Alison has a secret she’s hiding. She’s pretending to be someone she’s not. While putting on pretenses may be common in our society, her charade is leading up to a disastrous finale. She is trying so hard to prove to herself and those she wants badly to consider her a financial equals that she is indeed “equal.” She is causing irrevocable harm to her financial, mental and physical health.
It doesn’t stop there. Not only does she want to be equal, she wants to “one up” them in every way, from the $200 face cream she uses to the $80,000 car she drives. She has to have the best of everything and is tortured with inferiority when she can’t afford it. Not even a lack of cash stops her. Instead of taking care of the electric bill or buying groceries, Alison will buy a new $350 dress for the symphony or treat the girls in her circle to a $200 champagne brunch. Her parents have paid off her credit card debt of $20,000 twice and yet, her cards are maxed out again.
She is so far in debt, she is on the precipice of losing everything. She is so stressed mentally, she suffers from depression and panic attacks. She’s become ovexrweight, which embarrasses her because she eats and drinks to console herself when she can’t keep up with her friends. Her jealously and her desires have driven her to the brink of disaster.
Alison’s predicament may sound dire, but it is a common story in our society. So common in fact, this type of cultural inferiority boasts its own catchphrase, “keeping up with the Joneses.” Materialism runs so rampant within our culture that many of us, without being fully conscious of it, put on pretenses at one time or another in our lives. Maybe you don’t suffer as severely as Alison (which is no doubt an extreme example), but you can relate to her story.
We all try to fit in from time to time even if it’s just ordering a beverage or appetizer at a restaurant just because everyone else is, or buying a shirt at the store just because all your other friends are buying something. There are differing degrees to which we all can try to avoid some of these decisions. So how do you squelch the desire to fit in, possess things you don’t need, and live within your means?
Consider the Unknown
You probably know a couple like this. They have it going on. Or so you think. He’s got a great job which obviously pays very well because she gets to stay home with their two children. They both drive luxury vehicles, they’re members of the country club, and their house is big and beautiful. They love to entertain by throwing lavish parties and show off their wealth at every chance.
From appearances, anyone would think they had it made. But in reality that couldn’t be farther from the truth; they’re actually just fooling themselves and others and are in an unmanageable amount of debt from overspending to keep a lifestyle they can’t support. Sometimes, the very people you are trying to keep up with financially are trying to keep up with you too.
Next time you think you just have to have something, ask yourself why you want it. Do you really need another pair of red high heels or a new cell phone just like your friend got? What is the real reason for your desire to buy? Stopping to examine the origins of our wants and desires can give us just the time we need to come to our senses before making a purchase that isn’t financially sound. It won’t be easy, but through conscious effort, self awareness, and a desire to change, you can overcome spending that is motivated by social inferiority.
Fortunately for all of us, there is no status quo definition for happiness. We get to define it on our own terms by looking inward and being aware of when we feel our very best. Ask yourself, do you feel your best in debt, having accrued all of the material things that everyone else has? The nice car, the latest cell, the $80 entrée…do these things really make you joyful long term? If we get real with ourselves, we may find we are happiest, not when spending money, but when we are spending time becoming the healthiest and best we can be both financially and personally. Believe it or not, once you get started with this newfound attitude and lifestyle, it actually gets easier and easier to stick with the purchases you truly do need and want.