Happy Holidays! It’s a big holiday weekend in the United States, and the biggest shopping weekend of the year. If you’re the sort of person who reads financial independence blogs (instead of shopping), you’re probably hanging-out at home with family.
The holidays are the time of year when families gets together. Mostly to do a lot of eating, and plenty of talking. Our family is no exception. We eat. We talk. We play a few board games. We eat some more… Generally, everyone has a nice time.
But dealing with relatives during the holidays can be a big challenge for the financially independent.
Let me explain why…
It’s been ages since I’ve written about stealth wealth, but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the subject.
Mrs. Tako and I are big believers in stealth wealth, and we keep our finances private. (One of the reasons why I don’t use my real name on this blog) We don’t tell our relatives (or even close friends) how much we’re worth.
People treat you differently when you’re seen as “wealthy”. Suddenly you’re expected to be the guy who’s picking up the bar tab, buying lunch for everybody, or splurging on holiday gifts.
That’s not a perception I want my friends and relatives to have. Instead, we choose to say nothing about our financial independence. Our friends and family have no idea that our net worth is approaching $3 million dollars, or that we’ll generate over $50k in dividends this year.
We let friends and relatives come to their own conclusions about our finances. Most of the time this policy works fine, but it can lead to friction with relatives who create their own “stories” about our financial status.
A Perception Of Poverty
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about our family is that we’re poor. You readers know differently of course, but many of our extended family members believe this.
Are we poor? Let’s look at it from an outside perspective …
1. No Job. I haven’t worked a “traditional” job in nearly two years, and this gives people the impression that we’re poor. Never mind the fact that one income families aren’t uncommon (historically speaking).
Some of our relatives even believe I’m struggling to find a job… desperate to make money! They really don’t get it. It’s been years since I even looked at a job listing! I have zero desire to go back to work.
2. Frugality. Long time blog readers know we’re a pretty frugal family. We rarely eat-out at restaurants, drive older cars, shop at thrift stores, and often prefer to buy used over new.
Frugality is part of how we built our net worth, and there was no reason to stop once we reached financial independence. It’s a way of life.
Unfortunately not everybody perceives frugality in the same way. Many of our relatives think we’re frugal because we have to be, not because we choose to be.
3. Not “Keeping Up”. It’s no secret that we live in a high-cost area. Incomes in the Seattle area are high, but the lifestyle is high-cost too.
Everyone around us has lives filled with hedonic pleasures — fancy new cars, brand new kitchens, hardwood floors, picture-perfect front yards, and everything must be shiny and new. It’s a race to “keep up with the Joneses”.
Frankly, none of it impresses me. I’m totally fine driving an older car, and living in a home from the 1980’s.
Here’s a great example — A friend recently installed a six thousand dollar front door on his house. Yes, six thousand dollars … for a door. That’s ridiculous! I feel absolutely no need to keep up with that.
My relatives (unfortunately) come to a different conclusion when they visit. They look around our neighborhood (or our friend’s homes) and get the impression we’re doing badly, simply because we “don’t have nice things”.
I am sooo sick of hearing that. I don’t want “nice things”. Yes, you read that correctly — I don’t desire “nice stuff” and all the headaches that come with it.
Want an example? I love technology but I don’t want a 4k TV. Our TV was free, and my old eyes simply can’t see the difference between a new 4k TV and our older 1080p TV. Why would I want to upgrade?
We simply don’t want or need “nice things” to feel good about our lives (or to impress people).
If a person gets comfortable living near top of that hedonic treadmill, the pressure to maintain that social status is immense. For our family, chasing an imaginary status level is pointless.
I’d rather have people think I’m poor.
Not A Real Man
These negative perceptions aren’t always about money either — A lot of negativity has to do with fact I’m a stay-at-home dad. Believe it or not, many people (including my relatives) believe a man that doesn’t work outside the home isn’t a real man.
Never mind the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is an incredible amount of work. Apparently being a “real man” means you MUST be the major bread winner for the family… which is completely outdated sexist crap! There are plenty of women who make more money than men, and I hope that number continues to grow.
Still, the negative perception exists and isn’t going away anytime soon. When relatives come to visit during the holidays, I get to deal with these negative comments. Sometimes they even ask Mrs. Tako if she’s “OK” being the breadwinner for the family… as if she might be upset at me for being a stay-at-home dad.
This sexist perception is bogus of course — Mrs. Tako and I both provide for our family. I manage the finances carefully, and we’ve saved over 35 times our annual spending. We simply choose to keep quiet about our financial independence, rather than blasting it to the world.
Mrs. Tako and I are a team. We reached financial independence together. One of the reasons why she still works is because she happens to like her job. NOT because I can’t find work.
I wish I could throw those facts in everyone’s face when I hear the negative comments, but I bite my tongue instead.
Stealth wealth isn’t always easy folks… sometimes it brings out the shitty parts of people.
Our Real Friends And Family
If there’s one advantage to keeping quiet about our finances, it’s the fact that we’ve learned who our REAL friends and family are.
We’ve gotten to see people’s true colors — who’s judgemental, and who’s not. The people who really care won’t put our family down based on the things we don’t buy, or the social status we don’t have.
Our real friends and family maintain good relationships with us regardless of money or status. They don’t feel the need to criticize.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing of course — We’ve lost friends because of our “different lifestyle”, and there are certain family members we don’t visit based-on what we’ve experienced.
I actually view this as a positive thing. It’s given us the opportunity to purge the negative influences from our life. We don’t need people who judge others based upon perceived wealth, or archaic notions about what a family is supposed to look-like. The bonds of family and friendship should go beyond all that nonsense.
So I say to you — Stay strong this holiday! Don’t give into the family pressure to be “normal”. Live your life the way YOU think it should be lived, NOT how some relative thinks you should live.
[Image Credit: Flickr]