I’ve received a few emails lately that ask basically the same question: why does Old Money live the way it does?
I may have addressed this in a previous post (or two), but the question is a critical one, and answering it is important. Most of the people asking have read The Old Money Book and understand the concepts I’ve articulated in it. But to embrace it on a personal level often requires a clear picture of what motivates a set of behaviors in the first place.
So here we go:
Old Money is private. When somebody’s grandfather (or grandmother) made their fortune, they may have bought the big house, the big car, and talked loud and long about their success. Their children may have done a little of that early on, but they soon learned that conspicuous consumption and trash talking are quick ways to alienate friends and motivate enemies. By the time the third generation comes of age (the real first generation of Old Money) they’ll be well-versed in discretion: manners and education will be the marked characteristics, not bad behavior and bling. No need to make yourself a target. No need to prove anything. Stay under the radar and enjoy life.
Old Money often lives off investments. If you’re in a position to receive dividend or investment income every month for the rest of your life, you first realize how fortunate you are: you don’t have to get a job to pay the bills; you have some options; you have an opportunity. One of the first things you do as an Old Money Guy or Gal is figure out how you can live on the money you have coming in.
How much are you going to spend on rent? Do you really need to spend money on a new car if you can drive an old one and have more discretionary income? How can you spend your money so you spend it less frequently and get a better value on the things you do purchase? This value-oriented, often frugal lifestyle is at the heart of Old Money culture. This is where the used (often inherited) cars and traditional clothing come in: don’t buy it unless you have to, and only buy something that’s going to last so, ideally, you never have to buy it again.
Old Money Guys and Gals often have the ultimate luxury: they’re free. They can spend their days doing whatever they want, as long as they manage their money wisely. They learn quickly to live within their means. They learn quickly the real importance of material possessions. They learn quickly that happiness comes from work, friends, family, and doing things.
Old Money wants to stay that way. Growing up in an Old Money household offers a distinct, non-financial advantage: it is an education unto itself. People who have made a lot of money are sometimes smart. Sometimes they can articulate the concepts that contributed to their success and pass those onto the next generation in terms of raw financial intelligence and moral principals that help their offspring lead successful, productive lives, sometimes not. Okay, more often not.
In a household where wealth has been created and preserved for several generations through the adoption, acceptance, and implementation of the Core Values I talk about in The Old Money Book, you’re likely find an abundance of communication between young and old. How to live, what to watch out for in business and in life, the importance of ethics, education, and hard work…these topics are discussed early, often, and in no uncertain terms. By the time they are adolescents, children have a clear picture of what their family has accomplished, how lucky they are, and what is expected of them.
In The Proper Bostonians, author Cleveland Amory recalled a conversation with a Boston lawyer who worked his way through Harvard by tutoring scions of Boston’s Old Money families. He knew them, and their parents, well. He was unabashed in his admiration. “It is strong stock,” he said, “that can produce the same traits of character generation after generation.”
He wasn’t speaking in the relative short term, of second or third generation wealth that had managed to survive without decline or decimation over a few decades. He was speaking of families who’d made their fortunes in the 1800’s and whose descendants were still getting an education, excelling at a profession, and contributing to Boston society 150 years later.
Strong stock, indeed.