It’s well known where I work and in my circle of acquaintances that I am, shall we say, financially conservative. I don’t blow money for fun and everyone knows that about me. So it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who still ask me out to pricey restaurants for lunch, or to go shopping with them at the designer stores after work, or to go to the movies every weekend, or out to nightclubs. I used to think it was because they genuinely wanted my company, and maybe they do. But lately I’ve come to the conclusion that what they may really want is my validation of their spending choices.
I tend to be the only non-spender in a very spendy group of people. (Where I live it’s very difficult, even in a recession, to find frugal people.) It means that I say “no” a lot. The trouble is, most of my spendier acquaintances are not financially healthy. The few times I’ve gone out with them, it’s like going out with multiple personalities. On the one hand, they are spending for all they’re worth at the restaurants and the malls and having a great time of it. But all the while they’re spending, they’re complaining and whining about how little they have and how much debt and financial trouble they have. I don’t get that sort of life and refuse to participate in the whine fest, so I rarely go with them.
I have noticed that, on the rare occasions when I do go, these people are very dedicated to getting me to spend along with them. “Come on,” they say, “Just buy this.” Or, “You can afford it. Treat yourself.” No amount of polite refusal on my part will get them to give up. I used to wonder why they were so dedicated to getting me to spend frivolously. Why couldn’t they just mind their own business and spend their money, leaving me in peace?
Then one day I had an epiphany. By not spending and by exercising restraint, I was shining a big glaring light on what they knew was wrong with their habits. I was exercising the restraint they knew they should be using. I was acting in the manner that they knew would end their financial troubles, yet for whatever reason they were unable or unwilling to do so. So rather than have me stand out as an example of responsibility, they wanted (maybe even needed) me to fall with them. My ability to refuse to spend merely made them feel even worse.
But it still mystified me why they would keep asking me along. If I made them feel badly, why would they want me along? Surely they could better spend themselves into oblivion if their personal Jimminy Cricket weren’t chirping along on their shoulders about responsibility. Then I got it. If they could get me to go along and they could convince me to spend, it would serve as validation of their choices. They could say, “Ah ha. As long as she’s spending with us, it’s okay. She’s the model of financial success so if she spends, too, then we’re doing the right thing. They needed me to go and they needed me to spend to serve as validation of their lifestyle.
I could say they wanted to sabotage my financial efforts because they wanted to feel better about themselves, but it wasn’t sabotage they were after. They could care less whether or not I am financially successful. If I were a financial mess, I would be just like them and could complain along with them. But they didn’t need me to fail, they needed me to be exactly who I am but with a spendy side. In that way, they could point to me as a success who is doing the same things they are.
Obviously, this isn’t going to work. For one thing, I’m never going to be a spendy person. It’s just not in my makeup. And, for another, unless you have great wads of cash lying around, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be both spendy and financially successful. Sure, I could buy one or two things to get them off my back and make them happy, but that would be sending the wrong message (and wasting money I don’t want to waste). They could point to me and say I’m spending, but so what? I can spend because I have the money. They don’t. My spending and making them feel better about their choices is an empty validation that proves nothing.
If you want better spending habits, you have to exercise personal discipline. You can’t use others to validate your choices. You can’t force another person to conform to your habits and then think that you are a success because they are “on your side” now. The only way to be successful is to work hard, spend wisely and save a lot. That’s it. Even if a financially successful person spends wildly in your presence, you can’t use them as validation of your poor choices. If they are truly financially successful, they have money to spend. If you are in financial trouble, you don’t have money to spend. Period.