Top Ten Old Money Pet Peeves

Bah! Humbug!
Bah! Humbug!

It’s been quite a year. And it’s the holiday time. What a better moment to articulate the things that have really irritated, aggravated, and annoyed Old Money Guys and Gals (OMGs) the last twelve months.

So pour yourself a strong one, put your feet up, and grumble along with me as we detail The Top Ten Old Money Pet Peeves for 2015…Or Any Other Year, For That Matter.

  1. Conspicuous Consumption. Obviously, always at the top of the list. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” they say, nor realizing that the sentence was probably uttered first by a retailer attempting to entice a member of the nouveau riche into purchasing an obscenely priced and probably worthless bauble.  In any case, such behavior smacks of insecurity and a profound lack of sensitivity to those less fortunate.  Tellingly, it usually portends a fortune that will never be—you guessed it– Old Money.
  2. Condescending Behavior. Right up there with Number 1. You’ve made a lot of money. Good for you. It’s not the first time it’s happened. So try not to act like you invented the concept of upward mobility. Furthermore, it’s no excuse to be impolite to others. It reveals an impoverished individual, regardless of their financial net worth. It’s good to remember this, as well: the worm turns. You’re up today. Tomorrow, who knows?
  3. Word Games. In journalistic circles, it’s common to say someone was “detained”, when in fact the person in question was snatched off the street in broad daylight and thrown into a cell without windows. So let’s just say that when the Bentley gets stuck in traffic and Aunt Edna is running late to the debutante ball, she’s been detained. Otherwise, let’s call it what it is: someone’s been arrested or taken into custody by the authorities. Add “unlawfully” if that’s the case. On a more personal level, it’s irritating when someone uses a four-dollar word when something simpler would suffice. Also, the latest trend of using nouns as verbs, i.e. “I’ve been tasked to do this,” or “We’re sourcing this material from Asia,” are maddening. Task is a noun, as is source. Let’s keep it that way, at least until I leave the planet. After that, you can “power off” speaking plainly and have the English language to yourself. And while we’re on the subject, I should mention…
  4. Bad Grammar. Dismiss your “life coach”, whatever that is, and retain the services of an English tutor to improve your grammar, regardless of what you think you remember from school. Those of us reading your reports, articles, essays, and correspondence will be eternally grateful. This ineptitude has even crept into advertising, long a haven for creative yet spot-on use of the language. An example on a recent billboard touting the services of an investment firm: “You’ve got a retirement challenge. Together, we can beat it.” Well, that’s great. But you don’t beat a challenge. You meet a challenge. If you can’t write, why should I trust you with investing my money?
  5. Excuses. If you’re late, or unprepared, or haven’t done what you said you’d do or what you were asked to do, just offer up this: “The cat ate my homework.” Why? Because one excuse is just as good as another. Better yet, perform. Get results. Exceed expectations. Leave the lame justifications where they belong: in second grade.
  6. Absolute Certainty. Really smart people are sure about very few things. Why? Because they’ve become aware through their experience and work that there’s a tremendous amount they don’t know. Even a genius realizes that the unknown is vast. So do your research and have your beliefs, but leave room to learn more and be ready to be wrong. Both are easier to do if you’re modest and open-minded.
  7. Inappropriate Attire. I’ve written about this before, but obviously there are people out there who did not get the memo. Let me quickly review: clothing serves to protect us, to some extent, from the elements. It also serves to communicate to others the “social tribe” to which we belong, or to which we aspire to belong. What’s more, it communicates the attitude we’re bringing to an event. For example, it is uncomfortable to wear black dresses and suits with neckties in July, when it’s hot. But if you’re going to a funeral, and you want to be respectful to the grieving family, you do it. Why? So you can communicate your respect for the event. It also communicates how much we value the event. People dress up for weddings, proms, and even dinner. This has been the case for centuries. We don’t care if you’re comfortable when you wear a T-shirt and baggy pants to dinner. It’s not about you. When someone doesn’t understand this, it’s irritating. It’s also helpful: we can tell that you don’t share our values or don’t understand our rules. That’s not being a snob. That’s having a set of…
  8. Values. And dressing appropriately is an indicator of being aware of those values. It’s a part of being respectful to certain traditions and considerate of others. There is also honesty, integrity, discretion, and the values I discuss in The Old Money Book. A deficiency in these beggars a civilized society. Why? Because we can’t make and enforce laws for everything. A democracy has to function above what is legal, at a level of ethical behavior. We must embrace and promote what it fair, right, kind, and human. These unspoken but understood concepts are above the law. They are our higher calling. We should heed them.
  9. Greed. Greed is not good. Greed is short-sighted and destructive. It declares a lack of compassion and perspective. It betrays all those who have helped put someone (maybe you) in a position to profit. Your parents, teachers, colleagues, and mentors did not contribute to your journey towards success in order for you to take everything from everyone and pull up the ladder behind you. You don’t get to destroy everyone’s planet to make that last dollar. You don’t get to keep everything for yourself. Greed is a symptom of immaturity. It is unwelcome and distasteful. It has no place in our world.
  10. Corruption. Be greedy, unethical, criminal, and rude if you must, but do not do it from a position of public trust. If you want to feather your own nest, do it in the rough-and-tumble world of capitalism, not the world of public service. The damage done by bankrupting a company is one thing. The damage done by bankrupting a country quite another. Corrupt political and religious leaders whose own agendas are centered around personal gain lessen the effectiveness of government and tear at the fabric of spiritual communities. Both erode trust.

These ten things greatly reduce everyone’s quality of life. I think we all agree on that. So, I want all these irritating things ended by January 1, 2016. I greatly appreciate your cooperation. Spread the word.

Happy Holidays.

  • BGT


24 thoughts on “Top Ten Old Money Pet Peeves

  1. I quite agree with JK. Very spot on. Happy Christmas to you and to all OMGs from British Columbia, Canada.

  2. Great post, and I wholeheartedly agree with all of the points that you raised. Number seven is something that particularly annoys me, and I’ve often thought the same thing as you (i.e. “It’s not about you”) when I see a male at a funeral without a tie. So many people just don’t get it though.

  3. Thanks Byron and Merry Christmas. I thought I asked this of you before, but I must have not. After the holidays, I would love to hear your take on the rise of affluenza among the wealthy (mostly the newly rich). I am mainly thinking of the Texas teen Ethan Couch and the hedge fund manager’s son in New York City, Thomas Gilbert, Jr. Their stories have really brought this problem to the forefront. I would like to know how old money safeguards against this “disorder”. Thanks!

    1. Hey, SM, thank you for the comment and the question. Every family is different, obviously, but I have noticed some common strategies for ‘taking the air out of an heir’ and keeping affluent adolescents’ feet firmly on the ground.

      First, it starts young. If you wait until a child is 15 years old to instill some values and discipline, it’s too late. Children get an early sense of what behavior is acceptable, what the role of money is in their lives, and what’s expected of them.

      Second, a rigorous academic environment tends to keep young people out of trouble if for no other reason that they don’t have as much time or energy to get into it.

      Third, the family is the primary peer group: disappointing them is a emotionally more important than being considered cool by teenage friends. “That’s just not done in my family,” is a common refrain.

      Fourth, Old Money tends to gang up on young people with positive reinforcement from all members of the nuclear and extended family. The aunts, uncles, and grandparents are interested, involved, and supportive of the child’s education and extracurricular endeavors. They show up at sporting events; they buy books for the child; they take them to museums. However, when a mistake is made or standards are not kept up by a young person, the response by the parents is articulate and severe. Not violent, but definitely painful enough so that the experience is not forgotten and the mistake is not repeated. There’s just no space for bad behavior or laziness.

      Fifth, the parents begin a gradual process of letting the child make larger and larger decisions for themselves as they grow up. They learn this decision-making skill and experience the pain of bad choices and the rewards of good ones in a safe environment. The development of this independence and intelligence is essential. Someday the kids will be making decisions regarding the family fortune.

      Finally, many Old Money children grow up with generations of good examples. They know what’s expected of them, not because they’re lectured about right and wrong, but because they’ve watched somebody walk the walk, day in and day out. New Money parents tend to want to give their children everything they didn’t have as children growing up (material things, in particular). Old Money parents want to make sure that their children have everything they did grow up with (values and education, in particular).

      Hope that helps. I love Surprise Millionaires stories. You guys are great! Keep up the good work – BGT

      1. “New Money parents tend to want to give their children everything they didn’t have as children growing up (material things, in particular). Old Money parents want to make sure that their children have everything they did grow up with (values and education, in particular).”

        You hit the nail right on the head there Byron! I think that was probably the situation in both of the headlines I mentioned. There are all kinds of investment classes for the new money set but I think a course in “lifestyle” management would be invaluable for them. Thanks so much!

      2. On the subject of how old money families protect their children from affluenza, in addition to the practices enumerated by Byron above, which are absolutely correct, I would add that old money families usually hold their children to standards that are in some ways higher than the standards to which other families sometimes hold their children. The affluenza defense asserted by Ethan Couch was that his family’s wealth had insulated him from the consequences of his actions in the past and therefore he should not be held accountable now that his negligence has resulted in the deaths of four people.

        Old money families teach their children that they are held to high standards of accountability. Rudeness and inconsiderate behavior are not tolerated and neither is dishonest or unethical behavior. Cutting corners is not winked at. There is no attitude in the family that its smart to get away with as much as you can or that only suckers play by the rules. It can sometimes seem as if old money families are grooming their children for positions of leadership and responsibility which, in some ways, maybe they are.

        Above all, however, there is no message communicated to the children that because their family has money, the rules don’t apply to them, they can get away with things that other people can’t or that their wealth makes them special or better than other people. Teaching children about accountability and responsibility, honesty, respect, kindness and fairness is the very opposite of affluenza and the best vaccine against it.

      3. Years ago I worked with a wealthy physician. When we were having lunch one day with several other people, he communicated to us at lunch that he was very upset that his 14 y.o. son had $400 in his dresser drawer. The son had earned part of the money mowing lawns, the rest a birthday gift from relatives. When asked why he was upset since it was earned and gift money, his reply was that this was a lot of money for a 14 y.o. to have laying around. He didn’t care that he earned it or it was gifted. He planned to talk with his son about that and take most of it, not all, and put it into a savings account for him. He could keep $100, no more. He would also be expected to keep working. He said this is how children learn where money comes from and what to do with it when it’s received. This left an impression with me that I never forgot.

        Also, wonderful comment from Amy.

      4. Great story, Bev. It is a characteristic of Old Money to have serious talks about money early and often in a child’s life. Thank you for sharing. – BGT

  4. I just love you! (wink, nod).
    I’ve read this twice and will go back for thirds!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Byron.

  5. I truly agree with number one and two. Your message of considering those less fortunate and being aware of what we say is what our society sorely needs. I am not from Old Money but that doesn’t mean I do not admire Old Money! And yes to books! I find that some of the best role models for our children to learn from are in the pages of the classics. Not only is the writing beautiful and slow, but the character’s struggles give us perspective. Sometimes I think that impolite, know it all people have simply not READ enough to fully develop empathy…to walk in another’s shoes. Happy New Year!

  6. I’m an overly emotional America. Please don’t take it the wrong way when I say, I love you. Also, I live in Colorado. Dressed up is ironing a seam in your bluejeans. Keep shining your light.

  7. The reason why you read about people being “detained” in the news is that, legally, there is a difference between detention and arrest. The police can detain a suspect for questioning before charging him or her with a crime.

    However, I do agree that American English has become too fond of euphemisms.

    1. A, thank you for that clarification. It’s a good one to make. I lumped them together because, in my mind, the person or persons referred to who were ‘detained’ or ‘arrested’ were still in police custody, and not free. Now I know. – BGT

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