If someone displays these 12 behaviors, they probably come from “old money”

by Tina Fey | April 2, 2024, 4:13 pm

We often hear about the flashy lifestyles of the newly rich, but what about those who were born into wealth? Those who come from “old money” – families that have been wealthy for generations – often display certain behaviors that set them apart.

“Old money” is about more than just wealth; it’s a culture, a way of life, and even a way of thinking. While it may be subtle, these differences can be quite telling if you know what to look for.

In this article, we’ll delve into 12 behaviors that may suggest someone comes from “old money”. Keep reading, and you might just learn to spot these signs yourself.

1) Subtlety in display of wealth

“Old money” doesn’t call for attention, it subtly exudes its presence.

People coming from “old money” families tend to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth that are often associated with “new money”. You won’t typically see them in flashy cars, or wearing the latest designer clothing.

Instead, you might notice them in well-tailored, but modest attire. Their homes will likely be tasteful and elegant, but not overly extravagant.

This subtlety is a sign of their confidence in their wealth. They feel no need to prove their status to the world because, for them, it’s not about the wealth itself but about a lifestyle and heritage that has been passed down through generations.

Remember, “old money” is more about culture and values than just money. So if you observe this kind of behavior in someone, they might just come from “old money”.

2) Appreciation for tradition and history

I’ll never forget the day I first visited my old college friend’s family estate. It was a sprawling countryside manor that had been in his family for generations.

What struck me wasn’t the size or grandeur of the place, but rather the sheer amount of history contained within its walls. There were family portraits dating back centuries, antique furniture, and a library filled with first-edition books.

Even as we walked the grounds, my friend would share stories of his ancestors who had roamed the same land. For him, it wasn’t just about owning property; it was about preserving a legacy.

This deep-rooted appreciation for tradition and history is a common trait among those with “old money”. Rather than seeking the newest trends or fads, they value what has stood the test of time. This connection to their past helps ground their identity in something more profound than just their current affluence.

3) Emphasis on education

“Old money” families often place a high value on education. Ivy League schools and other prestigious institutions frequently see a high enrollment of students from these families.

It’s not uncommon for these families to have an unbroken lineage of graduates from a particular university.

This emphasis on high-quality education is not just about securing good jobs or future wealth, but is seen as a mark of prestige and a tradition to uphold.

In fact, according to a research conducted by Opportunity Insights, children from families in the top 1% financially are more than twice as likely to attend an elite university than those from middle-class families with comparable SAT and ACT scores. This statistic underpins the importance “old money” families place on education and continuing their lineage at esteemed institutions.

4) Discreet philanthropy

Charitable giving is a common practice among “old money” families, but it is usually done discreetly. Instead of publicizing their donations for attention or recognition, they generally prefer to contribute quietly behind the scenes.

This isn’t about maintaining a low profile, but more about the belief that philanthropy is a personal responsibility, not a PR strategy.

They see their wealth as a tool for making positive change in society and believe in helping others without seeking credit or applause.

5) Timeless style

When it comes to fashion, those with “old money” often lean towards a classic and timeless style. They opt for quality over quantity, investing in pieces that will last a lifetime rather than chasing the latest trends.

You won’t usually see them flaunting designer labels or wearing flashy jewelry. Instead, their style is understated elegance.

They value well-made, high-quality clothing that reflects their refined taste and doesn’t shout about their wealth.

So if you notice someone whose wardrobe exudes a quiet confidence, with clothes that seem to never go out of style, they might just be from an “old money” background.

It’s less about showing off and more about feeling comfortable in their own skin – and their meticulously chosen attire.

6) Strong sense of duty

Coming from “old money” often instills a strong sense of duty in individuals. It’s not uncommon to find them deeply involved in community service, serving on boards, or actively participating in civic duties.

They tend to view their wealth not just as a privilege, but as a responsibility; an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society.

This sense of duty often extends beyond just financial contributions, and they might commit substantial time and energy towards causes they hold dear.

For them, it’s about carrying forward the legacy of giving back that has been a part of their family tradition for generations. 

7) Value of relationships over transactions

Growing up, I observed a defining characteristic among my “old money” acquaintances. They valued relationships over transactions.

I recall how one friend’s father would often emphasize the importance of building and maintaining meaningful relationships over any business deal or monetary gain.

He believed that genuine relationships were the real currency and often said, “You can lose all your money and still be rich if you have good relationships.”

This lesson stuck with me. It showed me that for those with “old money”, it’s not just about accumulating wealth but nurturing connections that last a lifetime. 

8) Preference for privacy

People from “old money” usually prefer to maintain a private life. You won’t often find them on social media flaunting their wealth or lifestyle.

Instead, they value their privacy and are often very selective about what they share publicly.

This isn’t about being secretive; rather, it’s a reflection of their desire to keep their personal life separate from the public eye.

They believe that their wealth and status should not define their identity, and they strive to keep a low profile.

9) Understanding the value of money

From my observations, another behavior that often distinguishes people from old money is their understanding of money’s value.

They have been taught about financial responsibility from a young age, learning to appreciate wealth and understand its potential and limits.

They don’t see money as an unlimited resource, even though they have more than most.

This understanding often leads to careful spending habits and thoughtful investments, ensuring the family’s wealth lasts for future generations.

10) Value of experiences over material possessions

A unique perspective I’ve noticed among individuals from old money is their preference for experiences over material possessions.

Sure, they might have the means to buy anything they want, but they often choose to invest in experiences.

They understand that life is about more than just accumulating stuff. Whether it’s a family trip to a remote location, a private concert by their favorite artist, or a cooking lesson from a world-class chef – these are the things they cherish.

They know wealth is not just about what you have, but also about what you do and who you do it with.

11) Avoiding define themselves by their wealth

Another behavior I’ve observed in individuals from old money is that they don’t define themselves by their wealth.

Yes, they’re aware of their financial status and the privileges it affords them, but it’s not what defines their identity or self-worth.

They see themselves as individuals with passions, skills, and responsibilities that go beyond their bank account.

It’s this humility and self-awareness that often sets them apart in a society that frequently equates wealth with success.

12) Resilience and long-term thinking

The most crucial trait among those from “old money” is their resilience and propensity for long-term thinking.

Their wealth has often been built and preserved across generations, not just through good times, but through challenges and setbacks as well.

This resilience is coupled with a long-term perspective in decision making. Whether it’s investments, education, or even relationships, they prioritize sustainability and longevity over immediate gratification.

It’s this combination of resilience and foresight that has helped them maintain their wealth and status over generations.

It reflects a mindset that is less about the here and now, and more about the future and the legacy they leave behind.

Final thoughts: It’s more than just wealth

The world of “old money” is not just about monetary wealth, but a rich tapestry of tradition, values, and behaviors.

It’s about upholding a legacy that spans generations, valuing relationships over transactions, prioritizing education, and maintaining a strong sense of duty towards society.

These individuals are often marked by their subtlety, their understated elegance, their appreciation for history and tradition, and their long-term thinking.

The behaviors tied to “old money” are more than mere indicators of wealth; they’re reflections of a lifestyle steeped in tradition, resilience, and a deep sense of responsibility. It’s less about affluence and more about a way of life that prioritizes substance over show.

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