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What is New Money?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 16, 2024
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The term "new money," also called nouveau riche, usually denotes a person who has recently gained an immense amount of wealth. This term is in direct opposition to the term "old money," which refers to a person who has had a large amount of wealth for many generations. The term can be used to separate one socioeconomic class from another, though it can also be used as a derogatory term.

Used in a derogatory manner, referring to a person as having "new money" is meant as an insult. The meaning behind this insult relates directly to the assumption that those with new money do not know how to spend this money wisely, while those with old money take greater care to invest funds.

Ancient Greeks often struggled with each other for a high rank in society. Many Ancient Greek texts refer to those with newly acquired money as being placed on the lower rungs of society, while those with old money were well-respected. Throughout the centuries, those with well-established wealth have often been far more respected than those with new wealth. This idea takes into consideration a person's upbringing or "breeding." Some believe that those who have not been brought up with money cannot truly become a part of the aristocratic class.

History has shown that, over time, many of the nouveau riche become old money. Once a certain degree of wealth has been obtained, many who have recently acquired this amount of wealth learn to invest it for future generations. Thus, those future generations are frequently considered part of the old money class. Some argue that there is no such thing as old money, since all people who currently have money were once considered new money.

Referring to someone as having new money occurs all over the world. While each part of the world has a different socioeconomic system, people who are assumed to have new money will always exist. The main difference is that some people who are considered old money in various countries may be considered new money in other countries — this is especially true for those people who are just gaining wealth in newly developed countries.

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Discussion Comments

By Reminiscence — On May 16, 2014

@mrwormy- I've had the opposite experience with old money versus new money where I live. The old money families don't want to see this city get too modern for their tastes. They use their money and influence to make sure the city council rejects the idea of new commercial developments and housing projects. If something gets turned down in this town, we usually suspect an old money family had something to do with it.

On the other hand, our new money families usually support the idea of bringing in new retail centers and new restaurants. They have all of this income and nowhere to spend it, so they are the ones who demand that city leaders show some initiative when it comes to new investments. Sometimes the old money and new money tribes clash over a proposal and it gets a little contentious around here.

By mrwormy — On May 15, 2014

In my city, it's easy to see the difference between old money and new money. There's one section of town that is considered a historic district, and most of the houses are at least 100 years old. They cannot be renovated with modern materials. There are no local stores or restaurants or commercial buildings. This where where all of the "old money" families live.

On the other side of town, there are dozens of McMansions placed right next to each other in a planned community. There is a park with a walking trail, several bistro-type restaurants and an upscale grocery store. This is where all of the "new money" families live. They are mostly white collar professionals who work for the aerospace industry or medical industry.

I went to school with the children of old money and new money families, and I actually liked spending more time with the old money classmates. They didn't flaunt their family's wealth as much as the new money kids did. We knew if the old money school kids needed something, their parents would just get it. The new money kids sometimes had to whine or beg or do something equally as manipulative to get their parents' attention.

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