Friday, January 11, 2013


Some people say it's taboo to talk openly about money.  But I'm willing to ride a motorcycle wearing a tutu, so you know my attitude toward "rules."  :-)

I had an interesting, visceral experience last night that served as a catalyst for some reflection about society.  Let me share my thoughts with you and invite you to toss yours in the ring.

What's your attitude toward wealth?

I was raised in a lower middle-class immigrant family which instilled a sense of frugality in me.  I shop in thrift-stores, look for bargains and rarely spend extravagantly.  I balance this natural tendency, however, with small flights of luxury that I savor for their rarity.  For example, I've sucked down a tiny tin of $400 caviar and I wear $200 cufflinks made from a real MLB game-played baseball.

When I've been working too hard (as recently), I grant myself an indulgence.  I find such rewards to be therapeutic.  Especially if they are on someone else's dime.

For Christmas, a client gave me a $100 gift-card to a fancy sushi restaurant.  I like the place and went there last night.  The card barely covered my meal for one.  In fairness, the food was extraordinary.

The restaurant is in the most expensive shopping center in our region.  Called the Americana, the shopping center has such tony stores as Tiffany & Co., Dior, Hermes, Cartier, Prada, Fendi and Armani.  Before dining, I walked around and browsed.  I saw a dress for $8,500 and a scarf for $1,200.  The jewelry was in the five- and six-figure range.

I wondered who pays such high prices.  Neither I nor anyone I know.  Then I remembered a woman here whose rich husband gives her a clothing allowance of $25,000 per month.  Per MONTH.  Seriously.  She shops at the Americana regularly.  Where else can you burn through that much money on a regular basis?  Old Navy?

So I was travelling in the land of the wealthy.  It was an odd sensation, like visiting an exotic country.  Suddenly, walking through the parking lot, I stopped dead in my tracks.  I saw a creature I'd never thought I'd see in person.  One I knew existed but was stunned to confront in the flesh.  One of these...

This automotive sculpture is a Ferrari.  It costs more than my house.  No kidding.

I was so surprised I couldn't move.  I felt like I'd met a unicorn.  The Ferrari looks fast standing still.  It possesses a quality of high performance that is palpable.

Staring at the car for ten minutes, I wondered who owns such an extravagance.  Of course it isn't their regular car; it's the vehicle they take to the Americana to be seen by their rich friends.  If you want to impress people, pull up in a half-million dollar racing car.

The lives of the rich really are different from ours.  How do you feel about that?


  1. Wow, what a sexy car! If I was able to afford expensive cars I would definitely splurge but my attitude wouldn't be one of "showing off" when driving it. It would be to enjoy the finer things in life because there is a difference in quality with nicer things.
    The world of the wealthy seems different, but maybe it's just in the added zeros or moving of the decimal place.

  2. I'll never understand it. Not only do I lack funds to be schmancy, I'm not a show off and really don't even like the attention that comes with impressing people, especially with material things. I'm becoming even more frugal/less indulgent in my old age, which most of the time is not a bad thing. I'd rather have 10 perfectly acceptable "normal" cars than 1 Ferrari. Or, better yet, I'd rather have 1 normal car and do something a little more worthwhile with the rest of my money.

    In defense of the rich, though, I am not a car person. :)

  3. Like you, I come from lower middle class where being thrifty and frugal was a necessity, not simply a choice. We always had plenty to eat, though, and always had nice clothes to wear. (I say "nice", however it was nothing fancy--just good, clean, quality clothing that lasted a while.) My husband and I are both (still) lower middle class folks, who will probably never ever be rich in our lifetime...and we're okay with that.

    This may sound weird, but I feel sorry for rich people. Ironic, no? Me, a poor working-class stiff, feeling sorry for people who pay more for one dinner than what I pay in a whole month for the family groceries. Yet I do. Because when it comes right down to it, rich people have problems the same as me--sometimes even worse problems. At least I know if someone loves me just for myself and not for my money or what I could potentially do for them.

    P.s. Of course I still dream of winning the lottery and what I'd do with buckets full of money!

    1. You're right. The rich suffer from a sad truth: money can't buy happiness. That delusion, which some non-rich people believe, isn't available to the wealthy.

  4. $25,000 a month for clothes? I can't imagine living only for the externals like that. I'm guessing she doesn't wear the same thing twice! Those are the thrift items I dream about ... okay maybe not. I don't know that I own any "label" clothing or accessories. Just not in the budget.

  5. Oh goodness! I've been to the Americana and I've seen cars like this there- usually being valet parked. And when I say I've been there I mean for window shopping and drooling. If only I had $25,000 to spend there! Oh heck I'd probably end up donating most of it to charity and shopping at the Daffy's next door (is that still there? I haven't been out that way in a while.) I'm not a car person but whenever I see something like that I think I could be persuaded to change my thinking!

  6. We have a shopping center like that here in MN and I met a friend for coffee there this summer and then just shook my head at all the people that were shopping in these crazy expensive places. I am not that girl. If I won the lottery I'd do some traveling sure, but I'd donate a ton of it. Wealth to me is just not that important. Being happy in your life? That's much better.

  7. I might be able to spend $25,000 at Old Navy (love that place!). :) But really, that sounds crazy! Does that lady wear clothes once and then throw them away?

    Wealth is a funny thing. I thought I was wealthy when I got my first job out of college. I'm now making 3 times that amount...and sadly, some days I still don't think it's enough. Maybe true wealth is only found inside us. (Yep, that's my profound thought for the day.)

  8. Money really does make a huge difference. I've noticed it even reflects on how I make friends. Friends who grew up like I did understand I can't drop $13 on a movie and money at a sit down restaurant with cocktails and more. We decide to cook at home, talk, and enjoy free art crawls, car pool places, etc.

    Like you, I've found my little luxuries. I have a small collection (numbering under 25) of expensive shoes. Nothing over $250, all of it grabbed on sale or off ebay, but it's high quality footwear that makes me feel amazing. I splurge on the occasional nice clothing piece, but for the most part I sneer at paying more than $4 for a piece of clothing. I thrift shop and find nice stuff. I can't fathom spending $100 on a sweater, maybe on a coat - but not on a slinky jersey dress or t shirt.

    I'm not even a car person, but I still drool like crazy when I see a particularly lovely corvette or other curvy sports car. Something about the artistic lines and movement speaks to a visceral part of the mind.

    Admittedly, I'm in the poorest part of my life right now. Both the husband and I are unemployed (and students). But I'm happier right now than I have ever been. My options to buy things has been reduced and has been deployed with a lot more critical attention - high quality and permanence (tattoos) over floaty pieces that fall apart.

    I agree with Joni, my choices to splurge are not to show off I have money (or had it when I bought something) but to enjoy finer things made of quality. More expensive food often comes from quality ingredients, pricier clothes often made of better materials and better construction, nicer cars with shiny gadgets and hopefully not breaking down when you go to turn it on.

    Money is a big separator. The have and have-not soaks into you, and even if you become a "have" later in life you still remember what it was to have-not.

  9. I have mixed feelings. I too shop thrift, but have occasional flights of fancy. I work hard and an occasional indulgence is not so terrible once in awhile. I don't go overboard, just do a big retail binge/therapy once or twice a year.
    I live in a modest town on a lake that is a mix of mostly middle class homes, some very low income housing and some huge, ostentatious homes built on the lake front. I'm in the middle class. Its not unusual to see beaters, nice SUV's and mini vans and the occasional Lambo driving around the lakefront. One mysterious homeowner on the lake...about two miles from my home, has the unicorn too; a Lambo, a BIG hummer and huge boats and toys in his driveway. Across the street from his home, there are rusty beat-up cars. The polarization is striking.

    There is such a power differential and opportunity for those who can afford the unicorns is great; for others, far more challenging. I teach human development across the lifespan. I discuss with students how socialization, society and culture all have impact on individual development. I volunteer in human services. I am in awe of the disparity and class division.
    I'm thankful for my more modest lifestyle, compared to the Lambo-man and ever aware that what is modest in that context is indulgent in other contexts.

  10. i guess i don't have a problem with wealth and money. if you got it, great. live it up. enjoy it. it's the way people act when they have it that bothers me. i was watching a reality show (on netflix) about a certain fashion mogul, and by the end of the three seasons, i was SO turned off by the way she talked to everyone...her assistants, her employees, her friends. for example, telling an assistant to separate the corn and chicken (or whatever!) from the lettuce in her salad. seriously?? all the money in the world does not give you the right to talk to anyone that way. not in my book.


  11. Money can remove certain problems (like food and housing insecurity), but it certainly can't buy taste or class. I love nice things as much as the next person, but I definitely have the WASP distaste for ostentation.

    I also grew up lower-middle-class, and had to learn the hard way about the difference between "cheap" and frugal. I've wasted a lot of money on cheaply-made merchandise that did not stand the test of time in that process. Just yesterday, I had to talk myself out of a sweater that was a great design and color for me, but looked cheaply made. The yearn was an obvious acrylic, and the knit a bit too loose. Pass!

    I have been a bit envious of the RX-8 I see parked on my block lately... I came close to buying a blue one about eight years ago, In the end, I just couldn't justify taking on the unnecessary expense... even for a car I've been lusting over for ages!

    I can't even imagine that spending $25K/month on clothing would even be fun. I like to look nice and all, but there is so much more to do in the world than shop for clothes!

    1. What smart points you make, buddy. The cheap/frugal distinction is an important one and directly affects our purchasing decisions. And studies show that, yes, money can buy away the pain of being poor but at a certain level, it doesn't add happiness. The studies are identifying that level right now as $75,000. Above that, money does nothing for us.

  12. Hmmmm, I'm totally on board with a $100 sushi meal :) If someone gave me $25k to spend on clothes tomorrow, I couldn't. I'd feel too guilty, and still think I could do better secondhand. However, $1k a month sounds VERY Hah, that's more than my mortgage.

    As some readers have commented, money does not buy happiness. It does buy more things, that's true. And it does make high-priced necessities easier to obtain, like medical care and prescriptions. Having never known the sensation of having much money, it isn't something I imagine very often. I do occasionally spend more than I should on an item of clothing or a holiday, but that is so tied up in too much personal baggage to cover here :O

  13. Well I guess it depends... there are the wealthy show offs and the humble ones.
    I know a couple who is filthy rich and you would never know it. Well, if you followed their life style closely maybe, but if not it would not appear.