I’m Ashamed of Being Wealthy

Personal finance is an interesting place to spend your time in study.  There’s the obvious side of things, the cold hard numbers of what we should do.   It’s the place of interest rates and savings plans on neat spreadsheets. Then there is the emotional side of the numbers, the illogical and strangely self reflective part that will either keep you saving more than you should or spending more than you earn regardless of what the spreadsheet says you should do.  That second side is where the heart of personal finance really is and that is where I recently determined: I’m ashamed of being wealthy.

Yes, it’s true.  Well sort of, actually I’m ashamed of appearing too well off.  I can handle being wealthy, but I dislike showing that I am to anyone.  It’s an interesting insight for me to realize since it really does guide a lot of my reluctance to spend money on some things, even when I do need or want it.  It’s the reason why I own a small car and wear my clothes until the actually start to wear out and why I’ve delayed buying an ebook reader for four months when I could pay for it today with barely a dip in my monthly savings.

So where did this shame come from?  Well I’ve personally watched a few people in life that have been well off and the problems that came with being well off and having others know about it.  In one case it caused a family rift between two relatives for about five years over a loan that one co-signed for the other and then the other defaulted on.  In another case I literally watched someone be driven out of their hometown over being well off and everyone knowing it.  The person in question was constantly being bothered to give people money outright or invest in stupid business plans.  The constant stress of bad loans that were ruining relationships was too much and to solve the issue he moved away.

Up until recently I didn’t consider how those moments in other people’s lives have affected me.  Yet it obviously it has since I’m reluctant to show too much wealth to anyone.  This small fact drives a number of behaviours for me including:

  • I dislike brand name clothes.  I won’t buy them, but I will wear them if someone else buys them for me.
  • I have an aversion to being in upper management since I dislike wearing a suit.  Despite looking good in one and being able to afford a suit.
  • I’m guarded with my face to face conversations with money.  I’ll discuss the logical side of it, but I won’t mention my own situation like how I want to pay off my mortgage in the next few years.  So as an outlet I discuss money on blogs including this one.

Yet I’m trying to achieve financial independence  which can potentially be one of the bigger displays of wealth out there.  So what gives?  Well that is a bit easier to understand.  You see if you doing something that appears to be a job, regardless of how poor you do, will outwardly explain the income.  People often don’t look past the obvious.  So this explains a bit of my drive to have something of a ‘job’ post retirement, yet at the same time I don’t plan for making any money at that job in my retirement plan.

It’s interesting that in personal finance we like to say you should suppress your emotions in a lot of decisions, but it’s your emotions that direct a lot of your behaviour in the non-obvious parts of your life.  So in my case my shame of showing wealth drives a lot of my low spending habits which in turn feeds my savings rate.  At the same time that shame can prevent me from enjoying my money to a degree if I’m not aware of the issue and try to over ride that response once in a while.

So do you know what emotion drives you with your money?  If you know, please share.

13 thoughts on “I’m Ashamed of Being Wealthy”

  1. Like you, we are very guarded about our financial situation – especially with our extended family. There have been a lot of instances of money causing relationship problems among our extended family members.

    We live a simple life and I don’t think outsiders looking in would have any reason to suspect that we are affluent.

    As our children get older, they are beginning to realize that we are financially comfortable and that we have a lot of assets. The problem is teaching them to be discreet and protect their privacy without teaching them to be ashamed…how do you do that?

  2. I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle, either now (I retired a year ago at the age of 45) or when I was working (either full-time for 16 years or part-time for the last 7 years). I live in the same studio apartment in my co-op for the last 20 years.

    The last big purchase I made was a new car in 2007 (I was still working), a no-frills Toyota Corolla, after my previous car of 15 years finally gave out.

    Many of the people I am with in one of my hobbies are in their 60s and older and are retired, so I fit in well with them. They are very happy for my being able to retire early.

  3. I show my wealth a little more than others around me. I admit that quite openly and I’m sure it has put back my retirement somewhat as a result. My philosophy is that as long as I pay myself first, and make accelerated debt payments that I can splurge a little on the things I truly value (nice car).

    The killer is spending extra on things you don’t really value. Starbucks coffee vs. McDonald’s. In my opinion I don’t get any extra value/enjoyment from the SBUX so I stick with a McDs in the morning and pocket the $3 difference.

    @deegee – congrats on the early retirement!

  4. I’m pretty extreme in that I don’t like people knowing what I have ie. a cottage, ski condo, money in the bank.

    That’s why I started blogging — I needed an outlet about money and life.

    My husband feels it is healthier if I learned how to “toot my own horn” once in a while. He doesn’t understand why I would feel ashamed to.

    I am not ashamed for having what I have, I just don’t want to come across as a show off.

  5. I feel exactly the same way and that was one of the big challenges for me when I did retire at 44, that it was sending the obvious message that I had enough money to live the rest of my life without working.

    Maybe this feeling about money is part of the early retirement personality?

  6. I am pretty sure no one is aware of the extent of our net worth. Our parents know about our real estate assets… but I don’t think anyone knows that we save more than 50% of our incomes and that our cash savings now consists of several hundred k’s… and thats how we like it. Family members approaching us for money is our worst nightmare…

  7. Dana,

    I rather like what my parents did growing up. They never gave me hard numbers. I never knew exactly what my dad made other than “enough” or how much in assets my parents had. I only learned some details after I was a teenager and could understand that information was private.


    Congratulations on your retirement. Actually that isn’t a bad idea to hang out with older folks. They would understand.

    Middle Way,

    I agree that it is nice to be able to discuss money openly on a blog. Feedback can be hard to come by in real life.


    You could be onto something. It is possible that it’s typically to have an aversion to showing off too much wealth as a early retiree. Or something similar. Too bad I can’t do a survey with a large group to find out.

    Joe Snow,

    We’ve only lent money to family once and I offered for a very specific reason which I won’t be doing again in the future. It hasn’t been a great experience to date.


  8. Wow. This was really well written. It identified so much of how I feel. It was better than a therapy session! I thought I was alone in these thoughts. I do the same things in terms of driving a small car, living in a small house, not buying name brand clothes for myself or my kids. I just didn’t understand the depth of the ‘why’ until reading this. Thank-you for sharing. As a follow up, how do we move past this?

  9. The best way I have found to move past outdated beliefs is to “anchor” yourself to your new belief. If you want to take pride in your fugality, write 25 times a day for 21 days your new belief. “I am proud to be frugal” or “I am pround to be understated and take personal pride in my understated wealth”

    It will amaze you after the 21 days how you truly move beyond that old belief and embrace your true value towards money.


  10. Be proud my friend… I agree with your 3rd point about face-to-face type dealings though, especially those who have no idea regarding the basics. I feel like I get preachy so I try to keep these conversations limited.


  11. nobody likes a show-off, there’s a difference between buying a fancy car and just driving it, and buying a fancy car and driving it around town honking the horn. on the one hand you deserve the rewards your situation has brought you, but you can’t ignore human jealousy.

    i assume you feel ashamed b/c you feel you have superior wealth to those around you. what if you ran with a crowd that had identical or more wealth? would you still have to hide your rewards or feel ashamed? probably not.

    buy the brand name clothes if you think they are good value and quality for the money, but if you are buying them to have GUCCI emblazoned on the front then you are really buying them to show off and you’re going to get flack for it.

    you just have to know when to be humble and downplay, or when its ok to have someone be privvy to your situation.

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