    Some people have been “blessed” with, or “lucky” to have, the intelligence to see an opportunity, the courage to seize it, and the determination to make it work.

    The opportunity itself may have been “lucky”, but the follow-through was their own doing.

  108. Johanna says:

    Poor, poor, Tony Hayward.

    Poor Tony Hayward, who acquired millions and millions of pounds for himself off of BP’s strategy of drilling for oil in deep water without having the foggiest clue what to do if something went wrong, and who now has to pay attention for three whole months while the consequences of that strategy play themselves out.

    Poor, poor, Tony Hayward.

    Please.

  109. Johanna says:

    My point being: Tony Hayward either knew or should have known, that BP was playing with fire by being unprepared to deal with disasters like this one. He either had or should have had the power to say, “Hey, let’s not do any more deep-water drilling until we know how to cap a gushing deep-water well.” The notion that he is some kind of innocent bystander is laughable.

    Also, eleven people died when the rig exploded. Tony Hayward was not one of them.

  110. Kevin says:

    I’m not saying Tony is an “innocent bystander.” I just said he’s worth 10,000 times more than the worker who actually screwed up and allowed the thing to explode, because Tony’s life is now turned upside-down, while the guy who ACTUALLY caused it gets to continue to live in relative anonymity.

    As for blaming reckless deepwater drilling on Tony Howard, well, that’s simply ridiculous. BP is not the only oil company doing deepwater drilling – they weren’t even the first. And Tony Howard was not the guy who first said “Hey, I bet we could make more money if we actually tried drilling for all that oil in the deep parts of the ocean!”

    Gimmie a break.

  111. Johanna says:

    Let me get this straight. Despite the huge salary and bonuses, Tony Hayward could not possibly have been expected to evaluate BP’s drilling methods (or, more likely, to ensure that some other team of BP employees was evaluating them) to ensure that they are safe – that’s just too much to ask. Is that what you’re saying?

    Well, apparently it *was* too much to ask, since it didn’t happen. But as examples of what CEOs do to deserve their high salaries, this is a pretty poor one, if “Try to make sure your company does not create the biggest environmental disaster ever” doesn’t make the list of duties, or even the list of aspirational goals.

    And when all is said and done, Tony Hayward will land on his feet. He’ll go back to watching boat races on the Isle of Wight or whatever the heck else he does in his free time. Even if he doesn’t keep his BP job and never gets another one, he surely has enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life. The same cannot be said of the people living around the Gulf of Mexico whose livelihoods were destroyed. (Even if they’re all eventually compensated, it’s not the same.) And it certainly can’t be said of the people who were working on the rig and died in the explosion. So as an example people who take greater risks deserving greater wealth, it’s a pretty poor one, also.

    Also, would you mind sharing where you’ve read that the explosion was the fault of one person, who is still alive, now on administrative leave, and whose name is not known?

  112. Sarah says:

    Trent, if you need a case study on this phenomenon, I could be your poster child! I am a stay-at-home mom (though I am very proud to say that I have my masters degree in elementary education and taught for several years before having my son). I am married to a high school teacher, therefore you’d think that we should be struggling to make ends meet. But we’re not. My father has a net worth of over $20 million dollars. He owns the house we live in, so we have no mortgage. He owns my car, so I have no car payment. He pays for our electric bill, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance, and he also pays for my car insurance, repairs, and gas. Wanna know how many close friends I have? It’s funny because, up until I graduated from college (and even a couple years after that), I had tons of friends. They loved hanging out at my dad’s house, swimming in his pool, and riding in his sports cars. But now that everyone is in the workforce struggling to make ends meet, the number of people who I consider genuine friends has dropped considerably. I’m pretty sure it’s not me who has changed. My family has always taught me to be frugal with my money (hence why I read this website), and we never brag about our situation to anyone. It pains me to think that people could be envious of our life, but I’m running out of reasons for why a good number of them don’t call or want to hang out anymore. I am very grateful for my family and the handful of friends who have stuck around. Thanks for posting this article.

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