Old Money

What is Old Money? Over 100 years of being rich

old money
Photo by McGill Library on Unsplash

Enduring inherited wealth. There are many rich families in America. Very few of those families figured out how to grow their family fortune for generations. You may think of old money as a rich aristocratic type of people. Attending galas and balls to raise money for strange charities. Most of those people are masquerading as old money. They are rich now and want you to know about it. 

The rare breed of old money takes their family fortune seriously. Growing the fortune past the fourth generation requires a deliberate approach. 

These families created a dynasty by establishing a lifestyle rich with traditions. Traditions that teach specific values. Rules govern the use of money and investment capital. These families understand the value of simple systems that provide guidance. A family is not wealthy for a century due to luck. Old money families are the select few that figured out how to endure. 

What is Old Money?

You’ll see this generic definition on the web.

“Inherited wealth spanning several generations and decades.”

Super specific. Appreciate the insight. Thanks, Mr. Webster! Here’s my personal and more specific definition of old money:

“Old money is a family fortune that is more than 100 years old.”

Simple Money Habits

A family fortune founded over 100 years ago that still supports the family is old money. The current generation most likely never met the family who created the fortune. Wealth successfully passed down for more than four generations is not a fluke. 

Let’s look at some examples. 

Old Money Families (by Surname)

You may know the names of the famously rich American families. These families are rich. They’ve been rich for a long time. Over 100 years of wealth. That’s old money! 

Classic old money American families, by Surname: 

Source: 50 richest families in America

Old Money Lifestyle

It takes good planning and execution to be rich for a century. Large fortunes can be squandered with reckless spending and poor investing. 

There is an old saying that captures this pattern. 

“The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it.”

To make the money last into the fourth generation and beyond you need a system. You need to establish family values and create a known approach to wealth management. How do you do this across many generations? Is there a secret scroll with 75 rules on it? Not likely. That would be pretty cool but not very effective. Or secure!

The old money families establish values and rituals so good behavior becomes habits. These good habits are taught and instilled in the next generation. This protects the family fortune from the #1 enemy, the family!

Values of Old Money


All the old money families know and preach the importance of education. It’s the foundation of success in all areas of life. Learning is a lifelong habit and worth all the effort. We learn about life and how to make it better for ourselves and the world when education is a lifetime sport.

The world changes fast and it’s not slowing down. It’s important to keep up to date with the dynamics of science, technology, and society. Education needs to be at the forefront of the family’s mind. To make good decisions you need to be informed with good data. 

Work Ethic

Humans are supposed to work. Despite the considerable financial resources of old money families they still work. They also teach the value of working hard. A good work ethic teaches you a lot about life. It’s a rewarding experience to work hard and accomplish your goals. Working at the edge of our comfort zone and skill is work inflow. It’s part of the optimal human experience. 

Etiquette and manners

Teaching etiquette and matters is more than a southern tradition. It’s a tradition held dearly by old money families. Having good etiquette and matters facilitates all relationships in life. It helps the personal and business worlds.

There are formal schools that teach etiquette. There are also sports, like golf, that embrace the traditions of teaching etiquette. Most country club sports hold similar traditions. Perhaps that’s why old money families love country clubs so much.

The new money families would be wise to adopt similar rituals of etiquette manners. 

What is the origin of this particular value? It’s unclear. Here’s my personal best guess. 

It started many centuries ago. Rich families realized their kids kept turning into spoiled brats. The ego took over and those with privilege lost sight of basic moral goodness. The community started to break down. This threatened the family’s wealth as well as the integrity of the family name. So the family took deliberate action to correct and help prevent this behavior. 

While the origin is unknown the adoption of the tradition is obvious. The value of etiquette and good matters runs deep within the old-money family lineage.

Family and marriage

There are deep roots in the value of family and marriage. Personal integrity is critical to the family fortune. This is increasingly important when the family fortune is well known. 

Dishonest people and dishonest lovers will attempt to take advantage of the family. It is not a question of if this will happen it is only a matter of when and how often. 

The old money families talk about and socialize on the importance of honest relationships. Be good to this world and surround yourself with other good people. 

When entering into marriage the families stress the sanctity of the vow. Partners committing to loving each other and building a life together is precious. The decision to enter into this commitment is the most important decision in one’s life. This union must be deliberately entered into and without haste. 

This protects the individuals and the family from doing undo harm. Young romance and passion is a powerful forces. 


Endless money is worth very little if you do not have your health. Being rich is better than being poor but being wealthy without your health is poverty.

Old money families enjoy their wealth and enjoy their leisure. They enjoy working hard for causes that are important to them. To contribute to the world and to enjoy a long life with the family requires good health. 

Good health requires lifelong habits of eating well and exercising. Avoid excess. That’s pretty much it. The tradition of good food and good eating is as old as civilization. Old money families splurge from time to time, but they stick to the old traditions.

Good physical health supports the body and mind. The old money families know the science behind cardiovascular exercise and mental acuity. Daily habits of running and walking fill the lungs with air, put miles under your feet, and sharpen the mind. A clear mind helps you make good decisions with simple tasks and complex ones. A clear mind helps you make hard decisions. 

Budding science is now proving these benefits of good health and physical well-being. The mind needs a healthy body! However, the traditions of good health and its impact on the mind came long before modern science. Science is catching up to what we figured out generations ago!

Security and Privacy

People want what others have. Jealousy and greed are part of being human. The battle between the haves and the have-nots continues today. 

This value does not mean building fortresses of solitude and hiding from the world. It stresses the importance of protecting what you have. There is value in private matters. your business is your business and not of your neighbors. When your neighbors learn too much about your family, relationships can get complicated. It’s unfortunate but the topic of money can quickly deteriorate a relationship. It’s always a leading cause of divorce. 

There is value in privacy because it supports relationships within the community. It keeps the relationships about the people, and not what they have or do not. 

Frugality or Thrift

Old money families do not spend with reckless abandon. Just because they can afford it doesn’t mean they buy it. The habits of frugality and thrift helped build the original fortune. And they help keep each generation wealthy for decades to come. 

There is value in a dollar and there is value in a dollar well spent. That approach does not change just because you have more dollars. Spending money on items that provide good value never goes out of style.

There is also an increased understanding of how wasteful spending hurts the environment. Being thrifty and repairing items instead of replacing them is good for the world. 

Risk Reward 

Risk versus reward. This value applies to all areas of life. Taking risks is a strategic part of building and growing a fortune. 

It is crucial you always seek to understand the potential risk. Taking an excessive risk can create permanent damage to the family. Evaluating life through the lens of risk-reward keeps the family safe. It is a process of making good decisions. It protects against the probability of permanent loss or impairment of wealth. 

Risk reward is the bedrock of the old money investing strategy. The original family fortune defied the odds. The family now seeks to protect and grow this fortune. The first step is to protect. Warren Buffett famously says, 

“Rule number #1: Don’t lose money. Rule #2: Don’t forget rule number #1.”

Old money is dynasty money

Most old money families created businesses. These businesses or later versions still exist today. The old money families understand the power of positive and growing cash flow. It’s the recipe for generational wealth. 

With enduring cash flow in hand, the old money families look to protect it. They ingrain good financial habits and family values into future generations. They teach these values with discipline so no one kills the goose laying the golden eggs. 

The families’ fortunes of today that are 100 years old listen to the sage family wisdom. They adopted, implemented, and taught their sons and daughters the rules they learn. 

The old money families of today got rich and various ways. Banking, industrials, energy, even candy, and soup created fortunes.  

Despite the different paths to wealth, these families figured it out. They figured out what is required to create lasting generational wealth. 

These successful families also understand the importance of continued contribution. It’s vital that they continue to contribute to their communities and the environment. The importance of sustainability and governance is becoming obvious. The world needs it. These family empires need it to ensure the success of their family. If they do not use their resources to improve the fabric of society, it might not be there one day. If that happens the empires will fall. 

Perpetual family wealth is only as good as the economy it relies on.  Do the right thing old money. Help make the world a better place for your great-grandkids.

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