We hear a lot about people spending way more than they earn in a proverbial race to keep up with the Joneses. But within my circle of frugal friends, I see the opposite effect. People generally look down on conspicuous consumption. And woe unto you if you decide to do anything that's considered lavish.
A few weeks ago, a friend posed an interesting question. She and her husband recently purchased a beautiful, spacious townhome in the city. In the weeks and months before the closing, they talked a lot about not wanting to be 'house poor', so I'm assuming that whatever they spent on the house was well within their financial means. Anyway, being the gracious and hospitable people they are, they wanted to throw a big open house/housewarming party for their extensive network of friends. Most of these friends are people that they haven't seen in quite some time. And they wanted to be able to talk to their friends without having to run back and forth to the kitchen. You know how it is when you're hosting a party. So, rather than serve cold finger food for 6 hours, they were thinking of hiring a caterer to not only prepare the food but to serve it as well. But would that send the wrong message to some of their friends, many of whom live on more modest incomes?
Personally, I don't really see a problem with hiring caterers. Several of my co-workers have done the same thing. But given some of the attitudes of our friends, I could understand her concern. Having said that, I pointed out that the house alone says something about where they're at financially in life. Would caterers necessarily add to or detract from that impression?
Anyway, that got me to thinking about stuff that people feel conflicted, or even embarrassed about owning. For me, that would be my car....a 7 year old, european luxury sedan that I purchased used at CarMax over 3 years ago. The car is in great condition, and people often mistake it for being newer than it is. Chalk it up to having a car enthusiast for an older brother, but I always wanted a German-engineered vehicle. I naively thought that people would look beyond the car and not make any broad generalizations or false assumptions about my general character. So, it came as a surprise to me when some of my acquaintances made some cutting remarks to me about the car. Sometimes I feel guilty for owning/driving it, even though I spent less on the car than many of my friends did on their late model Japanese sedans. And often times I've thought about trading it in for a more modest looking car. But when I mentioned it to my mechanic and my financial planner, they both advised me not to do it because I would lose a lot of money on the transaction (I've taken really good care of my car). But I do feel the pressure to conform to my friends' expectations. So, isn't that the same thing as trying to keep up with the Joneses, but the flip side of the coin?