“Fake it until you make it,” they say. “Dress for the job you want.”

Some Americans take that to heart, buying logoed designer bags and shoes they can’t necessarily afford, or shelling out for a luxury vehicle when they have to work as an Uber driver to make payments. (This is a thing in L.A., apparently. My Uber driver with a Mercedes told me so.)

Well, they’ve got it all wrong. If you really want to act and think like a rich person, surveys and studies show your attitude – not your belongings – is the true marker of how much you have in your bank account. Here are the things wealthy Americans think and do that you can copy to improve your own financial standing:

They don’t splurge.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or it’s younger sibling, Cribs, would lead us to believe the wealthy like everything they touch to look like a Louis XIV palace accessory. But in truth, the wealthy can be pretty conservative with their luxury buying. Yes, some people earning more than $250,000 like their Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW. But a full 61% of them opt for basic models like Honda, Acura, Volkswagen, and Toyota. Ferrari did not make the top 10. This is backed up by research showing that high status people don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money on luxury items. Indeed, among the privileged, it’s cooler to buy fewer classic, high-quality items that whisper their provenance, rather than a lot of trendy items that shout, “I paid so much for this!”

They value education.

You might look to Zuckerberg and wonder if a college degree is even necessary. But he’s the exception that proves the rule: Education is key. In a 2014 survey by Spectrum of investors with a net worth of $25 million or more, 82% cited education as a factor in building their wealth, the second most important factor after hard work. And anyway, academic achievement is what got Zuckerberg to Harvard before he dropped out. In the U.S. Trust survey, respondents said academic achievement was the most important value emphasized by their family growing up. Studies bear this out, with the importance of a graduate and undergrad degree becoming increasingly important for accumulating wealth. According to a 2013 study, a family without a high school diploma has a 1 in 110 chance of having at least $1 million in wealth, compared to 1 in 2.6 for families with a professional/graduate degree.

They earn, rather than inherit, their money.  

Contrary to popular opinion, the wealthy didn’t necessarily get that way by being born. In a 2016 US Trust survey of 684 individuals with more than $3 million in investable assets (that is, not cars or homes, for example), only 10% of their wealth was inherited. About half their money was earned, and 32% came from investments.

They believe in hard work.

In a 2014 survey by Spectrum of investors with $25 million or more in net worth, respondents overwhelmingly attribute their success to hard work (87%), while luck was only cited by 66% of respondents. Experts who have studied the affect of luck on wealth posit that hard work is indeed important to success, though luck can have a real affect on your lifetime earnings, perhaps more than most successful people would like to admit. However, other studies show that the wealthy today (as opposed to back in the 18th century when the aristocracy lived off of the work of serfs) actually do work longer hours than low-income Americans and spend less time engaging in leisure activities like watching TV. To sum up the research: It’s possible to work really hard and not become rich (see: social workers, teachers) but it’s much harder to become wealthy without working really hard.

They never feel like they’ve “made it.”

Perhaps the reason why the wealthy work so hard is because they feel so far from the finish line, which always seems to be on the distant horizon. In a 2013 survey, only 4 in 10 Americans with $5 million or more in investable assets called themselves “wealthy.” There is always someone with a bigger yacht than you, as this illuminating article on the anxiety of the super-rich points out.

They invest conservatively.

Please don’t try to copy the Wolf of Wall Street’s strategy. Wealthy investors with at least $3 million in investable assets tend to favor a relaxed investing approach, rather than playing the market: high net worth investors made their biggest investment gains through long-term buy-and-hold strategies (86%), traditional stocks and bonds (89%), and a series of small wins (83%) rather than throwing their funds into big investment risks. Two-thirds of investors with investible assets between $500,000 and $1 million invest in exchange traded funds (ETFs), which merely try to track the market or a certain sector of the market. (As you get into the ultra wealthy, you see investment in hedge funds and start-ups, but that simply isn’t available to the average investor.) And about half of wealthy investors invest in tangible assets, such as real estate, farmland, and timber properties that produce consistent, long-term income.

They also invest in long-term relationships.

In the US Trust survey, 86% were in a long-term relationship, compared to less than half of adults in the U.S. Of those in the survey, 75% were married to their first spouse. That means 65% overall in the survey were married, never divorced. No wonder, divorces are expensive affairs.

I hope you’ve taken all this to heart, but if you need a professional to keep you on track, talk some sense into you when you want to buy a Tesla, and direct your investing, you can find one through GuideVine.


Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker is a freelance journalist specializing in personal finance and sustainable lifestyle topics. She lives in New York, and is an expert at finding new and interesting ways of generating extra income. Her biggest budget weakness is eco-friendly fashion. Follow Alden on Twitter and Google+