I confided in my friends that I was afraid of going car-free because I thought it would make people think I was poor. I’d be the weird kid biking everywhere while everyone else showed up in their cars. They all responded the same way: driving my 18-year old Honda made people think I was far poorer than being car-free.
And so, without adding or subtracting a cent, (and actually subtracting one car), I was now wealthier in the eyes of others. But how strange to think that someone who doesn’t have an asset could seem wealthier than someone who has that asset (a car, even if beat up). Wouldn’t one naturally think that the person who has more stuff is wealthier?
It got me to thinking, we buy these markers of success in order for us to look a certain way but sometimes we are completely wrong about how we are being perceived.
I asked my friend, who is a fancy businessman, if he thought I was broke based on how I’ve furnished my apartment (a strong Ikea theme). And he said no, because one’s bank account isn’t reflected in one’s possessions. I think this may be how wealthy people think in general. I mean, when I first met him, he was wearing a NASA shirt that he bragged that he got for $6. Wealthy people appreciate a good deal.
On the other hand, I have a friend who always seems to be going on shopping sprees at expensive stores – Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzmann. And then she spends a lot of time selling stuff on consignment. It’s like a rotating door of expensive clothing, kind of like fast fashion with bigger price tags. And honestly, hearing about her expensive clothing habit made her seem poorer because it didn’t seem like she valued money or time, no matter how expensive the tags were.
So really, we may live a certain lifestyle to be perceived a certain way, but we really have very little control over how we are perceived.
What financial habits do you think make a person look wealthy or poor?