i saw what you spent last summer

Sphere VI (Sphere Within a Sphere)


Rich people talk about ideas.  Poor people talk about other people.
I doubt it would come as a surprise to anyone that successful people – and by successful I mean happy, or rich, or respected – concentrate on ideas and the future.  Unsuccessful people – poor, unhappy, dissed – concentrate on what others have or don’t have.

I fall far more often than I’d care to admit into the “poor people talk about people” category, but I’m going to do it now. It’s easy, now that times are bad.  Wondering how this family manages or that family doesn’t is an easy pastime, and it serves a purpose – in examining others’ failures and successes I’d like to get an idea of how I can achieve those successes and avoid those failures.  People who looked like they were living the high life are reduced to desperation – after a layoff they seize the first available job with a massive paycut.  Others who seemed to be struggling are calm, patiently waiting for the right opportunity.

During The Crisis (we can all-caps it now, right?) the distinction between the narrowly rich and the stable middle class is on display in stark black-and-white – with few shades of gray. I know much better today which of my neighbors are TRULY rich and which of them were just spending themselves into appearing rich.  The lifting of the curtain surprised me.  An old saying says that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t.  I’m sure that many of our neighbors thought we were struggling before The Crisis.  My old Pontiac sat in the driveway in the midst of Mercedes and SUVs.  We have a punky little 21″ TV we bought with American Express Membership Rewards points.

But now I am nervous, but confident that everything will turn out alright, while neighbors seem to be panicking. I don’t think I’m gloating, although I’m human and probably am, a bit.  I am no poster boy for frugality, for sure, but I make (well, made) six figures, didn’t buy things I didn’t need, and did my best to manage my money.  I don’t have the latest phone.  I took public transportation instead of driving and paying tolls and parking.  I didn’t go into debt for anything other than my home.

I still lost work due to The Crisis, just like all of my neighbors. We will all suffer as the money dwindles – some sooner, some later, but we’ll all have things we’d like to buy that we can’t.  It sucks, because we were all middle managers in the Wall Street world – finance managers, audit managers, salesmen, IT guys.  None of us deserved to be beaten down because of the idiocy of our executives, but so be it – we lived and died by the sword.  And in tough times, your financial weaknesses – which could be kept hidden in good times – are laid bare for the world to see.

photo credit: kimberlyfaye

24 comments

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    The amazing thing is that those executives who destroyed Wall Street jobs and their share of the economy are still in charge. It just shows how corrupt we have become as a nation, as the boards refuse to do their jobs.

  • How timely. I just finished reading “The Millionaire Next Door” ( review at http://www.nehalpatel.net/blog/2009/02/11/milli… ). What you bring up is something the authors referred to as “Big hat, no cattle” — the truly wealthy don't necessarily look it, while those who do, are more likely just putting on a show.

  • i vote “no”, The Crisis is not ready to be capitalized yet.

    good post, though!

  • I think being able to live at a lower level, without credit and the like, is a valuable life skill. It doesn't make up for not having a job, but it makes things a lot easier especially if you have one.

  • I am starting to see that myself with my peers. People that I thought were going much better than me and husband are actually in a worst financial situation. Here we were pitying ourselves that we could not afford a house during the peak when everyone brought their first homes, and just three years later we brought our first home at a huge discount. The boats, the jetskis, and iphones are starting disappear among my peers. Since we never have those toys to begin with, our lifestyle have not change. Sure, we are nervous, but not worry. We are so lucky. But then again, we did not upgraded our lifestyle the first 8 years after college graduation like our friends did. Often we wondered why were not doing as well as our friends, but I guess I can see that they are doing that much better than they appear. I feel for them and do not talk about my home purchase and plans with them, but I cannot help but feel surviver guilt that this economy is not effecting us.

  • Although I'm not really a frugal person either, I have made life choices that save money (live in a cheap area, no car, don't spend on clothes / gadgets). However, I'm just not at the stage where I can afford not to panic if I start losing income.

    Perhaps it's mostly my personality, but whilst I've already figured that I could probably stretch to several months without any income at all, there will still come a point where I'll be unstuck. That's a fairly unlikely scenario, but when money equates to security, it's a big problem in my own mind. I feel that I haven't yet had the time to get to be rich (or close), and I'm worried that it's all going to collapse about me anyway.

    Generalised Anxiety. We do not love it.

  • I have never based my own satisfaction on what my neighbors had. If you live your life that way, you will never be happy, because someone will always have more. Instead, you have to decide what makes you happy, irrespective of any comparison, and work to achieve that. And no, it's not that hard to do.

  • Everyone has different lifestyles and how they want to live and show off. I would rather live below my means and be more comfortable if something happened like yourself, but everybody is different.

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  • I have never made six figures (yet, I guess I could say, I'm only 26), but I did grow up in the country. When I say country, picture corn fields and people riding horses on the road. We're talking seriously rural. We had a well for water and we HAD to conserve water because when it ran out (multiple times each summer), then you just didn't have any more. It wasn't some theoretical thing, like “Someday our great-grandkids might not have enough water.” It was more like, “Damn it. Now I can't wash myself because my big sister did a load of laundry right after we did (er, hand washed) the dishes.”

    My point in saying all that is this: While The Crisis is certainly a bit scary for all of us, those of us who already have trimmed our waste and spending habits because that's just how we live, are having a much easier time than those who didn't.

    This may sound horrible to some: I recently moved to southern CA (from the country) and was shocked at the size of homes here, their prices, the vehicles people drive and how they drive them. Especially being an Easterner, when I saw the LA traffic on the news my first thought was, “Haven't these people heard of trains?!”
    I don't feel all that bad for people who've been trying to keep up with Joneses and spending way more than they make and digging themselves deeper and deeper. I have debt, but I am careful. I know my means. Beyond all that, wastefulness makes me mad simply because so many people have so little. What person really needs a house whose size isn't measured in sq. ft. but in acres? No one does. It's disgusting.

    Sorry. I got way off target here. My whole point was this: Many people who have lived middle class or lower middle class lifestyles before now already know exactly how to tighten their belts and ride out the storm. They are the people who don't need to read about getting rid of the movie channels from their TV package because they don't have them now.

    (Also, Chad @Sentient Money — You are SO right on.)

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  • I'm in the financial industry, but was never in the six-figure bracket. I have been fortunate to keep my job and received a merit increase this year. I am thankful for these things and keep firmly in mind that I have the things I need…everything else is a want and I can do without. I tell myself that, yet I don't always comply. I just bought a blu-ray DVD player that I didn't need and I didn't save up for. But, it's a good quality piece of equipment so it will last me a while, and it streams Netflix so it will help me get the most of my membership there. It may not be a need, but it didn't hurt me to get it, either.

    That said, I've been in the position of spending to look better than I am. I had to take a long, hard look at myself and my situation and it took my three years of struggling and sacrificing to get out of debt. I keep myself in check enough so that I never have to go back to this place again.

    It's a great mark of your character that despite living among those who wanted to flash their wealth, you chose to live within your means. Good for you!

  • This is a powerful post, lah, Steve. I suppose my curtains are also going to be lifted soon. I just hope nothing shameful is revealed.

    Regards

  • You are right,this crisis shows the true nature of peoples finances, if its either real or just fake. It goes the same with businesses, why are they failing? Because they cut corners and never planned for the worst.

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  • This is kinda driving me nuts, but where did the quote, “Rich people talk about ideas. Poor people talk about other people,” come from? I want to cite and attribute it, and I thought it might have come from you but I googled it and got no clear answer. Thanks!

  • Laura, I got the quote about ideas and things from “Top Ten Distinctions Between Millionaires and The Middle Class” (here's the amazon info: http://is.gd/1dcyI), but I couldn't tell you if it's original to that book. I've always assumed it is – it's a great quote, I wish it WAS mine! 🙂

  • This is kinda driving me nuts, but where did the quote, “Rich people talk about ideas. Poor people talk about other people,” come from? I want to cite and attribute it, and I thought it might have come from you but I googled it and got no clear answer. Thanks!

    • Laura, I got the quote about ideas and things from “Top Ten Distinctions Between Millionaires and The Middle Class” (here's the amazon info: http://is.gd/1dcyI), but I couldn't tell you if it's original to that book. I've always assumed it is – it's a great quote, I wish it WAS mine! 🙂

  • Laura, I got the quote about ideas and things from “Top Ten Distinctions Between Millionaires and The Middle Class” (here's the amazon info: http://is.gd/1dcyI), but I couldn't tell you if it's original to that book. I've always assumed it is – it's a great quote, I wish it WAS mine! 🙂