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Here’s an entertaining and informative article from the New York Times about Old Money and New Money on Nantucket.
Though it was first published in 2005, the Old Money values and attitudes expressed by some of those interviewed in the article remain the same: don’t talk about your wealth, don’t build ostentatious houses, don’t show off.
It’s also interesting that the Old Money crowd at Nantucket can leave work at the office. The New Money folks want to be networking all the time, even on vacation. That gets fatiguing quickly for those of us who simply want to experience socializing without an agenda.
As a few of regular followers of this blog may have read, I recently received a comment from J. Lynn. She inquired as follows:
“We are retired, downsizing and buying a villa. The villa needs updating. I have read your book 3 times and follow your blog, yet old habits die hard. I’m struggling to not get caught up in redecorating madness. Help me, we can afford to do whatever we want. Where to draw the line? It’s pretty tacky but the right size, great location on a beautiful lot. It would be hard to live in a house that lacks OMG taste. J Lynn”
My initial reply was as follows:
“My apologies for the delayed response. It is a fine line sometimes to get the look you want within limits. First, I would recommend proceeding slowly. Live in the place, ghastly as it might be at first, for awhile to get a feel for how you live in it, and what you really see after the first few weeks.
“If you can paint the exterior trim, a room or a wall and minimize the tacky, do that first. It’s simple and inexpensive Then address the fixtures. Is there a local store that sells second-hand/vintage lamps or door knobs? The furniture and fabrics you bring along or select will go a long way to get the Old Money ambiance you want. Get to know your neighbors. They’ll have suggestions on what they’ve done to their places, vendors they’ve used, and may even admit mistakes they’ve made that you can avoid.
“Finally, continuously strike the balance between living well and going overboard. You want to live a good life, but you want to live a simple one, too.
“Oh, and by the way, if this villa is in the south of France, let me know. I’m handy with a paint brush. Merci!”
I’ve given J. Lynn’s inquiry some thought, and I want to slightly revise and amend my comment. I would say this:
J. Lynn, I think it’s great that you’re downsizing and moving to a new place. You’re going to (hopefully) meet new people and make new friends. This is a new adventure. This is also a great opportunity.
You’ve acquired what you describe as a “tacky” place, and you want to turn it into a more tasteful residence. I think everybody who reads this blog would support you on that.
Initially, I leaned (as I often do) toward being deliberate and frugal with expenditures on the new place, but you’ve mentioned that you can do anything you want with the villa. And that’s exactly what I think you should do.
Here is my thinking: you’ve been blessed. You don’t have financial concerns, a common situation for a lot of OMG’s, but it’s clear you love decorating. So in this instance, I say, Knock yourself out. Go for broke. Swing for the fence.
I would still proceed slowly, and still consult your new neighbors prior to doing anything to your new residence. There may be high walls, tall trees, and plenty of land separating your property from theirs, but in all likelihood, you’re still moving into a community. Being familiar with and sensitive to their customs, tastes, and values will make you more welcome.
I would still get some local advice and listen to others’ experiences with decorating and remodeling. I would transform that tacky villa into something worthy, something that reflects good taste and propriety.
In doing this, you’ll create a wonderful home for you, your family, and your friends. You’ll also employ craftsmen and laborers. You’ll buy fabric, paint, and building materials. You’ll plant flowers and trees, certainly. You’ll acquire some antiques and art. Maybe you’ll tear the whole thing down, hire an architect, and start from scratch.
In short, however you proceed, you’ll put people to work and put money in their pockets. And I think, at this point in time, in this economy, that may be the best thing you can do, wherever your villa may be.
I would only ask, if you do this, that you pay your vendors fairly. Treat them with respect. Buy them all lunch on Fridays. Source your materials locally, if possible. Be good to the environment as you design and create. Make the place sustainable, in every sense of the word.
And finally, if you took a small percentage of your remodeling budget and found a local charity in need, I think an anonymous donation would be the best investment you could make in your new home.
I wish you all the best, and I hope to hear how things go.
I received a phone call the other night from a friend who had just read The Old Money Book. She’s in her mid-20s and doing very well career-wise. She’s also living the life: nice new car, nice new clothes, out for drinks a couple of nights a week, and a long weekend to somewhere out of state about once a month.
I’m not criticizing her at all: she works hard. And I don’t begrudge anyone’s success. I’m happy for her.
She enjoyed the book, but couldn’t get her head around changing her lifestyle. “Why would I spend less money? I’ve got my 401k happening. I’ve got a good job. Why do I want to live like an old person? I’ve got another 30 years of earning potential.”
She had a good point: why live like Old Money now? How exactly does ‘spending less’ result in ‘living better’? Why shouldn’t she enjoy herself?
So let me address her concerns, and perhaps yours, and articulate the reasoning behind living below your means while adopting the values, priorities, and habits of Old Money.
First of all, everybody should enjoy themselves. That’s the biggest part of life. I never suggest otherwise. Second, living like Old Money is not living like an Old Person. It’s living like a Smart Person.
You don’t develop good financial habits for good economic times; you develop good financial habits for bad economic times, because it’s those good habits that are going to get you through those bad times.
More specifically, when you spend less, you have money in your pocket. If you aspire to be Old Money, you take that surplus money and you invest it in assets (real estate, bonds, stocks, or whatever) that will pay you money every month and/or increase in value over time.
You do this until you are financially independent, which means you can work at a job or profession, or not work, and still maintain your desired lifestyle without worry. You have the option because your investments pay enough monthly dividends to support you without any physical work on your part.
This is the reason that some members of the Old Money culture live ‘like old people’: they are living on dividend or passive income, usually from conservative investments that increase in value over the long term. They don’t touch the principle that’s invested and generating income. (Audible gasp!) They don’t spend their monthly income on things when they can travel or do some other life-enriching activity. They don’t have anyone to impress because they aren’t keeping up with anyone. They have the ultimate status: they’re free.
We’ve all heard the saying that poor people buy junk, middle class people buy things, and rich people buy assets. That pretty much sums it up. If you take your monthly salary, live on less, and invest the rest, you’re on your way to being financially stable, possibly financially independent, and maybe rich, depending on how much you earn, how much you invest, and how well your investments pay off.
There’s no mystery to it, but there is a logic behind it. So follow my advice:
‘Style’ is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. Tastes vary, but we can all agree that, most of the time, we know it when we see it: someone has an elegance or ease with dressing well, and wearing it well.
And that’s great. I love to see well-dressed people who have manners, diction, and vocabulary to match.
But, in case you’re wondering what the Old Money definition of style is, here’s the thought process that goes through the mind of an OMG as they consider a garment for purchase:
“How long will I be able to wear this particular item of clothing?”
“Until it goes out of fashion…?”
“Until it wears out…?”
“Until I die…?”
If you go through this thought process with each item of clothing you consider purchasing and strive for the third response, you’ll make better shopping choices. You’ll be buying better quality garments less often. And the garments you own will last you longer, often for a lifetime.
You’ll also eventually end up with a wardrobe in which everything kind of goes with everything else, without much thought.
And you’ll love that.