Chasing that Status

An article on why poor people spend a lot of money on stuff they can’t afford has been making the rounds on the interwebs lately and I’m glad I finally read it. I’ve always wondered this very same thing and would make confused comments to Hapa Papa like, “If they don’t have money, why are they spending it on huge flat screens and name brand clothes and things that we, who do have money, don’t even spend on?” Hapa Papa‘s theory was that if you thought you were always going to be poor, why delay gratification? Get what pleasures you can when you can.

However, this article finally explained why in a way that I could understand and even identify with. The tl;dr gist can be summed up in this quote:

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on.

We’ve all heard of the expression, “Dress for the job you want to have, not the job that you do.” This is just a variant of the expression – except for your whole life. It never occurred to me that the poor might possibly be spending so much on these items because it helped them not be immediately lumped into an easily dismissed category. That they wanted to signify they belonged at a job interview or at a restaurant or a nice store.

It totally makes sense to me. I do the same in my own life – but perhaps not in this extreme. And the only reason it’s not as extreme is because my ethnicity, clothing, demeanor, and gender scream, “middle class housewife with lots of spending money.” I don’t need as many outward symbols of wealth because I already fit in.

I recall distinctly my mother telling me that when I go get a haircut, or makeup, or even shopping for nicer clothes, to always dress up. Not only would I get better service, but I would get a better haircut or clothing or makeup as a result. My mom explained that if I showed up looking the part, it would take the sales person less stretch of the imagination to put me in quality than if I had shown up in sweats and no makeup. I thought it was a horribly classist way to view the world, but in my own experience, I have found my mom’s statement to be completely accurate.

When I first started working as a financial advisor, it took me almost a year before I finally settled in on clothes that suited both the position as well as my personal sense of style. At first, I had purchased all these suits from a suit outlet, but I just looked so old and dowdy. I hated the clothes – especially when I went on a three week training session and there were young women there who dressed so fabulously. I felt insecure, unprofessional, and sadly, somewhat less confident. Thankfully, my personality is such that it didn’t affect my interactions too badly. All the same, when I got home, I went shopping.

I would work with men who got custom made suits and spent ridiculous amounts of money on monogrammed shirts and fancy cuff links. I thought it was ridiculous. After all, if you had a financial advisor, wouldn’t you be looking for someone who was PRUDENT with their money? But then again, would you want someone who didn’t look outwardly “successful” and didn’t drive the “right” car?

I was teased about driving a Toyota Avalon. Not sure why since it’s totally a grandma car (nor exactly cheap), but they said it wasn’t flashy enough. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t really want a flashy advisor – I’d be too worried about them trying to make as much money off of me as possible. But I can see WHY certain people gravitated towards that type of advisor. Thankfully, I attracted clients just like myself. People who had money to invest because they didn’t spend it all on fancy clothes and cars.

Anyway, I guess this is just my rambling way of saying, I kinda get why poor people choose to spend their money a certain way. I do it, too. It’s just less obvious because I have more discretionary funds – and no one is judging me on my purchases because it’s in keeping with my income threshold.

One other thing. As much as I love to judge people, ultimately, who are we to tell people how to spend their money? Whether or not people are rich or poor, the money is theirs and they can spend it however they want.

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3 thoughts on “Chasing that Status

  1. I try very hard not to judge when I see people with things that I “know” they cannot afford and this is why. I have memories from childhood of going to Florida on vacation, having a talking whiz kid (the ultimate toy), going to 4-h camp and owning other somewhat minor things that helped me fit in with my peers. This is relevant because we were poor. I mean 5 kids in a small house – one income – food stamp kind of poor. Now as an adult, I have no idea where the money came from for these types of things but I know how grateful I am for the memories.

    • Thanks for your comment. I can imagine how important it was to fit in when you are younger. I felt similarly at times but it was more due to lack of cultural knowledge vs money. You’re absolutely right that we have no idea where folks are coming from. Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: My Top Ten Posts of 2013 | Mandarin Mama

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