I’m almost positive that if you met me on a typical day, your idea of my net worth based on your first impression wouldn’t be a high one. Most of the time, in the late fall through early spring, I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. They’re usually fresh and clean and in pretty good shape (I save my raggedy clothes for wear around the house), but they’re pretty plain and unassuming. On cold days, I usually wear a fairly worn Carhartt coat, something that’s pretty standard for adult men near where I live.
I usually drive a used minivan, about five years old, so you wouldn’t pick that out as a car driven by someone making a lot of money. It’s not a fancy model and has an unassuming grey color.
You won’t find me at the local country club or anything like that.
In short, I don’t really do anything at all to give off any signs of financial security or wealth in my day to day life. Rather, if anything, I give off signs of the opposite. I don’t wish to appear offensive in public, but I genuinely don’t want to appear as though I’m in good financial shape, either. Rather, I just try to appear clean and comfortable and approachable.
I call this “stealth wealth,” and it’s a tactic I really picked up on early in my financial turnaround, mostly from reading the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. One of the big themes of that book is that actually being a millionaire – in other words, having financial security – is often not associated with appearing like a millionaire. In other words, there’s a lot of value in being more stealthy regarding your financial situation.
The core underlying principle behind “stealth wealth” is to stop worrying about what other people think. Rather than aiming to impress others, you simply aim to be comfortable around others and encourage them to be comfortable around you. I don’t worry about whether I’m going to impress them with what I’m wearing or driving or my hairstyle or the gadget in my pocket. Rather, I figure they’ll make up their own mind about me, and I’d rather they make up their mind based on my actual personality than about some pretense that I’m holding up.
This “stealth wealth” strategy offers a ton of benefits.
First of all, “stealth wealth” means you’re not spending much money at all on keeping up appearances. I don’t buy expensive clothes, just comfortable ones that are well made and fit me well and that are clean when I go out in public. I don’t spend a whole lot on personal grooming aside from soap and shampoo and a razor blade to keep clean shaven (because I find a beard that doesn’t end up being a tangled nasty mess is more work than being clean shaven). I keep my hair cut quite short, so I don’t have to deal with hair care costs. I drive a used car that I keep clean, but it’s nothing fancy. I just don’t spend a whole lot of money on appearances.
Another factor for me is that “stealth wealth” means I spend a lot less time on such things, too. I don’t spend time shopping for clothes – rather, I have a couple of default outfits that I just replace items with regularly. My hair is short, so I don’t spend time on hair grooming. I usually shave while showering and it takes less than a minute a day. I buy cars for reliability so I know they’re just going to work, and when I stop feeling utterly confident in my car, I’m usually shopping for a new one because it’s about to become very expensive in terms of repair bills.
Another notable factor is that I find that I’m most likely to actually be received well in social situations if I feel comfortable, and when I’m aiming to impress, I don’t feel comfortable. I find the most success if I dress comfortably and cleanly in unassuming but comfortable clothes, I’m clean and reasonably well groomed, and I feel good (meaning I’ve been eating well lately and have been getting adequate sleep). Social success happens when you truly feel comfortable, and I feel most comfortable when I’m unassuming.
Yet another big factor in the “stealth wealth” strategy is that I don’t appear to be a person with a lot of money, so I’m not typically targeted for things like “investment opportunities.” Back when I did dress nice all the time, I didn’t have any more real social success (in fact, I probably had less), but I found that people would sometimes come up to me and want to discuss “investment opportunities” which were mostly scams. I’m not sure whether it was being more unassuming and comfortable or what, but I find that such situations occur far less frequently than before. I guess I must not look like an Amway salesperson (or target) these days. I also haven’t been approached by family members for loans in many years – again, I think that part of the reason is that I don’t dress to impress any more.
It’s worth noting, of course, that if part of your career path involves being “dressed for success” in the community you live in, this may not work for you. However, many people in many career paths do not need to “dress for success” in the community (though they may need to in the workplace).
Here are some of the principles I live by when it comes to “stealth wealth.”
First of all, I buy items based entirely on what’s genuinely useful to me, not what others might think of it. I don’t worry about what they think of it. Rather, if someone asks, I can just give a genuine and honest answer – I have this item because it’s useful to me, and I can list the honest reasons for that. That type of honestly leads to lots of meaningful conversations and interactions. I don’t feel like someone is digging into a “false front” with me, ever.
My wardrobe consists mostly of clothes that are comfortable and well made. I don’t dress in rags, but I don’t dress up, either. Most of the time, in the summer, I’m either wearing a plain cotton t-shirt and blue jeans or khaki shorts, depending on the weather. In the winter, I’m usually wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. All of those are well-made items, with good stitching and sturdy, and they largely fit me well (some of my clothes are a little big because of recent weight loss). I have nicer clothes depending on the occasion, but those are my default clothes.
My goal is to wear comfortable clothes that wear very well so I can get lots of use out of them. I want to wear clothes that I feel good in, not to impress other people, but just to feel genuinely comfortable. I don’t feel comfortable in dress clothes. I feel comfortable in a clean well-made cotton shirt and jeans, so that’s what I wear.
Since I’m buying relatively inexpensive garments that last for a lot of washes, my wardrobe is really inexpensive, but I feel comfortable in public. I’m never overdressed, but I’m never really underdressed, either. I’m comfortable, and that makes me feel better about being social.
I drive a used car, but not a rusty beater. Again, I value having a reliable car, and when a car starts to turn toward the “rusty beater” end of the spectrum, it’s time to replace it. At the same time, I don’t drive anything showy. It’s a typical car, one that really isn’t noticed, and that’s how I want it. It does not give off vibes of wealth, but it doesn’t really give off any other impression, either.
I keep my appearance low maintenance, but clean. I keep a short hairstyle – very little day to day maintenance – and don’t have a beard, as I just shave daily in the shower. I practice normal hygiene so that I appear clean and smell fine. This doesn’t require a lot of hygiene products.
We live in a modest home. We could afford a nicer home, but our current home perfectly fits our needs and it would attract attention to our financial state that I don’t want. Our home is decorated and furnished using a similar mindset – simple and comfortable. I want people to feel comfortable coming over and feel completely comfortable when they’re here, not afraid they’re going to commit some social faux pas but not feel disgusted either.
In short, we buy things that meet our own needs, and our only consideration of what others might think is in line with the “golden rule.” I want people I meet in public to be clean and comfortable, so I aim for that myself. I want guests in my home or in my car to feel comfortable, not uncomfortable due to the niceness nor the shabbiness, because that’s how I want to feel when I’m a guest. In the end, what impresses me about people is character and friendliness and ability, not the clothes they wear or the house they have or the car they drive.
The end result? I probably have the healthiest social network I’ve had in my entire life. I feel like I have a place in my local community and in several smaller subgroups. I’m not approached for “investment opportunities” or other such nonsense. People don’t ask me for loans because they think I have wealth.
Things are right where I want them to be.