If you’re on twitter, or in Nigerian cyber-sphere generally, you’ve noticed the wave of attacks against Linda Ikeji, which she addressed here. I’m sure the people attacking her have good reasons, but it is also clear that her purchase of a 2014 Range Rover added a distinct fuel to the opposition’s fire. I’ve seen this before with the backlash when iRokoTV’s Jason Njoku showed off some Hublot watches and Range Rovers on his blog. All of this have forced me to explore this issue which I’ve had in mind for the longest time, which is the concept of stealth wealth.
Honestly, if you’re in Nigeria and you’re not old money (and even if you are), it’s really in your best interest to keep a low key financial profile. Here in the US, approximately 80% of the financial elite – people who make over $300,000 a year or have above $5million in net worth – keep their money a secret. Their children, parents, friends, coworkers, extended family, in some extreme cases even spouses do not know the full extent of how wealthy they are, or that they are even wealthy at all. They don’t live cheap, or poor but they don’t live it up either. They’re just..normal.
Now Nigerian culture is super showy, celebratory and brash. We love to show off. The ‘champagne life and caviar dreams’ lifestyle comes naturally to us to the extent that our society even pressures you into it. Someone close to me recently (who drives a Beemer X5) told me in some circles he wasn’t taken seriously because he didn’t drive a Range Rover or Mercedes Benz. It’s real. So I understand the combination of factors that makes people feel the need to show their success. But to be honest, you can be above the influence. It’s sad that you may have to hide the better part of your success, but with millions of poor people who don’t have a clear way of getting out of poverty, there is no need to make yourself a target. Reflect on your struggle, and be proud of your success and what it means for you and your family. But outside, pretend it didn’t happen. Some practical steps to stealth wealth:
1. Keep majority of your wealth invisible. Don’t buy the latest cars or live in an extravagant house. Drive a good, clean car that not too many people will remember: a Lincoln, or older model Beemer, or even your normal Camry/Accord (just not the 2014 one, it’s the newest, yet somehow the shittiest). Lock most of your money up in trusts, investment accounts and real estate and fund those aggressively.
2. Spend money on experiences, and less on physical items. But naturally, that doesn’t mean never buy nice things for yourself. So when someone spots the inevitable Hublot, Birkin, Givenchy or whatever other designer on you, just tell them it’s fake. Say you got it on a trip to Dubai or China or some other country notorious for counterfeiting. Practice saying “these knockoffs are getting incredibly good these days” with a straight face. Pricey knockoffs are real. The key is in the delivery.
3. Get out of your bubble every now and then. Understand how majority of people around you live, and realize that your wealth is the statistical minority, which is a disadvantaged place to be. Shoot to present yourself as somewhere near the median of your environment. Wear regular clothes. Drive a regular car. Regular differs from place to place so keep that in mind. Splurge every now and then, and ascribe it to savings.
4. Never reveal your full net worth or income to anyone. Why people do this is beyond me. As an adult, you don’t need validation, admiration or approval from all but a select few. Unless you’re insecure. Even if you want to teach or share a lesson with people on finances, you can doing it without going into much specifics. We all read the Bible, this is one lesson you can take from the story of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 39. He showed his Babylonian “allies” all his royal treasures and the extent of them and as a result, his lunch was taken. You don’t want your lunch taken.
5. Pretend to be humble. Someone was talking about this the other day on my twitter feed: people are dealing with a lot of self esteem issues. They don’t need you in their face to remind them you’re better. You’re not. Everyone is better than you at something, and if you act on that understanding, it will be easier to be humble around everyone. Also, if you’re the type to say things like it is, bristle with confidence and give as you get, people tend to look at it as arrogance. I admit, I’m like that sometimes, I’m working on it. They say fake it till you make it. Some fake confidence, others fake humility. They’re both necessary.
In fact, people love it when, the more successful you get, the more fake humble you are. I think it’s one reason Nigerians love ascribing every success to God. With the number of dirt poor people around, if you dare say it’s you, you are asking for trouble. It’s sad, but acceptance is key. It is what it is, till it’s not.
I’d love to hear what you think about stealth wealth, our approach to success and any more tips you have on how to hide your wealth. Comments below.
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