Monday, May 19, 2008

Our Piggybank's Inferiority Complex

CNNMoney's Why You Just Can't Seem to Save Enough hits us where it hurts- our piggybank's ego.

Your mortgage is prime. Your credit-card balance is reasonable. You've set aside some money for retirement. Feeling like you've done all you should? Didn't think so.

All signs point to an economic slowdown, and there's a real risk that it will be a nasty one. Jobs look shaky, food and gas prices are up, and the credit you thought would be there in an emergency could get a lot more expensive.

Even if you've been better than the average American about saving, you probably wish that you had a bigger cash cushion right now. And if you're at all like me, you've been looking around your house lately and wondering, "Why didn't I put the money I spent on that in the bank?"


Yes, therein hides the problem.

The article asks the question of just how much of what we purchase is in reaction to our friends and neighbors. I don't think I'm really prone to the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses affliction, but then again. If a friend said they ate at so and so restaurant, and it's maybe over $20 per person, I just might want to try it. But this is how it's skewed, because what you see is not the whole picture. Who knows if this person ate at home all week to go eat out at a moderately priced restaurant. Who knows if the person who drives the Lexus is eyeballs deep in debt. It's the trap of the ostentatious. While we associate objects with class, what you see is not always what you get.

New Yorkers are at face value less ostentatious than others. Unlike those in most of the rest of the country, our cars pretty much suck. Even the nice ones. Parking on the street will do damage to even the nicest bumpers. We are somewhat limited to how much we flash because we ride the same subway cars as those who like to mug. There are no McMansions, and what limited square footage we do have doesn't really fit a helluva lot of things. And yet...

The average cost of a New Yorker's stroller is over $500. We are real estate obsessed and have the economic cartography of all five boroughs memorized, so we can pretty much guess how you roll by where your front door is. And in a city with more metrosexuals than homosexuals, we are top shelf label whores on the down low. And speaking of top shelf, we don't order well drinks. In other words, we're still consumer kings and queens.

And I would hazard to guess that we're not the only ones. Unfortunately, the urge to spend is a constant reminder that keeping up with the neighbors is a losing battle. And then there's the oddballs like case in point (me!), who are the only one amongst their legions of friends who do not have cable, and fully fund their Roth IRA instead. Sexy it aint, but talk to me when I'm sixty five. Just don't ask me how much I spent on clothes last week...

3 comments:

Rachel @ Master Your Card said...

I think that we all must buy more than we need. However, I think some people are definitely more frugal than others. What we think we need is probably twice as much as our parents thought they needed. I am sure at this time, almost everyone wishes that they had a little more money tucked away.

PiggyBankBlues said...

well said. and i know i definitely wish my savings was a little more...

frugal zeitgeist said...

The older I get, the less I care about keeping up with the Jones.