How not to look rich

It’s true, I spend a lot of my time not looking rich and looking far more like a homeless guy.

Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration but it’s an excuse for an anecdote.  So get a cup of coca and gather round, it’s Mr Zombie’s Story Time.

When Mr Z was way younger (he had luscious curly hair back then) he was visiting family, Mother Z’s second cousin twice removed or something like that.

Her son was older than Mr Z and working in a professional job, who popped in to say hello.  I remember he just seemed like a nice guy, not some uptight businessman in a perfectly fitting suit with a £1,000 watch poking out the bottom of the cuffs.  He chatted away, then said his goodbyes and got ready to leave.

His mum was obviously proud of him, but as he departed she asked

Why do you dress like a homeless guy?  In ripped jeans and that crappy old T-shirt.  You earn a good wage, buy yourself some nice clothes.  You might even get a girlfriend.

The reply blew Mr Z’s young mind;

Mum, why would I want to look rich?  Guys will assume I have money and try to mug me.  People will try to sell me stuff for more.  Girls will assume I got loads of cash.  They’ll want a piece of that pie.  Nah, I’m happy looking like I’m poor.

Mr Z nodded in agreement, his then nimble mind pouncing on the idea, trapping and implanting it deep within his subconscious.

The guy probably drives a 7-Series BMW now and is up to his eyeballs in thousand % consumer debt.  I have no idea.  But I still agree wholeheartedly with what he said.

Tryring to look richer than your are is the modern equivalent of showing off your fancy feathers in a display of vitality or slaying your rivals in a display of power.  We live in a time of consumption and supposedly cheap credit, meaning that consumers can buy goods that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford with apparent ease.  “All I need to do is make the affordable payment of £200? Sign me up.

Some, likely reptilian, part of my brain can rationalise why is might seem like a good idea, buy some fancy trinkets and others will think you are powerful and rich, so alleviating your social status.  A much larger part of my brain still struggles to understand why it isn’t openly mocked more often.

When Mrs Z and I first started seeing each other I was driving an old Skoda, it looked like it was made of cast iron and drove like it too.  But it was cheap and it took me surfing every weekend, hell it even served as a shitty great bed for two weeks on a surf trip to South West France.  One of her now ex-friends commented on the car, to the extent that I must have money problems if I was a qualified accountant and driving something so rubbish.

The Zombie Mobile looked a lot like this

The possibility that I was driving it out of choice didn’t even enter in her mind, or if it did the powers of Irrational Stupidity battered it into pieces and casually pushed it out the window into Forgotten Thought Chasm, before it got a chance to properly form.  The very fact that I wasn’t displaying wealth or earning power through what I was driving was inconceivable.  Therefore, I must have been hiding some filthy drug habit or a harem of seven wives and thirty-five children.

Bugger me, there’s even guides out there on how to look wealthy.  Just reading it makes me want to stick pins in the author’s feet.

When I worked as an accountant I struggled to understand the need for us all to wear suits and work from a fancy office.  Why weren’t the clients pissed off with this?  They were paying for it after all.  Why didn’t they question the fleet of Audi’s and Merc’s that would turn up on a Monday morning (and wonder why they brought a handyman along with them in a bright red Skoda) in preparation of the upcoming audit?  Displays of wealth seem to be required in business too.  I suppose clients took comfort from the nice clothes and cars, they must be really good with money and accountancy stuff if they can afford all these niceties.  Perhaps the suits gave us an unparalleled knowledge of the financial reporting standards.  If they were supposed to, mine didn’t, it just emanated a faint smell of uselessness.   It never made me a better accountant.

There was an episode of Dragon’s Den a while back.  The guy’s proposal was sound, he presented numbers that were thoughtfully backed up and his product seemed impeccable.  I wish I could remember what it was.  He got turned away.  Why?  Because he didn’t wear a fucking suit!  The dismissals were along the lines of;

“Your idea is good, but really, how can we trust someone that doesn’t dress smart.  If you can’t dress smart how could you look after a business?”

Utterly incredible, I never knew creating a product and running a business was a simple as paying for then slipping into a well fitting suit.  From memory he was wearing chinos, smart-ish shoes and a polo neck.  Not a mankini.  Like the consumer buying a fancy car to pretend they have wealth, in business we are expected to use a suit to radiate diligence, knowledge and professionalism.  Good thing no one in a suit has ever done anything wrong.

We have a dress down day at work every so often.  I’ve not noticed a sudden increase in swearing, brawling or groping during these days.  Everyone carries on as normal.  There’s no dramatic decrease in productivity, “oh shit, I can’t remember how to use Excel, I need a tie constricting blood-flow to my head for my intelligence to prosper.  Quick, hand me your belt.”  Given the opportunity we are happier wearing something comfortable over ‘business wear’.

Yet time and time again so many of us choose to look rich over embedding habits that actually make us rich.  Even though we know we are presenting a false doppelgänger and trying look like a millionaire whilst just scraping by, plenty still do it in the hope that there is some magic payoff.

The steps to not looking rich whilst actually getting rich are frightfully simple;

  1. – Don’t give a shit what other people think about vacuous things, like what you wear or what car you drive.
  2. – Realise that spending excessive money on fancy trinkets rarely brings happiness and is an almost sure-fire way NOT to get rich.
  3. – Make purchases based on your needs and not the desire the display wealth as part of some bizarre mating ritual.

I’ll spend this weekend in the same attire I do most weekends.  A comfy pair of old jeans, a t-shirt and a beaten up hoodie.  Perfect for a trip to the tip and then some board games and beers in the evening with friends.  It’s also great armour against would be muggers and advances from shallow ladies and/or men.  Think of the terrifying alternative, Mr Zombie charging down the street with a gang of muggers trying to thieve from him and a gaggle of gold hungry women and men trying to seduce him.

No thanks.  I’ll trot about, tinkering, completing tasks and having a good time safe in the knowledge that my decision to not spend a ludicrous amount of money to make myself look rich is actually making me richer, despite what the herd may think of me.

Have a good weekend.


18 thoughts on “How not to look rich

  1. Vince Venison

    Absolutely true! I love it when people mistake me for my gardener, or other trades person, in spite of the fact that I retired before 50. Why would I care about impressing people?

  2. Mr Careful

    Suits are a display of imprisonment. No one actually wants to wear one (otherwise dress down days would be partly ignored). You are wearing one because someone is making you do so. Either your boss/company you work for or your customers. Either way, it’s the equivalent of wearing a sign that says “my choices are limited, I am not my own person, other people control my actions”. Haha. Happy Sunday everyone. Nice blog Mr Z.

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Thanks Mr Careful. Certainly never made me more productive. Perhaps I should try some writing in a suit, see if it comes across any better. Just me, in my spare room, suit on, typing away into a laptop…

    2. hosimpson

      I once worked with a guy who wore a suit on dress down days…. I think he too cheap for a £2 charity donation.

  3. The Rhino

    Wombling wise words Dr. Z

    Act poor, get rich can be a winning strategy.

    My bikes and boards are all 2nd hand and I love them!

    Can you elaborate on the bizarre mating rituals of point (3)?

    They sound fascinating.. A follow up post perhaps?

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Good work. I am patiently watching ebay for an old aluminium frame that’s the right size, and for a 9ft longboard at the right price (always shortboards, something different would be nice). They’re out there…somewhere.

      It will take some, further, very detailed study…

      1. The Rhino

        What size are you? I’ ve got an alloy giant OCR 2 in a medium. I think it’s about a 54 or 56. Carbon forks. Carbon post. New hollowtech BB and a new headset. You can have it if you want it.

        1. Mr Zombie Post author

          Thanks Rhino, but that will be too big for me I reckon. I’m only a small fellow. Small frame seems to do me well. My touring bike is a 53 and it’s bordering on too large.

  4. weenie

    I have certain ‘comfortable’ items that get worn and washed regularly, probably akin to your comfy jeans, t-shirt and hoodie. I then have another set of casual clothes, less slightly beat up, which I wear when I leave the house or for Friday dress-down day at work. Finally, there’s my going-out-on-Saturday-night outfits.

    Oh and my work clothes of course – most have seen better days but I reckon I could still get at least another year or two out of most of the items! My suits are reserved for visiting clients and interviews only.

    I have barely bought any new items of clothing for the past two years (a couple of vest tops for a holiday I think). If I admitted this to my female friends, I think they’d look at me as if I’d grown two heads!

    My family already joke that I’m going to look like a ‘bag lady’ as I only wear old clothes. If by looking like a bag lady I get to achieve FI, then they’d best get used to it, haha!

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Pretty similar approach, a bag lady and a homeless dude 🙂
      My suits have been resigned to wedding duties or been sold.
      I do buy new work clothes every so often, but only when I need to. Not a new wardrobe every year…

  5. RoC

    Great article Mr Z, but controlling spending is only one part of the FI puzzle. Strategic deployment of the appearance of wealth/consumerism/conformity can convince the people who award promotions and bonuses that you are more like them, that you are their kind of guy, and that you are committed to your career, rather than planning to jump ship as soon as your stash will keep you afloat.

    This can help enormously with the “increase earnings” part of reaching FI.

    I drive a luxury car but I bought it secondhand for less than the price of a many very normal cars. It is now depreciating very slowly, and is pretty fuel efficient. I also visit an outlet centre once a year to buy a couple of new suits on sale, which I wear every day because nothing I own allows me to pull off a smart casual look, and I do not want my work wardrobe leaking into my non-work wardrobe.

    If you saw me going to work in the morning you would say, “there goes another one”, and feel a mild sense of pity, not realising that I managed a 75% savings rate last year.

    It is hard to reach FI without occasionally mingling with the high earning-high spending types we try so hard not to become, and it is as helpful to be able to disguise your mustachianism when you are with them as it is to disguise your true net worth when you are with everyone else.

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Thanks for the comment, RoC.

      –> “there goes another one”, and feel a mild sense of pity, not realising that I managed a 75% savings rate last year.

      Haha, stealth saving is the best way. 75% is amazing.

      I do agree, and whilst working in practice as an accountant I had my suits as it was part of the job (I still stand by it not making any difference to my output though). Now I’m not in a ‘client facing’ role a suit’s no longer required, suit trousers and a shirt do just fine. I even have some ‘nice’ shirts as I had a voucher for Christmas. It is a shame that there is so much placed on ‘appearance’ and I suppose I do conform to that as I don’t walk about work in just a bath towel.

      That said, outside of work I don’t feel any pressure to display wealth through my attire, car or anything else 🙂


  6. SLG

    If RoC hadnt said it, i would have. Its a great post and i completely agree with the ethos of not caring what people think for FI. But if you’re trying to up your earnings through promotion or selling your services or your business, the only thing “not caring what people think” has going for it is if they think the same or that you may be memorable. I rarely need a suit for work but if its needed to get my message across, or is going to detract from what i’m saying, why would I saboutage the opportunity by not wearing a suit and having people focus on my clothes instead of what i’m saying? The dragons den reference illustrates that well. First impressions count. If we judged eveything purely on its merit, the marketing bods wouldnt have a job.
    In my more decadent days, i loved the look and feel of wearing a nice suit on a night out but didnt get mugged, exploited or have women throwing themselves at me (at least not more than on a normal night out). Clothes / uniforms can definately impact the way you feel about yourself.

  7. theFIREstarter

    I’m fully with you on this one Mr Z. I will do anything to not have to wear a suit and when I used to have to wear even a shirt in my old Saturday or temp office jobs I absolutely hated it.

    I can see the point SLG and RoC are making above but there are so many jobs where you have to look smart and you aren’t even client facing it’s silly. Also it depends on the type of business you work in. Maybe your clients are hoodie wearing start-up tech geeks and would sneer at you for wearing a suit. It works both ways and although admittedly the majority at this point in time in business clearly favours the smart look, I reckon in 10 years or so things could be the other way round (actually work could be transformed so much we may not even recognise it!)

    Also wearing a suit on a night out or generally trying to look wealthy, I’m just not having all of this first impressions nonsense, you will attract shallow and vacuous people and those are not the sort of people you want to commit to a long term relationship with. Fine if you are playing the field but at least admit that’s what you are/were doing lads 😉

    For the record yes I did meet Mrs TFS in a nightclub, had just come back from a snowboarding holiday with a huge beard and generally looked a bit scruffy… Yes you could say what was she thinking but it’s nice to know she saw beneath the appearance thing which is a trait I fully admired in her from the off.



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