Old Money…With Issues

A very predictable thing happens at the end of each year: we have the time and the inclination to contemplate. Often we look back on the last 11 3/4 months. We wince with regret or sigh with satisfaction at our choices or our experiences. Sometimes our minds wander farther afield. We pour through thicker volumes in our mental archives, lifting heavier subjects, dusting off the long-forgotten, and thumbing through a yellowed page or two.

What we think about is often random, but sometimes very relevant. It can amount to nothing more than nostalgia. It can, however, lead to transformation.

So, if we have a moment or two between Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) and January 1st, there are questions we can ask ourselves. These may help us understand ourselves. These may help us improve our lives.

These involve what we might call our ‘issues’: those attitudes and behaviors that we possess that we may not be aware of, that negatively impact our lives, that we need to manage better, and that we would do well to better manage or get rid of altogether.

First, I’ll offer up the questions to ask. Then I’ll offer up a personal ‘issue’ (or two) of mine and how I’ve managed (or rationalized) it, depending upon your perspective, as examples. (I’ve never pretended to be the Old Money God On High who has everything all figured out, and I’m not going to start at this late stage.)

The questions we can ask ourselves are as follows: When I feel I ‘need’ a material possession or that I need to ‘consume’ something that is not a necessity, is there an underlying emotional issue am I trying to fill or paint over? Does this emotional or psychological deficiency compel me to purchase something that I don’t really ‘need’ or can’t really afford? Is this impacting my ability to become more financially independent? Is this impacting my personal relationships? How is it doing this?

Sometimes these questions are easy to answer. We can just look at our credit card or debit card statement at the end of the month: if we’re constantly shopping online, we could be bored or lonely. If we’re constantly at the local bar paying retail for alcoholic beverages, we could be lonely or in pain. If we’re at the shopping mall wondering around like a zombie looking for something to buy, we could be the victim of advertising or not be getting all the nourishment we need from friends and family.

Everybody’s situation is different. Ergo, everybody’s solution is different. Yes, Old Money Guys and Gals are less prone to these types of ‘issues’, but very few of us are in perfect health.

My personal examples may shine a candid, perhaps familiar light on this common problem. The first involves restaurants. (You’ll notice I did not put the verb ‘to involve’ in the past tense. I still deal with this issue.) Throughout my life, I’ve eaten out frequently. I’m not a cook. I’m an only child. I’m willing to pay for convenience. I like luxury. All these things add up to someone who is prone to go find food that other people cook in a comfortable environment filled with, yes, other people. And these ‘other people’ will also take away the dirty dishes so I don’t have to be bothered with those.

So, all in all, that’s what I thought my ‘issue’ was. I liked to eat out a lot. But once I was married, the idea of racking up $2000.00 a month in restaurant bills quickly became an ‘issue’ for my wife. And rightly so. This, however, was a blessing: it forced me to confront the issue. And when I really sat down and thought about it, I discovered that restaurants held a deeper emotional meaning for me. They were the places my family met in order to catch up, socialize, and bond.

My mother and father both worked long hours when I was growing up and continued to do so as I became a young adult. So at 7 or 8 o’clock at night, my mother wasn’t likely to roll into the kitchen and prepare a meal. This meant that my parents and I–as well as grandparents and aunts and uncles–would often rendezvous at a local restaurant for dinner. It was a time to converse, to laugh, to plan, to regroup, to bond. Not every night. But frequently.

So my desire to ‘eat out’, I discovered, was really a desire to ‘connect’ with those I cared about. Restaurants weren’t eating establishments. They were the context in which I often felt loved.

When I got down to that, I realized that I could get together with loved ones anywhere (even in our dining room at home) and connect, share, and feel good. This realization has saved me a lot of frustration…and a lot of money. I am aware. Therefore, I can manage. But I live in Paris now. So I still have to be vigilant. (Wink, nod.)

The other personal issue I have relates to dress shirts. The problem might be considered ‘hard-wired’ or ‘systemic’. It started young and for no apparent reason. When I was old enough to hold a job, my father detected in me a dreamy disposition and an ambivalent attitude toward work. He also wanted to instill in me a keen awareness of the importance of education.

His solution was to provide me with a summer job…actually, the worst job he could think of. This would exhaust me physically, toughen me mentally, teach me the importance of hard work and the value of a dollar, and insure that I would know what lay before me if I didn’t eventually apply myself academically and vocationally. (It was well-intentioned but only moderately effective, as you’ll soon learn.)

He put me to work as a laborer with one of the construction crews in the oil refinery which he oversaw. In Houston. In the summer. I donned a hard hat. I dug ditches. I developed blisters. I took orders from, lunched, and socialized with rough, straight-talking, sometimes uneducated but often honorable men. I mowed and hacked my way through waist-high grass and weeds. I hammered lug nuts tight on a leaking pipeline valve, knee deep in gasoline and mud in ten foot deep hole. One spark and I would have been blown halfway to heaven.

I shoveled coke, not the illegal drug, but a black powder that is the byproduct of the oil refining process. Mountains of it fell from a silo. Someone had to clear it away so more of it could fall to the ground. That someone was me.

It was back-breaking and mind-numbing work in 100 degree heat, on a good day. Upon receiving a relatively measly paycheck after the first two weeks of this legal torture, one would think that I would have taken my precious earnings and socked them away judiciously. One would be wrong.

I cashed my check at the local bank. I folded up the wad of 20 and 50 dollar bills and shoved them giddily into my jeans pocket. And I pointed the family sedan towards the nearest Saks Fifth Avenue. I arrived, alighted from said vehicle, entered the store, and promptly requested three of the most luxurious dress shirts on offer.

The transaction consumed, in one fell swoop, most of my earnings. A posh restaurant conveniently adjacent happily fed me and took the remainder. (See previous ‘issue.’) I returned home well shirted, well fed, slightly intoxicated from the whole experience, and broke. But I was in luck: there were six more paychecks in my future before school resumed.

Since that initiation, I have owned a lot of shirts. Off the rack, made to measure, bespoke, from brands like Brooks Bros and Ralph Lauren to artisan vendors in Houston, Los Angeles, Rome, and Paris. Luckily, I don’t have the same obsession for suits or shoes. I am perfectly content to snatch a blue blazer or tweed jacket from wherever, a pair of grey wool slacks from whomever, and a pair of Allen Edmonds from, well, Allen Edmonds.

But for some reason, I am obsessive about the fabric, fit, construction, color, collar, and cuffs of my dress shirts. I’m not interesting in impressing others. Most people don’t notice the shirts I wear, but some fellow connoisseurs do. Usually, they are duly impressed, as am I with their shirt choice. We nod knowingly, silently communicating a clandestine, mutual appreciation and understanding, and leave it at that.

Obviously, I’ve thought a lot about this issue. And I don’t have a clue in hell as to why I am so inclined. What I do know is that this problem, if it is that, does not impact my financial well being. It does not impact my personal relationships. It probably consumes more of my time than it should, but I will shrug and put that down to ‘passion’.

It may appear shallow and inconsequential to others, but it is endlessly fascinating and supremely fulfilling to me. I derive enormous satisfaction when I slip into a shirt that was made for me alone. I remember the cotton jungle, a veritable safari that was finding and selecting just the right fabric, then discussing details with the equally obsessive staff, appreciating their good taste and judgment.

I revel in the craftsmanship, the sumptuous feel of the fabric, the thoughtfulness of having one shirt cuff slightly more generous in size than the other so that my wristwatch slides underneath it without hesitation.  I smile whenever I come across the small tag that denotes the year in which the shirt was made and the small monogram, both at the bottom of the extra long shirttail, footnotes of the experience, reminders of the attention to detail.

No one else is likely to see these, but I know they’re there.

Your mission, should  you choose to accept it, is to review your choices. Identify your issues. And ask yourself the questions I’ve noted above. Only you can discover the answers. Only you can construct the solutions. (Okay, I’m here to help if you need to reach out.) It’s on your desk. It’s your quality of life. What’s the issue? Is it hurting me? How can I manage it?

The answers probably won’t be as monumental or complex as we imagine. And the rewards may be more than we ever expected.

Have a safe holiday. Happy New Year. I’ll speak to you all again in 2022.

  • BGT

12 thoughts on “Old Money…With Issues

  1. What an insightful and fascinating post, Byron. Thank you! I’ve been thinking about some “issues” of my own here at year’s end and seeing them from a new perspective. Sorry I haven’t been around much on the blog lately — I’ve kept (overly?) busy but am still enjoying your posts, as always.

    I hope you and your family are well and enjoying the holidays. Very best wishes for a happy and healthy 2022!

  2. Fabulous post. The standing in gasoline part creeps me out, but really respect the lessons taught by an obviously good father. The fondness for shirts is shared here, although, Brooks Bros (those once made in North Carolina, that is) work for me. Closest I got to bespoke is designing a button-down on the Michel-Spencer website, and their shirts were amazing. Sadly with Spencer Bennett’s passing, they went out of business. I read they also were made in Garland but not sure if that is true. I do know that he looked into buying that factory after Brooks carelessly put Americans out of work. But very interesting post, Byron, and very enjoyable. Dads, read this post.l

  3. Byron, my father also forced me into outdoor manual labor (in the Florida heat, no less), for the same reasons your father did. Not surprising since they were both likely from the same generation. And, I also learned that it would take minutes to spend what it took weeks to earn – so buy wisely.

    And yes, considering our intentions before any action is a very healthy way to live.

  4. Byron-
    Thank you for the questions you’ve asked us to consider, and the candid responses you’ve offered. Since becoming accepted into the distinguishing and honorable OMG group, I have been “Living Better While Spending Less” and it has changed my outlook on life’s prescription and perspectives for the better. The secrets learned here are awesome life lesson I’ve come to cherish – looking forward to 2022 and beyond with OMG.

    K. Lee George

  5. These questions caused me to reflect back on 2021.

    Yesterday, a purchase was made of a nutmeg corduroy blazer. I waited well over two months to make sure 1. this was not an emotional purchase and 2. several items could be styled with it.

    This year I came across two phenomenal websites. Clever and Chic on YouTube and this one. From watching, re-watching and reading saved articles from old money comments taught me the well to do usually do not make emotional purchases. They have less, but style it better than most.

    This past year we had some work done in our home. I wore the same linen dress for two consecutive days straight and styled it differently. During the second wearing, I felt as though I won some type of lottery. Does anyone else feel this way/felt that way or is this simply a reflection of responsible purchases?

    For me, this year has been a bell curve of learning, curating and financing. Thank you, comment section.

  6. Belated Christmas Greetings! Oddly, or perhaps not, my wife and I discussed many of these same points on Christmas night after The Young Master’s bedtime. We concluded that, among other things, we wished we were more patient in general, better skiers, and that we both felt like there is not much material that we need or want at this point. Basically, we are happy and satisfied with life, and our choices thus far, even in the face of the last several years of sociopolitical unpleasantness and pandemic.

    Kind Seasonal Regards and Happy New Year,

    H-U

  7. Happy Holidays, Byron. May the New Year bring happiness, health and prosperity to you and your readers.

    Indeed, this is a good time to review and reflect. My own “issues” involve: 1) overuse of technology, and 2) being a little flighty with certain purchases (i.e. changing my mind too often). Both are things I would like to address this coming year. I don’t have an affinity for dress shirts, but I treated myself to a new pair of boots (Bogs, to fit in with the rural farm crowd here, but with leather uppers for a little extra quality) and my family gave me a new backpack for Christmas. I count my blessings and treasure the time with my family.

    Best,
    E-B

  8. Your erstwhile entrance to the hard labor pool is similar to the childhood of James A Baker III, the Texas statesman and scion of an Old Money family. According to the biography I am reading, Mr. Baker’s father sent him to both boarding school and college (Princeton) on the East Coast to adhere to family tradition. But the father also made sure to callous the hands of his rather privileged son with roughnecking in the brutal Texas summer so young Jim would understand the value of work, not live aimlessly (young Jim was prone to partying at Princeton), and also to develop an appreciation and respect for the hard work and contributions of others who weren’t born to privilege. Since wealth (and character, it seems) can easily be lost during the intergenerational transfer of inheritance, I am heartened by the stories of OM families teaching their progeny a firm lesson about the difference between wealth stewardship and entitlement.

    Thoroughly enjoying your blog as it aligns with how my husband and I apply OM values to our lives in the 21st century. And I’m also enjoying the comments — I’m not alone in how I think and react/recoil in this modern age! Thank you for making this elegant Parisian salon wide enough to accommodate one more curious soul.

    My husband and I decided that we have enough things and have had enough with everything. Social media accounts were deleted and replaced with subscriptions to The Economist and BBC podcasts, Brit Box, a digital pass to philharmonics around the world (there will never be enough Beethoven), and weekends spent in bookshops looking for an exquisite first edition or just stacks of used books to worm through. We’re faithful readers of the long list from the Booker Prize and haven’t been inside a US movie theater in years. We had enough with bad behavior in restaurants (it didn’t matter how much the entrees cost – there was bad behavior at every level) and invested in some cookware items at home and trips to the farmers market with the challenge to cook a new recipe each month from the New York Times. Cloth napkins only, please.

    We live an indulgent life, and yet our budget has grown narrower with these changes. We’ll spend 2022 continuing to hone our little fortress against the indignity of consumption. I’m walking past the post-holiday sales in my inherited alpaca coat from a beloved great aunt and not giving a whit about its lack of instagramability.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Rebekah. And welcome. Congratulations. It sounds like you’ve refined things quite nicely. Yes, you are not alone. I hope you’ll continue to join us. Happy 2022. – BGT

  9. I have read two of your books during the holidays and I wonder if you could help me with these style questions:

    -Hair colour. In the Old Money Book, you write that old money guys embrace going grey and bald, which is also how I look at it. However, in the Style book, while you write that hair colouring is tricky business, you leave the door open, suggesting to have it done at a professional salon. I assumed that, just like tatoos, hair colouring is a no-no, regardless whether it’s professionally done or not?

    -Coats.You describe three coats: trench, overcoat and the “technical” winter coat. Right now, we have around 11°C and no rain in Munich. So neither one of the coats seems fully appropriate. I was wondering what you sport in such weather when going about your daily life. A tweed jacket or blazer, on top of a sweater? Or is there another type of jacket that would fit the situation?

    Happy New Year,

    Best,
    Thomas

    1. Hi Thomas, I hope you enjoyed the books. Welcome to the blog. Regarding hair color, I think there are two factors. First, men should probably abstain unless they work in the entertainment industry. Second, if women choose to color their hair, I’d recommend having very natural looking work done, by a professional if possible. So no hard-n-fast rule there.
      Regarding coats, Barbour makes great jackets for chilly weather. The Beaufort Classic or the Prestbury model. Waxed or quilted exterior. Very ‘gentleman farmer’ in their look. The blazer and tweed are also options, but the Barbour handles rain better.
      Hope that helps. Thanks. – BGT

      1. Thank you so much for your reply and suggestions, Byron. The entertainment industry is so far from my reality (and frankly from my free-time pursuits) that I didn’t even thought of that.

        The book (and this blog) are a great inspiration, mainly for the old money values. The style interests me, not because I want to communicate something, but because I want to focus on a compact wardrobe of durable quality pieces.

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