Do the Wealthy Get Tattoos?




I’m afforded a position where I work daily with a wealthy clientele.  Most of this group came to their affluence through hard work and creativity.  In other words, it wasn’t generational, gifted upon them by a relative after their passing.  These men and women had to get up every morning to earn their piece of the pie.  The majority of them are baby boomers and Gen Xers.  However, some of my clients are now millennials who have out-hustled others and created their wealth early in life.  I consider myself lucky to work with these clients because I’m able to learn by their example.

I have many customers who have tattoos, but they don’t fall into the wealthy category.  This group is often just starting out or have been working for years, still struggling to make it to the next level, often held back due to the decisions they made in their lives.

In paying attention to the two groups, it’s the wealthy clients and their lack of tattoos that recently caught my attention.

Tattoo You

I have a tattoo.

I wanted one since I was in the Army and I saw my friends getting them.  However, I couldn’t commit to a single idea.  I kept thinking, “Do I really want this design on me forever?”

While I was serving, there were guys getting Army-themed tattoos who would cycle out within a year or two.  It was their choice, of course, but I couldn’t see myself getting an eagle or a flag inked on my body then leaving the service.

Some guys got Looney Tunes tattoos.  Even back then I thought that was a terrible decision.  Would I really want Tweety on my body when I was in my sixties?

As I approached my fortieth birthday, the idea of getting a tattoo got bigger and bigger.  It seemed like something I just needed to do.  I was still in the middle of my financial mess and I had badly confused the concepts of needs and wants.  What a ding-dong.

I finally committed to a tattoo – a family crest on my upper arm.  It would be so cool, I thought.  It took two sessions to complete for a total cost of $500.

Did I have $500 to spend on a tattoo?  No, not at all.  I didn’t have savings or investments.  I didn’t have any non-personal real estate at the time.  I struggled every month to cover my bills.  Yet I spent $500 on a tattoo?

What the hell was I thinking?

The Most Punk Rock Thing to Do

I was having a beer with a friend not long after I got the tattoo and told him about my new artwork.  At the time of the conversation, he was in his late twenties.  I asked him if he had a tattoo.

He shook his head.  “No way.”

Then he said something that’s stuck with me all these years, “Since everyone’s getting one, I figure the most punk rock thing I can do is to not join in that crowd.  My skin is going to stay clean.”

If you haven’t felt like a fool when someone presents you with the unadulterated truth, let me tell you it’s not cool.  I smiled, bit back my embarrassment, and sipped my beer.

You see, I’ve always tried not to be one of the herd.  Being a little different was cool and I thought getting my tattoo would set me further apart.  It didn’t, though; it made me like everyone else.  I felt like I’d turned off a part of my brain and fallen in line.  One of us, one of us, ran through my head.

Damn, if his statement hasn’t bothered me through these years.

Not getting a tattoo would have been the most punk rock thing to do.

What If I Want to Fit In?

Neck tattoos, calf tattoos, and full arm sleeves might sound cool in the moment, but they suddenly seem foolish when you’re trying to get a job.

When I was in college, a friend of mine had long hair -  like rock star long.  He was in the accounting program and I asked him if he was willing to cut his hair upon graduation.  I argued that no one would hire him with long hair.

He said, “I’m not cutting it.”  He was adamant about it.  “I’ll be an accountant to rock bands.”  He was serious and believed in what he was saying with the conviction of youth.

I explained that even rock stars wanted their accountants to look like, well, accountants.  There are certain societal expectations.  I didn't make the rules.  People don't want the person handling their money to look like the guys from Black Veil Brides.  Regardless, he didn’t believe me and got mad that I would try to squash his dreams.

We soon finished college, he entered the work force, and then cut his hair when he couldn’t find employment.

Life has a way of putting things into perspective whether we like it or not.

Getting a tattoo doesn’t have to be an impulsive decision.  Heck, I waited until I was forty to get mine.  It can be well-thought out and still be short-sighted.

A lot of us make our tattoo decisions today without giving thoughts to what it will be like five, ten, or even twenty years down the road.  There are going to be a lot of tattooed grandmas and grandpas out there in a couple decades.  It may be societal shift, who knows.  Or it may further prove my point here.

So why would someone do it?

Do you ever see the rich doing it?

Is it a Millennial Thing?

A friend’s wife once told me that getting a tattoo was now a millennial thing.  She said dismissively, “My generation doesn’t care if anyone has them.”

I don’t know if that’s true for a whole population segment, but I’m willing to concede it for the sake of argument.

The only problem is that the millennials don’t have the majority of power yet, so it doesn’t matter.

If a millennial shows up to an interview for an office job and they have a neck tattoo, it doesn’t show well.  The hiring company is going to think, “Yikes.  What was she thinking?” 

Is a client going to entrust their money and time to a person with a tattoo that looks like a reminder of a weekend bender gone wrong?  Probably not.

Besides, the question I’m posing isn’t about whether the general population cares or if the millennial segment does – it’s about whether the wealthy do.

Are the wealthy getting tattoos?

Should we want to continue to do what the average person does in our demographic or do we want to do what the rich do?

Do the Rich Have Tattoos?

Which leads us back to the initial question – do the rich have tattoos?

Now, I’m not talking celebrities and sports stars.  They live a wonky, non-real life that we shouldn’t use as an example for ours.  When we try to replicate their lives, we are doomed for failure.

I’m also not talking about the uber-rich like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg.  They’re not bad examples, but their wealth is so outer stratosphere that some will dismiss the example just because I’m using them.

Instead, I’m talking about The Millionaire Next Door, the first-generation millionaires who make up the majority of the wealthy in America.

One of my millennial clients is a restaurateur who has several, successful locations.  He started with nothing and created his own wealth.  He doesn’t have a tattoo.

Another of my clients is baby boomer with a large commercial real estate portfolio.  Yet another example of starting with nothing and creating huge wealth.  No tattoos.

I can run down the list of my clients and the only client that I know for certain who has a tattoo is a bar owner.  His tattoos reflect the crowd he serves so it could seem natural.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the wealth of the previous clients I mentioned.  He’s a great guy and one of my favorite people, but he’s still working to build his nut.  There’s nothing wrong with that (I’m still building mine), but we’re searching for examples of people to emulate and the decisions they’ve made to help them on their path.

When I’ve pitched this question in conversation with various clients, most of them talk negatively about tattoos – as in, "Why would someone spend their money on that?"

All this talk about tattoos is highly subjective, I understand, since I haven’t found a study that I can point to give credence to the argument in either direction.  I can only go with what I’ve seen.

However, it does tend to fall in line with The Millionaire Next Door concept.  Tattoos are frivolous and wasteful and first-generation millionaires tend to avoid that type of spending.

No matter how you calculate it, though, there is no return on a tattoo.  Now, you don’t have to get a return on every dime – trying to do that would make life miserable.  However, a tattoo is one of the few things you’ll carry with you every day of your life.  Shouldn't we give it the most careful consideration then?

Hopefully, you’ll end up with a tattoo that you like, because you’re stuck with it until you leave this world.  Unless of course, you spend even more money to have it removed. 

Don’t forget time will be cruel.  Your skin will change and the ink will fade.  The once cool tattoo may not be so cool tomorrow.

After a time, you may even forget that you have it.  I know I do and when I remember the big tattoo on my shoulder, I don’t smile and think, “Man, I’m glad I got that ink!”  Instead, I roll my eyes.

If you have a tattoo, it doesn’t mean you can’t be wealthy.  Hardly.  We’ve all made questionable choices in our past and can do better tomorrow.  We can make changes every day that will put us on the road to wealth and personal sustainability. 

If you love your tattoo(s) and I’ve offended you by calling them questionable, I do apologize.  It wasn’t my intent to offend anyone’s choices.  However, if your affection for tattoos hasn’t put you in a better financial position than you were yesterday, maybe it’s time to question if getting inked was really in your best interest.