Time For Reinvention

For centuries, the culture of Old Money has been defined by characteristics that include inherited wealth, a discreet lifestyle, generations of quality education, and a commitment to being a productive and contributing member of society.

This list is, obviously, not exhaustive. We discuss a wide range of topics here that are representative of Old Money culture. Some are as straightforward as clothing and cars. Some run deeper and farther afield. But we rarely talk about the ‘C’ word.


Loathing almost everything new, Old Money Guys and Gals can view change with suspicion. The Old Ways have worked well, they’ll rightly point out. They feel no urge to rearrange their world of well-managed assets, threadbare furniture, good books, and comfortable clothes. Why would they?

Still, as the mouton noir of the family and (probably) of this culture I write about, every once in awhile you have to shake things up. Take the some dusty ideas out to the country for some fresh air, and then, quite unexpectedly, launch them skyward and use them as skeet.

In that spirit of necessary destruction, here are some traditions I think we could do without. Feel free to comment and amend, as always…

  1. Let’s toss the term WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant). Many of us may still be that, but the values we champion are shared by Old Money families of every race, heritage, and religion. Let’s just go with Old Money, unless somebody else has an acronym that works. I’m drawing blank right now and am open to suggestions.
  2. Let’s ditch the secrecy about our way of life. A little. If a sincere person wants to learn about how and why we live the way we do, let’s be a little more inclined to discuss it. Sparingly. You can always just recommend The Old Money Book, but there are people who want to understand and emulate the life we lead. Consider sharing its fundamentals.
  3. For those in a position to do so, let’s drop the profit motive. Let’s replace it with some public service. I don’t mean running for Congress so you can serve one term, meet all the players, and then become a lobbyist. I mean giving back to the community and the country with no angle on increasing your wealth, privilege, or position. If you’re set for life, give somebody else the chance to have a better life: do your duty.
  4. Finally, let’s ease up on the exclusivity. If you meet someone who shares our values, minds their manners, works hard, dresses modestly, and reads well, do we really care that they’re name doesn’t start with vowels and end with numbers? We need to welcome new members. We can always give them a humiliating nickname later on. I’d go short of calling it an Outreach Program, but we need to have influence on this society. There is strength in numbers. Especially numbers think like we do.

Alright. That’s enough rebellion for one post.

  • BGT


22 thoughts on “Time For Reinvention

  1. I like the rebellion! Many of us who are not Old Money would like to learn, and where else are we going to learn if we don’t read or emulate. If I listened to most of my relatives, I’d be in the poorhouse blaming everyone else for my woes. Instead, I picked up, packed up, and left for greener pastures and never looked back. And I have done very and am proud of my accomplishments. Most of them don’t talk with me anymore, and I’m sure you understand the reasons why…something about those slings and arrows tossed around a lot. I’ll never be Old Money, Byron, but the best I can do is be a better person for myself and future generations and strive for higher values….taught from those who know them. I’d like to pass on the humiliating nickname, however…if you don’t mind!

  2. I’d like to think I was your muse for this post, Byron. 🙂 I tried Berthillon today! Goodness, it was delicious.

    Hmmm… humiliating nicknames……??

  3. I am an Italian American living among WASPs and living the WASP lifestyle for the most part here in New England. I don’t care for lacrosse, but I’m always game for boat shoes and bow ties when the occasion arises. I drive an inexpensive car, but classy and clean and my children and wife are elegantly dressed. I read and read and read and am appreciated for my “wealth of knowledge”. I am a productive member of society and education is my life and game. I may not be rich or have much inheritance, but I come from good values and spend money wisely. I understand the difficulty of losing friends that are really not worth keeping because I can come off as snobbish, but never settle on an inferior product. Happily embrace quality. This is true in items and even more so in people.

  4. “we need to have influence on this society” Absolutely! At the end of term, I attended my daughter’s 8th grade promotion ceremony. Each child was announced by name and the moderator read off the academic awards for nearly 300 children. At the start, the principal asked that all applause be held to the end. This was done. It was a pure pleasure. You could hear every name and award announced. My daughters attend a small independent public school. Rewind to my step-daughter’s high school graduation. She attended a large public school. Same instructions at the start of the event. The screaming, hollering, cheering, clapping and other “celebrations” throughout made it nearly impossible to enjoy any of the ceremony. Sadly, most American children have no idea how to behave properly at a live event. The only examples they have are parents who are equally uneducated on the topic. My recent attendance at a Broadway show included sitting next to someone who videotaped the entire show on her iPad, ugh!

    1. Thank you for sharing the variety of experiences, Janet. Contrast often makes things painfully obvious. Congratulations to the little graduate. I know you’ll be a good influence. – BGT

  5. Rebellion is good! (We wouldn’t be Americans without it.) I am not Old Money per se, but I am so fortunate to come from a family who valued hard work, home-grown fun, frugality, civic duty and a modest lifestyle. My parents passed on these traits to their children, and I will be forever grateful to them. They also taught me civility and the virtue of holding one’s tongue when necessary. I am glad to see that the tribe is growing; in the words of E.M. Forster, ” . . .on they go, an invincible army, yet not a victorious one.” (But I privately think we may be victorious in the long run.)


  6. Great post.

    Regarding #1. I’ve always hated the term WASP since our family are actually Norman. 😉

    Regarding #3 Prince Harry had a great quotation in an recent interview in which he said, “the (Royal) family will ‘carry out our duties at right time’”. Those are fine words for any of us to live by. To recognize that we have duties to each other and to carry them out when appropriate (during medical emergencies, times of war, through our roles in our jobs, and generally when we are out in public and owe a duty of care and politeness to everyone we come across).

    Regarding #4. I hope this one isn’t actually a hard one for most people. I feel more despair for the behaviour of the Upper Middle Class than any group. I think I had hoped that all that education and social capital would lead to greater empathy but the amount of rudeness I experience walking through an upscale shopping centre is far greater than I ever feel in a working class pub.

    1. Thank you, Ikerrin. Great quote about ‘duty’. And yes, you’d think empathy would be one of the first acquisitions of the parvenu. – BGT

  7. Byron, trust me, the artistic temperament results in being cast as the mouton noir and the rebellious spirit. And thank God for that!
    Every group has virtues that are worthy of emulation. What originally attracted me to learn more about OM is th emphasis on civility, manners, and education and culture. Regardless of the bank account, and mine is threadbare, if you have the above you get along better with folks, stay sharp and are much more interesting. As a Christian, I imagine Christ had impeccable manners motivated by love and ,thus, a deep respect for others. Ar it’s best it is a way of serving others by putting them first. It’s hard to be more noble than that.
    I live in a southern city swarming with homeless people, and I’ve noticed that those that still have the presence of mind to exercise good manners manage to salvage some dignity. They are treated a bit more respectfully regardless of their appearance. I’m amazed that in he midst of circumstances that would ,frankly, break me the manners they learned as children aplow them to retain their humanity.
    Byron, your posts always make me think. Thank you.

  8. I have to say that as someone raised with Old Money values, but without the actual Old Money, I think we should open the doors to anyone who wants to join the “club”. I’m a Quaker and these values of stewardship, dressing modestly, being kind etc are universal

  9. Confound this rebellion of yours Byron! *smile*

    1. WASP
    It is an old money upper class trait, interestingly shared with the working class, to be blunt. I’m in the former group and a WASP too, so allow me to oblige. I strongly disagree that the WASP cultural values of thrift, industry, reason, rule of law not mob, property rights, human rights are shared by every race, creed and culture. Look at the news. Look at other societies. WASP culture created the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and more. What is comparable: Mexico, Indonesia, Russia, China, Israel? Though this is the first generation WASPs are not in the ascendancy in US life, it will be another two generations before those currently in power can claim ‘old money’ status. I claim the term Wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant proudly and push back against your rebellion.

    2. Secrecy
    There is no secrecy. There never has been. It goes like this. Work for a wage. Live frugally and save. Deploy the resulting capital to start a business. Run it frugally and profit. Deploy the resulting reserves into wise investments offering a fair, secure return. Reinvest the dividends, interest and rent to the portfolio. Keep working as long as you can. Shepherd the capital into tax efficient vehicles to maximize what you can pass to your heirs. Teach them to repeat the entire process including NOT to live on the investment income, unless you’d like your children to witness the demise of the family.

    3. . Profit
    I push back. What a singular idea that profit and philanthropy are mutually exclusive. The truth is that philanthropy is only possible because of profit. Further, profit occurs when a talented family member practices commercial skills. Clever old money emphasizes those skills and nurtures that talent over the generations so continued prominence and philanthropy is possible. Most old money families don’t or can’t, and eventually fall, faster or slower depending on the quantum of their ‘founder’s’ achievement.

    4. Exclusivity
    It is exclusive and Old Money are raised to be reconciled to this fact lest they be self-loathing, tortured souls. Few earn more than $450,000 per annum passively. Few in the world are Anglo-Saxon. There are only 1.8 million Episcopalians. Yet, this is where most of the old money exists. It makes sense. They used to be in the ascendancy. Few progress much along the path to wealth generation described openly above. Some don’t even appreciate that philanthropy is only possible because of profit. Old Money is an exclusive group. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many groups are small.

    In short, I’m poised to quash this rebellion, Byron. *smile*

    Who will join me?

  10. Ok then, Byron. I’m not asking for specific amounts, but where and in what to invest? How do Old Money people get their money to work for them? Is that something you are willing to discuss in more detail? Have you and I have not yet found it in your book or blog? Thank you.

    1. Hi Melissa, I don’t give investment advice, as it’s not my area of expertise. And it can be legally dangerous. I think I’m going to write a post about the subject of investing and ask everyone to contribute as to the protocols and philosophies they use as they select and investment advisor and develop a strategy. This will give you some direction without me stepping into an area that’s a bridge too far. Completely understand your interest, and we’ll do our best to get you started in the right direction. Thank you so much. – BGT

      1. Thank you. I did receive your email. I appreciate your help and I apologize if I caused you to feel uncomfortable. I think a ’round table’ post would be great.

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