People are funny; always concerned with what other people think. It shapes the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the phones we use, and much more. We care what our family, friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers think. It’s a way of attempting to fit in with various societal or group norms to gain acceptance and approval. Ultimately this financial peer pressure drives us to spend more money.
The Story: First, a public service announcement: always wear sunscreen.
This story begins with a visit to the dermatologist to have a mole biopsied. After a simple procedure, the nurse instructed me on post-care treatment, which required daily application of Vaseline to the small wound. As I left the doctor’s office, I realized I didn’t have Vaseline at home; nor did I know what I was going to do for dinner.
After stopping off at the grocery store, I wandered the aisles in search of inspiration. As I walked by the condiments section, passing the salad dressing, I decided a healthy grilled-chicken salad was in order.
I scanned the produce department, trying to recall what I still had in my refrigerator. Tomatoes; bought those last week – Check. Lettuce – Check. Chicken; oh yeah, already in the freezer – Check. Cucumber; that would be good.
As I stood in the checkout line about to put my items on the belt, I glanced down at my basket: Vaseline and a cucumber.
I quickly retreated from the line before the checker could make eye contact. After adding tomatoes, lettuce, and salad dressing to my basket, I was on my way.
The Breakdown: I didn’t need any of those additional items. I didn’t know the checker. I didn’t even normally shop at that particular Safeway either. Yet I probably spent an additional $10 simply because I was concerned what a stranger might think.
One could argue that spending a few extra dollars at the grocery store to avoid a fleeting moment of embarrassment was worthwhile. The issue, however, is that this is representative of a much broader issue pervasive throughout society.
You don’t want to be the embarrassed kid with the old flip phone when everybody else has cool new iPhones. You don’t want to drive the aging Toyota, when your peers have fancy new BMWs.
Instead, we become sheep standing in line at the Apple store, putting the latest gadget we can’t afford on our credit card. We pull up to the car dealership and sign a lease, or a 5-year financing contract; compromising our ability to save for important things, like retirement or an emergency fund.
The same motivation behind my grocery store blooper drives us to make these financially destructive decisions and yield to the social and financial peer pressure around us. Focusing less on what other people think will have a dramatic effect on your ability to control your financial destiny.
Embrace the cucumber and Vaseline in your life!