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Sociologist Rachel Sherman, author of “Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence,” interviewed 50 New York City parents with incomes of at least $250,000 a year.
One thing Sherman found: Many of them tear the price tags off their purchases so people don’t see how much they spend.
In an essay adapted from “Uneasy Street” and published in the New York Times, Sherman writes about a woman with a “household income of $250,000 and inherited wealth of several million dollars” who tears the price off her clothing and her $6 bread, so her nanny won’t see.
She isn’t alone.
“An interior designer I spoke with,” writes Sherman, “told me his wealthy clients also hid prices, saying that expensive furniture and other items arrive at their houses ‘with big price tags on them’ that ‘have to be removed, or Sharpied over, so the housekeepers and staff don’t see them.'”
The habit is indicative of a larger pattern Sherman unearthed: Extremely wealthy people consider themselves normal, and feel self-conscious about spending that might indicate otherwise.
Sherman writes that her interviewees, who are nearly all in the top 1% or 2% “in terms of income or wealth or both”:
“never talked about themselves as ‘rich’ or ‘upper class,’ often preferring terms like ‘comfortable’ or ‘fortunate.’ Some even identified as ‘middle class’ or ‘in the middle,’ typically comparing themselves with the super-wealthy, who are especially prominent in New York City, rather than to those with less.”
This is in part because of the morality we tend to connect with wealth, she writes. No one wants to be a “rich person” vilified by the 99%, and there’s an influx of new money from the “working rich” who earned their fortune instead of inheriting it, and who don’t identify with the 1% stereotypes.
“The people I talked with never bragged about the price of something because it was high; instead, they enthusiastically recounted snagging bargains on baby strollers, buying clothes at Target and driving old cars. They critiqued other wealthy people’s expenditures, especially ostentatious ones such as giant McMansions or pricey resort vacations where workers, in one man’s sarcastic words, ‘massage your toes.'”
Sherman’s research is in line with that of Thomas C. Corley, author of “Rich Habits,” who spent five years interviewing millionaires to learn about the habits that made them wealthy. Largely, he found, people others would consider rich lead lives others would consider normal, and they tend to live within their generous means.
As one of Sherman’s interviewees, a man who inherited $50 million, bought a $4 million apartment he’s worried is too showy, and whose household spent $600,000 last year told her: “We just can’t understand how we spent that much money.”