Earlier this week, I appeared on HuffPost Live, an online television channel, to talk about saying “no” to spending. Social situations make it difficult for people to admit among friends that they can't afford whatever the social activity might be, such as dining out or going to a club. The discussion was couched in fashion. Working in the fashion industry, there seems to be quite a bit of social pressure to have the right clothes and accessories to fit in with colleagues. I don't know anything about the fashion industry, but I do know how important it is to look the part when your goal is to move forward in any social or business environment.
I participated in a panel hosted by Nancy Redd that included Christina Anderson, the Fashion and Style editor for Huffington Post, Dr. Nancy Berk, a psychologist and author, Nathan Morris, a financial planner, and Veronica Dagher, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal whose article “ It's Really OK to Say, 'I Can't Afford That'” inspired the topic for the show.
American consumers face pressure every day, whether from friends, the media, or societal expectations, to fit in. The human drive for the feeling of comfort in an environment or some kind of community drives us to make choices that move in that direction, even if those decisions can be harmful in the long run. It's not a case of ignorance. We knowingly do things that harm our health every day, but we continue. The same is true about financial harm.
In order to feel accepted in a group, we want to act like a group. The problem is we can't really see the true financial condition of those we emulate. If everyone on the block owns a Mercedes, it's understandable that the one remaining household on the street feels inadequate for not being able to afford the same car. Many of the families, despite the outward display of wealth in the form of a car brand that has put a lot of marketing effort into making sure its vehicles are perceived as high-class, may be struggling financially. The car may be leased, and they might not be able to afford the payments. The families outwardly displaying their wealth might have no retirement plans, and their children might require loans to attend college. The pressure to appear the same as everyone else is strong enough that the financial priorities that aren't outwardly facing often assume a lower priority.