Before you hunt me down with your pitchforks and fiery torches (I honestly can’t wait to read the comments on this one), let me tell you that I understand the inherent vanity involved in the pursuit of this goal. While I’m not trying to convince Wise Bread readers to be disingenuous, I do recognize that there are plenty of people out there who want to claim their piece of the not-so-humble pie even though they don’t have the greenbacks to buy it. Thus, this is for them — my ballers-on-a-budget brethren.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s all learn how to look rich without having much money.
Be a Student of the Rich
Rich folks aren’t elusive creatures that you’ll only capture in their natural environment while gazing from afar. Nope, they’re all around us, and if you want to be perceived as someone who runs with the elite, learn how to act, dress, and talk like them.
“Study them,” agrees Los Angeles realtor, coach, speaker and writer Chantay Bridges. “When a man wears a suit, do they always have cufflinks? A tie clip? How is their handkerchief folded? After you do your homework, do what they do.”
Follow the Money Trail
A great way to look like you’re a baller and also hang out with actual ballers is to follow the wealthy to the places they party, relax, and retreat. Go to fancy restaurants, pop into the most popular bars and clubs, and schedule your weekends around recreational activities that beckon the Benjamins. But be wise: Remember that you don’t have much money; this isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses but rather giving the impression that you’re one of them. Order inexpensive apps at that fancy restaurant, sip a “mocktail” at the club, and just hang around looking fabulous and aloof (rich people always seem very aloof to me) at those recreational activities without whipping out your wallet.
“Pretending to be rich is very easy,” claims Tanner Agar, founder and CEO of The Chef Shelf, and works with chefs and restaurants to take their signature recipes and create retail products. “Business people come into expensive bars all the time, ones the junior members can’t afford. If you want to look rich, tell the bartender you’re sober but need to fit in. The bartender can pour you carbonated soda and lime all night long. No one knows, you don’t get charged, and you can drive home.”
Refine Your Look
You don’t have to wear designer duds to look like you’re well off. Instead, work with what you have and tighten it up. Dress a bit more professional and preppy — on weekdays as well as weekends — to present a put-together image at all times. You can still get casual, but your clothes should always be clean, well fitted, and contemporary. This means, unfortunately, that your days of going to the supermarket in sweatpants are over. That’s just one of the (fake) prices you’ll have pay if you want to be (fake) rich.
Solicit Advice From Friends
Everybody has a different idea of what it means to look and act rich. Query your friends to find out their take on the characteristics of wealthy people and choose the ones that are within your means and that you think are worth pursuing.
Become Friends With Wealthier People
Want to rub elbows with the deep-pocketed? Make rich friends.
That’s easier said than done, but if you’re hanging out where rich people hang out, you’re bound to hit it off with somebody sometime. A word of caution, however: Don’t pretend like you’re loaded if your newfound friendship starts to turn into something genuine. Your secret will come out sooner or later, so I recommend being yourself from the get-go. If your personalities truly click, your financial status won’t matter to the rich person — some of them, at least. If they discover that you’re a phony, you’ll be dropped like a bad habit. Conversely, if you’re you from the start, you can build a real relationship with that rich person — and hopefully enjoy some of the perks that come along with it.
Rent Designer Accessories
If the trendiest, hottest designer labels are a must-have for you, renting your clothing and accessories is an option. I don’t highly recommend this practice because even the rental prices are steep (we’re talking high fashion here), but if you think the tag on your clothing will gain you access to the inner circle you can go this route. Katie Brewer, certified financial planner and founder of Your Richest Life, suggests LeTote.com, but other sites include Rent the Runway and Leading Luxury.
Keep It Clean — From Head to Toe
Always keep your footwear well maintained and polished,” advises Albert Goldson,executive Director of an NYC-based boutique firm that provides entrepreneurs and startups the cross-cultural tools to conduct business with firms worldwide. “It’s amazing the positive impression people have of people with good looking footwear regardless of the brand.” Of course, this applies to everything you’re wearing — from your watch to your wallet.
Even still, it’s important to think beyond the clothes and accessories. Personal hygiene is critical (whether you’re trying to look rich or not, by the way), which means that you should keep your hair trimmed and neat, nails buffed and polished, and teeth fresh and sparkling.
Find a Good Tailor
I’ve mentioned how clean lines and well-fitting clothing can improve your appearance — and a tailor can get you there quicker. With a tailor there’s no need to throw out clothing that’s a bit big on you, and you can really take advantage of inexpensive items from thrift shops and other deep-discount stores even when what you want doesn’t quite fit. I use a tailor quite often to have my sweaters taken in, in fact. The smallest sweater size at the J.Crew Factory Store is a small, and it’s a bit big in the belly for me. The tailor takes it in a few inches to give me a tighter look that also makes me appear slimmer.
Barter With Someone Who Has Something You Want
I love, love, love this idea from best-selling author and certified personal image consultant Marian Rothschild: “Want to arrive at an event in a limo, but can’t possibly afford one? Call up the owner and arrange to barter services,” she says. “Maybe they need their lawn cared for, guitar lessons for their kid, or their car detailed. What do you have to trade?”
What you’re willing to trade doesn’t have to be services, however; you can use your material possessions to your advantage, too.
Learn How to DIY for High-End, Custom Looks
Now that you’ve got your personal style figured out, it’s time to bump up the rest of your life — on a budget.
“From furniture to art to personal style items, you can DIY yourself to looking much richer than you really are by making items from scratch and refurbishing and customizing existing items,” says realtor David Kean. “An easy way to make your home look designer-done and rich on a low budget is to learn how to paint — your furniture, that is. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift shops often have good quality furniture [that you can transform.]”
But don’t stop there.
“To give your home a sense of family wealth, collect some instant heirlooms,” Kean continues. “Find an old ancestral portrait of someone that looks like they could be related to you. Add a couple pieces of silver plate, pieces of antique looking Asian porcelain, a cool sculpture, or funky 1950s piece of pottery.”
Of course, this is just one man’s take on what rich “looks” like, so feel free to generalize the advice and pursue your own idea of faux wealthy home design that suits your style.
Buy a Status-Symbol Used Car Instead of a New Sensible Car
Instead of buying a sensible new car, you can realistically by a used status symbol on wheels, so you can look like you’ve got it goin’ on. Regular guy Gary Castelle is an expert in this area.
“It’s a little known secret that wealthy people often have a ‘weekend’ convertible,” Gary says. “These little two-seaters aren’t much use for anything, so you can find one with incredibly low mileage, since they aren’t for the family or traveling. Also, because wealthy people owned them, they’ve had top notch service. “Case in point is my 1999 Mercedes 230 SLK. It’s a great-looking little car in near mint condition. I purchased it in 2010 with only 48k miles for only $12,000 or about the same cost as a five-year-old Toyota Camry. No one can tell that it’s a ’99, and most people think it’s only a few years old. I get compliments on it all the time.”
All that aside, however, you should still take your car buying seriously. It’s a major expense, so do your research in advance of any car that you plan to buy to make sure you’re not getting a lemon.
Keep That Body in Shape
Rich people have time and money to spend on keeping their bodies looking great, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a youngish rich person who doesn’t put an emphasis on physical fitness. Really annoying, isn’t it? For those of us who can’t afford personal trainers to get us on track, we’ve got to do it ourselves. The silver lining is that nowadays staying motivated and finding new workouts is as easy as downloading an app. I use MapMyRun to log my workouts, and I post them on Facebook when I’m finished for a little extra praise and encouragement that keeps me pushing forward.
Achieve Your Perceived Status
You can hobnob with the rich the old-fashioned way — by earning it — even if you don’t have much money; all you have to do is be a loyal customer.
“I’m pretty well-off but I get to sit next to millionaires and celebrities,” says comedian Dan Nianan. “The way to do this is to fly only one airline and achieve status. Many people fly 10 different airlines, always looking for the cheapest fare. This is shortsighted; the benefits of achieving elite status include getting two miles for every mile flown, and many other benefits.”
Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Vanity
I’m a big fan of art — both my homes are filled with original pieces — but I also like having personal photos and portraits around, too. I have so many, in fact, that someone flat-out asked me once why I have so many pictures of my husband and me around the house. I wasn’t offended at all. On the contrary, it’s my home, and I like us — so there you have it.
And as it turns out, me and the rich have a similar decorating style.
“I have noticed that having a portrait painted of your children, yourself, or other family members is somewhat of a status symbol,” says artist Arlissa Vaughn. “The average middle class folks all have their annual professional photo sessions, but the upper class have well-selected photos turned into a portrait painting. Having a portrait painted in a smaller size can actually be very affordable, but the effects of its meaning in your home are lasting and give your interior decor a definitive look of prosperity.”
Still, if you can’t afford an artist to do the portrait for you, there are online outlets that will turn a photograph into a painting for very reasonable prices. Just do a search.
Carry a Big Wad of Cash
It’s all about deception with this little trick, and it comes from straight from my husband, of whom I’m now very skeptical. “Wrap a $100 bill around a bunch of ones and flash it around,” he says.
Invest in Formalwear
It can be a pricey purchase up front, but trust me when I tell you that you’ll save money in the long run — guys especially. Having a tuxedo in your closet means that you’ll save on the price of rentals (which are expensive enough these days), and it’ll pay for itself after three would-be rentals if you buy an economical tux. You’ll also open up the opportunities you can have to wine and dine with the wealthy at society events, fundraisers, galas, and more because you can now afford the price of admission when before you balked at the idea of admission and a tux rental.
If this is a tactic you choose to employ, you can sometimes save a nice chunk of change by buying your tux the same time as a friend. You can purchase a formerly rented tux at an already discounted rate, but often times stores like Men’s Wearhouse will have special deals if you buy two suits. Score the deal with your friend and split the difference so you both walk away winners. There also are loyalty programs in place that reward you with future discounts for reaching a certain cost threshold — which you should definitely split with your friend as well.
Edit Your Social Media Carefully — Especially Instagram
This entire post is based on the idea of perception — you’re not really rich; you’re just trying to look the part — and there’s no better place to pull the wool over people’s eyes in that regard than on social media. The #1 source? Instagram.
If you’re a savvy social media user, you can edit your profiles to include only the most beautiful aspects of your life — from the fabulous places you go to the exotic food you eat to the pretty people with whom you hang. A smartly managed Instagram account, in particular, can provide the filtered impression of living the good life even when it’s just so-so.
Would you believe that there’s an entire meme based on this concept? The Rich Kids of Instagram (tooootally a thing — although most participants are actual rich kids) gives a sneak peek into the lavish and completely materialistic and egotistical lives of the 1%’s offspring and those who are trying to be like them. I’m not saying it’s not absolutely absurd; I’m just saying it exists. And you can be part of it with #RKOI. (P.S. Follow me on Instagram at mikeyrox.)
What do you think about these ways to look rich without having much money? Are they spot on, or are they off-base? Do you have other suggestions to add? Let me know in the comments below.