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*
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.
Table of Contents
- Extreme Stealth Wealth – What led me to it
- What the heck does Stealth Wealth mean anyway?
- The scary stuff that lurks beneath the tip of the iceberg
- How Extreme Stealth Wealth solved my problems
- And why I take it to the extreme
My Extreme 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.
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 rental housing.
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.
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 wealthiest people practice stealth wealth in some way, to keep their riches.
Stealth Wealth #1 = Don’t show off your wealth
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. 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 #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?”
For special tips on how to save with friends around read: How to Save with Friends without getting FOMO
That’s the tip of the iceberg – All the negativity is lurking below
Okay, so $100 tips, expensive outings, and sketchy business loans are all bad news for your ability to live off your 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.
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.
The scary stuff: Strong reasons for Extreme Stealth Wealth
#1 – 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.
#2 – 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.
#3 – 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.
#4 – Worst of all – 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.
I mean I don’t tell anyone.
- 99.9% of my friends don’t know.
- My co-workers don’t know (I work 1 day a week).
- 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.
- You have to be very internally motivated to pursue financial independence. If you can’t motivate yourself and no one else is going to help you.
- 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.
- There is also a guide on how to be stealthy here
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.