Thursday, April 25, 2013

Status vs. Freedom

In many blogs, I see adorable women in adorable clothing showing off the adorable way they put their outfits together, and when I click on the links to consider purchasing one of those items, they are all very expensive. Not only expensive, but often from retailers whose quality has proven undependable on multiple items. Each item is also rarely repeated in the photos the way one actually wears a piece that she owns. Or, I will see item after item that a particular blogger has recently acquired, dinners out, and vacation photos to extravagant places. This leaves me wondering how much they are spending, and a little sad that I can’t spend as frivolously.

It makes me start thinking about some of the people I know who live well above their means, sometimes even renting accessories to project a certain status. It has gotten so extreme that I’ve found myself just assuming that someone who has lots of “status” items also has a ton of credit card debt. I’m sure this isn’t always the case, but based on the average American household having nearly $15,950 in credit-card debt in 2012, (according to, I don’t think my assumption is that far off.

Then I think about other people I know who live within their means and have savings. I might be a little green-eyed about the other set, but I have more respect for this group. Give me the choice, and I will choose their ranks over credit card debt any day, because I have found that having any kind of debt stresses me out. Debt means one cannot take a job she would love, but can’t pay what is needed to cover her bills. One is completely dependent on the paycheck from her job, and she has to accept whatever unfair terms they offer, because it’s better than not having that paycheck. It means that every day that one works, she is not setting herself up for the future, but simply paying back a past pleasure, and at a higher cost due to interest. Being debt-free equals being free to make the life choices one wants. I believe that this freedom shows through as genuine happiness. And much more happiness than those who project “having more.”

But in my experience there are few people who feel no need to project their status. Whether it’s wearing preppy clothes, making sure sneakers are bright white, ironing and starching everything including tee-shirts, or buying the latest designer brands, most of us want to project a certain image. And it makes sense -- most of us also make judgments (subconscious or not) based on the way others look. First impressions, right?

I admit that I am guilty of this particular vanity -- I want to look nice, have beautiful things, and go to exciting places. However, I also want be responsible with my money. Because of this conflict, I am constantly adding to my list of rules about how I will spend my money. Yesterday, while shoe shopping with my mother, I kept turning down pairs that she held up for me with a reason the pair violated my rules; leaving with no new shoes at all. I realized that the more small rules I have, the more well-edited my closet is... and the happier I am in the end with either the purchase I’ve made, or leaving without a purchase at all.

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"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut