My family lives in the South, and we’ve been lucky enough to have had good careers, good investments, good educations, and good marriages for a couple of generations now. To my friends from New York City, we may resemble gentrified hillbillies, but we’ve traveled, read, and quietly tried to contribute to the quality of life for everybody that lives in our area, regardless of their social or economic position. Most of our extended family have college degrees and about half have graduate degrees. French gets bounced around when some of my relatives want to discuss delicate subjects around the younger kids, to give you an idea.
In 2007, while I was away at college, we took a major hit financially when the market tanked. My father (by his own admission to me a couple of years ago) was being too aggressive with the portfolio and got burned, as did a lot of investors. I stayed in school, oblivious to the situation, as my education was paid for before I was even born, but my mother quietly went back to work. My parents’ trips to Paris were now long weekends at the lake.
But, other than those things, and maybe a couple of other changes which I can’t even think of right now, nothing much changed for us. This was a real contrast to some of my college classmates who had to get part-time or full-time jobs or take out student loans to get through to graduation. A couple just dropped out, and it really hurt to watch that. It wasn’t just that they were wearing Ralph Lauren and driving the BMW, and they lost the status that goes with that. It was that they lost the chance to get a really good education. That’s life changing, and I don’t know if anyone ever really recovers from it.
Their parents, by all appearances, were affluent, but they had strapped on that affluent lifestyle, as well. And when they tide went out, as the old saying goes, it really showed who really had what.
My family was living in my grandparents’ house, handed down and paid for, in need of a paint job and some serious landscaping, but it was big and old, and I love it. We drove SUVs that my dad had bought new, paid cash for, maintained regularly, and never sold. (We have land, and when it rains, the roads turn to mud in some parts.) I went off to college in the one that had the most mileage on it, and that was just fine with me. I wanted to have people know me for me.
You sweat like a pig during the summer, and it’s cold as a witch in the winter, so we’ve always just done the oxford shirts, 100% whatever sweaters, khakis and cords, with the LL Bean catalogue for shoe and coat choices. It’s not a fashion statement, it’s just that people in our town pick more cotton in what you do than how you look, and everybody pretty much knows who’s got money and who doesn’t. So you’re not fooling anybody.
The point is that not much changed during this time for me or my family. Nobody cried in their beer or acted out. We didn’t have to sell the family farm (literally or figuratively). i’m sure my mother had some choice words for my dad, but nothing compared to what he was telling himself. I think he got back into an index fund (and some other brick-and-mortar investments) and has ridden the wave until about a year ago, and now he’s out. We’re back to where we started, plus “a little more”, he says, which, in Pop-speak, means a lot more.
Now they’re back to clipping coupons off solid, no frills investments. Mom has retired, I’m sure this time for good. I got my education and I’m lucky to have a job I like and a salary that I can live on.
That’s my experience as Old Money, if you want to call us that: you work hard, enjoy whatever rewards come your way, and if you take some lumps as you go, you take them silently and with all the grace you can muster. Either way, nobody needs to know.