How to Look Rich and Feel Rich When You Are Not

Find out how you can look wealthy even if you're spending very little.

Woman in fancy dress holding clutch bag
Mosuno/Stocksy United

Let's face it, most everyone would like to be rich. And why not? People with a lot of money are able to surround themselves with the best of the best, while the rest of us tolerate the not so best of the not so best. But must we forever compromise our standards? Wear polyester blends instead of silk? Dine from dollar store plates instead of fine china? Absolutely not! But if you want to experience some of the finer things in life on a big-box store budget, you have to be ready to make some pretty drastic changes.

To start, this article is not about pretending to be rich or fake. That would not be any fun. This is about ways to live with quality, both materialistically and in your daily lifestyle, that is associated with wealth, but on an average income. 

Stop Spending -- Assess What You Own

The first step to living rich on an average income is to immediately stop spending money on anything that is not a necessity and assess what you own. Depending on how much you own, this process could take several weeks.

Begin with the furniture and then work your way down to the smaller, less significant items like a sock drawer.

Keep a manageable list of items by each room and by area as you go along making your assessments. You may also want to take a picture of the items in the rooms, cabinets, closets, and drawers. As you go along, list the items and ask yourself:

  • Do I really like it?
  • Do I need it?
  • Am I proud of it?
  • Does owning it add value to my life?
  • Does it do the job?
  • Do I wear it, use it, care about it?

Items that you cannot answer a single "yes" to should be marked as items to temporarily remove or liquidate. Items that you cannot decide on should also be temporarily removed and stored on trial basis.

Remember, what you keep that you cannot answer "yes" to will take up space and downgrade the look you want to achieve. It will only add to the time you spend organizing, cleaning and maintaining your home and your personal appearance.

Less Is Best

Our parents must have said, "less is best" a few million times to us as we branched out on our own, but we wanted more, more and more! We equated having a lot of stuff and an endless wardrobe with being successful. Then we were relocated to different cities multiple times by the company we worked for and we had to lug our successful bunch of junk with us.

Suddenly, my furniture that looked alright inside and under dim lighting took on a whole new life as it was being loaded off of the moving vans in broad daylight, and not in a good way. It was not that the furniture was dirty, but it was just cheap and looked far more used and broken down than its age. It certainly did not resemble anything that I would have associated with success.

Some of it (a lot of it) remained packed in boxes for months at a time. After the sixth move, we smartened up, junked the crap, and never looked back.

A Form of Minimalist Living

This is a great time to develop the attitude that less is best. Minimalistic living is popular today and for good reason. For one, it is a greener lifestyle. Secondly, things cost more money today, even though the quality of much of what we buy is poor and does not last. And unlike past decades, many people admire those who seem to be perfectly happy living with a few pieces of select furniture.

But the greatest part of minimalist living it is that living with less does not mean that you have to live without any of the luxuries in life. Just the opposite! It means that the majority of things that you buy will actually add value to your life.

Interesting Tidbit: According to the Wall Street Journal, people regularly wear only 20 percent of their wardrobes. Imagine the space that we would have if we got rid of the other 80 percent or even 60 percent. Imagine the money we would have if we never bought the 80 percent. Now imagine selectively adding to that space with only high-quality, classic, timeless clothing that fits perfectly and that we love.

Hold out for the Best Quality You Can Afford

Once you rid yourself of the items that are unworthy, unloved, and add no value to your life, you will want to think long and hard about what you truly do want in your soon to be brilliant life. Think in terms of quality versus quantity by limiting what you want to replace.

A good exercise is to make a list of the top five items for your home or closet that you want to buy. Prioritize the list by rating the items based on need, overall impact and how much personal value you will get from each one. Then begin thinking about buying the one with the highest rating.

This is where the belief in quality over quantity will make a difference. If you compromised on quality, maybe you could replace three of the items immediately. But then you risk being in the same boat as you were before you started this process.

For example, do you want the $65 desk from a big-box store that you put together yourself and will likely end up on the street in a few years, or would you rather hold out until you can afford a quality piece of furniture that will enhance the appearance of your home and last for generations?

Personally, I'd rather wait and spend time searching and saving for a desk that is top-quality and well designed. In the meantime, I can set up something that will likely look equal to, if not better than, a cheap desk.

Note: I have the following quote framed in my office because it is so true: "Only the rich can afford to buy cheap things."

Dressing Rich — Developing Your Style

There are a lot of misconceptions about what "dressing rich" is really about. For starters, it is not about just buying expensive clothing. We see the proof of that every time we channel surf by one of the Real Housewives reality shows.

Just because a person can afford to toss one of their 10 Giorgio Armani blazers over their Stairmaster or replace last year's Alexander McQueen collections with this year's, does not mean that they will necessarily "look rich" when they get dressed.

The Thing About Sticking to the Classics

Looking wealthy is more about developing an individual style and enhancing that style with well-made, classic clothing, accessories and shoes. It doesn't matter if you find the clothing that fits your style and your quality standards on eBay, at your local gently used designer clothing store or at Saks.

Why stick with classic clothing? Simple. Classics rarely go out of style and the better the quality, the longer they last. Trendy clothing is just the opposite. You will get about 18 months wear time before the trend dies. Trendy clothing also makes a loud statement and will be remembered, which (for most people) limits how often it can be worn.

Classic clothing is easier to individualize with your own sense of style. Adding carefully selected and affordable accessories or making a statement with the shoes you wear will help you achieve your own look.

The Affordable Way to Polish Any Look

Looking wealthy is also about perfecting grooming habits. Dirty hair, broken dirty fingernails, jagged toenails, stained or wrinkled clothing, and poorly fitted clothing can make a $5,000 dress look like a used apron. Worn out handbags and worn, unpolished shoes will instantly take away from an otherwise perfectly polished and "rich" outfit.

Don't Overspend

Remember, good quality clothing does not have to be from an expensive designer collection. In fact, overspending on classic clothing is a waste of money. There is no reason to spend $500 on a white cotton shirt when you can find one of equal quality for much less.

Focus on the quality of the fabrics and the construction of the item. Well-constructed clothes are:

  • Sewn properly and without frayed seams or loose threads
  • Designs in the fabric will match up at the seams
  • Look for self-facing rather than fused facing around the cuffs, collars, and pockets
  • Look for top-stitching
  • Check for a proper hem allowance of at least 1-1/2 to 2 inches, depending on the weight of the item.

Wear the Right Attitude

A large part of giving off a rich appearance depends on a person's attitude and how they relate to others. Wealthy people are often pegged as being rude and snobby, but actually, many wealthy people are just the opposite. However, there are certain behaviors that people born from old wealth have versus those who recently earned their wealth.

Did you ever notice that the people who come from generations of wealth are often polite, well spoken, and quiet? When confronted with poor service they will often patiently wait, but will likely never return to the same establishment. Most will not bother with loud complaining.

They also appear never to hurry. It would be rare for someone with extreme wealth to run to a plane or rush through a department store. They take their time because they can.

Looking rich encompasses not just how well dressed you are, but the total package including individual styling, perfect grooming, how well you speak, and what kind of attitude you have with other people.

To sum it up, you really only have to focus on five areas:

  • Living with less.
  • Buying the best quality.
  • Developing your own signature style.
  • Perfecting any neglected grooming habits.
  • Slowing down to smell the roses

Succeed in each area and you will master looking rich even though your paycheck says otherwise.