One of the biggest themes of The Simple Dollar is how you should stop caring what other people think. This is one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done in my life. The less impact that I allow the thoughts of others to have on my own choices, the easier it is to make challenging personal choices that improve my own life, like frugality or taking up an “uncool” hobby or living in a smaller house than I can afford or driving a used car or wearing a pair of beat-up falling-apart sandals.
Of course, it’s easy to look at that phrase and take it to an absurd extreme. Doing that creates its own set of problems. You can’t ignore the thoughts of your children or your spouse. You’re also not well served by ignoring the thoughts of people who have influence in your life.
So where does the maxim of “stop caring what other people think” begin and end?
For one, worrying about the impressions of people you don’t interact with is not a very use of time and an especially poor use of money. If you’re paying hundreds of dollars for clothes so you can impress the person who walks by you on the street, your money is probably misplaced, as is your concern. If you’re hoping that another driver is impressed by your expensive and shiny car, you’re again misplacing your money. People you have no direct interaction with should not concern you at all when it comes to your spending choices. Don’t spend an ounce of yourself worrying about them or their thoughts.
Beyond that, focus on impressing casual acquaintances by the content of your character, not by your possessions. Treat people you actually interact with casually with respect and good humor and they’ll usually respond with the same. If that person is thinking quietly that you’re wearing tacky clothes or driving an old car, who cares? It’s worthwhile to do some basic things to ensure positive interaction here, like bathing and practicing good hygiene, but those basic things benefit you (by preserving your health and helping you with more important encounters).
Again, you shouldn’t spend an ounce of extra energy or a dime of your money on any of these interactions with people you don’t know and people you only casually know. If you want to leave an impression, leave an impression with your character.
The people that matter are the people you’re truly close to and the people who can directly impact your future. Your immediate family. Your closest friends. Your boss. In certain sales positions, your clients might fall into this group. Your mentor(s).
You should care what these people think, not just of you, but of their world. What do they care about? What can you do to alleviate those concerns? In many ways, you are in service to these people, and the best service you can provide is to take care of their problems. You should also value the things that they tell you.
Even for these people, though, the character you show and the skills you provide are far more valuable than the clothes you wear and the items you possess.
Your children might talk about material things they want, but what they really want is quality time with you. I could buy my children all of the toys and games in the world, but the things they actually need for me are time, attention, and love.
The same goes with your partner. A diamond necklace might be a pretty symbol, but strong relationships aren’t built on trinkets. They’re built on time, communication, attention, and love.
Your boss truly cares mostly about you doing your job with the highest level of quality. You might have a dress code, but even that is often relaxed if it means better work output. Your boss certainly doesn’t care what car you drive on your own time or whether you have an iPhone.
These important things aren’t reflected by your possessions. They’re reflected by who you are, how you spend your time, and the work that you do.
Stop caring what other people think is a call to stop wasting your money on things mostly useful in impressing other people. It’s not a good use of energy to worry about impressing people that don’t impact your life, and it’s not your possessions that impress the people that do impact your life.
Your skills, your character, your use of time, your attention, and your love matter far more than your possessions to the people that matter most. As to the rest of the people you bump into, why worry about impressing them with your stuff?