During my recent trip to Florida for Camp Mustache Southeast, I had an interesting conversation with some of the attendees about the guilt of wealth. About half of the folks at the weekend retreat had already achieved financial independence — they have enough money to support their current lifestyle indefinitely — while the other half were well on their way to that goal. But achieving wealth can have some surprising side effects. Guilt is one of them.
For instance, one woman received an inheritance when her mother died. This woman is young. And she’s smart. She knows she didn’t do anything to actually earn that money, so it weighs heavily on her. Being a good Mustachian (or money boss, if you prefer), she’s not wasting the inheritance. She’s slowly turning that money into more money through careful investing. But that doesn’t stop her from sometimes feeling unworthy.
This guilt doesn’t just affect those who experience windfalls. Even folks who work long and hard to build their nest eggs can suffer from the feeling they don’t deserve the money they have. This is especially true for people who travel. When you explore the world and realize how many advantages you have — not just financially, but in all things — the sadness and sorrow can cut deep.
The Guilt of Wealth
“You know, you once wrote about the guilt of wealth at Get Rich Slowly,” noted another Camp Mustache attendee.
“Did I?” I said. “I don’t remember. But it doesn’t surprise me. It’s something I think about all of the time.”
In that seven-year-old Get Rich Slowly article, I shared two examples of folks who built wealth without windfalls.
- One of my friends was raised way below poverty level, for instance, but he’s worked hard to obtain an education, build a career, and he now owns a couple of businesses. It was never his aim, but he has become wealthy. He’s proud of his accomplishments — justifiably so — but he also feels guilty. He’s embarrassed by some of the stuff he has, and he worries that his kids will grow up to take for granted those things he views as blessings.
- Or there’s my former neighbor, my real millionaire next door. He’s a retired junior-high shop teacher who lived frugally and invested wisely. He built an enormous nest egg. When my neighbor retired, one of the first things he did was buy a boat — something he’d always wanted. At first, however, he was embarrassed by the size of the boat; it was so much bigger than most of the others he saw. “I was worried what other people thought of me,” he said.
Both my friend and my neighbor are generous. They contribute time and money to their friends, family, and community. They’ve built wealth through hard work, and can afford the indulgences they allow themselves. Yet they both feel some degree of guilt over the things they have — as if they don’t deserve them. [Read more…]