Stealth Wealth Revisited – This applies to doctors too!

I went to buy groceries mid week and realized how simple the process was compared to the typical weekend or weeknight days that I typically go. The aisles weren’t crowded, I had my own space to pick through the avocados, and there was no line at checkout!

I wondered what the typical demographic of people are able to conveniently run errands on a weekday morning. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hold a job that would allow for flex time? It would even be nicer if I worked on my own time.

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Most of the customers appeared to be mothers with young children. It wasn’t clear where everyone else fell in the spectrum. Entrepreneurs? Funemployed? People like me who took a sick day off? Better yet, perhaps some of these guys are financially independent!

 

 

As I was deciding whether to buy the apple fritter or crueller in the bakery aisle, I recognized one of the emergency room doctors at the local hospital. He was sporting a beaten up t-shirt with a logo sponsoring a local 5k race, jeans, and stained shoes. Had I not known he was a doctor in the high dollar range, I would have assumed that he was one of those funemployed individuals.

In reality, he was practicing stealth wealth whether or not he was aware of it.

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The premise of stealth wealth is simply not looking the part of having a bunch of zeros in your bank account.  This applies whether you’re taking the F train in Brooklyn at 2am or walking into a car dealership with the preying eyes of hungry salesmen tracking your every move. Is it simply a survival strategy? Perhaps, but I can say that I’ve saved a lot of headaches by blending into the crowd.

Sometimes attracting attention is bad for your health (read on).

As doctors, we can’t really hide from anyone. If you are a licensed physician, your credentials are public information. Ever since I obtained my first medical license, I started getting phone calls and mailings from asset management companies, random insurance companies, and ‘wealth accumulators’.

I think these companies knew that most of my colleagues were busy trying to pass our boards too—they invited us to a nice steak dinner while one of their professional advisors gave a talk.

Guess what? I’m guilty of going to these talks too. I still remember that at the last talk I went to, I didn’t understand a darn thing the advisor was talking about. What’s more embarrassing was that I had already gone to a similar talk six months ago.  It felt like one of those Embryology lectures back during first year medical school where you try to follow along but are totally lost when you talk about germ cell layers. He talked about having some “secret” but legal way to fund money into a Roth IRA after I start making real money. I still remember that I was so happy after that talk that I had leftovers to eat another day. I ended up getting GI upset the following day, didn’t associate it with the meal (because what can go wrong with free steak?), ate my leftovers several days later, and got GI upset again and a fever for two days!

I developed a Pavlovian response to these lectures and never attended any more. Sure, I was probably short-sighted to disregard my future earnings.  I also did not have any children at the time who needed to rely on my income.

Had I not gotten the attention of a wealth accumulator service, my future may have been very different. Fortunately, I think that I am able to manage my finances with the help of fellow strangers on the Internet. 😉

Stealth wealth as a rebellion against materialism.

One can argue that life is more fulfilling by spending money on experiences rather than objects. It would seem that memories from experiences would sustain happiness much longer than an object like a fancy coffee table.  With memories, we can always look back these experiences and recreate happy thoughts.

I can easily see this corollary in my six-year-old nephew.  He is able to throw the most vicious tantrums in order to get an overpriced model car racetrack. He then becomes the most angelic child after an adult succumbs to his demands but soon requires the expansion pack after several brief days of enjoyment (Hopefully he will outgrow these habits).

 

 

Fortunately for car dealerships, clothing stores, and electronics companies, the majority of the world does not buy into the experiences alone either. I honestly don’t either—I wouldn’t mind having a new Tesla parked in my garage any day of the week.

But buying into the concept of stealth wealth can help us reduce our materialistic tendencies. If you don’t want to be flashy making a grocery run in your Tesla, you keep your ten-year-old Subaru running as long as possible. Likewise, if you opt to wear $20 Timex watch in lieu of a giant Hublot, you’ve effectively saved a perfectly good watch from going to the trash or shoved in a drawer with no hope of future use.

Reduction of material substance will help build your wealth.

Gee, if you have a constrained outward appearance of money (stealth wealth) you actually help your bank account grow by keeping more of it in the bank.  I see many high-income professionals practicing this strategy in various degrees. I see some multi-millionaire construction company owners who put their money in their homes and the $80,000 V12 trucks. However, their clothing consists of budgetary jeans and t-shirts. Their vacations are simply camping trips with minimal recurring costs outside of the initial equipment purchases.

I’ve met other high-income individuals who live in homes that could be purchased with less than a quarter of their earning potential, but enjoy lavish vacations several times a year.  Compare that to my local orthopedic surgeon who lives in a decidedly mid-seven figure house, sends his kids to private schools, and goes on hunting expeditions throughout the world.  He might have an Ace up his sleeve, but he might also have a very long working career.

Stealth wealth can make you happier.

Having a sizable bank account could probably make you a happy person, but I’ve seen plenty of wealthy individuals who are miserable.  As doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other highly-compensated individuals, we actually have a relatively stable hold on the income generation aspect of our finances.  What leaves our wallet is more likely to impact our degree of happiness.  Stealth wealth provides us a framework to determine what is important to us, and direct our expenses towards happiness.

Who knows, that guy at Starbucks in the corner sipping his latte may be an Internet mogul practicing stealth wealth.

What part of your lifestyle do you consider Stealth?

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  • Stealth Wealth — it’s been a hot topic lately.

    To me, it’s not about judging those that spend more than you or intentionally fooling the world into thinking you’ve got less than you have. It’s about having money and living in a way that you feel most comfortable, while rejecting any societal expectation that you should wear certain brands of clothing, drive a vehicle above a particular price point, or live only in certain upscale neighborhoods.

    Drs. Stanley and Danko in The Millionaire Next Door spoke of people without means acting rich as being “all hat, no cattle.” Stealth Wealth is pretty much the opposite: “all cattle, no hat.” If you’ve got the cattle, you’re free to wear any hat you like, but having cattle shouldn’t demand that you wear a proper 10-gallon hat.

    In what ways is my wealth stealthy? I don’t have to dress up for work (change into scrubs on arrival) so I don’t wear nice clothes. I’m not a “car guy,” so I drive a decidedly average car. I live in one of the nicer homes in a middle class neighborhood, and prefer to push my own lawn mower. It’s good exercise. I prefer a good craft beer or homebrew to a vintage wine. I enjoy good food but not necessarily fine dining.

    In other ways, I’m not so stealthy. We vacation well — our family spring break trip will be to Paris and Iceland, and last year it was a Disney cruise. Also, I talk about wealth online, which is not at all stealthy, even if my name isn’t publicly attached to the moniker. The first rule of stealth wealth: Do not talk about stealth wealth. The second rule of stealth wealth, … you get the idea.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • Smart Money MD

      Sometimes I wonder what percentage of people who follow this mentality would have done the same thing regardless of their assets. At the end of the day we all simply revert to whatever we feel most comfortable doing.

      I’m with ya on the vacations. Given that we actually have limited vacation time since I am working towards FIRE, our travels are quite extravagant. However, I’m sure that you’ve put some thought to stamping some moderation into a family trip to Europe–there are certainly relatively good deals to Iceland and ways to enjoy the trip without any deprivation. Would you be just as happy eating a great street side crepe instead of caviar at those Michelin starred restaurants? I think so. But we all know people who wouldn’t. We see a lot of big hats out there. Doesn’t mean that we have to wear a hat at all!

      btw, have you seen those Fiskars push mowers? I’ve wondered how much harder you’d have to work compared to a standard gas powered one. I would assume that if the price is right, someone like MMM would use them to get a better workout.

      Thanks!

      • I have seen the newest take on the old school rotary mower! I’m not sure I’d trust it to do a great job, and those blades look awfully difficult to sharpen.

        I don’t burn any gas though, either. I’m able to get our lawn done in under an hour with two 40-volt Ryobi batteries and a 21-inch cordless electric mower. It weighs next to nothing compared to the self-propelled Craftsman I used to walk behind.

        We got a steal on the airfare to Europe and we’re staying in 2 bedroom apartments via AirBNB. Close to the action, but at an average cost of about $150 a night, less than a one-room hotel room and more than twice the size.

        Cheers!
        -PoF

        • Smart Money MD

          Fiskars actually work, although it depends on how much grass you have and how thick the grass is. I doubt that they work efficiently long term on the lush Midwestern lawns unless you love mowing your lawn every weekend in the summer.

          If you have enough stomach space in Paris, Sacha Finkelsztajn in Le Marais has a mean pastrami sandwich. Jewish bakery goods. You can find reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor.

  • Mustard Seed Money

    My wife and I try to develop stealth wealth habits and not really show off. We drive non-luxury cars and don’t eat the fanciest restaurants. We’re going on a date tonight to Whole Foods to eat at the buffet. But that’s mainly because Whole Foods is my wife’s favorite store and she loves the prepared food there 🙂

    I’m not sure any of my friends really know how well off we are but I’m not planning to change their mind.

    • Smart Money MD

      Hey, nothing wrong with Whole Foods! The price of their precooked foods ought to be relatively cheaper than most restaurants other there (although I recall that the WF at Columbus Circle NYC had insane prices).

      At the end of the day, the right mentality is to spend and save our finances where we see is most important. I have plenty of colleagues who send their kids to fancy private schools in exchange for living significantly below their means. As long as we’re inching towards the end goal, we should be in good shape!

      Thanks for stopping by!