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How Rich Is Too Rich?

can people be too rich?For the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about things like ending debt, building wealth, and leaving the work force before being old and gray. To do all those things, you need money. I’m sure most of us think we could never have enough money and the richer we are, the more we would be able to do with our lives, including charity work and educating others. I think that’s true in some ways, but I also think you can have too much money. How rich is too rich?

Rich People Expect Different Treatment

As m any of you already know, I have worked in Telluride a few days a month for many years. It’s a resort town with a very diverse population. Most of the patients I see there are average working Joes trying to make enough money to live in a town where single family homes under $1 million are few and far between. We do have a handful of very rich patients, and from my experience, uber rich people expect to be treated differently.

By uber rich, I don’t mean people who make under $1 million a year and have a net worth of a few million. I’m talking multi-millionaires who fly on private jets. I never knew anyone like that growing up in Kentucky, but I’ve met a few in Telluride.

This is a summary of a conversation I had this week with one of our very wealthy patients.

I called your receptionist to order more contacts and she said she won’t. I have been coming here for 10 years and she was a total bitch. I backed my car into the garage door today because I only have one contact and I was thinking of her when that happened. You don’t value me. If you can’t take care of me, I will take my business elsewhere.”

What really happened was that his contact prescription was expired, and the new employee, just as she had been trained, told the patient he could not order more contacts until he  had a new exam. This complies with state and FDA laws. She also offered to give him a trial pair until he could get in for his exam, but we did not have his prescription in stock and it would take a couple of days to order them. She was not rude at all.

No Time For the Rules

All he heard was no, and he is not used to no. I will also say that this patient is always in a hurry, is always on the phone, is usually late, is often condescending, and has not shown up for appointments a number of times. Why do we tolerate his behavior? Because when he does show up, he might drop $1000 in 10 minutes. He can’t be bothered to look for missing glasses. He will just order a new pair!

I have seen this particular patient for over a decade and, in that time, I’ve developed sort of an odd relationship with him. Years ago, when I was a young pup, I told him if he wanted me to examine his eyes he needed to turn off his phone. I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked him to do that, but somehow it put me in a place of authority? respect? He also has some serious eye issues that I was very professional but blunt about. From then on, he loves me, and I can do no wrong. The staff, however, is another story.

Rich And Rude? No Problem

In a perfect world, we would stand behind our staff member who was doing her job correctly. Instead, we decided it was better if she apologized and made nice to get this patient back on her good side. We squeezed him in when it was convenient for his time frame and took care of his needs. Would we have done this for a Medicaid patient? Probably not.

After a decade of knowing this patient, I know he has an extremely stressful job running an international company. He almost never takes time off. He has had health problems due to stress and overwork. He has all the material  things one would think of when we think of rich, but I’m not sure he ever slows down long enough to enjoy them.

I guess the take home point I’m trying to make is that sometimes really wealthy people feel they have to keep making money at all costs, even when they already have more than they could ever spend. If I become the person that the boss tells the staff to “take care of” because I might share a few Benjamins if I feel properly smoozed upon, then I don’t want it. I don’t know when wealth starts to out rule common sense and manners, but I hope I never have to find out.

Are rich people treated differently?  Have you ever been forced to do things you don’t want to do because of a payday?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Lamnee

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

38 comments

  1. You should reach the book Richistan. It explains the world of the uber-wealthy and is pretty interesting, and from our limited experiences crossing paths with that world, often very true.

  2. That level of wealth is like an entirely different world. I come into contact with extremely wealthy people in my line of work as well and, for the most part, they’re lovely (probably because I work at a nonprofit and they’re donating to us), but, we do bend over backwards to make them happy. Much like you had your receptionist apologize, we find ourselves in similar positions at my job. And you’re so right about not even being able to enjoy your wealth. I’d much rather have my modest income and my freedom.

    • That’s a good point. I think wealth and the need for more can certainly take away freedoms just as debt can do the same. I believe in the happy medium of no debt and enough to be comfortable without the need to have more and more.

  3. “sometimes really wealthy people feel they have to keep making money at all costs, even when they already have more than they could ever spend”

    This has always blown my mind. Maybe my personality is different than theirs but once I had more money than I knew what to do with I’d stop working and enjoy my life. Honestly I feel a little sad for those people. They “have it all” but really they have nothing.

    • It think when I have enough I’ll walk away and enjoy the sunsets. It’s nice to be motivated, but I believe my motivations can be used for better things when we get to that point.

  4. Imagine how nice it would feel to an average person to get this kind of treatment even once. I completely agree that rich get treated different and also know that it’s not going to change, but I think when they start taking for granted and not even appreciating what they’re getting that others cannot, it’s very off putting.

    • I’ve been lucky enough to get to stay in some really expensive hotels thanks to points, and when you get treated like a VIP, it is addictive. I always feel funny that I am not actually paying $1000 a night, but I do enjoy the pampering.

  5. Rudeness is certainly not defined by income level. When I worked in the medical field, I actually found the lower income patients to be more rude and demanding. Medicaid patients routinely tried to get out of paying the very miniscule co-pay etc. As our wealth increased, we have started seeing a doctor who has a concierge practice and I admit to loving the personal attention, the empty waiting room, the receptionist who greets me by name and the extended time my doctor gives me during an appointment. Have I become too rich because I’m able to use this type of service? Perhaps. But there were many, many years where I queued up with the rest of the masses in a waiting room full of people coughing and sneezing their germs in my direction. This way is definitely better for my health.

    • There are patients of all income levels who are rude. The difference is that we would not go out of our way to help a rude Medicaid patient, while we might for a rude rich patient. I don’t mean they would not get the same level of care, but we would not work to squeeze in a rude patient with low payback.

  6. They say you can tell a lot about someone’s character from how they treat a waiter. Giving a lot of money to good causes doesn’t make up for an attitude that thinks you are just more important than the rest of the world.

    • I would agree that giving millions to charity does not excuse treating people poorly, although I bet most non-profits would argue with that.

  7. I wish I was that rich….

    You are correct, you do more to help people that can help you. I do not take medicaid as a landlord, but there are low credit score renters that I do not take, nor want. Generally, they are not millionaires either.

    Money does buy a lot of ‘stuff’, more than material goods. How else do you explain George Soros wife?

  8. I think this kind of stuff happens more than we realize or care to realize. I saw it all the time in my former day job. It wasn’t the case with every “rich” person I dealt with, but more often than not they would expect us to bend the rules or give them special treatment – which really couldn’t be done in most cases because of industry regulation. That said, I’d also agree with Kathy, rudeness does not know an income level.

  9. I wrote a post once called Sometimes I hate rich people. 🙂 But in all fairness, some are very very nice. But there does some to be some lenience towards rich people to accommodate the more because we want their money. Maybe then they just get used to that. Not saying it’s an excuse to reward bad behavior. And this question: Have you ever been forced to do things you don’t want to do because of a payday? I’ve taken MANY a project I hated because I needed the money. I like when I’m busy enough to pick and choose, but quite frankly that hasn’t really happened yet. lol!

  10. I encountered situations like this all the time when I worked in service. They are the reason I quit and vowed never to go back!

    • I think service jobs lend themselves to this situation. I don’t really consider myself in the service industry because I get paid the same whether I see a rich or poor patient, but if you have a business, you do kind of have to do your little dance for people who have the ability to spend money.

  11. I have seen both and what strikes me as sad is that when rich people are nice and down to earth, people are surprised. Shouldn’t we all be expected to treat others as we would want to be treated? I don’t care how much money you have, that doesn’t exempt you from being a decent human being.

  12. This is pretty much why I left my day job. I worked with extremely rich people (who were often very snobby) every single day, and not a single “average” person. It got annoying after awhile and I won’t lie, I was often jealous of 5 year olds who had millions of dollars whereas I have no where near that. Plus, being a female in my line of work set me up for many awkward situations that I could no longer stand.

    • I think that would have done me in as well. I can deal with snobby people from time to time, but all the time would be a different story.

  13. Getting a glimpse or feel of the good life does change your perspective. For years I sat in nose bleed seats at NBA games. I was then invited to sit on the 6th row right behind the team. It totally was a different experience and was awesome. Now I never take tickets in the upper bowl. It’s so funny because I always made comments about people who sat below and now I’ve kind of turned in to one…except I don’t buy my tickets. Having worked at a country club I would have people treat me like trash all the time and then when I saw them outside of the country club they treated me really nice. I couldn’t believe how some people can turn it off and on. Other people at the country club were very genuine all the time. I hope I can be that way no matter what my wealth might be. I look at others and wish I was there, but I know there are people that look at me and wish they were in my shoes. Just have to be satisfied at some point with life….oh and try not to be an a-hole.

  14. What is funny, is that I used to work with much better off people financially, then myself. And I couldn’t compete with their clothing, their parties, their nails, etc. It was really a hard truth to learn.

    • That’s funny. I really don’t pay much attention to my clothes, but I do tend to notice my scruffed shoes or old sweater in the presence of someone who is dressed really expensively.

  15. I deal with this sometimes, mostly from attorneys who who think they know my regulations better than my staff. They don’t. All I can give my staff is a time off award but I hope you give her a cut of whatever this guy spends in your office next them he loses his glasses and orders another pair. Swallowing pride when you’re right is hard.

  16. I just love your honesty here, Kim – thank you for that. This guy’s story reminds me of the saying that goes “Money doesn’t change your personality – it amplifies it.” Hoping he wakes up and smells the coffee real soon.

  17. I do feel that rich people are treated differently and come to expect preferential treatment. Oftentimes, I’ve watched people bend over backwards doing things for wealthy families with no payment. I think people do for the rich in hopes of getting in their good graces. Unfortunately, this causes the rich to expect people to bend over backwards for them on a continual basis. On the flip side, the more you have, the more you owe. I feel a lot of the rich are in the same boat as the rest of us, it’s just on a different level, with more toys;0)

  18. I think that some very wealthy people feel a sense of entitlement. The thing is that those of us on the other end perpetuate it by continuing to bend over backwards for them. Once it becomes their new normal, why shouldn’t they expect it? We all have certain norms when it comes to service. They just may be different based on our past experiences.

  19. I’m fine with people rich and uber rich but I don’t think they are somehow special or deserve whatever they want because of it. I hate when people are rude no matter how much money they have!

  20. The problem with people who are uber rich is that they either are always competing with someone else’s wealth or psychologically change their frame of mind to think that they are not content. I once saw a documentary, that the founder of a billion dollar company, said he wanted to buy the moon, because he has everything and he wanted to be the first one to own it. So he literally will continue making millions a year to grow his money because enough is never enough for those people.

    • I think that mentality is what I just don’t understand. Yes, you’d be the only one to own the moon, but why would you need it?

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