Monday, May 18, 2009

My Creeping Inferiority Complex

Do you ever talk with your friends and have this ugly monster called an inferiority complex creep in to your mind and soul? The past couple of weekends before last, I got together with some friends, all who seem to have a much, much better living standard than I.

All of my friends are responsible people and I assume none have the kind of debt I do (other than their mortage).

  • Friend A is single with no children, living in one of the duplexes owned by her parents on the westside of L.A. at below-market rent. Her home is nicely decorated and she's been on a spending spree lately, dropping over $1,000 within the span of a couple weekends on clothes and accessories at trunk sales. Friend A is also in the market to buy a big, flat screen TV. Friend A says she is debt free.

  • Friend B is married with two children, living in a 4 BR home she owns with her husband in the ex-burbs of Los Angeles (actually, Ventura County). She too has been on a spending spree, her latest purchase being her new toy, an iPhone. Her car recently blew past 200,000 miles and she casually commented that she wants a BMW.

  • Friend C is also married with one child and owns a home in the westside of Los Angeles. He is currently driving a BMW whose lease is coming due, but has already purchased a brand new car. He is talking about getting his car lowered, getting snazzy rims, etc. etc.

A lot of our discussions were centered around consumerism. Here's a random sampling of our topics of discussion:

    Flat Screen HDTV
    Friend A said she was going to buy a flat screen HDTV. Friend B and her husband insisted that there's no point in owning a flat screen TV that's smaller than 50 inches, since you don't get the full effect of HD programming with anything smaller. I said, "I'm too cheap to get HD programs on my cable subscription. So buying a 50 inch TV is wasted on me. As a matter of fact, I don't even have DVR."

    Hawaii Trip
    Friend A, B and C and I were talking about our favorite islands in Hawaii. Friend A is an event planner for a nationwide company and she often gets to travel to fun, exotic places on business. She also gets comp'd by companies in the hospitality industry who want her business. I mentioned that I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island. She grimaced and thought it was a cheesy resort. I responded, "Well, that's all I could afford. I couldn't afford to stay at the Fairmont Orchid." I was *this close* to point out that she's never had to pay out-of-pocket to stay at the tony, five-star resorts, so she really has no basis to be so uppity.

    Friend B and I were talking about someone who quit her job out of frustration and is now a stay at home mother. The SAHM supposedly said, "I just want a $50,000/year, 9 to 5 job." Friend B said, "Why bother to go back to work for just $50k/year?" Really? Is $50k/year a mere pittance? It made me wonder.

I want to make clear, that none of this discussion made me want to run out on a spending binge to Keep Up with the Joneses. But there was a nagging sense within me that I'm pathetic. It's just depressing that at my age and salary, I still live in a 1 BR rented apartment furnished with hand-me-down, mismatched furniture. I don't have fancy-schmancy electronic devices. (For Pete's sake, I don't even have an iPod shuffle or a digital camera!) I also felt pathetic that I had to defend why I can't buy a 50-inch HDTV, a Wii, an iPhone, stay at 5-star $500/night hotels, etc.

I guess I should always remind myself of the Aesop's Fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper. I'm hoping that the sacrifices I make today will pay dividends in the future.


Money Beagle said...

I guess none of the descriptions (A, B, C) really struck me as very noteworthy, but the second half, about consumerism, really struck me. A lot of the comments you said that your friends made there reminded me of the times I've actually paid attention to when my wife is watching "The Real Housewives of Orange County / New York / Whatever". Whenever I watch those women, it just saddens me that they live in a reality that is so far from what most people live.

Bottom line, there, is that MANY people would love to have a flat screen TV and wouldn't complain a bit if it was under 50", and would love going to Hawaii and staying in any hotel. But the last one is where it struck a nerve. With national unemployment rates nearing 10%, and areas of the country (unfortunately MY area of the country) heading towards 15% or higher, there are A LOT of people that would be eternally grateful for a $50,000 job. For any job, really. I think whoever said that needs to take the blinders off.

You have to compare yourself with you, not your friends. Compare yourself by where you were a year ago, two years ago. You've got less debt, you're saving more. That's the only comparison that matters, and in that regard, you're doing great.

Welcome back, by the way.

444 said...

I fight inferiority complex constantly, and for reasons other than financial, including the fact I have recently confronted that I'm simply not a popular (I mean, not even marginally - a few people like me but most don't want anything to do with me) person by any means.

444 said...

Wow, that sounded pathetic. I guess I mean to say that I live in one of the most concentrated areas of wealth in this nation, thus you can guess the level of materialism and snobbery, and the only people I see on a social basis fill out some of the dregs of the musicians strata (unfortunately, stereotypes of dysfunctional depravity and debauchery are not nearly 100% but to some degree on-the-mark concerning a substantial sample of that demographic), so probably mostly by choice, my social circle is painfully small. I don't get any points from the general public by driving my '99 Suzuki (budget-version cousin of the Subaru) with a faulty transmission around town, either.

I wouldn't even be able to tolerate a conversation with your friends, in other words.

Why do I write more about myself in your comments than in my own blog? LOL

Anonymous said...

My family is really blessed. We have savings in the bank, no real debt and could spend $500 a night on a resort. We could buy new stuff all the time. However, we don't. Our bedroom furniture doesn't match...the bed is a hand me down from hubby's sister. His car has 250k plus on it...The only real furniture we have bought in our 10 years together is a sofabed and a tv (and that is when the other died). Our daughter never had a matching 'suite' of furniture. She's using our childhood furniture.

The book 'the millionaire next door' shows that most 'well off' people spend money fairly conservatively. You wouldn't know it to look at them. You are on your way to being well off because you are controlling your spending, you have goals and you are actively trying to meet them. Once you go, your habits will help you get to the next step.

I think you should not have an inferiority complex relative to your friends. They are making their choices and you are making yours.


mapgirl said...

I'll give you the advice a friend gave me a long time ago. "We're not on schedules. We are who we are. There is no timetable for life."

I used to fret that I wasn't keeping up with my peers till I found out my Harvard-trained lawyer friends really didn't like working at big law firms. Both of them ended up working as Federal prosecutors making much less, but being happy doing their civic duty.

I used to be embarrassed that I didn't have this or that, but I remind myself that I'm doing ok. Being in my mid-30's living in a studio condo didn't bother me because I knew it would not last 10 years. After 5 years, I'm moving out of my studio because life has handed me a boyfriend who owns a house.

As long as you life a life you can afford and are happy with that life, you're doing A-OK. I don't worry what other people are doing so much these days. I worry about what I'm doing which is enough worry in and of itself. ;-)

Ms. MoneyChat said...

"I'm hoping that the sacrifices I make today will pay dividends in the future."

and they will!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Your conversation reminded me of one I had with my longtime friend. I was asking her what online photosharing site she uses for her pics. She said that she did not own a digital camera. Later, she asked about how is my house? I said, that was sold last November.

My spending sprees may sound lavish. Like my recent purchase of an iTouch may sound extravagant, but not to someone who has no debt. I do detect some envy your post. I also like to stay in nice hotels. I recently stayed at the Westin in Beijing and it wasn't comped. But, I also live in a dorm rent free w/no cable. It is all about trimming in some areas to spulurge in other areas.

TeacHer said...

I feel the same way, all the time! The big issue for me is buying a home. I grew up and was educated in Pennsylvania, and a number of friends that I made in my grad program stayed in PA. I moved to northern Virginia, where the cost of living is much, much higher. All my friends in PA are buying houses and I'm stuck renting. I know that I pay quite a bit more in rent than their mortgages are each month, but I still can't help feeling like kind of a loser because I rent and they own. I'm sort of competitive when it comes to life milestones (which is so stupid, I know) so it really eats at me that I'm still a renter.

But at the same time, you never know why people have what they have. For example, I was perplexed as to how one of my friends was able to buy a home because I happen to know that she has no savings. Turns out, her parents paid for her down payment - and her dad still pays her car insurance, student loan, and cell phone bills each month! Even though I will be renting for many years, at least when I buy I will know that I will be buying with my money, on my terms.

I guess I'm trying to say that it's a fruitless exercise to compare yourself to others financially because so much is secretive and peoples' perceptions are so different. I wish I could follow my own advice here :)

MoneyMateKate said...

If I craved the things that my friends have, I might feel envious. But I've never really cared much about things. In fact, nice things make me feel "tied down", and their safety would be a cause of anxiety.

Money Funk said...

1: I want friend A's job or at least, the perks.

2: Its a man think to buy a 50" flat screen or bigger. :p

3: Just remember that you will have a quite comfortable retirement in the end. One that I don't think your friend's will have.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I feel that way about my friends who own (rather than rent), but for the most part, I don't really care about the latest gadgets. We have a Wii, but it's hooked up to a TV we got off of craigslist. I think my inferiority complex comes more from comparing my lifestyle/career/personality to friends seem to know exactly what they're doing with their life (though maybe they might think the same thing about me!) I think confidence and the belief that you're doing what you want to do and for the right reasons will help you get past your feelings of inferiority.

Sarah said...

Your friends kind of sound jerky! Making faces over where your friend stayed in Hawaii? Because Hawaii is all about your hotel room and not about all the natural beauty & wonder of a tropical paradise.

And as other people have already said, you don't know what their financial situations really are. Mayybe your friend has no debt, but does she have savings?

Anonymous said...

I often have this problem. Though with me it's friends who are apparently unconcerned with their mounting debt or saving. I was with a friend this weekend who was complaining about needing to save to move while casually shopping at a Coach store and picking up about $500 for a couple of purses! Are you serious?!

She also bought a new car, a blackberry and new furniture. She makes less than I do and I can barely afford my used Saturn. She just puts everything on credit cards.