The average Millennial’s net worth recently surpassed $120,000, but they're not shouting it from the rooftops. Instead of ‘keeping up with the Joneses,' many middle and younger adults have spent years quietly accumulating wealth under the radar.
It's a lifestyle trend called stealth wealth and it's growing in popularity.
In the social media age, when appearances, bragging rights, and clout reign stronger than ever, more individuals and families are going in the opposite direction. Those practicing stealth wealth eschew social currencies, instead empowering lives of peace, stability, and financial security.
The Shifting Financial Landscape for Younger Generations
While the average Millennial’s net worth more than doubled during the pandemic, the truth is more complex than this figure suggests. Many younger adults, if not an outright majority, remain in difficult financial straits. Indeed, those 30 years old and younger maintain a negative average net worth.
So while this cohort’s overall wealth pool continues to grow, it’s not doing so proportionately. It's not surprising. Like their elders, wealth within the younger generations predictably skews towards those who are the oldest, have the highest-paying jobs, own homes, and manage their money carefully.
What is less predictable is how many of them are keeping it quiet. Investopedia reports that 30% of affluent millennials have lied about their spending habits, a significant increase over members of Gen X.
Is the younger contingent of today’s workforce discovering a penchant for dishonesty, or have they tapped into the dormant potential of old money wisdom?
The Next Generation of Millionaires Next Door
While the term “stealth wealth” may be unfamiliar, its origins are nothing new. Stealth wealth more or less rebrands the well-known concept of millionaires next door.
Coined by Tom Stanley in 1996 in his book by the same name, a millionaire next door is the picture of everyday wealth in the United States. These are people with high net worths living in average homes, driving modest cars, and carefully managing their spending.
Far from the picture of obscene luxury and unfathomable spending that pop culture teaches us to associate with wealth, these people build their financial futures slowly and carefully.
While millionaires next door tend to be passively modest with their financial status, the stealth wealth cohort is adapting the idea and taking things one step further.
In addition to following simple, frugal habits and not keeping up with the Joneses, stealth wealth connotes actively protecting the privacy of one’s financial affairs. For some, this means withholding the details of your financial situation from all but a few trusted loved ones. Others may restrict this transparency only to their immediate household.
Why People Are Turning to Stealth Wealth
Although some Millennials stand out from the prevailing financial trends on paper, many still prefer to avoid standing out in ordinary life. Reasons for this decision vary for different individuals, but most seek to alleviate the challenges that arise from transparent wealth.
Though in many ways a potential for lasting comfort, wealth also brings a handful of interpersonal burdens and complications.
When people around you perceive you as wealthy, they are more likely to act toward you with envy or insecurity. They may pressure you to spend more money on yourself or others. Less reputable individuals may pursue you with money requests and uncertain business ventures.
Intriguingly, closer inspection reveals that none of these challenges stem directly from wealth itself but rather from others’ perception of you having money to spare. By getting ahead of that perception, you could protect yourself from many interpersonal struggles that stem from money.
Thanks to stealth wealth, people all around us live peaceful, quiet, affluent lives. They may not look rich to some, but they never have to worry about covering their bills. They have the freedom and flexibility to shape their lives the way they choose. Most importantly, they don’t carry the myriad burdens of a life that looks wealthy from the outside.
The Glimmering Appeal of Invisibility
Social media and the rapid content consumption cycle have placed a tearing dichotomy into the hearts and minds of many. Our feeds feature in equal share worship of obscene wealth and uproar from across the political spectrum that the economy isn’t working for regular people. Yet, for some, stealth wealth seems to establish a safe and healthy middle ground.
A potential elixir for the economic nihilism that plagues the younger generations, this practice may offer a slice of something both desirable and attainable. For those willing to put patience and prudence ahead of the external trappings of wealth, there may be a clear path to the only thing many of us truly want from our money: peace.
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Sam is the founder of the personal finance and self-improvement blog Smarter and Harder. His mission is to start exciting new conversations that empower people to improve their work, lives, and money, and hopefully have a fantastic time doing it. In all things, he strives to lead with positivity, understanding, and more than a bit of enthusiasm.