Becoming new money

Table of contents

New money is someone who was born and raised working or middle class and became wealthy in their lifetime. Old money is someone who was born wealthy and has always been wealthy. Read about my financial background and how I got rich in my thirties here.

New money is a class derided from all sides. Sitting between where we came from, the working class, and where we want to go, the upper class.

New money is better than old money

Old money’s advantages over new money include that they have connections, education and manners to go along with their money. Also their families teach them financial literacy and how to navigate being wealthy.

Even so, I am delighted to be new money trash, we all know why it’s better than being broke, but it is also better than being classy old money. Old money don’t enjoy how good they have it because they never experienced having less. New money knows what it’s like to be working class, which is why we celebrate and show off having money (more on that later).

Behavioural economists and psychologist have proven that happiness does not depend on objective good, but rather subjective comparison. And that happiness is relative to expectations.

If I always expected to have a Range Rover, then having one would not make me happier because it would just meet my expectations, such is the mindset of someone who always had money. I never expected to have a Range Rover so getting one made me happier because it exceeded my expectations. Note however, the words in italics put the sentence in the past tense, I did not say “having one makes me happier because it exceeds my expectations” in the present tense.

Peoples’ expectations and what they compare themselves to changes quickly. When I first got a Range Rover I was comparing it to my old Mitsubishi. Now that I have a Range Rover I compare it to a Bentley I could buy. You can call me spoiled but it’s hard-wired human nature and you are the same.

Cattle class to up front

When I used to fly economy I referred to it as “cattle class”, since I stopped flying economy I no longer feel comfortable calling it that. I used to call first class “first class” but when I started flying first class I would say I was “sitting up front”.

These word games came from working class guilt, I was embarrassed to say I had moved to first class. Being broke was part of my identity and I subconsciously felt guilty for leaving my peers behind to be treated like cattle.

I used to look in the first class cabin and see a bunch of old, boring, out of touch, silver spoon, fat cats. Now I see people who are highly competent in competitive fields.

I used to think wealth was mostly ill gained by exploitation, now I know it’s mostly earned by providing value to others. Going from broke to wealthy has changed my worldview. I have also become more confident and more relaxed, but I still have just as many problems and am just as worried about them.

Qatar Airways, first class terminal Doha

More money, more problems?

Getting rich solved problems I had when I was poorer but new problems have come up in their place. If compared in a vacuum, the problems I had when I was poorer were worse than the problems I have now I am richer, so I should worry less about my problems now. However that is not how the human mind works. 

We have a certain capacity for worry and we will fill that capacity no matter what our situation is. As a millionaire with a great life, the biggest problem in my life is still the biggest problem in my life and I worry about it just as much as I worried about the biggest problem in my life when I was broke.

Furthermore, as money solves some of the problems I had when I was broke, I worry more about the remaining problems that money did not solve. Here are some examples.

Working class persons problems and worry %

  1. I hate my job – 40%
  2. My car keeps breaking down – 20% 
  3. My kids’ school is not good – 20%
  4. I am overweight and unattractive – 10%
  5. My parents and siblings are fighting – 9%
  6. Kids are starving in Africa – 1%
    TOTAL WORRY = 100%

Same person after they get rich

  1. My company is being audited – 40%
  2. I am overweight and unattractive – 20%
  3. My kids’ school is not good enough – 20%
  4. My parents and siblings are fighting – 10%
  5. People asking me for money – 9%
  6. Kids are starving in Africa – 1%
    TOTAL WORRY = 100%

My working class problems of having a crap job and car have been solved, which I hoped would reduce my worry by 60%. In fact my worry has not been reduced at all, because I am now worried about new problems like being audited and people asking me for money. I have also become more worried about my old problems which remain, like my self-image and family drama.

Note that when I was working class I was worried because my kid’s school was not good. When I got wealthy I put my kid in a better school but I am still worried that this school is not the best one for them; what if my child is bullied at the new school! Every parent knows if you solve problems related to your child, you don’t then stop worrying about your child, you worry about other things related to your child instead. It’s the same with yourself and everything you care about.   

This explains why wealthy people’s lives seem frivolous from the outside but do not feel frivolous for the wealthy. We are worried about seemingly less serious problems, because money has solved the more serious problems poorer people have. However this is not the internal view of a wealthy person; the worst thing in our life is still the worst thing in our life, whatever it may be.

We know rich people feel their problems seriously because we go to therapy more. Because we can afford it yes, but it still shows that money has not solved our problems.

This can be disillusioning for new money because when we were poor, we thought money would solve all our problems, so we worked hard and sacrificed for it. When we got rich, money did not solve all our problems, making the hard work and sacrifice partly wasted. We are left unsure how to solve our problems, since what we thought would be the solution, being successful and getting rich, did not work.

Isolation from friends and family

A common problem for new money is feeling isolated from old friends, co-workers and family. As a working class person, my peers and I had a shared struggle; getting by without enough money. We understood each other, related to each other and helped each other to make the most of it. We did not realize it consciously because it had always been that way, but we realized it when it changed.

Nothing bonds people together more than shared struggle. If you think I am making the shared financial struggle of the working class sound more important than it is, then ask yourself, how important is money? If you answered “not very important” then consider how many hours a week people spend trying to make money and how often they think about money? The bond with people you regularly spend time with who are in similar financial situations is real.

When you and your friends go to a restaurant now you split the bill. How would you feel if when the bill came everyone looked at you and waited? Or if one of your friends insisted on paying it but made a big deal about it? If you don’t think your friends will do that, then prepare to be disappointed. Prepare to hear “It’s not a lot of money for you”.

When I suddenly became a lot wealthier than my peers, we didn’t feel the same bond and connection that we used to. In a meaningful sense, they were no longer my peers and that is a major loss, they had been my social life and my support network. You might think that you won’t change so you will just stay friends with them. Probably not. Friendships are made by having things in common. Your friendship with co-workers will be the first to go when you leave your current job.   

This is what Mike Posner means when he sings 

“You don’t ever wanna step off that roller coaster and be all alone”

~ I Took a Pill in Ibiza

I got off the emotional rollercoaster of being broke, which is good. But I was on that roller coaster with friends, family and co-workers, who all stayed on it. I am the only one that got off.

Shopping!

I remember feeling relieved and excited when low-cost was no longer my top priority while shopping. We shop by defining the criteria of the item we want to buy. Working class people then buy the cheapest item that meets the criteria. Middle class people buy the best item that meets the criteria, and is within budget. Rich people buy the best item that meets the criteria, often using price to gauge which item is best, therefore preferring higher prices! 

As a wealthy shopper I could add nice-to-haves to my criteria which I could not afford to consider as a working class shopper; things like preferred colors or brands or an item that will impress others. When two options are otherwise equal I buy the more expensive item because it is probably better quality and higher status.

You might think millionaires would ignore the price of a sweater, it’s actually worse than that. We don’t just not mind if the price is high, we actually prefer the price to be high since that is an indication of quality and prestige.  

The online version of this is when I search for a hotel I change the order of the results to the highest price first. I then select the top hotel that meets the criteria. The higher priced hotels will probably be better quality and more prestigious.

Status seeking

If you are like I used to be, you rolled your eyes when I mentioned status, prestige and trying to impress other people with shows of wealth. Tasteless displays of wealth is what new money trash like me are known for, it’s something that we are derided for from both higher and lower classes.

In fact we all seek status, however people often don’t realize they are doing it when the path to status in their circumstance is something valued in their peer group, which is not high status in broader society.

For example, in high school my friends and I were skaters. We gained status in our circle by having cool band T-shirts with holes in them. We made fun of kids who wore new brand name clothes, and we were the cool kids. It’s not that brand name clothing was high status and we did not care about status, rather in that context brand name clothing was not high status, cool band T-shirts with holes in them were high status and we did care about it. 

People who work in charity gain status by doing the most amount of good for others! The most status a medical researcher can gain is by curing a disease! Part of the reason they are working to help others and cure diseases, is to gain status from it. So seeking status is not bad, in fact we generally get status by doing good things, so it‘s good that we all want it. 

You might say that’s fine for good things like helping others and curing diseases, but does not apply to shallow material possessions, they just show off that you have money. Well having money is an indicator of success, competence and ability to provide for others, all good things which people are right to look for in a partner. 

A prestigious and high paying job is a proxy signaling competence and ability to provide for others. Something like a Rolex watch is a double proxy, it indicates you have money, which in turn indicates you are successful, competent and able to provide for others. The Rolex is two steps removed from the actual point, which is why it is a weak signal that can be misleading compared to something more direct and hard to fake like a prestigious and high paying job.

Status through material possession is a convenient communication shortcut, also known as a signal. Every time you walk into a room you can not quickly explain to everyone about how your competence and hard work lead to success and the ability to provide for others. But you can quickly be seen to be wearing a Rolex.

The Rolex for new money trash is no different to a cool band T-shirt with holes in it for skater kids, which is also a material possession. The T-shirt itself was not the point, the T-shirt showed that you were authentic and in the group, so could be trusted. In that context a Rolex would do the opposite. So we all use material possessions to signal, we just want to signal different things depending on the context.

Humans have done this for tens of thousands of years and it helps other people by letting them know a bit about who they are dealing with.

You do play status games and you do care about status whether you like to admit it or not. While a life coach influencer gains status by having several sports cars, an environmental activist gains status by not having a car at all. That does not mean environmental activists do not care about status, they just playing different status games determined by their context, perhaps one that involves more moral virtue signaling.

So status symbols can be accurately defined as things we value which can be seen and compared. Sam Harris’ podcast episode 294, covers this topic well with Will Storr, Author of the book “The Status Game”, starting at the 15 minute mark.

New money status seeking

Blue Canyon Country Club, Phuket

New money is notorious for trying to gain status through material possessions in a gaudy and gauche way. New money is keen to give status signals since we want to clarify where we now sit in the hierarchy, we know we can move up from where we were and we want to move up as high as possible. We can only do that if people know we have money.

The practical benefit of showing wealth and moving up in the hierarchy is that we may be treated better, particularly by businesses like shops and banks. And we will be more attractive to potential partners. We also want to make friends with other new money trash given the isolation detailed above.

There is also the fact that more expensive things are actually better most of the time. I used to think I did not care about material possessions, I thought they were clutter that weighed you down. That was the sensible position back when I could not afford to have any. Now that I can afford to have nice things, I realize that having nice things is great. I used to deny that so my lack of nice things would not be a source of unhappiness.

Being new at wealth signaling, new money trash do it in a clumsy way and don’t have the accompanying high class old money status markers of being well educated, well mannered and well connected to go with the expensive possessions. New money status possessions are often chintzy rather than characterful. So we seem to be inauthentic and tryhard. 

Even so, while it might be better to be seen as classy old money than as trashy new money, it’s still better to be seen as trashy new money than as broke, which is how we would still be seen if we did not try to signal our wealth change and increase our status at all.