It was the summer before 8th grade when I distinctly started realizing that some people were really thin, others were pretty fat, and most were in-between. That seems really late, but for most of my childhood I was only peripherally aware of things that seem super important now – like shaving. That summer was when I realized thighs spilled along the wet benches by the pool, and people were different sizes. I just tried to write a few sentences to contrast that with how we all currently take in information about those around us and their appearances. I failed mightily, and sounded really creepy. Apparently there’s no good way to subtly point out that you subconsciously keep tabs on which friends/acquaintances/strangers of yours have fantastic legs, less than fantastic abs, etc.
There are similar moments in life when you realize that what you’re accustomed to is just ‘a way’, not THE way of doing something. Pre-college Euro travelling with a friend was certainly an eye-opening experience. Our screaming matches on the Paris metro in the evenings certainly made me swear off traveling with non-family … for a bit. I took for granted that others would also enjoy a lax am start time because enjoying summer evenings, loitering on the bridges of Venice, and eating gelato absolutely every day really requires a full day and a late night. Looking back, it seems absolutely stupid that I didn’t realize my idea of how to have a great vacation, and my friend’s, could be different.
And next we come to money. The theme continues – I am very slow about noticing things around me. It was the summer after junior year of college when I realized that people treat money very, very differently. And that, specifically, people close to me had pretty varied attitudes about their paycheck. I was interning in Charlotte, and had the fortune of meeting some fantastic people who I spent a lot of with that summer (shout-out to my fellow OMAP interns). We all made exactly the same paycheck but seemed to spend varying amounts. Some of my friends spent money in such a manner that I would have assumed they were making way, way more than I knew they were.
When Thomas Stanley and William Danko were working on their book, ‘The Millionaire Next Door’, they tried talking to people with expensive cars, hanging around fancy country clubs, and generally following the social signals of what we deem ‘wealth’ – spending. They quickly realized that many of these people weren’t in fact millionaires, and the true millionaires (as defined by their net worth) were often living in less glamorous areas, owned houses worth less than 300K, and had generally amassed wealth by innovating, accumulating, and spending less than they earned.
I’ve realized two things (that again, the rest of my age cohort probably picked up on 5 years earlier): that it’s useless to infer someone’s financial health and wealth from outward appearances, and that people’s lifestyles are more a reflection of their values than their income.
I am a competitive person, and I care a lot about being (and appearing) successful personally and professionally. I’ve heard people remark (to others) that I’m really frugal – lawl, they don’t know I spent 40 dollars on beer last Saturday. As long as I’m indulging myself (and I am), it should be merely humorous to hear others judge in a way that’s not fully accurate. But of course it sucks to be judged – and we don’t want others to judge us like we judge them.
What about you – any financial truths you live by? Have you always been aware of money and people’s spending habits, or did you have any big realizations growing up (like I did)?