If you’re like most people, the idea of being rich automatically conjures images of infinity pools with incredible ocean views, full-time house staff, elaborate estates, and private jets. Some wealthy people, though, actually keep their fortune a secret from everyone around them. The concept of living below your means even though you’ve got some serious assets to your name is known as stealth wealth.
When I made my first million at 25, I didn’t run out the door and buy a Ferrari. Actually, I didn’t even move out of my tiny, affordable apartment for another two years. When I finally did move, I ended up just moving into a cheap, blue-collar neighborhood. I've talked a bit about my background on the bio page.
You might wonder what the point of amassing a fortune is if you aren’t going to blow through it, but there are actually tons of benefits to living a stealth wealth lifestyle.
I’m not here to brag about the fact that I’ve been financially successful. In fact, I’m actually pretty uncomfortable coming out as “rich.” That being said, I think that taking a stealth wealth approach to life is something that we should normalize in our culture, and I want to help others learn how to gain financial freedom without falling prey to the normal traps that come along with increasing net worth.
So what is stealth wealth, exactly, and how do you spot it? In this post, I’ll explore everything you need to know about rich people who purposefully live below their means.
"Stealth wealth" is a term used to describe when someone doesn't outwardly express the fact that they have a high net worth. They keep it on the down-low. It's not that they aren't rich; it's that they are secretly wealthy because they don't want to drive too much attention or focus on their money.
Let's say you're a wealthy person. Rather than taking your wealth and purchasing status symbols like extravagant homes, expensive cars, and designer clothes, stealth wealth means you keep your wealth under wraps. Some people even go so far as to keep the fact that they’re rich from their family members and closest friends.
Ok, before you google “stealth wealth meaning,” here’s the simplest definition: stealth wealth is when you’re rich but you don’t act rich. You fly under the radar, not drawing any attention to the fact that you’ve secretly been amassing a fortune. Some people take stealth wealth to the extreme, where even their closest friends and family don’t know that they’ve become rich or that they’ve managed to retire early.
People who practice stealth wealth might look like completely average people from the outside. They drive regular-looking cars, don’t have flashy clothes or jewelry, and generally don’t engage in the culture of overconsumption. Rather than living in a multi-million dollar ocean-front mansion that they could technically afford, the stealthily wealthy opt for homes that are modest and unassuming.
If you’ve never heard of stealth wealth before, you might wonder why someone that had amassed a fortune in their life would go to the trouble of hiding their wealth from the people around them.
However, there are actually a lot of good reasons to practice stealth wealth. While living a luxurious lifestyle and enjoying your extreme wealth can certainly be pleasurable, these are usually short-lived benefits. When you are rich and you let everyone know it, you’ll soon learn that there are some serious downsides to advertising your wealth.
People might choose to practice stealth wealth for a number of reasons. One of these is that it helps to avoid the reality where other people will expect things from you because they assume you have more spending power than they do. If you let others know that you’re rich, you’ll soon find that some of the people around you start expecting you to pick up the tab at a restaurant for a group of 20, loaning them money when they fall on hard times, and more.
Of course, the point of being wealthy isn’t hoarding your money stingily without ever spreading the love. The point, though, is that others don’t always understand that you still have to manage your money and make smart financial decisions even when you have a high net worth.
When you practice stealth wealth, it can also help you avoid some of the judgment that comes along with being rich. If you start flaunting your deep pockets, you’ll soon learn that lots of people have opinions about rich people and they won’t think twice about judging you for your wealth. These people might think that having money means that you are inherently greedy or exploitative, that you amassed your fortune simply through privilege, or they might simply resent you for having what they want but don’t have. Even if the people around you don’t have a negative perspective on wealth, you’ll likely find that the more money people know you have, the more they seem to know exactly what you should be doing with it.
If you’re curious to know if someone secretly has more wealth than they let on, there are some common stealth wealth signs you can keep an eye out for. People who practice stealth wealth won’t be showing off their riches in an obvious way, but if you pay close attention you can notice some indications that they are very comfortable financially.
Someone that has worked to become wealthy is typically very goal-oriented. They understand how much attention and focus it takes to build up wealth over time. These individuals aren’t likely to just go with the whims of the crowd– instead, they have a sense of where they want to go and they stay on their path.
While people who are secretly wealthy might not flaunt it, they also understand at a deep level just how valuable time is. Someone who is rich might realize that they know how to make more money, but you can’t make more time. However, you can choose how you spend your time, and a stealthily wealthy person is going to be much more inclined to pay others to do time-consuming activities like dealing with a plumbing problem, mowing their lawn, or clearing snow from their driveway.
When a person is financially secure, they often have unique confidence in themselves. They have worked hard to get to where they are. They believe in themselves and the path they have chosen in life, and they are proud of what they have accomplished. At the same time, they are not falling prey to the ego boost that comes from flaunting one's wealth, which is another signifier that they are secure in themselves and don’t need the approval of others to believe in themselves.
If you have a neighbor that seems to live modestly but really doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff, they might be secretly wealthy. When there are issues that need to be dealt with, whether they can be fixed with money or not, people who practice stealth wealth are often able to stay calm under pressure and keep problems that crop up in perspective.
While people who have stealth wealth don’t show off their riches by definition, there are a few material signs of someone’s secret fortune. You might know someone who wears simple, unbranded clothes, but they seem to fit them incredibly well and be made of high-quality materials.
Rich people that don’t feel the need to flaunt their wealth often do recognize the importance of comfort and quality when it comes to clothing. While they feel no need to plaster brands all over their body like a walking billboard, they definitely understand that high-quality clothes can help you feel your best and will last longer than your average Walmart t-shirt.
Another stealth wealth sign is when a person’s house and car, even when they are very modest, are always impeccably maintained. This is because people who have amassed wealth and keep it to themselves often understand the value of the investments they make. Not only can they afford to maintain their house and their car, but they also understand that it is more affordable in the long term to stay on top of maintenance rather than deferring it and eventually having to make pricey repairs.
While this isn’t always the case, there is a tendency for people with stealth wealth to be loners. These people have led very focused lives, and they are protective of their wealth, their time, and their personal lives. To those outside of their close family and friends, it might appear that they prefer to keep to themselves.
People who practice stealth wealth also tend to value activities with more depth rather than those that produce immediate gratification. You likely won’t find them spending big bucks at the bar or partying on a yacht. Rather than having a huge social group, these people tend to have a small circle of close friends and family with whom they feel they can genuinely relate.
If you don’t have money stacked up, there’s a good chance you have to think about a short time frame just to make it through each day. When problems crop up, they have to take priority. You are driven by your immediate needs rather than your long-term goals.
People with stealth wealth, though, can afford to think on a longer timeline. In fact, being able to perceive their lives in this way is exactly how they managed to amass wealth in the first place.
A person that is secretly wealthy isn’t eager to brag about how much money they made this year or how successful their investment portfolio has been. They have a sense of confidence and self-assuredness which means they don’t need affirmation from other people. This means that you won’t find them dropping hints about their wealth or trying to get pats on the back from other people for their accomplishments.
What does a stealthy wealthy lifestyle include?
Being secretly wealthy doesn’t have to mean that you live in a dangerous neighborhood in a run-down, rat-infested house. You aren’t necessarily trying to convince people that you’re poor. You just don’t want them to know that you’re rich.
Basically, this means masquerading as someone who’s somewhere around the middle class.
You can have a nice house, a nice car, and nice clothes, but just not too nice.
When it comes to cars, you want to choose something that is practical, not too flashy, reliable, and offers a good value for the money. Warren Buffett famously drives a Cadillac XTS, which is a car that retailed at the time of purchase at around $45,000. Mark Zuckerberg is often seen driving the $30,000 Acura TSX, and the wealthiest woman in the world, Alice Walton, drives a 2006 Ford F-150 King Ranch which retails for about $40,000.
When I made my first million in 2014, I didn’t trade my tiny apartment for a luxury penthouse. Instead, I stayed in that little apartment for another two years before “upgrading” to a home in a small working-class neighborhood in Arkansas. Even though I reached a point where I had a seven-figure income, I chose to maintain a modest lifestyle because I didn’t see money as a part of my identity.
Though it can be tempting to buy an MTV-Cribs-style house when you strike it rich, there are a lot of secret costs to living that type of lifestyle. On top of the downsides of having others know that you are wealthy, living in a 10,000+ square foot home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can feel like you’re living in a magazine instead of a home, it costs a lot to maintain, and you’ll likely find you need to manage a full staff to keep the place in good working order. Ultimately, it’s rarely worth it.
When it comes to family, there are some major benefits to practicing a stealth wealth lifestyle. Rather than letting your sweet children grow up with a bad case of affluenza, you can pass on all of the valuable lessons you’ve learned about building wealth in a smart, healthy way. This way, when it comes time to pass on your wealth to your children, you know that it will benefit them rather than destroy them.
Rich people know that a key principle to getting wealthy and staying wealthy is having your money work for you. Rather than “investing” your money in flashy cars and obscenely expensive dinners, people with stealth wealth invest their assets in a healthily diversified portfolio. This can mean some combination of real estate, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, precious metals, small businesses, futures, options, and more. When you take your hard-earned money and invest it rather than living a lifestyle focused on consumption, you can increase your wealth and buy yourself the most valuable asset of all: time.
People hide their wealth through a number of different avenues. You can keep your wealth a secret from the people around you by living in a modest home, driving a regular car, and avoiding dressing in luxury-brand clothing. You don’t splurge on eating out at trendy restaurants or advertise your opulent vacation on Instagram. In the same way that many people who aren’t wealthy are able to curate an image of being rich, you can curate an image of being average.
Rich entrepreneurs might choose to create anonymous LLCs for their businesses to help separate their personal information from their successful businesses. There are also a number of tax-avoidant strategies that can be used to help reduce your tax burden, but, for obvious reasons, you should be sure to work with a CPA to ensure that everything you’re doing is above board.
When we think of wealth, we often think of mega-celebrities that are constantly in the public conversation. People like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Cruise, Oprah, and Warren Buffett are the types of people that typically come to mind first.
However, there are plenty of people that are very wealthy that fly under the radar. If you are pursuing a career that puts you in the public eye, though, it becomes much more difficult.
While your income and ability to invest can have a big impact on your ability to build wealth, you don’t have to make a seven-figure income to get rich over time. Some tactics secretly wealthy people have used to build their net worth include:
Lots of people think that getting rich is just a matter of luck, but that’s usually not the case. Even if someone seems like an overnight success, there’s likely at least a decade's worth of hard work lurking in the background. Becoming secretly wealthy is definitely within reach, but it takes dedication, focus, drive, and a solid plan. There are a lot of different ways to make money, but the most important thing to recognize is that loud consumption doesn’t make people wealthy. What makes people rich is economic productivity.
In lieu of fancy cars and opulent houses, what does one gain from their wealth when they don’t flaunt it? For many people, the benefits of stealth wealth far outweigh the short-term gains of being openly rich.
When you live below your means, you can step outside of the rat race and work on the things that are truly meaningful to you. Whether you retire early or you keep your day job, you have more freedom to decide how you spend your time.
One of the craziest things that can happen to wealthy people is that they often still feel a sense of insecurity that drives them to make more money, even when they already have plenty. One of the reasons for this is lifestyle creep. Basically, for some people, the more money they have the more they will spend. As their net worth increases, so do their expenses.
When you practice stealth wealth, you can keep more of what you make. Rather than continuously trading in your perfectly suitable house for something that screams “I’m rich!”, you choose to purposefully live below your means. This allows you to have the comfort of knowing that you have a huge financial cushion if you were to fall on hard times, and you also aren’t taking on huge monthly expenses that could leave you bankrupt if the tides turn against you.
If you are open about how much money you have, people will start to expect you to pick up the bill. When you keep your wealth to yourself, you can avoid these expectations.
Unfortunately, some people see the wealthy as an opportunity to get more than their fair share of a job. Whether it’s a contractor, an auto mechanic, or another quote-based profession, being clearly wealthy is likely going to have some people charging you more than usual for a job because they think you won’t notice or bat an eye. When you keep your wealth on the down low, you’re less likely to get ripped off in this type of scenario.
When you’re rich and people know it, you’ll find you have plenty of friends. However, how do you know they really like you for you and don’t just want a taste of that opulent lifestyle?
You can avoid this entirely by keeping your riches under wraps. You’ll know that the friends you make just want to be around you because they like you, not because they’re hoping you’ll loan them money or buy them something shiny.
Rich people are constantly being solicited for donations, loans, and gifts. When people don’t have wealth, they often don’t understand that it isn’t an infinite pool of money. You have to be selective about where you spend money in order to stay wealthy.
In fact, if it becomes publicly known that you’re rich, you’ll be surprised by who pops up out of the woodwork. Relatives and acquaintances that you haven’t heard from in years will all of a sudden call “just to see how you’re doing.” Soon enough, it will become clear that they’re actually looking for a handout or even just the ego boost of being in touch with someone wealthy.
At the end of the day, the fewer people know that you have deep pockets, the less you’ll be put in a position where you have to say no.
One of the biggest dangers of wealth is letting it get to your head. It can reinforce some negative traits because you have more options. There are good and bad sides to everything, including having wealth and living luxuriously. When you live an opulent lifestyle, you’re increasingly surrounded by people who are just telling you what you want to hear. You can lose touch with the rest of your society and you can lose touch with who you really are underneath it all.
When you practice stealth wealth, it reminds you to stay humble. You are reminded to be grateful for what you have accomplished and what you have gained. You remember what it was like to have less and you want to help others succeed rather than fear being tossed from your golden throne.
Through this practice, you are building up a cushion that will catch you if the tides turn against you. Rather than spending all your money as if you’ve tapped into an infinite stream, you keep a good head on your shoulders and remember to value all of the best things in life– the things that money simply can’t buy.
“It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.”
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”
-Henry David Thoreau
“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”
“If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.”
“…Not doing what we love in the name of greed is very poor management of our lives.”
“Too many people spend money they earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people that they don’t like.”
“He is the richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.”
“Wealth is a tool of freedom, but the pursuit of wealth is the way to slavery.”
I’m a huge proponent of the stealth wealth lifestyle. So, if you’re asking me “should I practice stealth wealth?” I’m probably going to answer yes.
There really are very few downsides to this lifestyle. Sure, you don’t get all of the affirmation and ego-boosts that come along with flaunting your wealth, but deep down you know those are superficial gains anyway. While there are plenty of benefits of stealth wealth, one of the biggest pros for me is that I know that accruing money isn’t what makes me me. Being economically productive is meaningful to me, and that’s why I do it.
Our culture is one that largely centers around consumerism. In lieu of more meaningful things, we often look to material objects and signifiers of wealth in pursuit of some kind of satisfaction. Ultimately, though, we all know at some level that these things typically produce more emptiness rather than taking it away.
The point of wealth doesn’t have to be to consume, consume, and then consume some more. What if at the end of your life you produced more than you consume? What if your time on earth was a net gain rather than a net loss for your society?
When you build wealth, it gives you the opportunity to climb up the hierarchy of needs and participate in work you truly find meaningful. Whether that means building wells for Pygmies in the Congo or offering the best darn landscaping services in all of Oklahoma, stealth wealth lets you focus on your true purposes without getting weighed down by all of the potential distractions of being rich.
So there you have it– a thorough dive into the world of the secretly wealthy. As you now know, there are tons of benefits of stealth wealth that allow you to live the life you want without getting dragged down by all of the negative aspects of being known as a rich guy. When you live the stealth wealth lifestyle, it means you can focus on the things that really matter to you and live the life you want without falling prey to lifestyle creep or other unfortunate side effects of being wealthy.
I’m only talking publicly about my path to wealth and my choice to live as a secretly wealthy person because I think it would be a genuinely good thing for our culture and our society. Being rich doesn’t have to mean that you’ve just graduated to a higher rung of the rat race. If more people chose the stealth wealth lifestyle, it could mean that more people have the time and headspace to meaningfully contribute to society.