Would you rather look rich or be wealthy? It’s an interesting question because on the surface they appear the same, but they’re not.
Let’s start off with a little thought exercise.
We can pretend they’re extreme examples on both sides of the spectrum (even though I’d disagree). Without thinking too hard, I want you to read both options then immediately pick the side you lean towards. Ready?
There’s nothing flashy about you. You purchase your clothes and shoes from Walmart. Your vehicle is reliable, but covered in rust and scratches. You live in a modest home that’s warm and safe, but far from beautiful. It’s the kind of house someone walking by wouldn’t take a second glance at. It was an older home, so the carpets in each room don’t match. However, you paid it off last year so it’s all yours. Your furniture is mostly second hand and you’d win zero awards for decor, but it’s functional and comfortable.
If someone viewed you and your life, they wouldn’t classify you as someone who has “made it”, nor would they think you’re poor. You appear to be forgettably lower middle class
However, you have a large amount of savings in the bank. There is no debt to your name. You could lose your job tomorrow and live comfortably for years without finding a new one. Money rarely crosses your mind, because you have all you need. You sleep like a rock at night because you have no financial worries. You’re not allowed to disclose your wealth to anyone though. It’s your secret.
Your life looks enviable and beautiful. You wear gorgeous clothes with name brands that people recognize. People often compliment your shoes and ask where you got them. You drive a sleek new vehicle that you just upgraded last year. People look when you drive by, and you notice.
Your house is the nicest one on the street. The big windows and beautiful entryway catch peoples eye. It’s the exact kind of house that makes people question what the owner does for work, and how they can get that successful themselves.
The only problem is you’re drowning in debt. You live paycheck to paycheck and have no savings. You say you can “afford” the lifestyle since you’re making all your payments on time, but you know if you you ever lost your job you’d lose everything. Financial stress regularly keeps you up at night. Everything will be fine as long as nothing in your life changes. So why do you feel so worried?
Time’s up; pick a side. Which life do you want?
Does your gut answer surprise you?
Does it reflect the choices you’re actually making with your life and money?
With promised anonymity, I asked 5 friends & family members to choose between the same 2 options and give me their honest choice.
Shockingly (to me anyhow), 3/5 said they would choose option #2 where they appeared rich. It might sound silly, but I was surprised. As goes my personality, I started asking more questions. Mostly I asked “why??”.
Interestingly, the two that chose comfortable finances with no flashiness had stories somewhat similar to mine. Both had sizeable amounts of debt at one point in their lives, and remember how it feels to feel trapped by it. They said they would give a lot to avoid feeling that way again.
The 3 that chose the lifestyle where they appeared rich all had different and specific answers for why they picked option 2.
To summarize their responses:
- One admitted that she could never shop for clothes at Walmart. She felt that people at work would judge her, and that it would “make her look too poor”.
- One said that option 2 closely resembled their real life, so picking a different option felt dishonest.
- Lastly, one admitted she would have chosen option 1 until I said that she has to keep her financial success a secret. She admitted that appearing successful is important to her, so she would chose option 1 only if she could justify her less flashy choices to people and appear “successful” by having the money to prove it’s the right choice. There needs to be a visible reason for choosing option 1, or she wouldn’t choose it.
I was sitting drinking coffee the other day reflecting on all my conversations and notes.
At first thought, I felt I would strongly choose option 1. I hate financial stress so having no money concerns sounds like bliss.
Plus I’ll admit…. Option 1 felt like it should be the “right” answer to me.
After all, BEING successful with money should be more important than LOOKING successful with money. Right?
Yet when I started reflecting on some of my own thoughts and decisions, I’m not so sure.
I have plans to move in with my boyfriend this spring and we’ve discussed how we’ll combine furniture. We both have two fully furnished places, yet I’ve proposed upgrading some pieces. For example: I find both of our living room rugs ugly so I feel a new one would improve the room. Plus, the living room is the first thing guests will see….
I would never show up to a dinner party with a very cheap bottle of wine. I’ll admit there are some cheap bottles that I think taste great! But I would never present them to someone else….
I’m not above name brands. If I go rock climbing, I’m typically in Lululemon. If I hike, most of my gear is Marmot. I justify the purchases in terms of better performance, but how something looks and feels aren’t unimportant to me either….
Turns out I’m not above feeling like status and appearances matter after all (a thought that doesn’t make me very happy).
I have no problem with people spending money on things they really care about. However, it’s important to question whether it’s something YOU really care about, or something you think OTHER PEOPLE will care about. Which person are you trying to impress?
As I asked in a previous post:
If you’re honest, how many of your purchases were made with some variation of the thought “This will tell the world I’m successful”.
So, would you rather look rich, or be wealthy?
The choice doesn’t haven’t to be quite as blunt as the two options I presented. However at some point, your lifestyle choices are going to tip the scale until you’re closer to one side or the other.
Which side do you want to be on? Which side are you living?
If the two answers don’t match, it might be time to do some heavy reflecting yourself.