The emotions of the wealthy buying luxury

By Winston Chesterfield

For the wealthy, a purchase without a positive emotion is a wasted purchase – wealthy individuals like to maximise the number of positive experiences they can have in day or a week and purchasing things is part of that. However, negative emotions can also play a central role in why they choose to buy, or not buy, luxury items.

It has been evident in our work that emotion can often matter more to wealthy individuals, as there is no limit to their potential consumption level. This doesn’t mean that they automatically get a superior experience from spending more, but it just means that they are more able to make purchases which can thrill.

The emotions that matter are not only their own, either. Wealthy individuals are often inspired by the emotions of others, particularly loved ones, family members and close friends. This could be the passion and happiness with which they talk about something they have bought or would like, or it could be the expected emotions when they gift to these individuals.

However, emotions don’t only attract them, they also repel them. And they can – due to their perceptions of their own power – make more decisions based on an emotional basis rather than a rational one, particularly when it comes to how they feel about an experience or a communication.

The top emotions that wealthy individuals are susceptible to reflect their buying power but also their value of being perceived in the right way and in the right light by those that matter, and they also reflect their multi-generational legacy viewpoint.


One of the most common emotional triggers amongst the wealthy is a sense of achievement. Wealthy individuals are relatively rare and many of them are aware that their success is pretty unusual across the wider population. Whilst they can be humble, they nevertheless respond (in public or private) to feelings of pride for something they have created.


Another common emotional trigger, not often associated with the wealthy, is kindness. And yet wealthy individuals are more likely to feel benevolent to others, particularly those who have much less than they do (think of their great interest in philanthropy) or who they want to look after in life, such as their partners and children.


The ecstasy that wealthy individuals experience when making a purchase is another important trigger, although it can be difficult to achieve given how hard they can be to please. However, joy in the process (think of creating a suit or designing a yacht) and the prospect of more can be a positive emotion in their buying habits.


One of the most powerful negative emotions that wealthy individuals experience relates to their wealth but also their admiration of intelligence and search for knowledge. Fearful of doing the wrong thing, being duped or conned is a big trigger which can make them highly sceptical consumers.


Feeling accepted is important, as much of the wealth of these individuals is new, many are seeking to be acknowledged as legitimate members of the ‘club’ and this can drive much of their early spending, from cars, watches and art to travel and philanthropy.


Given their wealth level, guilt can be a rather common negative emotion amongst the wealthy, which can provoke much of their philanthropy or estate pledges. However, guilt also relates to their use of wealth, self-consumption vs. family consumption and long-term concerns such as their legacy and impact on the planet.

Buying decision state: Self-Reward & Status

Wealthy consumers are most susceptible to certain emotions in certain decision states. If they are seeking to reward themselves for hard work, for achieving wealth and for making a success, then Pride & Acceptance are the driving emotions. Pride because they are genuinely proud of themselves, whether they admit it or not, and acceptance because they are wishing to be recognized for their achievements and ‘welcomed’ into a club of other achievers. Joy works as a secondary emotion, as the promise of a reward that confers a new status provides them with a feeling of happy expectation.

Buying decision state: The Right Decision

If wealthy individuals are seeking to make a purchase or an acquisition that reassures them of their intelligence and affirms to them they have the right priorities and values, then the negative emotion of Fear plays the strongest role, concerned as they are that they don’t get overcharged, choose the wrong brand or make another mistake, this can be a careful and lengthy process. Pride also plays a secondary role here, as wealthy individuals like to prove they can do the right thing and make intelligent decisions, not simply buy something because it is the most expensive or valuable.

Buying decision state: Life is Short

Given their level of resources and the finite nature of time, the most positive emotions are at the heart of decisions relating to the shortness of life. Seeing happiness in others, particularly their partners or their children, makes them respond positively to Kindness triggers. Similarly, they can forego lengthy decision making on some purchases if they are strongly triggered by Joy emotions. Pride plays a secondary role here, as it can provoke feelings of ‘why not?’ when considering their achievements.

Buying decision state: For the Future

Guilt is the primary emotion triggering feelings around purchases that affect their views on the future. This can be on whether their children are affected by it or the planet as a whole. ‘Feeling bad’ or ‘feeling good’ for what is purchased – a watch that can be handed down, or a sustainable luxury holiday – can have a disproportionate effect on the decision. Secondary emotions such as Kindness feelings towards those affected also drive these decisions, as does Acceptance as they seek external approval for their careful consideration of the future.  

Winston Chesterfield is the Founder & Director of Barton

About Barton

Barton is a strategic insight consultancy, established to serve businesses in the luxury and prestige sectors, combining evidence and guidance to help these organizations and brands thrive.