Its a sad fact of modern life that many of us spend our lives trying to impress other people.
We buy expensive shiny cars. We go on expensive overseas vacations (and make sure to post pictures on Facebook). We buy designer clothes, and invest in gym memberships, tanning salons and pricey haircuts.
In many ways “flashing the cash” has always been a technique used to show how powerful or successful we are. Just consider the many giant stately homes around the UK, all built by rich barons in their day.
The long sweeping drive, the vast proportions of those houses, the thousands of acres of land surrounding them.
The sad fact is that the current owners of such properties are struggling. The family fortune is often tied up in land, meaning very little in terms of disposable income.
Farming – how many such great houses would pay their way – is making less and less money each year. And while the ancestors of these wealthy barons try to make ends meet, their stately piles slowly fall into disrepair.
Frankly, its a similar situation for many of us “normal” folks – those of us living in average houses, working average jobs and earning an average salary.
I seem to meet an increasing number of people each month whose main “raison d’etre” is simply to try and impress other people. They buy the shiny new BMW they can’t afford (on finance, of course). They splash out on Gucci sunglasses (that they lose) and on jeans that cost 3 times the price of a normal pair – just because they have an Yves Saint Laurent logo on them.
At the same time their savings are almost non-existent. Many of them have put little to nothing side for their future – least of all their retirement.
If they ever get downsized, or become ill and cannot work, then they’ll find themselves in some serious problems.
Suddenly that expensive lifestyle, which leaves them leveraged to the hilt, all comes tumbling down. If you don’t believe me, just consider the housing bubble of just a few years ago, when people were living beyond their means in houses they couldn’t really afford. A slight change in the economy and it all came crashing down.
I’ve even met a few people who would prioritize upgrading their car to one even newer to actually meeting their mortgage payment that month (I kid you not).
In many ways their financial life is crumbling while they get ever more extravagant with their spending.
Surely, something’s got to give.
I used to work with a girl whose entire existence was focused on trying to impress others.
Whenever a new member of staff started she wasn’t interested in their family life, their career to date, what kind of person they are or what hobbies they have. She wanted to know where they lived and how big their house was. She wanted to know what car they drove, and where they went on vacation.
She also wanted to compare herself to them, pointing out how her house was bigger, her car was newer and that her vacations were longer.
Somehow feeling “better” than other people was the only thing that made her happy.
If she had anything you could call a hobby, it was trying to create the perfect “Instagram lifestyle”. And that cost a lot of money.
Sadly, she’s far from the only such person I know.
Now imagine an alternative.
Imagine creating a lifestyle without any consideration of how impressed your work colleagues or family will be. Imagine spending money based on what makes sense for you – as an individual (or a family) – rather than what you think will make you look successful.
Its a freeing idea.
Suddenly you can think about the future and start putting money away – rather than feeling that unpleasant feeling on pay day that you just have to buy that new outfit or upgrade your phone to the very latest model. You can save money without guilt.
Even better, you can spend money on what you really want. The people who spend money just to impress often lose sight of what’s really important in their life. Like my work colleague, their hobby simply becomes impressing people.
They forget about their passion for camping, or bird watching, or painting, or gardening.
After all, they’re just not sexy. Every time you go out in your shiny Beamer you have an opportunity to show off. But telling people you spent a week hiking through the mountains? That’s just not the sort of thing that impresses many people.
I say “many people” deliberately. Because that hike will impress some people. It would impress me. I’d love to hear about how you slept under the stars, caught your own fish and cooked them over an open camp fire by the river. But your new car? Not so much…
The reality is that today’s version of “keeping up with the Joneses” is a battle you can’t win.
There’ll always be someone with a newer car, a bigger house or more luxurious vacations. You’re forced – like the girl I used to work with – to constantly try to upgrade every part of your life, whether or not you can truly afford it.
Your pleasure comes from feeling materially superior to those around you – and that’s a very dangerous, expensive and – some might argue – sad way to spend your life.
Furthermore, such a lifestyle relies on the admiration of other people. And that’s a very fragile house of cards.
What if you meet someone new, or fashions change? Suddenly that house, that car or those clothes all need to be replaced. At further expense. Put another way your happiness is directly correlated to the opinions of other people. And we all know opinions can change.
If you’re not careful you become part of a clique of people all trying to outdo each other. When you give up that lifestyle, and instead start living for yourself you’ll find a whole new bunch of friends with similar passions. You find that you can be respected not for what you own – but for who you are.
Imagine for a moment that you were the only person alive. Some dreadful Mad Max-like apocalypse has left you the only person on earth. What would you do?
Perhaps you might decide to hot-wire a Ferrari just to see how fast you can go on the free-way. You might move into a disused mansion. You might go and grab all the designer clothes you can get your hands on. But you’d be doing it for you – for fun – as an experience. You wouldn’t be doing this to impress anyone else because, well, there isn’t anyone else.
Soon enough that excitement would fade. The Ferrari was fun – but its hardly a practical option. More likely you’d end up with a far more practical and economical car. That big mansion would get cold in winter so you’d move to a more sensible property that better matches your needs.
The key message here is this. Keeping up with the Joneses is not only an expensive pastime, but it’s also one doomed to failure.
Why take that risk with your finances, and your happiness?
Take other people’s opinions – or at least your assumptions about them – out of the equation. Live life on your own terms, and buy only what makes sense for you.
Have you ever bought something to impress someone else? How did it work out for you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below…