Status Symbols and Keeping Up With the Joneses is Stupid

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I don’t know the premise behind chartreuse (BETA) but I do know that dude (prince campbell) behind it is entertaining to read, has lots of pictures, and one of my favorite feeds in my Bloglines feeds. Anyway, today I read a post called An Open Letter To Those Born After 1982 (Or The One Thing Your Parents Got Right) and in it he says:

You are not your [f’ing] khakis.

Your mom made money so she could move you to a better neighborhood and buy a SUV. But take a look around.

Status symbols are bullshit.

You are not your zipcode.

You are not the car your stepdad drives.

Everybody can afford everything anyway. Poor kids in the projects are sporting Lexus’ and Vendi. If your judging yourself by the stuff you got you are sure to get [f’d].

If that’s not one great reason why status symbols and the whole concept of keeping up with the Joneses is stupid, I don’t know what is. The whole premise behind status symbols is that they prove to the world that you’re something you’re not. You buy a flashy expensive car and get a trophy boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband to show you have money… but all you need is a handful of credit cards to get some of those things. Want Coach and LV purses? Just swipe it.

You can be up to your eyeballs in debt and still look filthy filthy rich… so what value is it in paying out all that money for the symbols if they no longer indicate you have the status? Enjoy your weekend!

{ 18 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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18 Responses to “Status Symbols and Keeping Up With the Joneses is Stupid”

  1. Randy says:

    Yep. Well put, couldn’t have said it better myself. My wife and I are early-thirtysomething nonpfbloggers with a combined net worth of $375k, but to look at us and our lifestyle you’d guess we were close to broke.

    The reason my wife and I have money: we live like we’re broke. It’s a simple formula that my wife and I have followed since we were married in our early-twenties — spend less than you make.


  2. Other Voices: Links for 8/25/06

    Friday's pick of the litter: Blueprint for Financial Prosperity: "You can be up to your eyeballs in debt and still look filthy filthy rich… so what value is it in paying out all that money for the symbols if they…

  3. Rich says:

    While I agree whole heartedly and personally live clandestinely as a “non-wealthy” individual you do have to keep in mind a few factors:

    In certain instances, it is much better to LOOK wealthy than actually BE wealthy. There has been study after study to illustrate this true. A recent one on Oprah a few years ago illustrated the point. Two guys (who were broke) dressed up and went to a mall; they acted like the “owned” the place and sure enough they got preferential treatment in almost all of the shops. They created such an “aura” around them that many people would stare to try to figure out if they were famous stars or not.

    You’ve also seen those shows where a woman dresses up as a fat person and gets little attention when she needs help but draws handful of men to assist her when the fat suit is off.

    Of course those make over programs show person A shows up as a plain jane yet everyone oohhs and aaahhhs when they get the makeover (usually new clothes & makeup).

    You really simply can’t dismiss the whole “appearance of wealth” as stupidity. If two people show up for a job interview and one is wearing a suit and the other is dressed in jeans, everything else being equal, who would you hire?

    As for the “right/wrong” zip codes, you’ll quickly learn the importance of that when you have kids and need to decide if you want them going to a “Gang land” ISD or something a wee bit better.

  4. Rich, I have to disagree with much of what you wrote…If I had to choose, I would select the best candidate…as long as one didn’t come in with their hair all messed up in a shirt with holes in it, that’s fine. Even playing ground as far as I’m concerned.

    That whole “aura” you’re talking about drives me nuts…I could not stand going into a store getting preferrential treatment.

    As far as the zip code, I agree with you in some respects there…as far as school zones are concerned, but beyond that, if one judges someone by the zipcode they’re in, they better look at themselves first.

    I wrote up a post before on whether you look like what you’re worth…My observation was that many people don’t look like what they are really worth…so the whole idea of looking wealthy is a waste of time. Then again, I like the idea of trying to break stereotypes.

    I like that quote…very well put imo.

  5. mapgirl says:

    Chasing status symbols is a waste of time. Spend your money and your time developing yourself into a better human being. It’ll last far longer than any trendy status symbol you can buy.

    Kill your television. It’s the best thing you can do to avoid getting sucked into status symbols. (of course, this is coming from the Lilly wearing, Coach handbag-toting girl. But the bag was free and the skirt genuinely makes me happy every time I wear it.)

  6. prlinkbiz says:

    This is a topic that seems to come up a lot, at least in the circles I run in. A great book that is insightful into the minds of wealthy people is The Millionaire Mind. There’s a the level of wanna be’s trying to proove something, and then there’s the whole other level of people who have made it, and don’t have to proove anything. Very interesting.

  7. Rich says:

    Freedumb, I think you and I are philosophically on the same page but there is tactical reality. In your own resonse you began to qualify why you WOULDN’T hire someone “as long as one didn’t come in with their hair all messed up in a shirt with holes in it.” Why not? If status and “professional” attire don’t matter then why disqualify someone for wearing a shirt with holes in it?

    Is a nice shirt a status symbol? Is good hair grooming a status symbol? I don’t think you and I think of it as such but for the vast majority of the 5+ billion people who live on the planet, these things in themselves are status symbols.

    I guess in the end, everything boils down to your frame of reference. For a person making 100k, perhaps owning a high end luxury car is a status symbol. For a billionaire, a high end luxury car is probably like a golf cart.

    By the way, what is a status symbol?

  8. jim says:

    Rich – Zip codes are important for tangible reasons (school districts, environment), I think the point of that part of the snipped was that you shouldn’t put up false pretenses by trying to look like you live in 90210 when you live elsewhere.

    Also, I believe there’s a distinct difference between trying to look real rich and looking professional for work…

  9. moominoid says:

    What’s with 1982?

  10. Tim says:

    Sounds like some stuff from Fight Club. 🙂

  11. Tool Man says:

    There will always be status symbols in the world, and all people are susceptible to them. I used to chuckle when I saw an S-class Mercedes outside of a trailer park mobile home, but who’s to say they aren’t happy? Maybe their dream was to own a $100K automobile…who am I to look down upon them because they chose a car over not investing their money into an international index fund or not learning how to be a day trader.

    I have a job and make money so that I can spend it on the things that I want–what makes me happy. I plan for the future, blah, blah, blah, so I know the importance of saving. But I wonder how many people save and save and save and never spend their money to enjoy life? They sit and check their bank balance and recalculate their net worth several times a week. Their “status” comes from the number on those bank statement. Who’s to say who is happier?

    I heard a great saying a little while ago…and it is something that I am trying to live by in the future. I’m going to paraphrase. It goes something like this: I’m never going to be rich, because if you see a rich person, that means that they haven’t given enough of their money away to those who are in need.

    Just thought I would throw in a different perspective here…

    • David says:

      I have to disagree when that same person turns around and blames the world for the fact that they can’t afford their car. I’ve seen too many people who “invest” in status symbols and then blame the world when they can’t pay their bills.

      Those things that you buy when you’re young may give you “instant gratification”, but please don’t get angry at me for not wanting to pay your social security check when you get old.
      We have a limited time in this world to make the money that is necessary, not only to give a better quality of life to our children, but to last us into retirement. There are those that when they retire take world cruises and those who complain bitterly over not getting an increase in their social security. Don’t become the latter.

      Use your creative abilities to create opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Don’t suckle them on your bank account. That way they not only enjoy a better quality of life but they develop self-worth.

      Also, why do you have to enjoy life in one sitting. Why can’t you enjoy some now and save some for tomorrow. That way you don’t have to pay for your enjoyment in your younger years with misery in your golden ones.

  12. finance girl says:

    Hear hear totally agree with “it’s stupid to keep up with the joneses”. I blogged last Friday about what a car tells me about a person: it only tells me how much money they spent, it doesn’t say anything about financial health.

    That can be scoped out to other things as well e.g. a cookie cutter McMansion out in the burbs, tons of unnecessary clothes, expensive vacations, etc.

    None of those things indicate financial health, because they can all be gained on credit.

    What does indicate financial health is prudence and selective spending.

  13. Todd says:

    Zip code is important. This is a financial website correct? The value of real estate has a great deal to do with zip code. Remember the price of realestate and it’s appreciation is based on location, location and location. Provided you didn’t over pay to begin with your best bet is the best zip code.

  14. jim says:

    Todd – I didn’t mean that a zip code doesn’t matter, I meant pretending to be from a zip code you aren’t from is stupid. 🙂

  15. Joey Mariano says:

    Who here can tell me what a want versus a need really is? Isn’t it just a matter of perspective? Isn’t the term “affordable” relative to income?

    All we really need to survive is to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom…and have sex if we want to procreate. Even then, procreation could be considered a luxury. But all of those are pretty low on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What about our need to fit into society?

    Of course it is sad that Gucci bags are status symbols. Of course it would be better to judge someone based on merit, but that is tough to judge quickly. If Jesus came to a job interview in his sandals, he might not get the job. (Funny thought of Jesus as CEO).

    We are all seeking approval of some sort from others. We are humans. We are aware of how others perceive us. It just so happens that some people believe that BMW=wealthy=hard worker=beneficial to society and that Kia=cheap=lazy=bad for society. It may not be true, but that is the game we play here in America, and prosperity is the goal.

    I agree that saving is good, but so is spending. Good things cost money. And who is anyone to judge someone else for liking the best things? I like nice cars because they are safer and I want to live. I also like that they look better, drive better and have more features. I like nice clothes because they last longer. Not spending money doesn’t make you wise, not spending money foolishly makes you wise. But what can be considered “foolish spending” is different for all of us.

    I am not saying that I am rich, but I do appreciate what I have, therefore, I am already wealthy. It just so happens that my gratitude is rewarded with material wealth. Either way, I am already happy. Of course I could be happier.

    It’s really about being efficient and effective (I know how cliché that may sound). We should spend and save based on our effectiveness at being ourselves and serving our different purposes. We should represent ourselves well. A businessman should have a nice suit. He should have a good working automobile. He should have a good watch and a working cell phone and computer. That is what makes him a good person. And believe you me, he will have to work for all of those things, because no one will just give those things to him for being a nice person. He will have to perform a service for people like you and me in order to earn those possessions. If you want to be a monk, be our guest, but do not expect a dime from me. I’m sure you wouldn’t because money is not important to a monk. A monk shouldn’t live like a businessman and a businessman shouldn’t live like a monk. I the only one that has seen groups of monks at Fry’s Electronics? They either love big screens and computers or they enjoy watching others trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

    Money is not the root of all evil, but perhaps the lack of it is. Without money, we are limited in our expression of ourselves.

    • David says:

      I don’t think the article is about not spending money, but about spending money on what gives you the most long-term good. The rich invest in stocks first and cars second. The poor invest in cars first and nothing is left after that.

    • David says:

      By doing this the rich are not only able to buty the same car that the lesser income buys, but can also drive it to the airport to go on their trip to cancun and still pay their bills. That’s the point of this article.

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