Not Worth The Money? Who Are You To Tell Me!

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.

Related posts:

Wonderful Things To Buy With Your Massive Investment Gains

When Rich People Call You Cheap

47 thoughts on “Not Worth The Money? Who Are You To Tell Me!”

  1. Danny @ Frugal Quack

    I also want to add that just because someone is driving a Maserati (or other such car) doesn’t mean the person is not totally and completely a freaking jerk. I was raised (naively) to think that good things happen to good people and well that is certainly not the case, there are loads of dishonest, irresponsible people out there who are very successful and worth a lot of money. And someone who is “poor” might look upon this person as a decent person simply because they live in a mansion or drive around in a Maserati when for all they know this person could be a major jackhole.

    Don’t assume either way someone is cool based on what they drive or where they live.

    Big mistake!

  2. Khaleef @ KNS Financial

    Great article! We don’t have a right to tell someone else how to spend their money. But I believe that we can make judgments about them based on what we see to be normal. Like others have said, most of the time these purchases are made because people are fooled into thinking that they are the normal, expected purchases of the successful.

    Many people feel that splurging and overspending are just a normal part of life. However, as you pointed out, some people do make these types of purchases just to enjoy them. They don’t care about impressing others.

    I also agree with Kris about humility. There often is a lack of humility with people who are seen in/with expensive items. There also is the perception that they are more happy, fulfilled, or successful because of them.

    Great article that should really challenge the way we look at people!

    1. “There also is the perception that they are more happy, fulfilled, or successful because of them.” Well, if they are buying them for the wrong reasons, we know that’s not true! :)

      But I do think some things can bring a lot of joy. A new boat can give you and your kids the opportunity to spend long weekends together. A fast computer can make blogging a lot more enjoyable!

      We don’t NEED any of these things to be happy, but sometimes they create the opportunity for happiness.

  3. When I was young, I use to envy people with nice cars and high tech appliances in their home, and told myself, I will buy all those things when I get a job, In other words, I was able to finish my college and got a nice job. However, as I realize it is not that you can buy everything when have all the money, but it is important how you value the things that your money can buy. We do not just get out of our house and easily grab something to earn a living. Earning money requires effort and hard work, so we should spend our hard-earned money wisely.

    1. Well-put, Ben. I use plenty of “tricks” for this, including putting many large purchases in the perspective of how many hours it will take to pay off, etc…

      But just like being able to buy something is our right, so is being able to save it. (A lot of people value savings as their first priority! That’s awesome.)

  4. The only time I judge is when I know someone received their money illegally…

    You know that saying JUDGE NOT YE BE JUDGE… lol.

    I learned in life to KEEP THE FOCUS ON MYSELF… and not judge others..

    I do however practice Discernment on who to be friends with; and what to eat; and who to date; etc… Discernment is different than Judging ..

    Whew.. great post; thanks for it… !!


  5. If a person makes the money then by all means they have the right to spend it. My problem is when a cash strapped person buys the luxury automobile and then needs help making the payments.

  6. Usually when I come across situations such as these, my immediate reaction is kind of annoyed, and its usually stemming around my perceived waste of resources. After muttering to myself “what a waste, i’d never do that” I realize I’m being a snot and tell myself to butt out of their business and that they should make their own choices.

  7. Ho ho ho, a fellow convertible lover. There are two kind of people in this world, convertible people and the rest. :)
    We got a used BMW Z3 and drove it for 10 years. We loved that car… too bad it broke down.
    I don’t really judge strangers financial choices, but it’s tougher to be impartial when it comes to relatives. You always want to help them make better decisions.

    1. Good point…especially when they come crying about it to you later and expect you to do something about it.

      Convertibles rock!

  8. Money Reasons

    I don’t judge as much as I use to. Only when I see something that should be taken care of first. perhaps the owner of big fancy toys is neglecting his kids, while he/she lives like royalty.

    But if I see someone that I don’t know driving a Maserati, I just think, nice car… I don’t get mad because it doesn’t affect my financial outlook.

    I guess in many ways, I mind my own financial business (lol)

  9. Wojo,
    I think “indifference” is a great non-judgmental attitude. Who am I to get inside someone else’s skin and assess their lives, decisions and motives? The word “inference” comes to mind: we get ourselves in all manner of problems when we assume we know why someone did or said what they did or said. The truth is we don’t know unless we dig deeper. Until then, I am going to take your cue and remain indifferent. And avoid inferences.

  10. I share your sentiment. I usually respond with indifference because I personally know people who love their Maserati and people who love their Corolla. They all got one thing in common: they are people. Some just have more money than others, and some spend it in a different way than others do. That’s all. – For what it is worth, I have to tell you that Maserati invited me to test drive a Quadraporte once which got me a $100 coupon for Flemings Steakhouse. The drive was amazing and I was equally amazed to find out that the car cost “only” around $120,000 – a bargain considering that the heart of the Maserati is like a Ferrari which costs twice as much and is a lot less fun to drive in my experience. But I could not see myself spending that much money on a car when I could buy a small house instead. The dinner with my wife at Flemings afterwards still set me back $100 even with the coupon. :-)

      1. I have no idea why I got invited but I had never expected to drive a Maserati. And then Idi and got a $100 for doing so, too. Awesome, isn’t it?

  11. The older I get, the more I realize that I make split-second judgments all the time that could be completely wrong–because honestly I don’t know another person’s situation or what they are thinking. It’s a good realization! Of course I am right sometimes, but sometimes I am dead-wrong.

    1. I also do it all the time, but my grandfather taught me at a very young age (I remember as young as 7) to always ask “Why?” to everything I saw people doing. That was a good lesson that’s paying dividends as I grow older, too.

  12. Ahhh, the cycle of the middle-class striver continues.

    Take yourself out of the loop. A lifetime of debt/job enslavement in exchange for nice things + experiences. Sound like a fair trade?

    “The things you own end up owning you” — Tyler Durden

    1. Why assume debt and enslavement? Plenty of people experience life within their means and work on their own terms, don’t they?

  13. Invest It Wisely

    Nice, can I include this in my “challenging the status quo” roundup? This is exactly the kind of thinking I am looking for.

  14. Financial Samurai

    Whenever I see a $100-180,000 Maserati, I always get motivated to work harder bc that means the driver is making $1,000,000-$1,800,000 million a year in income according to my 1/10th Rule. I think it’s great they can do so well, and I get pumped thinking about how to do so as well.

    I think the exact same way with a $50,000 BMW. I see a lot of people in their 20s driving around in new BMW 335is Coupes and I am impressed they are making $500,000 a year or more.

    There is definitely A LOT more wealth out there than people/the media think. I do not believe people are irrational to spend half their $100,000/yr salary on a $50k car for example. That’s wouldn’t make too much sense unless nothing much else matters (house, retirement, vacation adventures, etc), which is cool too.

    Everything is rational and motivation is a great thing! Thnx for writing your post Wojo! Sam

    1. Thank YOU. By the way, I completely agree with this:

      “That’s wouldn’t make too much sense unless nothing much else matters…”

      I think that sums up my take on things perfectly–things don’t make a whole lot of sense unless you can see it from the other person’s perspective.

    2. Sam, it would be great if they were all following your 1/10th salary rule, but I bet too many are making unwise choices. But, they are their’s to make.

      Wojo, I can’t help but be judgemental about the poodle!:)

      1. I know they are all following it! I just know it :)

        Actually, it’s funny, one of my closest tennis buddies who I just played with yesterday drives a 4-dour Quotroportte (sp?) Maserati! He’s in his late 50s and spent $128,000 new. He loves it. He had a heart-attack 3 years ago and said what the heck. He’s pretty well off.

  15. Danny @ Frugal Quack

    I don’t judge others solely for having money, although I do at times suffer from envy. But it’s truly unfair to make someone feel bad because they have money, regardless of how they got it. Whether a trust fund kid, a celebrity, an athlete, a smart investor, a good businessperson, etc – they have money and lots of it.

    Good for them! I hope to be in their shoes one day, and so do you. However as the first commenter put it, any accompanying attitude that comes from thinking others are inferior because they’re not (as wealthy) is a big turn off. And let’s be honest, there are some out there who are very nasty to the…quote unquote “poor”.

    The poor and the rich are very different people, always have been and always will be. But in the end we are all people, and we need to get along and enjoy life…as best we can.

    We’re not really that different when all is said and done.

    1. Well put, Danny. It’s interesting that the comments have taken this route, since I originally wrote the post without actually thinking too much about “the rich.” In fact, I kind of thought of it as a “the little guy can spend some money, too” kind of post. But I’m enjoying the debate nevertheless!

  16. Nick Sweeney

    I like the cut of your jib, Wojo.

    While I will never be able to stand a poodle in a tiara, I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the word “curious”. Be curious about people who, with an instinctual flinch you normally would pass over or cast aside. After all, people are more than just one thing, and you might uncover a better idea about who they are when you actually, I don’t know, TALK to them as a person, instead of as an income bracket.

    As cm said above, though, most McMansions and tiara’d doggies are nothing more than blatant examples of vanity. So yeah, it’s possible that you’re helping someone with your Hummer, but more likely, you bought it to impress others.

    Like most things in finance, it all comes down to the basics: are you buying that for yourself, or are you buying it to impress others? I guarantee, like the rest of life, it’s not a black and white answer, and is a combination of the two.

    Thanks for adding some nuance to my day.

    1. “TALK to them as a person, instead of as an income bracket.” What an interesting way to phrase it.

      I know a few wealthy people in my life, and I have to say that without exception, I didn’t find out about their wealth until well into my relationship with them. Some people are just naturally humble and nice because that’s what they choose to be, irrespective of their income.

  17. I disagree. Judge on!

    Let’s be real: newly built McMansions are NOT a way for families to band together to save money. Tiaras on poodles are not good advertisements for adopting three legged mutts. Etc.

    Most of this sort of spending can be described as “conspicuous consumption” just as Veblen pegged it back in 1899. And yes, judge it, and judge it harshly. Shame others out of their foolishness, if one can (though one often can’t).

    1. True…the examples are extreme and there to make a point. How about engin33r’s take of “feel free and spend a little extra for your dreams?”

      Conspicuous consumption assumes that you’re buying things to show them off…but what if we’re simply buying them to enjoy?

      Could that then be the ultimate test of over-spending: “if I never showed this to anyone else, would I still spend extra to buy it?”

      Thanks for making me think! :)

      1. It’s not a bad test!

        I do think there is a 2nd component, though, something I’m not seeing on this blog today, which is some consideration of proportionality in a world where others have so little. What I mean is, I do think it is appropriate to at least consider the ethical “vibe” that one can get from spending $100,000 on a car or $4 million on a house in a world where some people are so desperate.

        Am I saying that one should live like a pauper and give away all one’s money to the poor? No. But I am saying that at least *some* of that sort of thinking might as well enter the equation. Where to draw the line between “enough” and “too much”? That is a tough one. It’s somewhere between living in a van down by the river and living like P Diddy!

        1. True…I think a lot of people are looking at Dave Ramsey’s recent house purchase and evaluating it with the same kinds of questions…and he just happens to be a public personal finance figure (not too many of those around! heh).

  18. Playing Devils Advocate a little here… I feel that this article is similar to the “Real vs. Perceived wealth Distribution” charts that have been floating around the internet.

    You see that Maserati (which is a beautiful auto by the way), and you hope that it’s joe schmo driving down the street who has worked through the American dream. But i’d guess that most Maserati’s are not driven by the local auto repair worker, most mcmansions are not shared by a family of three, and most people who own poodles are clinically insane ;)

    A better argument to make here is to feel free and spend a little extra for your dreams (an argument that Ramit makes quite well i think). That being said I agree wholeheartedly with that argument.

    1. Thanks for pointing out that chart! I found a few examples, and some of the observations to take away from those are very interesting.

      I agree with your assessment and Ramit’s take on things. Perhaps my post was a little over-reaching? :)

  19. I agree that people are quick to judge when they don’t have all the information. Those judgements can be wrong sometimes, but they are also right sometimes.

    It’s also human nature to interpret what you see. It’s like the kids who dress all goth with black makeup all over the place and then complain about being judged for their appearance. Human nature is to form an opinion, so it’s important to understand that if people can see what you buy, you’ll be judged for it. It may not make it “right”, but it’s a fact of life.

    1. Yes, first impressions do make all the difference in the world, to a point. The corporate world is definitely set up that way (can’t see one of those goth kids getting a high-paying job soon, can we?).

      But I think it’s a two way street–just like I don’t think you should treat someone poorly because they bought something expensive (see Everyday Tips’ comment), we shouldn’t judge those people for their choices.

      I completely agree with you, but I think we can overcome human nature with a little effort. :)

  20. For me,oftentimes, it is the attitude that goes along with the car or whatever. I get angry when someone who appears to be wealthy just expects me to hold the door open for them without a glance or a thank you. That is when I get judgmental.

    My husband has visions of buying a new Camaro. (His first car was a black, 1979 Camaro, so I am sure it would be an emotionally-driven decision. Which is true of any dream purchase I suppose.) We joke about his desire for a Camaro, but one of the first things I want to do when the house gets paid off is get him one. I hate the rear-wheel drive aspect of the car, but he works so hard and has for many years, and he deserves a dream.

    We just have to hope the Camaro is still being built in 6 years…

    1. Beautiful car. :) And exactly the kind of choice I’m getting at in my post…

      I know what you mean about the attitude, though. We could all use a little more humility.

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