associating with the ‘appear-to-be-rich’ folks

Should you make a cold-hearted effort to hang out only with rich people? In several of my favorite inspirational/self-help sources (Rich Dad, Poor Dad; Think and Grow Rich; The Secret – and before you get all snooty they are inspirational, not technical advice on money management) the idea is promoted again and again that you need to associate with people who encourage you in your pursuit of wealth. You should associate with people who have similar mindsets toward action and living below their means and focusing on wealthbuilding. Recently I’ve taken stock of some of our neighbors and friends and found them wanting in their behavior, but not in their example. Huh?

If you want to be around people who inspire you to wealth, who is better? Someone who is just starting out in life, with few assets – a horrible apartment, moldy furniture, a bank account in the teens – but a great attitude towards wealth? Or someone who has a wonderful, pleasant home, a nice car, a happy family – and a mountain of debt and a devil-may-care attitude about the future? It seems like an easy question for a second, but then I start to wonder: maybe it’s a good idea to hang around some people who outwardly have the life you want, even if you know they’ve built their castle from sand.

I have known people who had an amazing discipline about wealth-building. A married couple I knew always drank water when out and drank alcohol at home; they studied investing and researched the cost of living in different places, and even studied for second careers at night to advance themselves. But they lived in a dump. They ate the cheapest crud they could find. And this lifestyle became a habit, and as they grew wealthier (and they did, but not remarkably so) they did not alter their habit. Selfishly speaking, they did nothing to encourage ME in wealthbuilding. Their ideas of wealthbuilding were spartan and seemed without purpose – other than to accumulate wealth.

On the other hand, another couple I know live like millionaires. They are not, I know for a fact. They are deeply in debt and may even lose their home. Yet at the same time they have an enviable home (now). They are living a grand lifestyle (European vacations, nice cars, etc.). I find that being around them makes me want what they have. I know I could have it tomorrow if I went into debt, of course, and I don’t plan on doing it. I’m going to get my bling the old-fashioned way, by earning it. But at the same time, their “how can we make more” attitude is interesting, their lifestyle is inspiring and their contribution to MY wealthbuilding seems somehow greater than Couple #1. I’m not a grubbing materialist, either – by ‘enviable home’ I also just mean the location, the character of the home, the closeness to schools, and so on… not just their plasma TV.

I think while it would be ideal to be surrounded by people like me (no debt and firmly focused on wealthbuilding, living in the twilight world of consulting between corporatist and entrepreneur, making six figures with a stay-at-home parent), that population is pretty small. I sometimes suspect that the New York area is comprised solely of multimillionaires (in debt), the middle class (in debt) and the working poor and immigrants who don’t use credit and consequently probably have no debt (but scrape hard for cash). That means I’m left with some unusual choices for my master mind group in relation to friends and acquaintances. It also means that I have to consider that sometimes I may be better off hanging around people who appear to be wealthy, simply so the appearance (and hopefully not the core) rubs off on me.

I watched The Secret again this weekend. It’s an entertaining movie. I know a lot of people criticize it for being a “lazy” or “greedy” way to approach wealthbuilding (“think about money and you will attract it”) but the more I watch it, the more I realize it’s right. If you sit around being negative and critical about anything – life, relationships, money, even your own health – you certainly won’t succeed at much. Negative thinking simply isn’t a productive activity. Just thinking more positively won’t guarantee much, either, but it does open you up to the possibility of success much more than a negative mindset does. Buy a copy or get it on Netflix or even watch the first 20 minutes on I think it’s worth it.

23 Replies to “associating with the ‘appear-to-be-rich’ folks”

  1. I’m embarrassed to say that I criticize the book and the movie, yet I haven’t watched either. I’m all about positive thinking, but I think I read somewhere that this book insinuated that horrible things like the holocaust had to do with “negative thinking.”

    Why push it that far? Not necessary.

    But I’ll check out the link and at least give it a shot. I read Think and Grow Rich and, while it had some problems, I enjoyed it for the most part.

  2. You’ve been thinking about work and lifestyle a lot lately! I think you are right about a positive attitude. We usually aren’t helped by negativity. But that alone won’t get you the life you want.

    I think a key to life is finding balance. Too much of anything is bad. You give two extreme examples but there is a place in the middle too (I hope there is!).

    Here’s a big issue with hanging with the rich-broke folks – later on your kids will be friends with their kids and they may want their lifestyle too. It’s tough telling your kid they can’t have the new thing. And after a while you may find yourself wanting more stuff that you don’t need.

    I hear you about NYC. Living here has a lot of illusions. How do all of these people have big houses or apartments in Manhattan? How are there so many SUV’s and expensive cars on the road? Well, I have friends that have a bunch of stuff but it comes with debt. And worry. And arguments. I also have good friends who do have money values similar to mine, granted they don’t all have them.

    I’d love to have a great big house, a hooked up mini-van, grand vacations…but in the end you know what really makes me happy? Spending time with my family. And for that I don’t need the trappings of the rich. If I can get some of them without being in debt then that’s great.

  3. I think you’ve hit on something there, because I’m getting really tired of reading bloggers and (especially) their pile-on commenters who look around them and “know” their neighbours and colleagues and people profiled in newspaper articles are in debt, don’t save, look down on clotheslines, use eeevil govt programs, can’t afford that car, etc etc without of course ever having spoken to the individuals. Talk about deliberately surrounding yourself with negative people! I think avoiding getting bogged (and dragged) down into that is half the battle.

    Unfortunately, of the most successful people among my circle, one couple inherited significant money and another had a huge real estate windfall. Not achievable for me without putting borax in my parents’ tea. While your overview of the tri-state population doesn’t include my friends/family there, you should move to Canuckistan, Steve; my boring middle class neighbours are very very conservative where debt is concerned, and all quietly sock good amounts of cash away.

  4. It’s amazing how many of your recent posts have been echoes of my thoughts lately. It’s kind of eerie in fact.

    This is one I’ve been struggling with lately as well. I’m paraphrasing here but, recently an acquaintence essentially said “if you don’t buy some fancy toys every once in a while, you’ll never really have reason to strive for more”.

    I guess I’m just more comfortable being a boring, appear-to be-poor, middle class Canuckistani. πŸ˜‰

  5. To hang out with someone like Couple #1 became quite depressing after awhile and boring (speaking from my own experience, I know a couple like that). Nice people, but eventually it became tiresome to hang out at their tiny apartment (they didn’t want to go out and spend money) and sitting on the old and uncomfortable furniture. We tried to hang out in our house but after awhile you want some change. I think there should be some middle ground. I never asked about their financial situation whether they were saving money or simply were poor. Our views about money and wealthbuilding were different, however.
    So, what type of friends should you keep and what to stay away from?

  6. I have a good friend who’s always going on holiday with his partner. We’re talking nice hotels probably six or seven times a year at least (in Europe, but they live in the UK too). Although I know that they do it in ways I couldn’t or wouldn’t – credit cards, friends who work for British Airways, or can get them cheap hotels – I still find it inspiring that they take the time and effort to do things that really make them happy. It encourages me to do the same, even if it is a more sensible frugal way.

  7. In the spirit of honesty I should say that I am not a fan of the Secret and the message that is espouses, but I do think there is validity to the claim that you shouldn’t sit in a corner bewailing your situation all day long. I just don’t think that the message of the Secret is the world view that we should be taking up in our battle against such things. And having stuff for stuffs sake (i.e. it makes your life better) is not the highest or most meaningful goal for life.

    For those that are interested, I think it is pretty fun to read Wikipedia’s summary of the criticism against The Secret. But don’t take my word for it, read or watch the stuff yourself (preferably for free) and make your own informed decision.

  8. I will just throw in an aside that I have (as FFB mentioned and Guinness416 and Telly touched on a bit) been obsessing on work and lifestyle a lot for a fairly simple reason: while I am happy with my family and a lot of the things in my life, I have been feeling like something’s missing, particularly work-wise.

    I think like FFB said that I’m happiest with my family, but I’ll add something that Bubelah and I have talked about, and that my parents certainly showed me, too: you cannot have your life center on one thing, even if it is your wife/kids/job/dog/favorite TV show. It’s not healthy. Balance is key. An obsession with money or material goods is just as bad as a obsession with frugality or debt aversion, I think.

    It is tough in NYC, though. I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t be happier in Canuckistan, if it wasn’t for the damn winters. πŸ™‚

  9. “while I am happy with my family and a lot of the things in my life, I have been feeling like something’s missing, particularly work-wise.”

    That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling as of late as well. Your discussion of balance is important and some days I feel as though it’s the simplicity of my job / career that makes the rest of my life balanced. But I often wonder if that’s an excuse for being bored at work. That’s why I really appreciate these posts.

    Steve, where I’m at (in Windsor) and even Toronto, our winters are generally as mild (or milder!) than NYC. Canuckistan is calling you! πŸ˜‰

    1. @telly: I’m sure Canuckistan is no worse than NYC – but I’m longing after Florida. I think I’d be happy living in the Caribbean, frankly! But yeah, being bored at work is tough. I often worry that boredom is the great sin – and by that I mean that even when I was working in a horrible job for a big consulting firm in Moscow I was never, ever, ever bored for a minute because I was so horribly engaged in everything going on. Now, I can do my job with one hemisphere of my brain shut down, and it’s not good. Growth, at the end of the day, makes people happy. Stagnation makes people unhappy. Ugh. Time to rest up for more consulting tomorrow.

  10. I feel your pain…I have a similar lifestyle and also have trouble finding ways to identify with my peers. Luckily, the PF community has a way of connecting the gaps.

    Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before living frugally is mainstream.

  11. European vacations? The nerve!

    Anyways, greeting from Bad Sedeburg!

    I would type a legit comment if I didn’t have a baby on one arm. πŸ™‚


  12. I bought The Secret video last year and downloaded some e-books from their web site. What I have taken from The Secret is that having a positive outlook gives me a happier vibe overall. Has this good vibe manifested great wealth (of any kind) in my life? Not really, but I prefer to try and maintain a positive outlook on life instead of a negative one. Like you said, I have an optomistic outlook on life and this makes me more open to the good things that are out there.

    Another great post!


    1. @bouncing betty: Thank you, thank you, for getting the main point – if something like The Secret makes you and me feel a little better about our lives, it’s a good thing. End of story. People get wrapped up trying to determine whether there is some specific, demonstrable benefit and the main point is that it simply needs to make US feel a little bit better on our daily lives!

  13. I’ve got friends who are genuinely rich. Big house. Upscale neighborhood. Multiple nice vehicles. Cash in hand. Bi-annual trips abroad.

    And I have friends who are legitimately poor. Census bureau poor.

    Money is not a qualifier for friendship and, if you think that it is, then you and I could never be personal friends because we do not share a definition of friendship.

    Friendship is all about the person.

    If I were to just associate with someone based on a demographic, I would be a leach; not a friend.

  14. @Steve: Bon bini! I just got back from Aruba last week. I think i could take a month there … but my life – my friends and my family – are here in the US. In that week I was already missing my friends (whom I see more often than my family) and wishing that either they could join me in Aruba or that I could bring my new-found friends home from Aruba.

    While it was nice to soak up the sun and the breeze, I think that by months end I’d have been willing to swim home.

  15. Interesting article. I must agree that it is not easy to be inspired by people who have little but money in the bank. I do often feel very jealous though, if I see people who seem to have everything they want even if they do have lots of debts. It is tricky to know who is the best person to associate with.

  16. I think the whole idea that, in terms of your finances, you are who you hang out with is a bit overblown. Surround yourself with good people who share the same values you do. Some will be broke but content because their line of work and some will be wealthy by complete accident. Your financial motivation comes from you and if you’re set on being wealthy, the financial status of your friends isn’t going to change that.

    But, as you said, that means there’s no problem associating with the rich-on-the-outside folks. You can admire their moxy in going for their dreams and let them enjoy the ride.

  17. Very interesting take on the situation and who to surround yourself with. I can see how being around certain types of people and their personality would help. At the same time, the will to succeed and look for a brighter future should come from within, and that would help your entrepreneur spirit.


  18. Very interesting take on the situation and who to surround yourself with. I can see how being around certain types of people and their personality would help. At the same time, the will to succeed and look for a brighter future should come from within, and that would help your entrepreneur spirit.


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