What the 1% won’t tell you. STEALTH WEALTH will make you rich.

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A lot of wealthy people wouldn’t be identifiable if you saw them on the street. They practice something called “stealth wealth”, the act of being undercover wealthy. I think it’s a good start but it’s missing something important. Something that creates extreme stealth wealth.

That’s when you are so extremely stealthy that your friends and family don’t even know once you’ve retired or become rich. 

Seriously, almost none of my friends and family know I retired, which makes me a deep undercover retiree. *Queue spy music*

I look like this all the time. I’m a SUPER deep undercover retiree.

Sounds insane, but it’s true. I was interviewed by Forbes about this, and they were fascinated by my undercover ways and what a strange (but smart?!?) person I am.

If you want to join in on the stealthiness there is a guide right here too!

After talking to them for a while I told them Leif Kristjansen isn’t even my real name, which blew their minds! They even made a video about it!

I think being stealthy with my early retirement has made my life better in almost every way. So I want to explain why I’m like this and why you should be too.

What is stealth wealth?

Stealth wealth is working to keep signs of your wealth hidden from the public. Stealth wealth is also a key to strong finances because it has two great principles behind it. Not being showy with your money and avoiding the effects of people thinking you have money. This is the reason why most of the world’s wealthiest people practice stealth wealth in some way.

Table of Contents

My Stealth Wealth Origin Story

I’ve had a lot of experiences that drove me to practice stealth wealth but I thought I should share my big inflection point in extremeness.

My family.

Sure, they love me but they were not into this whole early retirement scheme I had cooked up.

Even so, I let them in on my first foray into real estate investing.

That was a big mistake.

I had found a house that seemed to make for a great rental in the post-2009 housing bust. Investing in anything was terrifying at that time but I ran the numbers forwards and backwards countless times so I was convinced I was being smart.

My folks thought I was being too cocky, couldn’t be convinced and wouldn’t drop the topic.

Every time I saw them they would come prepared with article clippings, “You should pay your mortgage, not get rentals” (Side note: I totally disagree, Mortgages are great to have…don’t pay them).

It went on for months even after I bought my rental house. My brother and my grandmother got in on the action and I could not get a mental rest from advice I didn’t want to hear anymore.

So, from then on I put my financial life undercover from all prying eyes. Everyone has secrets from their family and I realized after censoring my financial life, my family life became great. I see my folks every week and everyone now lives in blissful ignorance.

All thanks to a little subterfuge.

Actually, it worked out so well that I looked at other not-so-supportive people in my life and questioned if they really needed to be on the inside. And thus Extreme Stealth Wealth was born.

Stealth Wealth Stories

So maybe I’m a special case but I will lay out a few more examples of great stealth wealth that I have bumped into over the years.

  1. A retired lady in my neighborhood always seems to be on vacation. Everyone just thought she liked vacationing. I dug and got to know her. Turns out she owns 10 rental houses and doesn’t even know how to spend all the income.
  2. A friend of mine has a family take-home income of over $300K. He has a Tesla so it’s not a great start but he admits it was very expensive and talks up how he had to wait for his kids to graduate university first (although I’m sure that’s a lie).
  3. A highly paid software developer who still lives the student life. There are plenty of these in university towns.
  4. Someone I know who got a pretty big inheritance. They didn’t seem to change their lifestyle but I discovered they bought a rental house with the proceeds. Now they have extra monthly income.
  5. My old boss wore jeans and a t-shirt to work every day. He did it because he was raging against the machine but it did help drive away any thoughts that he was a fancy wealthy man.

6 Benefits of Stealth Wealth

1 – Avoid wasting your money

Most people imagine being wealthy as having fancy stuff, having fancy parties and living in a fancy house. It’s the way rich people on TV live so it’s the way you imagine all rich people live.

Well, those people live like that because those people are on TV. They want to show off and be very TV-interesting.

So they buy lots of expensive things to prove that they are wealthy. Unfortunately, buying expensive things can hoover up all your money until you go bankrupt, like Nick Cage, 50 cent, T-Pain or the cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

If you try to follow the rich TV-lifestyle you will spend a lot of money and fail at impressive things like early retirement. Save your money. The way to preserve your stockpile is by spending money like a normal person, buy normal clothes, normal cars, and normal houses.

That way your riches can sustain you through life, instead of disappearing like a Loony Tunes road-runner.

Stealth Wealth Benefit #2 – Avoid rich-people expectations

TV-rich people ruined wealth for everyone. 

You will never be able to leave a normal tip if everyone knows you are a millionaire.

Every acquaintance will want you to lend your wealth to their zany business plans. You will also have a hard time avoiding expensive outings. Hearing phrases like “What do you mean the restaurant is too expensive you have millions of dollars. What can one night out do?”

That’s the tip of the iceberg – The sinister reasons lay below

Okay, so $100 tips, expensive outings, and sketchy business loans are all bad news for your ability to live off your super investments and should be avoided. Got it.

They justify a small costume change to go financially unnoticed and by themselves, they would still cause me to recommend stealth wealth.

But they are just the tip of the iceberg. An iceberg, so deep and dangerous that it can destroy your FIRE dreams. 

extreme stealth wealth iceberg

I’m not kidding. I would call what’s coming up the biggest obstacle to FIRE and the reason why it’s justified to live deep undercover. This upcoming bad stuff is the reason I created Extreme Stealth Wealth.

Above the surface of this iceberg, people will expect things from you. Below the surface it gets dirty. Below the surface is where things get negative. It’s dark and scary down there. Enough to motivate you to become a master of financial disguise.

Facepaint and fake passports here we come, we are going deep undercover.

3 – Judgement

Regardless of how nice you are or how much barbeque sauce you rub on your pants to look poor – if people know you are rich they will judge the heck out of you

  • If you are young, people will think your parents handed you money on a platter. Thinking it must be nice to come from suuuch a rich family.
  • If you work in a certain job they will think that you get paid too much.

It doesn’t matter what you did or where you came from no one will think of the sacrifices you made and how they led to where you are now.

Maybe you don’t care about people, but random people will tell you why you are stupid for retiring and demand you debate them on it. At the very least, I would prefer to skip that, saving my sanity and my time.

4 – Undercover bad-friends

Okay, so maybe this sounds a little paranoid, but when I see a rich-looking person with an entourage I get weary.

Are they real friends, or do they just want in on the cash stockpile? This is what I call undercover bad-friends.

Again, maybe I’m over-thinking it, but after it crosses your mind, you’ll end up coating yourself in conspiracy theories. And that’s a bad look for making new friends. 

Is it a huge issue? Kind of, but it’s definitely horrible to never know if the nice person you are talking to is just a money vampire. Not giving them the chance to know you are rich dodges that worry.

5 – The “Premium” label

Another issue with people knowing you are rich is that they will take advantage of it. Contractors will charge you more, negotiations won’t go so well, and discounts will be harder to come by. 

Why? They know that you, Mr. and Mrs. MoneyBags, can handle it. Good luck trying to achieve a high savings rate when everyone expects you to pay top dollar and tip a lot on top of it.

Overpaying for things a little doesn’t phase me too much, but knowing people are marking you up because they can, that really rattles my bones. 

6 – Money talk

The thing I loathe the most is money talk. Blechhh. When people discover you are a successful investor they will ask you so many questions. The word will spread and soon everyone will be asking you about money. It will also never be at a time you want to talk either.

  • On the toilet at the gym? Money talk
  • In the sauna? Money talk
  • In the middle of a bench press? Money talk

*The gym is the worst because it’s hard to escape people and it’s full of weirdos.*

What makes it worse is that many people won’t even listen to what you say.

They just want to argue or convince you they are right. “I think interest rates are blah blah blah.” I don’t care, you asked me! Stop wasting my time.

I like blogging because I get to go on about what’s fun for me.

If you don’t like it you can leave. If you post a comment that’s horrible, I can delete it. And my favorite part, it’s when I want to talk about it… At home, while having a nice coffee.

Meet Extreme Stealth Wealth: the next revolution in stealthiness

I am 100% behind the concept of avoiding rich people expectations and not being showy with your money but I think the negativity that can arise is so bad it justifies getting your financial camouflage skills way above par.

The best way to avoid all the evil negative things is to just not tell anyone that you are on your way to retirement or, in my case, that you ARE retired. It might seem extreme, surely you can just not talk about it too much and things will stay under control?

No, it only takes one blabber-mouth to unload a world of negativity on you so it’s not worth the risk.

Caption: No one has ever actually seen my real face. I’m like the Grim Reaper

I mean I don’t tell anyone.

  • 99.9% of my friends don’t know.
  • My co-workers don’t know (they think my wife brings in the cash).
  • My family doesn’t know (my wife does…that would be hard to hide).

All so I don’t have to deal with the negativity. They know some things but I have rules about what is public knowledge.

That might sound insane but seriously, almost no one knows I’m retired and I’m better for it.

  • No negativity
  • No judgement
  • No annoying bench-press talks.

Just some careful wording about part of my life. 

Once you think it through you’ll go full undercover too. No one can judge your immense wealth if they don’t know it’s there. Plus, people also can’t ask you for money if they don’t know you have it.

Why?!?! Extreme Stealth Wealth is soooo extreme

You might be wondering why I think extreme stealth wealth has to be so extreme.

I’ve gone over all the bad stuff that can come from people knowing you are rich. So that part is obvious.

Also, it only takes one person to spill the beans and reveal my secret identity to the world to let the negativity pour in.

Here’s the nail in the coffin though. There is no upside to telling anyone about your financial state of affairs so don’t bother.

What are you going to gain by telling people you are retired? Applause from random people on the street? No, they will say “wow” then go about hating your guts. 

Anyone you care about can be told once you trust them and have a relationship that is based on something deeper than surface-level appearances. 

There are only two consequences that I have ever noticed to people not knowing I am retired/retiring. 

  1. You have to be very internally motivated and have awesome finance goals to pursue financial independence. If you can’t motivate yourself and no one else is going to help you.
  2. People who get close to you will smell that something is up. No one has ever called me out but I do feel guilty hiding things from friends and family.
    Not too guilty though.

Then when you do tell people you have become very close with. It will blow their minds! It’s actually quite fun.

How can you tell if someone is secretly rich?

If someone is going out of their way to hide their wealth. They are likely not going to brag or own any showy objects. There are 3 ways to find them out:
1 – Strong finance and legal knowledge. If someone knows a lot about money they likely have a lot.
2 – Check their credit card. A persons credit card can give away their credit rating and typical monthly spend.
3 – Wealthy people realize their time is worth a lot. You may notice them out-sourcing some expensive tasks like lawn maintenance.

Can you hide your net worth?

Money is a notoriously taboo topic so it is actually quite easy to hide your net worth.
People won’t ask directly about your assets so all that is left is not showing your worth outwardly. Most people display their wealth outwardly with objects like cars, clothes and houses. If those items looks ‘cheap’ you can give the appearance of not being wealthy.
Chuck Feeney, the owner of Duty Free Shoppers, successfully hid his billionaire status for years! He kept his same $10 Casio watch and old clothes his whole life to keep up appearances.

TL;DR – Extreme Stealth Wealth

  • If you flaunt your riches you can be sucked into “rich-people expectations” which will make amazing finances impossible.
  • Behind your back though people will be jealous of your riches and that’s no fun.
  • Taking stealth wealth to the extreme has almost no negatives and lets you live in peace.

What do you guys think? I think this has been a great part of my success in FIRE but maybe you think I’ve gone too far. Or have another idea about how to hide your retirement? I would be VERY open to hearing retirement camouflage ideas or ways to be even MORE extreme.

See you on the FIRE escape.

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23 thoughts on “What the 1% won’t tell you. STEALTH WEALTH will make you rich.”

  1. Congrats on the Forbes interview! That’s awesome. I keep a low profile too… mostly I tell people I’m a blogger. Now that I’m getting closer my 50s and have been retired almost 4 years, though, I’m starting to be more open about it. I honestly think as a woman most people think I’m living off a rich husband or something… ha!

    • Thanks Ingrid! I’ll write about exactly how I stay under the radar soon but like your ‘rich husband,’ I let people think my wife brings in all the money 😛

      At least when folks mentally go down that path I don’t stop them.

  2. I am so excited to find this website. I really would love to catch myself on FIRE! I really do enjoy my job, BUT I don’t like the time it takes from my life. I want to find a way to do what I do on my own terms, when I want and where I want! I’m a teacher and have been thinking about starting my own tutoring company/tutoring online and selling products on Teachers Pay Teachers. I do have a few worries….(1) not a regular or reliable source of income-like a full time teaching job provides. (2) Paying for health insurance. I can’t go without it because family genes dictate ill probably need it as I get older.

    Please point me in the right direction for any posts you’ve written on -not having a regular or reliable source of income or creating multiple sources of income….I’m guessing you have a bunch of those. ? Also, any posts on health -physical and mental health/insurance.

    I can tell a total difference from when I’m going full force during the school year and my summers or holidays off. It’s not that I stop working, I’m just working less-in more control of what I’m doing. I’m really at peace. Last year was a stressful school year and even though it’s only September, I can tell this year is going to be just as bad or worse!!!!!!!

    Please throw me some matches!!!!!!!

  3. Preach it brother… stealth wealth ftw!

    Actually, I don’t think what you’re preaching is all that extreme. I don’t tell *anybody*. Literally nobody. The only person who knows is my wife, and I had to tell her because of our shared bank accounts. 😉

    The rest of the world probably thinks I’m pretty poor, and I’m OK with that!

    • Oh wow, I have never had someone tell me I should be more extreme!
      You ARE really undercover though! I actually called you in that Forbes article too for that reason. 🙂

      There are very few people that I trust enough and see enough to let them into my inner circle. 3 (+ my wife) but that’s way more than zero! Impressive feat sir.

  4. (Thanks for stopping by my blog recently!)

    Husband (otherwise known as “The Brick”) has been retired for more than four years. I probably never will — but then again, I enjoy working for myself. I do notice slowing down a bit in recent months…and it feels good. So who knows.

    Our struggle has not been retirement, so much as selling our home in Colorado. Because it was on Zillow, and advertised elsewhere, friends and family knew pretty much what it ended up selling for. To our family in Michigan, that price was outrageous…so we must be rich now. (To the Coloradoans, who were used to real estate prices out here, it wasn’t such a big deal.) That misconception was compounded by our choice not to buy another house — but to move into a paid-for fifth-wheel, instead. The extra money went to pay off some bills and into investments. (A world cruise, too.)
    We’ve been staying in Michigan for the past month. While no one’s asked us for money, I’ve noticed a curious willingness to let us pick up the bill at restaurant meals… almost an assumption that the check will be taken care of. Little do they know that this halcyon period is pretty much over.
    Our mom has also stopped suggesting that we’re maneuvering, as a “joke,” for our share of her estate. She knows we really don’t need it. Which is blissful, by the way. However, she refuses to go past the entrance to the fifth-wheel (which is actually nicer, in some ways, than our house), and is just starting to get used to the idea that it’s our HOME.
    As for money — we just don’t talk about it. Any questions about income are answered by pointing out that we live on the Brick’s pension and Social Security. The fact there’s more available is not mentioned — we use that for extras, anyways. My income isn’t part of the explanation, either, although we’ve had some puzzled questions about the world cruise. It doesn’t fit the equation.
    What we DO answer questions about is making that money stretch. We talk about finding bargains, figuring budgets and such. (We have not been asked about investments yet, which I find intriguing. Anyone with half a brain would realize that we must have some.) I am guessing that our living in the fifth-wheel is coming off to some as “They HAVE to do it because they ran out of money.” Which we don’t — we wanted to, so we could care for our mom, travel and go to my working gigs around the country. Also, it would not be hard to winterize, if we decided to go elsewhere for some months. (Like the cruise.)
    It’s okay if our family members think we’re ‘traveling homeless.’ (Our friends and close family know better.) Keeps the nosy questions down to what you call a stealth level. What does make me sad: seeing relatives and friends our age, people we love, make bad financial decisions, when with a little care over the years, they could have a much larger nest egg today. It’s too late now, though, and would only hurt them to point it out.

    Oh…in case you’re wondering? The world cruise was a STEAL — more than 66% off, with an extra $1000 in cabin credit, plus a pre-night hotel stay thrown in.

    • I love it! I guess your living arrangement helps people to stop asking questions.
      If you tell people the same pitch about the world cruise it certainly helps to hide your financial prowess. Can’t pass up a good deal right? 😛

  5. I like this post–keep it up. Found you via your comment on Financial Samurai. In the vein of this post I wont give my net worth or income but I will say I plan to retire in less than 5 years and I turned 40 yesterday… I really like the idea of “going dark”. My wife and i have a lot of friends and for whatever reason they are all quite broke. When we go out to eat together and the waiter asks “all together?”, invariably they look at me. I end up paying for it. After a few times of this I told my wife, make arrangements beforehand about paying separate, or we need to cook a meal at home. Now, we are careful about going out.

    If I could sum up a life strategy for wealth it would involve 3 steps:
    1) Invest in Real Estate at an early age.
    2) Do something that aligns with your God-given talents that is in high demand. For me it is engineering.
    3) Pay yourself first and budgets are stupid. Remove a large percentage of your pay before you ever see it. The government does it because they KNOW you will not have it later. Savings is the same. I save 25%, minimum.
    4) Be diligent in the BIG financial decisions. Buy the daily coffee. I dont care. Do NOT buy the $1M house that will take 50% of your income for 30 YEARS.

    Thats all I got–free of charge.


    P.S. I could retire now but I am very conservative.

    • Yeah man, you are speaking my language. I even wrote a special piece about friends and how to deal with them regarding FIRE: http://fiveyearfireescape.com/save-money-with-friends/. The gist of it is to align your reasons for not wanting to spend money with something that will resonate with them…like spending money on some dumb stuff 🙂

      Your 3 step plan (with 4 steps 😛 ) is pretty great.
      1) I love real estate for a lot of reasons, but I recognize it’s not magic. You get more payback than S&P500, at the expense of more work.
      2) Making a lot of money is especially great if you pull of my ‘make your day job your FIRE side hustle’ technique.
      3) You couldn’t pay me to write a budget for myself. Blehhh.
      4) I wouldn’t totally ignore the smaller things. They can add up if you let them even if they will always be outdone by house/car/education expenses.

  6. I stumbled on your site 2 years too late. I retired somewhat early at 53. Proudly announced I was throwing in the towel and quickly arranged for a few happy hours to celebrate. I was not prepared for the barrage of endless questions then and since. “How can you manage?” “What are you going to do?” “How are you going to spend your day?” “Why would you leave?” “What do you do for money?” “What do you do all day?” “Are you rich?” “Are you bored?” and on and on and on.

    I immediately regretted letting anyone know I had retired. I definitely recommend your stealth retirement approach. Beyond the endless questions, it has also created additional stresses with several family members (which I’ll chalk up to envy or jealousy). They don’t know what I have but they must assume it’s a lot if it’s going to last me the rest of my life.

    I have always followed most of the points you’ve laid out as far as not flaunting wealth (heck — not blowing money is how I built what I have), but this one act of sharing the news of my early retirement is one I would certainly like to take back.

    I have since stopped telling anyone. When asked what I do for a living I either gloss over it by saying something vague like “same kind of work”, or “I’m between jobs”, or “I’m looking for something new”, and then attempt to change the subject.

    Thanks for all the interesting material you share. I appreciate the humor along the way! Good luck with your continued journey!

    • Even with the hardships, I congratulate you Kenny! You say you would go back and not make the announcement. If I could go back I would have written the article earlier and hunted you down to force you to read it 😛

      Working part-time has been the ultimate escape card for me. Tim Ferris of the 4-hour workweek says he just deals drugs instead of explaining his situation. I’ve always wanted to try that one 🙂
      I would consider consulting someone once. Then for the rest of your life, saying you freelance or consult. If you want to drop me a line I would be interested to hear your financial story.

  7. Jace Files, I completely agree with your comment.
    I should have seen this a few years ago! My husband and I are in our early 30s and have invested in 5 rental units, we’ve been open with our family and friends about our real estate endeavors (though no financial specifics) and I’m regretting it. When I bought my first condo in 2014 and told my family I would get roommates to pay for the mortgage, everyone agreed that this was a bad idea. Good thing I didn’t listen since this has been a fantastic financial decision. My mom recently asked us to help her buy her a house, saying that we have 6 homes and she has none. Brother-in-law last week said my husband has “wife, buildings, job, everything” and that we should be doing more to help him… meanwhile he’s crashed at our place for free the past 2 months and constantly laments how we should feel bad for him that he has racked up $40k in CC debt from his startup “business expenses.” Friends of friends frequently call my husband asking for advice on how to buy a house. If we buy any other places we will keep our mouths shut!

    • Preach it! Hallelujah!

      To recover from everyone discovering you are a real estate baron, you could say that your rental houses aren’t doing that well. Everyone has bad investments so they will understand (maybe not your brother).
      It’s easy to pretend a house is eating your money. Unplanned repair on the roof not covered by insurance due to some hail/tornado clause?

  8. Oh, good idea! And it’s easy to do since owning 100 year old properties truly involves constant problems. I will play up how these and vacancies have made us miserable and eaten all the money 😉
    Though truly the biggest obstacle is myself… I was between jobs for 1.5 years and spent the time enjoying my life and buying/fixing up the places. I felt everyone must be judging me assuming I mooch off my husband and I wanted to give the impression that I’m successful! Got to get over myself…

  9. Practicing Stealth Wealth isn’t easy for everyone who makes good money. If you are a doctor for example, and you have a good practice, you can barely hide the fact that financially you do well because everybody thinks of a doctor as a rich person. If you have a nice house and a nice car, well duh, you are a doctor. If you live in a modest house and drive a 15 year old beater, well, you are a doctor after all, so that means you must have stashed away a ton of money, right? With certain professions it is just harder. I am not a doctor, but I know quite a lot of folks who are, and we discuss finance quite open as we’ve known each other for a long enough time. We discussed Stealth Wealth as well. We are familiar with the concept, but with some professions it is just harder than for others. In that case, if you live a “normal” life, like having a nice house and a decent/good car, you fall within the “framework” of expectation, you’re fine. Whatever else you save/invest, stay quiet.

    • I hear you but I think you are giving people too much credit 😛
      My coworkers know I don’t drive a fancy car and likely make a lot of money. Maybe they will even remark at times, “you must have a lot saved up.” But that’s where the thought process stops.
      I don’t think anyone would make the mental leap from ‘junker car’ to millions in the bank. They probably jump to just thinking I have “a bit more savings than them”.

      At least that has been my experience living with a known large salary and known cheap car/house.

      • The other thing is, we were just discussing the other day, driving an expensive car really doesn’t mean that you are rich. In fact, so many people drive cars and are way up in debt. If someone believes that because you drive an 80K car that you must be rich, then that person really has no clue. And if you happen to drive a paid off 80K car and you don’t want to reveal, you just say you have a loan, because that’s what is “expected” anyway. 🙂

        • You’re right but a lot of people do drive expensive cars to look rich (not everyone).

          With one expensive car you can just say “It’s too much debt *sigh* oh, well, It’s my vice.” and move on.
          Pile up too many expensive-looking things and you’ll have issues convincing people you aren’t wealthy though.

  10. As a doc I can agree, the expectations of wealth are very high – from a very early stage when junior doctors only have debt! They often succumb to the flashy car to fit the image way before they can afford it.

    I love this article, sounds fun to be so stealthy.

    Good news, as a female no-one tends to suspect me of knowing much about anything so won’t be asking me for investing any time soon… there are some advantages!

  11. Wow. I’ve found the complete opposite to you.
    Friends and family are so proud that I’m retiring at the end of this year.
    I’m guessing that 20 years ago when I was a single mother of 4 boys, they were worried out of their minds about how we were going to survive. Now, in the shady side of my 50’s, they’re so pleased and happy for me.
    We’re in lockdown at the moment so only a few other teachers know that I’m leaving. When we get back to school in 5 weeks, word will seep out. We talk about finances in our staff room, so I’m guessing people who have desks near me won’t be that surprised.

    • Firstly, Congrats super impressive on 1 income + many kids!
      I’m going to say there are 3 possible explanations.
      1 – Teachers are magic
      2 – You haven’t told enough people to bring in the hate
      3 – No one could possibly be mad at A SINGLE MOTHER OF 4 BOYS. WOW! Forget retirement, how the heck do you have time to blog!?!?


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