It’s Not What You Think

I somewhat regularly get asked “Does what you write in your blog make you worry about your personal brand?” I think this is a pretty good question and I’ve thought about this quite a bit in the past. The short answer is no. No, it doesn’t. The longer answer would probably also be no, but I’m not sure if that was always the case.

I wrote my first post in 2010 about how to save sixty five cents at Chipotle. I was 22, just graduated college and was selling insurance full time for far less than minimum wage. At that time, I still embarrassingly received $1,000 a month from my parents, $600 of which went to rent. As you can imagine, I had very little spending money. The main reason I wrote that first post though was because I thought it would be funny. It should be pretty safe to assume that I didn’t care enough about sixty five cents to put that much effort into writing about it, but because of my financial situation, the fear of other people thinking that I did had crossed my mind.

Sometime later, I wrote about a conversation I had with a millionaire named David. He was telling me in great detail about how he only spent $8 on a meal opposed to $30 by eating at a diner instead of a steakhouse. That probably could have ranked in the top 10 most boring conversations I’ve ever had, but I still thought it was interesting enough to write about and people thought it was interesting enough to read. In reality, the only reason we found it interesting was because he was a millionaire who wasn’t acting like how we thought millionaires acted.

So, let’s go back to the question about my public blog and my personal brand. For sure, 2010 me definitely would’ve been embarrassed to tell a story about eating at a shitty diner to save money, especially if I told it in the amount of detail that David told it in. But how come I would’ve felt the need to be self-conscious when talking about saving money while David said the exact same thing without a care? Furthermore, why was David somewhat idolized for his actions, while I would’ve been scared of being labeled as a cheapskate?

The reason is because he was rich and I was poor. It’s obvious that David had options to eat elsewhere; it wasn’t obvious that I did. Even though it makes a thousand times more sense for me to go cheap on a meal than it did for him, society praises him for his choice yet would look down on me if I made the same. This pressure from society may even have pushed me into the direction of buying that $30 meal just to show others that I could afford it, which would’ve been the first step onto a slippery slope of financial disaster.

Anyways, in case you aren’t following the not-so-great analogy that I’m trying to draw, my point is that our view on spending is kind of weird. I attribute most of this to social aspects. Why do people ask me if I’m worried about being labeled as cheap? It’s because in our minds cheap = poor. And poor = bad. On the flip side, living extravagantly = rich and rich = good. Obviously, we want good and not bad, however, the reality is that cheap does not equal to poor and living extravagantly does not equal to rich. Just because people live like they are wealthy does not necessarily mean that they are wealthy.

We all want to make money and be rich, but we have a huge misconception of how rich people act. The flashy millionaires that influence our perception make up only a very small proportion of the entire millionaire population. Most millionaires are very frugal and price sensitive; that’s how they got to where they are in the first place. It’s actually really ironic that we idolize behaviors that we think rich people have while shunning the behaviors they actually do, in an effort to be more like them.

So what does this mean for us young professionals in our twenties? I know the silent competition between us is tough and everyone wants to be more financially successful than the next guy, which is widely measured by how young we are and how much money we make. Additionally, the things we own and do can help express that we are doing well for ourselves. But maybe if we stopped correlating these things and took spending money off the pedestal, we’d put a greater value into saving and preparing a more secure future, which is by far more important. Maybe if we stopped competing on how much money we can afford to blow on nice things, but rather how quickly we can grow our net worth, things would turn out a lot better for everyone.