How To Act Like Old Money

According to my nephews and nieces in the states, this question is a popular one online. So I’ll offer an answer.

Fair warning…it may not be what most people expect, as I’m not going to hold forth on oxford cloth button down shirts, penny loafers, or Volvo station wagons. These things are symptomatic of an Old Money lifestyle, but not integral to the Old Money philosophy.

As I’ve said before, you can purchase a lifestyle and present that to the public in a matter of hours, depending upon your proximity to a clothing boutique that specializes in traditional (preppy) clothing or your relationship status with Amazon Prime.

That’s no big accomplishment. What is more work, and more rewarding, is to adopt the values, priorities, and habits of America’s Upper Class in order to live a richer life. This is the wide load for the long haul, but it delivers in spades.

This is, as I’ve said many times before, the difference between a ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’.

So, how do you do this? First, read The Old Money Book. Then make a list of the Core Values on a post-it note. Put that on the fridge, on your desk, in your calendar, or on your phone. Then go about your daily business.

Before you begin to perform a task or make a choice, ask yourself, Is this in line with my Core Values?

If it’s taking out the trash, it’s probably not that relevant: you’re taking out the trash so it doesn’t stink up the kitchen and attract bugs. If it’s deciding whether or not to spend $50,000 on a wedding that will be over in a day or take that same $50,000 to purchase an apartment building that will appreciate in value and bring in rental income, then it’s very relevant.

How does each action or choice ‘match up’ to the Core Values of Old Money? In the simple case of the wedding vs. the apartment building, you would consider the Core Value of Financial Independence. How well does the cost of a wedding match up? How well does an apartment building–or any other solid financial investment–match up?

A lot? A little? Not at all?

The same can be said for buying junk food. Does that match up with ‘Health’? Does saving money for college tuition match up to ‘Education’? Does broadcasting your life on social media match up to ‘Privacy’?

Take any choice, action, or habit and measure how well it fits in with a relevant Core Value before you make the choice, take the action, or continue the habit. Then make your best choice.

That’s the simple, authentic way to Act Like Old Money.

The wardrobe and the lifestyle will, as surely as day follows night, take shape around you after you adopt this strategy. You will invest in yourself, invest in your family, and invest in the long term. Then you’ll steadily come around to investing in your wardrobe, investing in furnishings, and investing in a home. Quality of life will be yours.

Perhaps not that answer we wanted, but certainly the answer we need.

  • BGT

12 thoughts on “How To Act Like Old Money

  1. Years ago on the t.v. show, Friends, two of the characters fell in love and were planning to get married. Somehow the female character found out how much money her fiance had managed to save up over the years. Because her mother had spent her wedding money on something else (maybe a vacation home or something like that), she hounded her fiance to spend that saved up money on a big wedding. He relented. I think that episode contributed to the brainwashing of several generations of girls (very effectively) into thinking they needed big weddings. Many people have photos of their grandparents’ weddings at the courthouse. Grandmother did not wear a wedding dress but bought a lovely, practical suit. I’m sure that suit was worn on many special occasions after that.

    1. Love the grandparents reference. SO true looking at those pictures and wise wisdom to boot!

  2. This point is sometimes phrased as “be careful how much you spend on depreciating assets”. A wedding (the ceremony, not the marriage) is an asset that depreciates all the way to zero in less than one day.

  3. This is the wide load for the long haul, but it delivers in spades.

    Play the long game, got it!

  4. The point about about privacy is interesting. Here’s my take based on what I was told and observed as a child and young person at home. Basically, one should keep oneself to oneself in all respects (finances, personal worth, accomplishments, politics, sex, dirty laundry, etc.). There is a time and place for sharing certain details of one’s life, but most of the time, those should be played very close to the chest, or at least kept within the inner circle. And, depending on what we are talking about, possibly closer than that. It just makes good sense.

    Being kind and gracious to new acquaintances from the outside is a given of course, but becoming intimates takes time. Maybe even years. The habit of making the private instantly public and blabbing one’s most intimate details within 10 minutes after meeting someone for the first time seems rife in 2021. The tendency to overshare to the point of awkwardness might just be an American thing. Generally speaking, it’s not something I have run into as much during time abroad in Northern Europe and Latin America. Of course, the problem predates the internet and rise of social (?) media, but it has become more pronounced in the last 30 years or so.

    In a nutshell, overfamiliarity is off-putting at best.

    I am unsure whether or not behaving in a way that is more reserved than has become customary for so many is necessarily ‘Old Money,’ but the practice can’t hurt. It is certainly preferable to smothering people one has just met and does not know that well with the minutia of one’s past and present lives. Or vice versa as the case may be. Do we really need to know, after all, why X hates neckties to a near pathological degree, that Y was in therapy for years because of “a really bad teacher” in high school, or Z has children by three different men?

    As the saying goes, some things are just better left unsaid. Or ought to be. We should all go about our daily business, as you advise, and be a bit more circumspect in what and how much we share with others.

    Kind Regards,

    H-U

    1. I do believe there is a time and a place for sharing, perhaps one in which “over-sharing” becomes required.

      For instance, you give the example of Y being in therapy for years because of “a really bad teacher.” Were I considering, for myself or my children, the place of eduction where that teacher is employed? I would want to be aware of Y’s experience! Of course, it may be the case that things have changed, or that the reason the teacher was “really bad” for Y would not apply…but it would certainly give me pause.

      Even in the case of Z, if what I needed to be aware of was the correct last names of Z’s children, I would not need the details of the relationships Z had with the fathers of those children but the implication would remain.

      Not sure about X’s irrational dislike of neckties, though. You’ve got me there. 🙂

    2. Heinz-Ulrich, your post is very enlightening, thank you. It seems that reality TV, and talk shows have helped create much of this tell-all culture. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar alluded to this in one of his movies. That’s when I realized that it’s not just an American problem.

      I wonder if dysfunctional families and a lack of close friends causes such a sense of loneliness and alienation, that there’s no discerning between a confidante and an acquaintance.

      All someone has to do is appear sympathetic and likable for people to wear their heart on their tattooed arms and unload all their emotional burdens on this stranger.
      Then a few months, or even a year, later they catch a glimpse of this “friend’s” flaws or character and clearly see that this is not someone they need in their inner circle. Then they’re deeply embarrassed (and furious) about revealing so much of themselves.

      Those who have good, close knit family relationships and a few close friends don’t have the need to tell all to every sympathetic person who crosses their path. That need for intimacy is fulfilled, so they can easily respect social boundaries; and behave in a manner that doesn’t embarrass themselves, their families and friends, or the person they’ve just met.

      Self-control is important too. Many of us haven’t learned that we can’t let our emotions fuel our actions. Nor have we learned to put others first.

      As you mentioned, revealing unnecessary intimate details puts the listener in an awkward position. If we remember to make our listener comfortable then this can be avoided. Learning the art of conversation helps too.

      Popular culture is in the “keeping it real” phase. Though, judging from YouTube there is a backlash that emphasizes valuing privacy. So, maybe that’s a start?

    3. Hans-Ulrich, oversharing is certainly quite an issue these days. I have an online business which includes websites and social media. For sharing personal details, I use the rule I learnt as a psychoanalyst: “Only share what you would be comfortable seeing in a newspaper.”

  5. You make valid points, Anneke. Of course, I was generalizing to some degree. The main take-away though from what I wrote yesterday is that too many seem to set their minds on frenetic autopilot when they meet new people for the first few times, and so often what comes out of their mouths is, or should be, embarrassing. It’s certainly uncomfortable, from a listener’s point of view, to be on the receiving end of these nervous monologues. Invariably, I am left wishing I knew far less about whatever X,Y, or Z (actual people I have crossed paths with at one time or another) has blurted out about their lives. Sigh. My late maternal grandmother used to advise that such individuals were our cross to bear.

    Kind Regards,

    H-U

  6. Twenty plus years ago, when my husband and I were first talking about getting married, we were planning a “traditional” wedding with 150 guests. Then we came to an impasse. I had never been to a wedding where guests were asked to pay for their own drinks, and he had never been to a wedding where everything was covered. We stopped taking about the wedding.
    A few months later, a lovely home came up for sale in our neighourhood, and we had the money for a sizable downpayment with a managable mortgage.
    We took possession, and moved in.
    Two months after that, we got married in our living room with our immediate family only. We had a lovely meal afterwards in a local restaurant, and we did pay for drinks, wihich were few.
    In total, the wedding cost just under $3,000, and the most important people in our lives were there.
    Twenty-two years later, we are still happily married and debt free. Life is good.

    1. Good for you, Debby. Congratulations. This is a great example of a great choice. Unusual process, but the results speak for themselves. Thank you for sharing. – BGT

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