It was on April 22, 2013, that I created and first posted on this blog. Candidly, I thought I had about a year’s worth of things to say about The Old Money Book (published on April 8 of that same year) and Old Money culture in America.
I originally wrote the book because so many people I knew had been living well–until the Financial Crisis of 2007–and then suddenly had their world turned upside down. And by ‘living well’ I mean the nice house, the new cars, the designer clothes, the ready cash (which in hindsight we all recognize as ready credit cards), and the freedom from worry that only the very, very rich can really afford to have.
As lay-offs, foreclosures, and bankruptcies swirled and engulfed the college-educated, upwardly mobile, and seemingly affluent around the country and around me personally, I was in disbelief: why didn’t they see this coming? Why were these people living like this if they didn’t have serious money in the bank to handle this kind of rainy day? Why weren’t people living the way we (my family and a few other OMGs I knew) did?
Friends and colleagues sold cars and jewelry for whatever they could get for them. Some walked away from their houses and mortgage payments, equity be damned. Their children’s college educations were interrupted. Their portfolios were gutted.
Some called and visited, confiding more than I ever wanted to know about their financial situations. The carnage was not just on the television news; it was in my living room, shaken and lost.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to, ‘So how are you guys doing?’, I would have to shrug and say ‘We’re hanging in there.’ And I left it at that. The truth was that, yes, we took a financial slap in the face with the crisis, but it wasn’t a body blow. Our solvency was never in jeopardy, and our lifestyle never changed. Our twenty-year-old sedans still puttered around town, shuttling my wife and I to meetings during the week and to the farmers market on Sunday. She wore–and she does today–a wardrobe of mixed pieces: some 30 years old and some 30 days old, all classic, all timeless. I ambled about, as I always have, in button-down shirts, khakis, and Allen Edmonds shoes.
It was only when a friend came to me with wonderful news that the idea for The Old Money Book took firm hold. Her husband had been unevenly employed as a back-up and session vocalist in Los Angeles for years. Now, he’d auditioned and earned a place as a featured singer with a world-famous rock and roll band that would be going on tour for 18 months. This was his big break. The money would be coming in fast and heavy. All those years of her working a 9 to 5 job while he did one-day studio gigs were over. And she came to me for advice. Okay…why, exactly?
‘I know you’ve got money and I think you’ve always had it,’ she said with the candor of a person on a mission. ‘I don’t want to blow this. What can you tell me?’ I sat there in the Chinese food restaurant in silence for a moment, then I launched into something like The Old Money Sermon on the Mount: a free-flowing, nonstop barrage of advice, warnings, and encouragement that left her hand cramping from taking notes and my throat sore from pontificating. An hour and a half later, the restaurant was empty and we were both done.
All the anger that had built up in me from watching so many people make the same money mistakes had poured out. All the anxiety in her about how to handle this new money and this new life had melted away. She had a philosophy she could get her head around. I had something I knew I could, and should, write a book about.
The following weekend, I phoned some OMGs I’d known for decades and told them what I was thinking. Comments ranged from the sincere: ‘I think it’s a great idea,’ and ‘Anything I can contribute, let me know,’ to the sarcastic: ‘You’re a traitor to your class. You’re going to out us, expose all our secrets, and ruin it for everyone.’
The publication of The Old Money Book did not result in an upper class apocalypse, I’m happy to report. My friends whose double-barreled names begin with initials and end with numbers remain safe and sound. Their butts sunk into a sea of chintz, LL Bean rubber mocs clonked on the coffee table, they tap on their laptops, contribute to some of the ‘In Their Own Words’ posts you read, and encourage other OMGs to scribble a word or two on my behalf.
Five years later, even after writing The Old Money Guide To Marriage, I find I still have things to say. More importantly, I find that I’ve helped create a community–a safe space–where you, the reader, can come to contribute, be inspired, and learn. Because an Old Money life is a discreet and reserved one, it can be isolating: Does anyone else share my traditional values? I am the only one not spending like a crazy person? Is anyone else fatigued with the ‘consumer/celebrity culture’ that permeates American society? Am I the only millennial who dresses just like my grandfather?
Fear not. When it seems like no one else understands you, we do. Whether we’re Old Money by birth or by choice, you can share with us. We who wear the blue blazers and the boat shoes, the pearls and the cardigans. We who still read. We who still appreciate conversation. We who send thank you notes. You can count on us, the ones without our elbows on the dinner table.
And I emphasize that I’ve helped create this community. Without you, there would be no community. So again, a word of thanks and a heart full of gratitude, from me to you.
We’re five years old, darling.