Review: Green with Envy

Each Friday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book of interest.

green with envyThey’ve got vacation homes, backyard swimming pools, and three car garages. That’s what we see. What we don’t see is their secret shame: the unpaid bills, the desperate loans, and the sleepless nights.

That’s the blurb on the back of Shira Boss’s Green with Envy, and it strikes right to the heart of one of the big hidden truths about American consumerism. We’re all jealous of the stuff that other people have, but what we don’t see is their debt and their struggles to overcome it. I see the Lexus down the street, but I don’t see the $500 a month car payments, and seeing only one side of the coin makes it much easier to be envious of their good life.

It’s spelled out right on the cover in the subtitle: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt. What can we do to get past that idea? Let’s dig into the book and find out.

A Deeper Look at Green with Envy

Chapter One – Green with Envy
The book opens with a lengthy story about the author, her husband, and their new next door neighbors who seem to have everything. The frankness about the gossip that went on between her and her husband concerning the new neighbors and their seeming ability to spend money like water was refreshing, as was the admission that the fact that the neighbors had money to spend grayed her perspective on life. Of particular interest to me, though, was the glee the author and her husband felt when she discovered that in fact the neighbors were having financial problems, proving somehow that their lifestyle was a fraud.

There’s a lot of self-centeredness in that whole story, but it’s an identifiable self-centeredness. It’s something we see sometimes in ourselves, and it’s what we see in gossip hounds down the block who tell stories like, “Oh, did you SEE that car that Maggie just bought?” and the varying disgusting and petty jealous barbs that follow a question like that. It’s all familiar stuff, but depressing stuff, because you can see the hypocrisy and the logical failure behind it.

Chapter Two – The Money Next Door
The story of the neighbors continues here, focusing on the fact that one of them actually has a spending compulsion and they were racking up tens of thousands of dollars in home equity and credit card debt. They seemed to have everything – an amazing home decor, a car in the city, expensive haircuts and clothing, and so on, but it was all being fueled by credit cards. Viewing them from the outside, it would be incredibly easy to be jealous of their supposed largesse, but behind the walls it was a disaster, like a two by four internally ridden with termites. Even worse, one of them had developed a psychological addiction to spending, and she was adding thousands of dollars a month to her credit card balance. The spending was basically out of control, but she was in denial, using the rush of spending to quell the pain. In other words, those “perfect” next door neighbors had a disastrous life.

Sometimes, what seems up is actually down, and if you spend your time comparing yourself to what you see on the outside, you’ll end up breaking what’s on the inside. Don’t let your perceptions from afar about the people around you guide your decisions, especially your spending. The people next door with all the stuff might be hiding a nightmare behind those solid oak doors.

Chapter Three – Keeping Up with the Joneses
This chapter tells the story of a different couple, ones who moved into a neighborhood where they could just barely afford the mortgage and they were surrounded by people with a much higher standard of living than them. Instead of just keeping their eyes focused on their own situation, they began to constantly compare their own lifestyle and standard of living to those around them – and they began to adapt. Of course, when you have the lowest income in the neighborhood but you’re putting on the airs of a much higher income, it’s not surprising that you begin to turn to credit, and it’s no different for Dan and Tammy, the couple in this story. They eventually got dragged into bankruptcy, destroying their credit for a decade.

The lesson here is obvious: it’s far better to live in the best house on a low income street than the worst house on a high income street, because on the low income street there’s very little pressure to spend more than you’re already spending, whereas on the high income street there’s a ton of pressure to spend more than you have. Don’t fall into that trap. (Incidentally, we moved into what could best be described as an average house – the one to our north is comparable, the one to the south is nicer, and the one to the west is not quite as nice.)

Chapter Four – Capitol Secrets
Similarly, it can be an enormous financial problem to get into a job that has the appearance of earning far more than it does. Shira Boss uses the perfect example of congresspeople, which many people assume must be rich. After all, they make a strong salary and … they’re congresspeople. The truth, however, is that most congresspeople have difficulty making it financially. They’re almost required by their constituents to appear wealthy – wearing nice suits and the like – but many of them sleep on the couches in their office or share one bedroom apartments just to get by.

This is another valuable lesson: the general public often has vastly incorrect perceptions as to the earnings of particular job titles, and they often expect you to live up to those expectations. If you’re choosing a job that has the appearance of wealth without actually earning it, you’re going to be in for a challenging road.

Chapter Five – Baby Boomers Beware
Another area where people are often subtly pushed into living beyond their means is in terms of demographics. For example, as many Boomers approach retirement, there are some that are financially prepared and are living the high life, while others are not – and they try to emulate this high life without proper preparedness, leading to financial ruin and working until very near the end of their life. This is actually a situation I worry about for some of the members of my own family – I watch them inch closer to retirement age and stlll they lack appropriate financial planning.

The best way to avoid this is to keep your eye on your own ball and figure out what you actually want. Which is more important to you: living it up a little now and working until you fall down, or retiring a bit early and enjoying your final years without the pressures of work? It’s not an easy decision, but you should make it without the pressures of society mattering at all. It’s your life – do with it what you really want to do, not what the marketing suggests.

Chapter Six – Behind the Hedges
Another way that society can subtly encourage you to spend more is when you live in a neighborhood or town defined by the community (or the world) at large as a “wealthy” neighborhood or town. For example, merely hearing that a person lives in Palm Beach evokes an idea in the minds of many that the person must in fact be wealthy. Often, this isn’t true at all – people try hard to preserve that impression because it increases property value (on paper), but their day to day reality is often far from that one might associate with wealthy. It’s filled with the same challenges that we all face – not knowing how to act around others, misunderstanding how they appear to others, having to make hard choices.

It’s very easy to say, “Well, they’re rich,” as though that makes many of the societal challenges that humans face somehow easier. It doesn’t. In fact, in my own life I’ve sometimes seen the opposite to be true. My father has never been wealthy, but he is only socially uncomfortable in extremely rare situations. On the other hand, the wealthiest person I know is often completely unsure how to act in most situations, so he often just remains quiet – and thus many people treat him with disdain for being aloof in his richness. People are people, no matter what they have.

Chapter Seven – Conclusion
There are countless ways in which society influences the money we spend – or the perception of the money we spend. The best ways to fight it are easy: focus on your own values and constantly try to be yourself. In other words, don’t be judged by what you think others might think of you, and don’t judge yourself by the choices of the people around you. Just be yourself.

Some Thoughts on Green with Envy

After reading Green with Envy, my mind was filled with several different thoughts. Here are a few of the more compelling ones.

I experience the challenge of not knowing how to behave sometimes, too. When I tell people I’m a writer, they usually paint some sort of image in their head. I’ve come to find out that it’s usually an image of a frustrated writer, sitting at his keyboard hammering away, often boozing himself into a stupor to deal with his own personal demons. It’s been voiced enough as a stereotype to me that I’ve even joked to my wife about it, telling her that maybe I should take a bottle of gin to the office with me when I close the door and focus on writing. Stereotypes are rarely true.

You never know what your neighbor’s true financial situation is. A friend of mine recently bought a BMW, something he’s always dreamed of owning. I knew him well enough to know that he could barely afford the insurance, let alone the car. It turns out that he had been left the money by a relative who had told him that he should go buy that BMW with the money. It’s almost funny to see how people’s perspectives have changed about this fellow just because of his different car. It actually shows the shallowness and superficiality of others.

Whenever you look down the block, just imagine all of the different ways the people are actually paying for this stuff. Maybe it’s debt. Maybe it’s an inheritance. In either case, it’s not sustainable, and you shouldn’t jump on board to something unsustainable either.

Is Green with Envy Worth Reading?

I found the first three chapters of Green with Envy to be essential reading for anyone who feels a lot of jealousy about the luxury trappings of people living around them. It paints a real picture of the true reality of the situation – and it’s rarely the happy luxury you’re imagining in your head. The remainder of the book was interesting, but not as vital – it merely reinforced the points of the first three chapters in that appearances are often not what they seem and you’ll do well for yourself to try to look past the veneer and see the true picture before you get jealous.

Green with Envy was a very enjoyable quick read, the perfect book to check out of the library and read in the evenings before bed. While it doesn’t contain any profound personal finance insights, it does a magnificent job of exposing the realities of being jealous of what you think others have.

I recommend checking it out from the library for a light and insightful read, particularly if you’re feeling mighty jealous of that family down the block that has everything.

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  1. Evandro says:

    Hi Trent!
    Such a nice article! As a coincidence, a monthly magazine called Vida Simples (Simple life, in English)I subscribe here in Brazil came out with a report focusing exactly the human need of always thinking the next door friend’s life is better and should be ours. Not only possessions, but also beauty and fit.
    As we can’t ever be internally fulfilled by perishable stuff, these comparisons and wants bring only sadness and disapointing – not to mention huge credit card bills.

  2. Sally says:

    In our “middle class working” neighborhood – there is one family that is seen as the “big wigs” They are genuinely decent people and the husband has worked at the same place for 20+ years and is finally being rewarded for it. Also, their children are a bit older. I would like their money – but I wouldn’t want my husband under the stress this husband has (commute 2+ hours a day/gas $$, work 60+hours a week) Also, the fabric of their family is based on “stuff” – the latest gadgets, etc. I view it as getting to be under their “umbrella” of fun stuff and good will. I wouldn’t even try to keep up. But that is me NOW. About 5 years ago, I was still putting on airs.

  3. Great post. I think most of what motivates us to spend is tied up in social standards, no matter how unaffected we think we are by it.

    I also like your writer scenario. I get the same flack. Most know I don’t make a lot of money and get a bit ‘green’ that I travel all the time. They don’t seem to make the connection that being a travel writer means free travel and that I’m working on these trips. Or the other half thinks I make more than I do and wonders why I’m not out spending more and joining in expensive activities. I’ve learned that you really can’t win, people will always have preconceived notions.

  4. Katie says:

    I try really hard to remind myself that just because someone appears to have it all doesn’t mean they do. You never know what kind of debt load they have, how much money in savings, what kind of retirement plans, etc… It is especially difficult when we are the only couple amongst our group of young professionals to have a house and kids. So while our friends can afford fancy cars, latest gadgets, and expensive dinners, we have totally different financial priorities. It can make sticking to our goals really difficult, since we do get envious of all that stuff that seems to come so easily to them.

  5. It’s interesting that the whole point of this book is to convince people that others don’t have it nearly as good as it may seem. That may be true, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem – people seek validation from external circumstances.

    This isn’t a problem of finances, it’s a problem of psychology. As long as we are looking to external circumstances to prop up our own egos, we’re going to do dumb things, whether it’s overspending, dating the wrong person, or working a high status job we hate.

  6. Outstanding post, Trent. You are great at providing us with simple and innovative ways to keep more of our money, but you are at your best when exploring the motivations that drive our different behaviors.

    I can remember 35 years ago, starting out as a new PE teacher at $7400, and wondering if I would ever have a shot at the American Dream. It seemed like EVERYBODY had way more “stuff” than I did.

    For some reason, “stuff” impresses us early in our careers. My last few years before I retired, I knew a lot of young teachers with mortgage payments between $1500 and $2000 a month. Their houses were huge and beautiful, but the AC bills must have been enormous. Pretty scary.

    Now, I find way more enjoyment living a simple and uncluttered life in retirement. Collecting natural experiences (as mentioned in one of your recent posts) at the beach on early mornings means a lot more to me now than having a Corvette.

    Thanks for an insightful post. Keep up the good work.

    Cade

  7. Russ says:

    “The lesson here is obvious: it’s far better to live in the best house on a low income street than the worst house on a high income street”

    This is only true if you really are susceptible to keeping up with the Joneses. Given the importance of location when selecting property, you are much more likely to build equity in the worst house on a nice street. Not only that, but the best house on a poor street will be attractive to burglars.

    If you have any willpower at all (the whole keeping-up thing is a genuine mystery to me, I don’t recall ever once buying anything to impress the neighbours) then go for the worst house on the best street every time.

  8. Outsaving the Joneses says:

    I like telling people I’m a writer. Being a writer sounds so bohemian and romantic to me, even though any writer knows that’s not true of the actual writing process. I tried real estate for awhile, and I HATED saying I was a realtor. My husband is in sales, but wants to go to culinary school in the next year. I like the idea of saying he’s a chef rather than that he’s in sales. I guess I like the creative job titles much more than “broker” or “accountant.” Maybe it’s because “writer and “chef” make it sound like the person might enjoy what they do.

    On the subject of envy—I’ve let go of the envy I used to feel. Over and over I’ve seen that jealousy I might have felt was unfounded. For example, my younger cousin went to college and graduated in five years with her master’s degree in accounting. She was making 10K more than me right out of school. I really was happy for her, but I felt like I should have been that successful, too. After all, I was the straight-A, top-1-percent-of-my-class student in our family, but I had chosen to major in journalism. I began to wish I’d picked a more lucrative career.

    Then two years ago, she quit her job, got fired from the next one, and was on drugs. She’d used drugs in high school, and her parents had ignored the situation rather than insist on rehab. They didn’t know where she was living. When she finally moved back home, she had so much debt that she had to file bankruptcy at 23, which was detrimental to her job prospects as an accountant. She still doesn’t have a job, and she’s living with some guy to get out of her parent’s house. She won’t see or talk to anyone in our family, even though we only care about her and lover her (and certainly don’t blame her since her parents chose to ignore her drug problems when she was still under 18).

    I felt so stupid for being jealous for even a minute. I really learned my lesson about how ridiculous it is to envy someone else when you have no idea what’s going on with them, financially or emotionally.

  9. Outsaving the Joneses says:

    Love, not lover. Argh.

  10. I am interested in the fact that a whole book is devoted to ths subject. I am glad I read the article instead. But it is very true. Very interesting. Thanks Simple Dollar.

    Robyn

    Recritique.com
    Restaurant Coupons, Freebies and More.

  11. My.cold.dead.hands says:

    This was a good article and I’ll probably get this book.

    It reminds me of the ‘Giant Marketing Machine’ that was described in the book Debt is Slavery.

  12. Lisa says:

    Reading “The Millionaire Next Door” seems like a nice complement to this. First you read how bad it can be next door with those who look like they have everything, then you read how financially secure the car mechanic with the cloths line in his yard is across the street.

  13. Beth says:

    This sounds a lot like The Millionaire Next Door which I’ve read twice now. It is really sad how much time and money people spend comparing themselves to the Joneses. Trust me, outwardly it’s the ones who flaunt it that are hiding some big problems inside.

  14. Mike says:

    I like the part about the things that influence us to spend. I have often felt this effect when traveling places but never understood it. My in laws live in a place that is simply beautiful, tree lined streets, huge houses and shopping within 5 minutes in any direction. Contrast this to my home in rural PA, we drive an hour to get to similar shopping centers. I realize that when we visit I feel far more pressure to spend because of all the glitz and places to “temp me”.

  15. Sara says:

    I think that the financial benefits of the neighborhood you live in can, to a degree, come out in the wash. In my case, I’m in a starter neighborhood. My home is not going to appreciate much since that neighborhood will always be a starter neighborhood. But there’s no pressure to spend and no fancy cars to envy, so it’s easy to live a quiet, nonconspicuous lifestyle and save a ton of money.

    If the potential costs/benefits of “wealthy” vs. starter neighborhoods balance out, then it’s important to just pick the one that will make you happier.

    I’d agree with other posters that this book seems like it would be most beneficial when read in conjunction with something more values-oriented. After all, laughing at my neighbors won’t get me anywhere. I need active strategies to do that.

  16. Joe says:

    And of course there is the chance that the family with all the cool “stuff” is doing really well (i.e. earning a lot) and isn’t actually buried under debt…

  17. Sarah says:

    I’m not sure it’s worth it to replace envy with schadenfreude. Probably you owe your neighbors compassion and respect, regardless of their material circumstances and spending.

  18. beth says:

    This raised two thoughts for me, both reinforcing the point:

    We lived in Santa Barbara, CA for several years, which means everyone instantly assumes you’re rich. What they don’t see is that nearly everyone under 30 lives with 4-8 housemates (often in bunk beds) and all that most people lead very simple lives because they spend so much to be there. It’s a whole city of “wealthy neighborhood” assumptions by outsiders.

    And this whole thing reminds me of a commercial that I keep hearing on the radio from a local car dealership. It goes something like, “Imagine pulling up to your favorite restaurant in a new Honda or Toyota. ..NNNNow imagine what it would be like to pull up in a brand new Mercedes Benz.” I must not be their demographic, because the shallow assumptions about keeping up that they make tend to make me a little nauseous.

  19. Fabrice says:

    It is not true that “it’s far better to live in the best house on a low income street than the worst house on a high income street.” It is only true if you have the psychology to keep up with the Joneses.

    On the other hand, if you know that buying the worst house on an expensive block is much better for your equity, you’ll be riding the added value all the way to the bank, if you are content with driving your 10 year-old beat up pick-up truck in the midst of your neighbors’ BMWs.

  20. getagrip says:

    I think we can carry this idea that neighbors who buy things we want but feel we can’t afford are digging themselves into some pit of debt a bit too far. It smacks of snobbishness of the other kind (The Gleason’s got a new Mercedes! Well, they can’t possibly afford that. They simply *must* be drowning in debt!).

    Not everyone who owns a BMW or a Lexus is leasing it or even has a car payment. Not everyone who buys a great house is one paycheck away from losing it all. Conversely not every plumber or electrician driving a beat up truck is a closet millionaire (I would think most probably can’t afford a new truck).

    I think there are plenty of folks who do okay even though they don’t live particularly frugally and get along just fine while being Average Accumulators of Wealth. Will they get rich or reach financial independence over the long haul? Probably not, though they’ll manage. Will they likely always be carrying some amount of debt? Yeah, but never really enough for it to become an overriding burden in their lives. Could they face serious finacial consequenses if something happens (job loss, hospitalization, etc.)? Sure, but then couldn’t many of us, despite our plans?

    I place the bulk of my neighbors in that category, average wealth accumulators most of their lives carrying some credit card debt, possibly a car loan or two, and their mortgages, who will either get the frugal bug in their 50′s or with the kids out of the house really be able to stash the cash for the next decade or so as they feel retirement looming. They may need to work until they’re in their late 60′s or early 70′s, but more than likely the final sprint in the end will give them enough that they’ll be able to muddle through at some happy medium of retirement.

    I think the biggest issue is, and always has been, focusing on defining what you want and your overall path to get there. If the neighbors grass is greener, you need to be honest with yourself if it’s because you’ve been spending most of your time checking them all out rather than tending to your own lawn.

  21. Lorri says:

    Many years ago, I cleaned homes for a living. This was in the 1980″s when buying the lastest gadget was just taking hold. I could see then that although my clients had nice homes, cars, clothes and even a housekeeper, they were eating pea soup at night to make ends meet. I had several people who would ask me to “hold” their check for a week. Or I would take it to the bank and it would bounce when I cashed it.

  22. Robert says:

    Back when I was working in a “better” job and making far more money, I found it very easy to spend practically everything I earned. Part of it was associating with others who were doing as well as I did, so we in effect set the standard for our lifestyles based upon a lot of spending that now seems very fivolous. But while I can say that this influenced me, ultimately it was my own decisions on spending that left me with relatively little going into savings and debts gradually building up.

    Today I earn about half of what I did previously, but I am saving far, far more money. On top of that, I find it much easier to resist spending on luxuries. I am sure the fact that the area I am living in is much more modest. And I’m sure the fact that many of the people I spend time with aren’t spending money hand over fist helps, but again the most fundamental change is in me, and my views on what is a “want” and what is a “need”.

    I’m sure this book is very good at pointing out how the people around us can influence our habits to some degree, but we have to remember that ultimately we are still the ones responsible for our decisions on when to buy and when to put off a purchase, or how much to put towards savings.

  23. Louise says:

    I have to admit to being as pleased as punch when I found out one particular couple in my street were having financial problems. I had made a bid for a house which was accepted. I had already done building and pest inspections when my lawyer rang to let me know that I had been gazumped!!! Another couple had offered $5000 more and the owner had signed with them without even letting me know there was another offer or giving me the chance to match it. Not only that, the couple who gazumped me did it knowing I had already put in a bid for the house and been accepted (we were slightly accquainted). In the end I ended up buying a better house in the same street (larger, brick instead of weatherboard, with off street parking). The other couple spent a lot of money doing up the house and had two brand new cars, along with every electronic toy you could think of. Two years later they had to sell the house due to bankruptcy.

    I’m not normally a vindictive person but I was secretly very pleased that they had run into financial difficulty. I had to pay more for the other house than I had originally budgeted and spent weekends doing most of the work on it myself because I didn’t have enough to do anything more than basic repairs.

    Now I’ve got that off my chest, I too have done cleaning for people who looked like they had it all from the outside but were spending sleepless nights dodging creditors. One of the best things about frugality is being able to sleep at night. All I have to do now is make sure I don’t become too smug.

  24. Sandy says:

    My son is coming home from New Jersey and moving in to catch up on some credit card bills. He told us that he was $17,000 in debt. Found out 2 days ago, he is on his way now, that is over $50,000. Have been getting concerned calls that he has been looing at new Jeeps. First time in my life I have truly been angry with him. He has a cousin that he has always ridulculed for being an idiot in everything in life including debt and having his dad bale him out. I want to call him MiJak when he walks in the door. Wonder if that would be appropriate? Then read this first thing before he will be checking in. Have talked with his dad, we agree this is the best rates he could get anywhere, how his “rent” will be budgeting research as you Trent, he is 24. Now have decided for every dollar we spend on his debt to help him out he will need to explain every one of them and where our money is being wasted with no pleasure for us except he is smart enough to finally say, “I need help!” Looking forward to helping him as he has done so many self sacrificing great things in his life for a young man. But he has destroyed enough with debt and it is time to STOP and beware of what “Green With Envy” is all about. Great timing. He has always been to busy to read the tips from the Simple Dollar. Now I don’t think he can afford not to with not only money but relationships. We are all worried as a family including his aunt that follows what he has done over and over. Today gave us a tactful way to say “let’s talk”. Was so mad could have ruined a relationship. His stupidity of “have it all” could have just as well. Time to regroup as a family and help him to not be Green With Envy and really enjoy the good things in life again. Such as not being embarrassed to say I blew it and need help with this money addiction. Makes us feel good that is willing to let us help in this major life improvement. He is truly a wonderful son and worth all the time and money involved but we all need to make this work not only financially but emotionally.

  25. Margaret says:

    Ugh. This post and a lot of the comments make me feel like taking my name off this blog right now. I’ve got some news for those of you who are “secretly very pleased” that some of your fellow humans are stuggling, and I see I’m not the only person who feels this way–Sarah in comment #23 proves it. This statement from the introduction is NOT true of me:
    “We’re all jealous of the stuff that other people have…”
    Speak for yourself, Trent. I’m with you, Sarah.

  26. Margaret says:

    Sorry–Sarah’s comment is #12.

  27. Nikki W says:

    There are a number of things askew in the world view of comparison…
    * Our society = the rich and famous are valued more than those that really contribute art, education, and valuable knowledge;
    * the great advertising machine (more, more, more)has ever more input into children’s lives and continues to hold sway over people’s judgment;
    * Apparently shallow individual values = I lie to myself and others when I try to put forth an image of something I’m not – ie, rich;
    * self-esteem based upon your appearance, not your contribution to the greater good.

  28. The whole “perception of rich” thing can be pretty awkward. Recently I had to replace the fence between my house and the one next door. Standard practice (supported by state law) is for neighbors to split the cost of replacing a shared fence. It was over 20 years old, rotten, and only standing up because it was leaning against my chimney. Yet the neighbors balked and whined at the prospect of paying their half, because we were supposedly “rich.” The wife said this directly to my face.

    I’m not sure where that came from. We DO have a bigger house– six bedrooms– because we have a substially larger family– eight children, hopefully with more to come. My car is a seven-year-old passenger van with over 100K miles on it. My husband’s car is newer, but only because his 70K mile car was totalled by a drunk one night while parked at the curb. We replaced it with another used car. We take one vacation a year, which consists of buying plane tickets (the big expense) and then relying on family hospitality for a place to sleep. The kids go to public school. Meanwhile the neighbors have one work-horse car parked in their driveway, and one nice-looking luxury car. No idea what they do about vacations. Yet the neighbors decided we were “rich” so they shouldn’t have to pay for the fence we shared…

  29. Chiara says:

    “the general public often has vastly incorrect perceptions as to the earnings of particular job titles”

    I can attest to this one because my husband is a lawyer, which “everyone knows” = rich. Trouble is, there are articles every year like “Top NY Firms Now Starting New Associates at $120K” or whatever. The top percentage (5%, maybe) of law school grads get the big-firm-6-figure jobs (and usually check their life at the door). The rest vary tremendously, depending on location, public or private practice, size of firm, and quality of life. My husband’s first job out of what is considered a very good law school paid 35K (1996).

    There isn’t really any topping out, so if they’re any good, most lawyers will get to a good living sooner or later, but the title does *not* mean instant money (as many find out after borrowing heavily for it – but that’s another rant).

    Actual comment from co-worker (we were both assistants at one of the big firms) right after I got married: “What are you doing still working?”

  30. Debbie says:

    Reminds me of something I read in one of David Bach’s books which was “Big hats, no cattle.” For some reason that phrase really clicked with me. I’ve known two men that were wealthy. Not Bill Gates type of wealthy but very very wealthy by anyone’s standards and both earned it on their own by working and saving. If you met both you’d just think average middle class men. Both fit the Millionaire Next Door to a tee. One drove an older model station wagon, both wore nice off the rack suits to work and lived in average sized upper middle class home for someone with kids.

  31. Bill says:

    I live in an “ending” neighborhood as opposed to a “starting,” where mostly retired people moved to downsize from their “4-bedroom with kids still at home” house.

    It’s cheap and easy – none of the retirees care about what they drive or wear – they’ve already had a successful life.

    I grew up in a house almost 4x the size of what I now live in with my family of 4.

    I almost wanted to cry when reviewing my late mother’s records on what “the big house” cost her in terms of her income and savings – it would have been nice to have those funds when she got sick.

  32. Carrie says:

    I have to agree with Sarah at post #12. Replacing social striving with smugness doesn’t change the fact that you’re still focusing on what OTHER people have or don’t have.

  33. Outsaving the Joneses says:

    Wow. This post has generated some, uh, interesting comments. I’m with the others who disagree that we are all jealous and contend that smugness is no better than social striving…I’d say it’s worse, actually.

    I’m not jealous of my friends and/or family members who have plasma TVs and Lexus SUVs. Those are their choices, and those things flat out don’t interest me. Some of those same people act like my husband and I are well off because we’ve taken a couple of big trips abroad. We aren’t rich in the least, but we don’t have a big house payment, and we don’t buy new cars every two years or the latest electronics. We like to spend our money traveling. Why would I be jealous when we’re doing the things that matter most to us?

    I think you have to be a bit cold to feel smug or to feel any kind of joy from someone else’s financial distress. But then, being vengeful isn’t really my thing. You might feel pretty bad for rejoicing in someone else’s misfortune if you knew the whole story, and we never know what happens in someone else’s house.

  34. Catherine says:

    My family drove down the New Jersey Shore this weekend and we went past a lot of HUGE houses with Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes in the driveways. When my brother commented that the people must be rich, I mentioned that they might just be in lots and lots of debt! We certainly looked at all those houses a little differently after that.

  35. Jessica says:

    I have to wonder how much of this is blatant jealousy and the more sinister subconscious feeling of comparing oneself to others and seeing yourself as coming up short. I remember a job I had once that paid nil yet all my coworkers were coming in in new clothes every week. Then one day it dawned on me that these dummies were charging away their futures just to look hot now.

  36. karishma says:

    This post reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband a few months ago.

    He asked if we were doing something wrong because it seemed like all our friends and colleagues had more money than us. I pointed out that we were the only one in our circle with a kid and we’re basically living on one income (I only work part-time so I can stay home with our son).

    Fast forward to a month or so later when we got really serious about the house buying prospect and started crunching the numbers to see how much we had saved for a down payment. After seeing the figures, he was like, “well that explains why we have so much less spending money – all our money is in that savings account!.”

    As it is, we closed on our (gorgeous, large enough, and great value) house today, and we still have way more than a year’s worth of mortgage payments in the bank as a cushion should he lose his job.

  37. deb says:

    I find it interesting that the writer writes that congresspeople make next to nothing. So, I immediately did a Google search & found that they make $165,000 per year! I’m sorry, that is a lot more than what I would ever consider as nothing. There is a lot you could do with that money and still look like you have money without spending like keeping up with the joneses. I do thank you for this article.

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