More Than Money
Issue #28

Who Knows You're Rich?

Table of Contents

“One Step at a Time”

John A.

About a year ago, I inherited a significant sum of money. I've now moved to a new area of the country where no one knows me at all. I like it this way because it lets me make all kinds of choices about how public to be about my wealth one step at a time. I'm very careful about letting people know I'm rich. I want them to know me for myself first and not look at me for my money.

The big question that always comes up is, "Did you move here for your job? What kind of work do you do?" I have prepared lines that I say, like, "I can do my work anywhere." Or "I used to make money building houses. I'm on a temporary sabbatical and I'm changing careers." All those things are true, they're just tailored to give an acceptable impression without revealing too much information. They're like a press release. I tell people what I want them to know.

I've found that if I don't have lines prepared ahead of time I can get thrown off guard. Once someone asked me, "How do you spend your days?" I felt put on the spot and I handled it poorly. What I could have said was, "Every day is different," because it is. If someone asks me point blank, "Are you rich?" I answer differently depending on who is asking. To my former wife, I said, "Yep," since she already knew my mother had been wealthy. To someone I didn't know very well, I once said, "That depends on who you compare me to." But I felt stupid-I'm pretty sure that person walked away thinking I was rich.

When I meet women, I don't tell them right away. I usually let them figure it out. When they put two and two together, I can see a little light go on. I'm a short man and I can tell I just grew about five inches in their eyes. For a middle-aged man like myself, of course the more money you have, the more attractive you are.

I feel that I'm giving away power if I reveal my wealth status to the wrong person. They may try to take advantage of me. If people say, "I need money for such and such," their knowing I'm wealthy makes it awkward. I don't like to give if I'm not doing it from the goodness of my heart, but it's difficult to say no. I want to help people. For example, a woman who knows I'm rich asked if I could sponsor her to go to a workshop. I could have done it-it wasn't the money that was the barrier. What stopped me was that because she asked me, instead of allowing me to offer freely or to work it out so an anonymous person were providing the money, I felt that my option of doing it out of the goodness of my heart had been taken away. If she hadn't known I was rich, I wouldn't have been in that situation.

The way I decide what to say to others is by asking myself, "If I reveal this piece of information, will it be beneficial--- either to me or to others, or both? My parents were extremely secretive about their wealth. My father could have driven any kind of car he wanted, but he drove a Rambler. I know people who go too far in the other direction. They're too showy and that attracts the wrong kind of attention. I try to be in the middle. I could drive a flashy sports car, but instead I drive an older sports sedan-it's a nice car, but not too showy. I am very open with my daughters but also expect them to use discretion in revealing confidences to others.

--Based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff


© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved