It’s not hard to look around and be amazed.
You hear about your co-worker’s most recent trip to Hawaii. Your friends post on Instagram a gorgeous sunset taken from the middle of the South Pacific. And then you move on over to Facebook and read about your friend from high school who just bought this amazing home on a hillside in California.
And then you look around at your tiny, cramped place. Your thoughts might turn to your student loans, or your meager budget that your salary allows. You haven’t been anywhere that cool in a long time.
You may ask yourself: how do these people do it? What do they have that I don’t? Did they have rich parents that gave them a leg up? Did they leverage their privilege? Were they just lucky?
Or am I just unlucky?
While it is true that there is some element of luck and privilege, when it comes to seeing other people’s charmed lives, there is one important lesson that you might be forgetting.
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Let’s go buy a car now
I could go out an buy a Maserati right now.
Or at least, I think I could. I haven’t actually called the dealership or anything. But I did look at a financing site and found that even with a minimum of a down payment, an inexpensive new Ghibli would cost me somewhere in the ballpark of around $1,000 per month for six years.
In my budget right now, I don’t have $1,000 extra dollars just rolling around, waiting to be spent. But that’s okay, because I could if I wanted just do it and figure out how I’d pay for it later. Right?
How it would play out later, of course, is that I would have much more payments out than income coming in, meaning that I would have to put some of my monthly expenses on a credit card. Assuming say $500 of mismatched income, each year, I would add $6,000 to my debt load. After three years, it would be up to $18,000. Plus finance charges, which would add around $150-$200 to your monthly payments.
But hey, I’d be driving a Maserati baby!
Sound silly? Well of course it is. But people do this sort of thing all the time. Purchasing a luxury item without a thought of how to pay for it is common. And it doesn’t need to be a Maserati either. Any purchase that’s beyond your ability to afford it, done for the instant gratification (either internal or eternal) can be just as damaging.
If I had bought a $10,000 car back when I bought my first car (for which I paid $1,200), I would have been in a terrible financial situation for years, and which would have affected me to this day. Due to the power of compounded interest, it may have prevented me from buying my home when I got kicked out of my apartment last year. Would it have been worth it?
Let’s go see a sunset now
But we weren’t talking about cars. We were talking about sunsets. We were talking about Hawaii. We were talking about beautiful homes.
Wouldn’t you like to be on Maui, watching the sun set over the ocean while swimming in it?
And, let’s be honest, as cool as that is, wouldn’t it be even cooler to be able to be there and then post about it? To let everyone know where you are?
You have to admit that it’s tempting. And sometimes, with life getting so difficult, you might in a moment of weakness think that “I deserve it“.
(And I believe that you do deserve it, at least once you’re able to pay for it.)
Let’s do it all later
But you can’t afford it. Not now. Maybe later on, but you can’t afford it now.
There is no shame in that, by the way. Saying “no” to something now ensures that you are able to say “yes” to something later.
But then how do all these other people do these amazing things?
Well, to answer that question, let me pose another one: how are they able to afford it?
You don’t know? Well, how do you even know that they are able to afford it?
You don’t know that either. Which means that there’s any and all chance that they can’t afford the things they are doing.
They bought that trip to Hawaii. Perhaps they put it all on a credit card, and brought home all that debt as a souvenir.
They bought that amazing home. Perhaps they are mortgaged to the gills for the next almost third of a century.
We often assume that other people can do things because they have some greater innate ability, while we, who know our own limitations, are bound by ours.
But that’s no different than walking into a room and seeing all these confident people and thinking, “how do they have it all together and I don’t?”
They don’t have it all together. They are faking it.
So why would you assume any differently about their financial abilities?
Let’s mention privilege again
I don’t want to minimize the roles of luck and privilege in our society. Sidestepping the third-rail issues of race and gender, even just your height can influence your salary, and thus your opportunities.
So do we vilify tall people, or pile on any more shame about our natural body types?
Of course not. Inequalities are there. I am a white male, and therefore I get benefits and perks that are 100% invisible to me.
But we can’t hide behind either extreme, as both are lies:
- Anyone can get ahead with just hard work
- You have to be rich/privileged to get ahead
The truth is somewhere in between.
But what that means is that just because someone acts wealthy doesn’t mean that they necessarily are. And just because someone doesn’t act wealthy, doesn’t mean they aren’t.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be wealthy than act it.