This is a guest post from Jana at Daily Money Shot, a blog about money at the intersection of life, pop culture and everything in between.
I don’t know what a rich person is supposed to look like. When I see celebrities or people I think are rich, I don’t notice anything special about the way they’re dressed or the way their hair looks (except at awards shows when the jewelry is worth more than my entire neighborhood). I can’t tell the difference between a $400 white t-shirt and a $14 white t-shirt. Rich people don’t talk any differently and I certainly wouldn’t know if they spent their Saturday nights dining at some expensive restaurants or crashed on their couch watching old reruns of “Cheaters”. I’m fairly certain that, even though their bank accounts are way bigger than mine, they’re not all that different.
I don’t know what a poor person is supposed to look like either. In fact, I wouldn’t even know how to tell if someone was poor, for a lot of the same reasons I mentioned above. And, given the amount of celebrity shoplifters, there’s no way to tell if a rich person or a poor person, or even a middle class person, is going to steal. Apparently, though, a security guard at a jewelry store near my house does have that keen of an eye.
A few years ago, my husband and I went into the store to get my engagement ring and wedding ring cleaned. We were dressed in jeans and coats (it was winter, sometime in January) and had our infant daughter with us (who was in a stroller). We didn’t look any different than anyone else in the store, yet the guard targeted us as the thieving type (I assure you, we’re not). He then proceeded to follow us around the store for the entire time we were there. It was awkward, uncomfortable and made me feel awful. To this day, I refuse to go back to that store. I don’t ever want to feel like that again.
So why am I telling you this? I’m not really sure, quite honestly. Maybe it’s to point out that the old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is completely true. While the guard at the store may have thought we looked like shoplifters, we sure weren’t. Taking it one step further, someone may look rich, but that doesn’t mean he is. And when we start comparing ourselves to people we think are one way without knowing the real story behind it, that’s when we enter, to quote the great Kenny Loggins, the danger zone.
The danger zone is where we start spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need, not just to keep up with the Joneses, but to surpass them. It’s where we look at our friends and family and, not knowing the intricacies of their finances, start getting ourselves into debt to impress and outdo them. They went to England for a week? We’re going on a 15 day cruise of the Greek Islands! They bought a 50” TV? We’re buying a 65” TV! He proposed on the beach? My finance proposed on a glacier! It goes on and on. The competitiveness is sickening. And a financial time bomb.
Why do we do it, then? Is it some need to keep up with what we think rich people do? Is it a need to seem “better” than our friends or wealthier than our friends? Perhaps we’re insecure and this is the way we can feel superior or envied. We want people to think we have money so we structure our purchases to look like we do. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that, at the end of the day, leaves us still feeling insecure and with an emptier wallet.
I’ve been guilty of spending for those reasons. I did it a lot in my 20s. But as I get older, I realize how foolish it actually is. I’ve learned that most people who look “rich” aren’t rich at all. They’re just like everyone else.
Because really, what does rich look like?