Keeping Up Appearances

How Not to Behave if You Want to Be Truly Wealthy

 Angele  McQuade If you’ve read the 1996 best-seller The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, you already know it’s hard to identify the truly affluent based on appearance and behavior. Now Millionaire co-author Thomas Stanley is back with a dose of financial tough love for high-spending wannabes in Stop Acting Rich … and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire.

The book’s conclusions come from a major new survey commissioned by Stanley and performed by the University of Georgia Survey Research Institute that explores differences in choices and behaviors between the truly wealthy and those just feigning affluence. As with the research findings in The Millionaire Next Door, these challenge popular assumptions about wealth.
Stanley differentiates between high- earners — the Income Sheet Affluent, who “drive their balance sheets and wear their income statements,” he says — and the truly wealthy, or Balance Sheet Affluent. Although the so-called IA might appear rich, they spend their money practically the minute it lands in their bank accounts. “We have confused status and wealth with prestige,” the author explains.
The book also offers surprising insight into professions. Stanley’s research shows that high-earning doctors, attorneys, professional athletes and entertainers often have low net worths thanks to spending habits that match earnings almost dollar for dollar. “You can act rich or actually become rich,” he says. “Few of us will ever be able to do both.”
If you’re aiming for true wealth, heed Stanley’s cautionary words the next time you’re shopping for a home: “Nothing has a greater impact on your wealth and your consumption than your choice of house and neighborhood. If you live in a pricey home in an exclusive neighborhood, you will spend more than you should and your ability to save and build wealth will be compromised.”
A lifestyle of moderation — buying the less expensive house, driving a Toyota instead of a BMW, offering a more modest bottle of wine when entertaining — is often the key distinction between the IA and BA. But don’t worry; millionaires still have fun and splurge. And maybe that’s what true wealth is all about: Security plus the freedom to go a little crazy after you’ve amassed the net worth to afford it.
The statistics geeks among us will adore the book’s copious tables and charts. If you’re more into the human interest side, you’ll find plenty of anecdotes to dig into and learn from. But beware if you’re just looking for reassurance that you can somehow spend your way into wealth; there’s no way you’ll make it to the last page without vowing to reform your fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality.
If your goal is long-lasting wealth and not just the appearance of affluence, start reading ASAP. Soon enough you’ll know more than you ever imagined necessary about the truly wealthy’s taste in watches, liquor, houses, cars and suits. But even more important, you’ll know why this seemingly trivial information might matter to those hoping to sport that kind of balance sheet someday.

Angele McQuade is the author of two books, including Investment Clubs for Dummies. You can find her online at