This is a guest post from Wojo, who likes to challenge the status quo at Fiscal Fizzle. He recently took my cue and asked his readers whether millionaires should file for unemployment. Who are you to tell me it's not worth the money he asks?
We are judgmental creatures by nature. We (I think men, particularly) like to compare themselves to others using any identifiable status symbols—obvious ones like dress, cars, or homes, or more subtle things—actions, speech, composure, or respect from others.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing—we’ve been built to make split-second decisions about our environment to ensure our survival. Imagine for a second that you’re walking down the street and ask yourself how many times you’ve done this:
- You see a Maserati convertible drive by and think to yourself “Why would you waste over $100,000 on a car?”
- You come across a pleasant neighborhood you haven’t visited and see simple late 70’s homes with a two-story mega-mansion on a double lot. “Who are they to screw up the neighborhood like that?”
- An older lady walks by with a pampered poodle who’s wearing a custom-knit sweater and tiara. “Who would spend that kind of money on a pet? They’re just dogs!”
You think it's not worth the money. But who cares? It's their money!
Who Are You To Tell Me It’s Not Worth The Money?
The reactions to things like this range depending on your mood or your particular perspective on things, but most people will either:
- say “good for them” and internally hope they can get there one day
- say “what a waste” because they think they would make different choices
- say “what the heck?” because they don’t have enough to buy their weekly groceries
My reaction is bit strange (at least from polling my friends)—it’s indifference. If it's not worth the money to you, it's worth the money to them.
If there’s one thing I’ve realized in the last few years, it’s that everyone is different and everyone loves and values very unique things. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” goes the saying. That sounds like common sense, but most people don’t act that way.
If everyone is after something different, how can I criticize anyone else’s spending choices, or allow anyone to criticize mine?
Judging People Is A Waste Of Time
Judging other people’s purchases is a slippery slope because it assumes that we can not only evaluate their car/boat/house through our perspective lens, but also that we can look at the value of something rationally.
Except there’s a big problem—things we buy aren’t always rational, but very much emotional. Let’s look at a personal example:
Four years ago, being almost fresh out of college and riding the wave of the bubble market, my (now) wife and I decided to buy a muscle car. It was expensive, but not out of reach by any means.
Many of our friends stared on with envy, but many more also told us we were wasting our money. They thought it was not worth the money. And for a while, I believed them. It really was expensive to own the car and our checkbook was feeling it as the economy slowly tightened its choke hold.
My redemption came when I realized that this particular car wasn’t only an A-to-B machine. It was my wife’s life-long dream. It was a fun activity. When I was having a tough day, I could pull down the top and cruise around the area and feel better. It’s an exhilarating ride. And it’s also something that I take a lot of pride in and hope will be around for a long time.
My money didn’t just buy a car. It bought an experience—something that’s hard to explain to anyone looking from the outside in who’s wide-eyed at your car payment.
Think about this:
- That Maserati owner happens to be a businessman who spent 35 years building a car repair business in order to buy his dream car. He works on it every other night in his garage and it's his pride and joy.
- The two-story mega mansion is actually a home for three extended families who couldn't afford to live separately and decided to band together to buy two lots and build a home.
- The poodle lady happens to be the manager of the local Humane Society, loves dogs, and found out that by making her dog flashier, she gets asked questions that lead to more adoptions.
It's easy to judge people without perspective, without understanding what really drives them. It's easy to say “I wouldn't do that,” or “That's not worth the money,” or “What were they thinking.”
It's much harder to be indifferent, or even curious. Curious as to why, to practice empathy when it comes to other people's choices. Curious as to what value something brings them besides the object's basic function. Our superficial judgments may not be so right, after all.
Let Go Of The Judgement
Next time you see an expensive car, an odd behavior, or a poodle with a tiara–instead of getting mad, just tell yourself “there's a reason behind that choice,” and be at peace with your judgment. If it's not worth the money, don't buy it. But let other people spend their money how they wish.