Do You Really Care What Other People Think?

Today, I was hauling off some trash in my old pickup truck.  The radio in the truck barely works and will only receive AM stations.  As I was bumping down the dirt road, headed to the landfill, I hit the seek button, and the radio stopped on a talk show, hosted by some dude I’ve never before heard.

He said, and I quote – The reason most folks overspend is that they care too much what other people think.  They’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, so they spend and spend.

The station faded before I could find out more about the dude or his radio program, but his statement got me to thinking.

Do I really care what other people think, about the things I own or the car I drive or the clothes I wear?

It’s an interesting question.

On the one hand, I’d like to think that I’m secure enough, happy enough, and strong enough, and that I don’t need the approval of other people, especially when it comes to ‘stuff’.  But, at the same time, I do conform to certain social norms, and I do so, quite honestly, so that I’ll fit in and be accepted.  Does this conformity reach past social behaviors and into my wallet?  Do I buy things so that I, or my children, or my spouse, will fit in and be considered normal?

I really don’t know how this post should end… So I guess I’ll just open the floor for discussion.

Do you really care about what other people think, when it comes to the stuff you buy?  If so, why?  And, if not, what do you mean by “No, I don’t care.”?

By the way – I realize that there is a certain segment of the population that doesn’t “care” what anyone thinks about anything.  That’s not, really, what I”m writing about.  I’m thinking more along the lines of – Do the opinions of others, people you love and respect, alter or change your spending habits?

(If my posts seem a bit more abstruse this week, I’m sick and I’ve stopped counting the cough syrup doses, as evidenced by my use of the word abstruse – and, what I fear is, an extreme over usage of commas)

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31 Responses to Do You Really Care What Other People Think?

  1. I’m sure being outside cultural norms makes people feel uncomfortable. I feel like a weirdo when I tell people I’ve given up my mobile phone, but I’m glad that I have “unplugged”. Then again, I’ve accepted that I’m in the 15% minority… 85% of the American public has at least one mobile device.

    I spent years chained to a mobile phone in my former job traveling across the US, and now I’ve simply grown to hate them. So I gave it up. If people want to talk to me, call the land line or email me. If I absolutely must have a wireless device, I borrow my girlfriend’s crackberry.

    Beware of that liquid Nyquil man !!!

  2. “Do the opinions of others, people you love and respect, alter or change your spending habits?”

    Obcourse yes. So long as it reasonable and will not go beyond my budget why not? For instance, my wife just complained today that I look so cheap (she’s that honest!) and that I need to buy new working clothes as I always wear a particular shirt E.V.E.R.Y.S.I.N.G.L.E week. So today I’ll be buying a new set of clothes as I haven’t buy one for almost 6 months!

    On the other hand, if my workmates started buying the latest iPhone model and ask me to buy one too, would that compel to spend? Nah!

    I guess it all depends the “level” of closeness you have with the person. People you love, wife/husband/partner tend to easily change our habit than other people.

  3. Sean says:

    Thinking back, I might have been in that state, of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Now, that I am working to get out of debt, I realize that once there, I will have the opportunity to save money and be able to buy the things (credit free) that I feel will make MY life comfortable, not what my neighbor might think of as comfortable.

  4. Dan says:

    People are social, so it only makes sense that we try to “keep up with the Joneses.” This isn’t just a financial phenomenon though . . .

    It’s the same reason that most of the self improvement blogs advise that when you make a goal, tell people about it. The most common example being weight loss – if you want to lose 50 pounds, tell everyone you know that you’re doing so. Even if the motivation to drop the weight fades at some point, you still have the motivation of trying to keep “the Joneses” expectations.

    Even if you don’t have a specific goal that you relay, most people have a tacit agreement with their social groups that says “we are similar.” If you’re part of a club, it’s expected that you enjoy whatever it is the club meets for; some of your co-works generally have the same job description; your neighbors have similar sized homes in the same location; your friends share interests; etc.

    While this tacit “we are similar” agreement isn’t explicit enough to say “If Bob buys a 75 inch TV, I’ll buy one,” it is enough to make people start to squirm when a sizable number of people in one of your social groups do something. “Because we’re all similar, because Bob, Tom, Dave, John, and Mike all have 75 inch TVs now, I probably need one (to continue being similar).”

    So while it’s disheartening that we spend so much time/money/energy trying not to disappoint the Joneses, I think we all have some control over who those Joneses are. NCN nailed it above asking about “people you love and respect.” Just because you are similar to some group (say all of your coworkers), doesn’t mean you want to be (say you dislike your job). In these cases the opposite may even be true: we make decisions to try to differentiate ourselves from them instead of trying to keep up.

    Assuming he thinks highly of his neighbors, if all of them bought new HDTVs, NCN might feel the urge to get one to continue fitting in . . .

    However, if all of his readers happened to be standing in the background (like ‘the Verizon Network’ commercials) walked into Best Buy, the urge changes as he’s got a more immediate ‘Jones’ not to disappoint . . .

  5. "Mo" Money says:

    I beleive a lot of people care about what others think. Consider the cars we drive. Would we drive an old beat up car even though it still runs well? Most of us want something that looks good even though we cant afford the payments, or we get a new car because the neighbor got one. Think about it!

  6. Jason says:

    My wife works at a hospital, and we bought a $28k car…why? She felt uncomfortable if she were to drive a junker and park next to all her coworkers in their nice fancy cars. People in her dept all make good money and it would give off an illusion that we weren’t doing well. I personally drive a 10 year old saturn because I don’t care what people think, its paid off and gets me from point A to B.

  7. I care to an extent. Now, we went to a colleague’s house a while ago and the person who was hosting a dinner party for us suggested that perhaps we shoud get a car befitting of our station in life. (we were grad students forever. our car is a junker.)

    Um.

    The car runs fine, and I don’t see the need to announce my station in life with a motorized vehicle.

    But let’s take another example. We are saving money for christmas this year. We aren’t going to get each other a gift because we are not religious and don’t really think we need anything. but we are saving up because our families will expect gifts and we aren’t comfortable giving the “we’re on a budget, have a batch of cookies” sort of handmade gift that some frugalites might think is okay. We will buy fancy gifts, probably so that our families won’t think we’re cheap.

    So yeah. I guess I do care what people think of me and that affects the way we spend money. While we are not compelled to keep up with the joneses, we are engaged in a certain amount of spending for the sake of social grace. We love our families, but we don’t think we need gifts to show that. We need gifts to not come off badly.

  8. Do I really care what other people think about the things I own or the car I drive or the clothes I wear?

    I don’t care what others think about what I drive or clothes I wear. I used to. In college, perhaps, trying to impress girls. But now I am 3/4 married and basically get told what to wear and hardly ever buy new clothes. When I do it is an event.

    I am of the opinion that cars are a HUGE waste of money. I drive a 94 BMW 325is with 240k miles on it. It is beat up. But it doesn’t cost me a dime each month in a car payment or interest. (Paying interest on something that goes down in value? Does that make any sense?) My buddies all drive nice new cars and good for them. I have a close friend who went out and got a nice Jeep after law school, even though he has $45k in student loans. He kids me that I should get a new car, but mine is still running, why bother?

    I live in Kentucky now, but used to live in Boca Raton- South Florida. You want to talk about keeping up with the Jones? WOW. People would live in a dump paying rent, but would have the nicest Mercedes or BMW that they couldn’t afford. All flash. “fake it till you make it” I worked with a guy who was paying more on his car payment each month then he did in rent!

    I agree with Sam. 15% don’t care. 85% do. This might even be more like 10% to 90%….

    No wonder the US is currently in $986 Billion dollars of revolving debt.

  9. shan says:

    I think it is a balance that everyone has to find. You can go overboard either way. Your things shouldn’t be bought just to impress others but if you don’t care at all, your outdated clothes can be making a bad first impression when a little effort (and a small expenditure) could make a big difference. Like one of my family members has a lot of cars in the driveway that are in various states of disrepair and this causes a lot of embarrassment to the rest of the family. So I think people should consider others in some cases but not buy things just to have other people think more highly of them. And especially should not spend beyond their means to impress others.

  10. deepali says:

    We all care, to some degree. I mean, we wouldn’t have blogs talking about what awesome savers we were if we didn’t want the world to know… ;)

  11. AKS says:

    I agree it is a balance. However, and I may be alone in this, I view my accumulation of “stuff” – clothes, car, etc. as ways I project myself to the outside world. That is to say, they are not up for judgment, but rather, this is who I am.

  12. I think I care to a certain extent, but I deliberately ignore the fact that I care when it comes to spending. I would not let someone’s perspective cause me to spend more or less. I like what I like and will spend as I deem I can afford.

    Ultimately, I force myself to disregard other people’s opinions (esp. family and friends) about my finances unless they have a proven track record for winning with money. So far, it has served me well.

  13. Anne Cross says:

    Yes, what others think does influence my behavior to some extent. I like to know where I stand on a continuum of normalcy, too. I care about what is “average” and where I stand in relationship to it. For instance, I’m interested in my credit score and what percentile I am in with my score. I teach college, and when I shop for clothes I ask myself if I can wear what I’m buying to work.

    Because I know this, I try to surround myself with a community of cheapskates, so that the peer pressure I feel is not to spend but to save, but only a few of my friends are on that path.

  14. anna says:

    Caring about what other people think seems to be deeply tied to personality. My mother is that kind of person. I believe she will always be concerned about appearances and how others might judge her.

    I used to care much more as a teenager, with all the peer pressure. Now I find that as I get older, it really doesn’t matter much what other people think. I always believed it was important to achieve a state of mind where I truly didn’t care, and I did struggle with it. In the end, it sort of happened gradually. To not care what others think is to experience real freedom and it is wonderful!

  15. chris says:

    I noted today how that you can so easily get caught up by the standard of living around you that can only be financed by debt. If the new cars and large homes are by and large inhabited by people who owe lots and draw upon their housing equity and you don’t won’t to end up the same way, you have to accept a lower standard of living, at least in the short term or have an income substantially higher than the average to maintain a debt free lifestyle

  16. Kevin says:

    It’s definitely a balance. I’m at the point where I really don’t care what strangers think, but I do like to look presentable for family, friends and obviously, my job. You don’t want too much stuff that it runs your life or causes you to go deep into debt. But I would argue you need some items – like clothes, computer, cell phone – to even be eligible for some jobs. I would say cars are probably the most abused however, with everyone seemingly “needing” the latest, greatest model – hence the worst investment ever – the leased car.

  17. Martin says:

    Seems to me it is important to an extant. If you work in a professional office and everyone is wearing suit and ties, you’re not going to get far wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The opposite it true as well, if the worksite wears T-shirts and Jeans, and you prefer shirt and a tie, you’re going to be the one singled out. What kills me, is that so many kids spend as much or more on their “dress down” T-shirts and jeans than I’d spend on a suit! People dress, and emote, how they want the world to treat them. Want to be treated like a biker, a business exec, a doctor, etc. to some extent you have to meet your customers and societies expecations. I think some amount of reasonableness is in each of these groupings is called for, e.g. most men at an office wearing shirts and ties doesn’t mean I have to drop $150 on shirts and $60 per tie.

    What I dislike is the excuse of not caring what others think to excuse laziness, slovenly habits, or poor choices. “I’m not apologizing that I haven’t bathed in a week because that’s just the way I roll.” or “Lookie here, that sandwich from the picnic last month is what’s causing the smell in the car.” or “Why mow the yard, it’ll just look like everyone elses in the neighborhood then.”

    It is about fitting in and finding common ground. Initial impressions based on what you have and how it stacks up with expectations is often the first step in finding that common reference to work with.

  18. pam munro says:

    There are social markers – no doubt about it – but I think if you are savvy you can avoid being taken to the cleaners about them! But my training in this goes way back. My father the executive moved to NJ when wveryone else went the opposite way to Long Island, because then he had an excuse NOT to play golf with them (he hated it)!
    He was also proud to have the oldest car on the block – but on the other hand, my parents spent their money on travel, which they loved.

    I have worked in offices and had to have an office uniform of sorts. My husband is a professional – and we negotiate his style – between sales and a certain thrift shop or 2! (Designer silk ties for $1??)

    I mostly work at home in tshirts and jeans – and save the other clothes for going out –
    but I have a vast wardrobe to fall back on. And most of my shopping is from thrift shops nowadays! All my designer things are from thrift shops, actually.

    Living in L.A. I have experienced a LOT of real estate pressure, car pressure and so on. My neighborhood was once Siberia and now is having a renaissance. I have parked my car around the corner when going to swanky events. (But in this city of bumper car traffic, it makes no sense neurotically trying to keep you car “nice”)

    Once I kept all that a secret and would just say that my finds came “from my wanderings.” But I was alwalys better dressed than everyone else! Now old stuff is vintage and it’s hip to be green – so it’s easier and I have come out of the closet.

    Don’t try to pretend these social markers do not exist – They do. We just have to keep track of them and manipulate our adhering to them to our best advantage and not let the trend make up overspend! The last laugh is when you are more financially secure than the Jones! P.S. We manage to have a nice 27 ft. sailboat to spend our weekends on!

  19. Golfing Girl says:

    I am constantly battling the social pressures at work to spend. Many of my co-workers eat lunch out every day. Many go shopping at lunch and want company. Several friends at work even tease me about being cheap because I decline these offers most of the time. For a while it bothered me, but when I see my retirement fund growing and no debt with the exception of a 15-year mortgage, it doesn’t bother me to see friends driving brand new cars while I still love my paid-for ’95 Jeep.
    I really think it’s a maturing process to not want and need what the Jones’ have, but rather decide what YOU really need and want–it may be security and financial stability instead of useless junk.

  20. Of the people I love and respect, their opinions definitely sway me. If my mom or sister were to tell me that I’d really let myself go, I’d take it pretty seriously since they’ve proven to have my own best interests at heart.

    With other people, it doesn’t really matter me what they think. I’d love it if they thought I was the most awesome person in the world, but if that’s not the case, I’m not going to buy something to try to change their minds.

    I’m definitely influenced by social norms, though. While I really don’t care about what kind of car I drive, I aim to be nicely dressed when I’m out and about. I don’t like the message I’d be communicating if I did otherwise. Fortunately, expectations are low in my corner of the world, so I don’t have to spend much to meet them.

  21. LAL says:

    Yes and No. No for stupid things like tvs, car, etc. However, yes for clothes. I think that people need to look presentable, get hair cuts, etc. It doesn’t mean it has to be expensive but there is a level of caring what others thinn of your image.

  22. Bifocal says:

    I don’t care what people think. I agree with the talk show host that people are, to put into my own words, killing themselves trying to find happiness through the approval of other people. This is a losing proposition as it seems people find happiness in other people not having what they have.

  23. Moneymonk says:

    I think this is what gets people in trouble with debt oin the first place

  24. Man says:

    I couldn’t give a flying f what anyone thinks of me. Probably because I have poor opinions of the people I work with, live next to, etc. I have a cynical view of human nature. Luckily, this cynicism allows me to disregard other people’s judgements of me. And why should I care what they think? Why would I want to be like them?

    And I save money because I don’t have a cell phone, drive a 1994 car with no loan, rent, invest in stocks, invest in antique books, and could not care less if someone thinks I am rich or poor.

    Imagine all the people you see naked… their smelly, dirty bodies and fatty deposits exposed…..trying to look important… trying to look successful. And they stick so bad.
    Yikes. Be what you are: a smelly human mortal animal. And love the one you’re with.

  25. Marc says:

    I really don’t care what people outside my life think of what I own. I drive a 9 year old car and wear clothes that I’ve owned for years (and just cycle through the same shirts every week). Anyone who thinks less of me for it just gets lowered a notch in -my- view.

    BUT

    When my wife says we should have something or sees something she likes, it’s a whole different story. I feel inferior if I can’t provide it for her. I just found this site, and am obviously not living debt free… and in the end, I suppose that last sentence points out why.

  26. Bill in NC says:

    People talk themselves into spending all sorts of money on toys like cars or clothes by pretending they have to do so “to keep up appearances.”

    I fell into that trap as well in my last corporate job where I had to wear suit (not a jacket, not separates, but a suit) every day, and was told where to shop for them.

    All to sit in a cubicle every day with no customer contact.

    When my parent got sick I left for a more flexible position where I could wear a sport shirt and slacks every day (only wear one of my old suits to weddings or funerals)

    As ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ notes, encouraging your kid to be a doctor/lawyer/Indian chief often locks them into a lifestyle where a high level of conspicuous consumption is expected.

    Self-made millionaires put what they make back into their business, often wear jeans, and drive used cars.

    I’m driving a company car now no one else wanted because it is over 5 years old and in need of paint job (at Maaco on the company’s dime sometime this fall)

  27. city girl says:

    I did care, and it got me 10s of thousands in debt w/nothing to show for it. I still care, and can’t help it, so what I have done is changed who I let into my life. Most of my friendsnow are interested in their personal and spiritual development and they take whatever work won’t interfere with that too much.

  28. I think the good news is that, as you get older, people are less impressed by “things” and more intrigued by people who seem to be comfortable in their own skin. I guess we start to realize how hard that is to achieve and begin to recognize it and admire it in others.

  29. Kate says:

    What a great post! I think that I don’t care what others think, but then I want to be presentable and I strive to be middle of the road: A basic, solid car that lets me be comfortable with my flashy friends as well as my more grounded friends. Ditto for clothes, jewelry, etc. I can’t imagine being in a job that required me to look a certain way, but I do know that I perform better if I look good. A great dress, whether it comes from Nordstrom or the thrift shop, makes me feel fantastic.

    I am actively trying to avoid any of the consumer goods that seem to define success: the big TV, the flashy car, the expensive watch. However, I would love to have a boat, because I remember the wonderful experiences I had boating as a child.

    I loved reading everyone’s comments.

  30. Tim says:

    How can you have a blog and not care?

  31. Renee says:

    I really don’t care what others are driving or wearing, so I figure that other people really don’t care what I drive or wear?

    It’s funny the people that I want to hang out with are the ones that save their money:) I want to learn from others that have it, so I try not to hang out with broke people and those are usually the ones that drive expensive cars and have big homes.

    I have found the people that save their money don’t try to keep up the the Jones they care about saving for the future and I think that makes more since.

    There will always be something to buy things just get old:) Everyone wants a “new” car… how about a new whatever?? I think we need to sit back and try to figure out why we think we need all these things just to impress people “that really don’t care”.

    My advice: Hang out with people that enjoy saving. You just might need that extra money in the near future. and Don’t hang out with Broke people!

    Renee