Peer pressure can be an ugly thing. It can also be expensive. You son begging for the same outrageously priced sports shoes his friends play basketball with. You daughter clamoring for the same cool smart phone that her peeps are texting with. The pressure is unrelenting and it never ends.
And it isn’t only kids who succumb to peer pressure.
They used to call it, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ but nowadays it is more like keeping up with your work peers.
The pressure in many companies is immense, wrought by toxic company cultures that promote snarky, backstabbing and one ups-man-ship behavior — all under the guise of, ‘healthy competition’.
I have worked for a couple of companies like that, all very toxic on multiple levels. With my frugal nature, neither were a good fit for me. I had zero interest in who bought what car or how much somebody’s last vacation cost. I thought it absurd and had this lofty notion that we should all be focusing on doing a good job, not who bought what. But the reality was, not so much. To be fair, I am sure a lot of people felt me silently judging them their insecure bragging about their regarding their latest outlandish purchases. I could not have been more clear what with the eye rolling and the silent, long suffering expressions.
One company I worked for I discovered that nearly everyone on the team was deeply in debt and yet spending wildly on new cars, vacations, etc., in hopes of impressing the powers that be. It was a bizarre form of collective financial suicide. And it didn’t escape me that most of these people in debt up to their eyeballs were part of two income families and yet they worried openly about making rent. But man, they sure had that $40K new car and phone shots from that wildly overpriced bragworthy vacation now didn’t they. I recall one person who would scream at accounting on a regular basis for a $100 expense report check because her power was about to be turned off yet she had a brand new, $50K truck and had just spent $25K on a ‘dream trip’ to Asia. This while she often had her cell phone service suspended due to lack of payment.
This mentality I never understood and never will. Rampant materialism will only put you in the poor house, blacken your soul and ruin your chances for happiness and freedom from the tyranny of debt. That’s the thing that strikes me the most, none of the materialist people I’ve known have ever been remotely happy. One can’t be happy if one is worried about the power being turned off. One can’t be happy if one feels compelled to buy new stuff just so they feel worthy.
Worthy of what? Bankruptcy?
So, as you may have guessed, I don’t have materialistic friends but I sure know a lot of people like this. I was at one company reunion and to my dismay, a woman whom we all used to like arrived with her shiny executive husband in tow. She spent the entire time bragging pompously about their amazing social life, how in demand they were, how much money they spent and oh, how she could not possibly manage without around the clock nannies for their little designer tots. To say that we all found her intolerably obnoxious would be an understatement. Yet for all of her bragging, there was a sad undercurrent of pedaling frantically just below the surface. One of the former sales guys took me aside to tell me his son had sold her and her presumably rich husband a frankly beat up old used car that she bargained mercilessly over the price and then defaulted on the payments. It wasn’t until he threatened to have the car very publicly repossessed that she hastily paid him the balance owed for the car. How embarrassing for someone so ‘rich’. I am sure she claimed it was an oversight. At the event, she also kept pulling her phone out of what she called her, ‘Kate Spade’ which I knew from many years of traveling and shopping in China, to be a very cheap knock off purse.
None of us could figure out what turned such a delightful and fun person into such a repulsive, insecure phony but to our collective credit, none of us stuck around long enough to listen to her drone on and on about her ‘amazing life’. Sadly, I know her behavior to be far more commonplace than people think. She had somehow succumbed to the material dark side of life and thought she could impress people by bragging endlessly about her amazing life.
Yet for all her bragging, I found her to be incredibly unhappy and massively insecure.
And about those pricy addresses some people simply must have? The price is often much higher than just a sky high mortgage. Awhile back, I needed a dress for a very special occasion that I wanted to be able to repurpose for other things as well. To find something versatile, I ended up at a frankly expensive store in Stanford Mall, Palo Alto, a pricy zip code to say the very least. There I found what I needed for a surprisingly decent price. As I plunked down my cash card, the clerk picked it up in amazement and actually asked me if I had other cards I wanted to put the balance of the purchase on. I was confused to be sure. Why would I need to do that, I asked? The answer came quickly as the person making a purchase next to me was hauling out three credit cards and her checkbook to cover a $150 purchase. When she left (unable to complete her purchase because her cards were maxed out), I asked the clerk if this was commonplace. After all, we were in
ritzy Palo Alto where homes all cost millions of dollars. The clerk confided me in that she had worked in a dozen of these expensive stores and the more upscale the neighborhood, the worse the locals were about money. “They all have multi-million dollar homes but they have to max out their credit cards just to buy food,” she complained. So while they live in what they believe is the right address they also live with the ever-present reality of an empty bank account and maxed out credit cards.
It’s sad, really and truly sad.
So the moral of this particular blog entry is, always live well beneath your means, in an affordable zip code/neighborhood and find a way to fill up your self-esteem bank with something that has nothing to do with material things or keeping up with anybody. Spending money you don’t have won’t make you happy, it will make you broke and miserable.
And you can take that advice to the bank.