Author Topic: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods  (Read 14204 times)

El Gringo

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Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« on: November 01, 2013, 05:06:47 PM »

Bruised_Pepper

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2013, 05:17:47 PM »
I've been reading about this sort of thing lately.  Look up "conspicuous consumption" if you haven't already. 

People definitely judge you based on your appearance.  Wearing the right clothes can make all the difference in any social situation.  The mistake people make is that they think that they need to spend a lot of money to buy good clothes.

An alternative theory is that poor people buy expensive things because it makes them feel less poor, or at least makes them temporarily forget about their unfortunate economic circumstances.  Probably the same reason you always see hobos drinking and smoking. 

grantmeaname

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2013, 05:20:58 PM »
The lede is between eye-rolling and vomit-inducing. The rest of it is logically inconsistent and makes its points with anecdotes rather than anything solid. I can counter-anecdote anything the author said (once I knew somebody who got hired based on their skills and not their silk shells), and most of her arguments vilify straw men.

So I don't think highly of it. But surely you have an opinion, since you posted it. What do you think?

Bruised_Pepper

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2013, 05:26:03 PM »
The lede is between eye-rolling and vomit-inducing. The rest of it is logically inconsistent and makes its points with anecdotes rather than anything solid. I can counter-anecdote anything the author said (once I knew somebody who got hired based on their skills and not their silk shells), and most of her arguments vilify straw men.

So I don't think highly of it. But surely you have an opinion, since you posted it. What do you think?

Agreed.  I've been really interested in this subject, but the writing was poor.

StarryC

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2013, 05:27:28 PM »
It seems relatively true to me, in several ways. 

There is privilege in being white and well dressed. If you can't be white, I've heard that being well dressed is even more important.  It's not impossible to look well dressed without brand names or "luxury" goods, but it is harder (in time, in taste, in energy).  Being poor, not being frugal due to a choice, but really not being able to afford things you need is stressful.  Even frugal people sometimes make "mistakes" and spend too much.  Why would we expect poor people to be better at it? I think one element is that poor people sometimes have windfalls (tax returns, settlements, etc. as the article discusses) and sometimes they spend the money wisely and sometimes they splurge on something they really desire that isn't practical or make a mistake.  Just like everyone else. 

I also think it's part of the reason people have a problem with MMM.  Choosing to not show people you are rich, or not spend all the money you have as soon as you have it is pretty counter-cultural.  I think that's why there are a lot of engineers around here.  Apparently it's a field where not spending on cars/ suits/ jewelry doesn't hurt you much.  The lawyers seem to be more conflicted because they think/know/feel that nice suits/ nice cars/ nice houses/ watches/ expensive hobbies etc sometimes make a difference in important business and social relationships.

El Gringo

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2013, 05:52:06 PM »
I found the article interesting because of two things that I don't have to worry about:
1) others' perception of me because I'm a minority, and
2) professional expectations of my work attire. 

I'm a white male and I work in the non-profit world!

I don't have even have to wear ties to work (some people do but it's not required or expected). Recently I decided to step up my work attire just to challenge myself and also to make sure that I was getting as much respect as possible from others (better to go above expectations than below or even average). But to do so I just went to the local thrift store and picked up some new dress shirts and ties there, and people immediately began to notice the difference. And if I really need to dress up, my suit from Jos A Banks will do. But as StarryC mentioned, there's a different expectation in some other professions. And it may be shallow, but if you want to garner the respect of colleagues or clients (and thus succeed in your career) the bar seems to be set a lot higher, like in law or finance. I read about the baseline expectations of dress for investment bankers and I'm very glad I'm not an investment banker (just one of many reasons!)

Also, as a white male, I haven't thought about how it might be easier for me to garner the respect of colleagues or clients by my dress than it is for minorities to do so.

I found the administrative assistant anecdote interesting because of the idea of how investing in something that might be superficially expensive can be a worthy investment if it gets you a better paying job. I guess spending money on superficial things in order to get a job makes a lot more sense than other reasons that the poor may waste their money, such as not feeling poor, as BruisedPepper mentions.

Certainly I think there's a much greater problem in our culture of wasting money on luxury goods then not spending enough! But I enjoyed the contrarian thought process.

gimp

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2013, 05:55:10 PM »
Same reason non-poor people waste money on luxury goods.

1 - People want to have what other people have. Your neighbor gets a new car, you get a better one. Right? Obviously it's rarely that blunt (we're not all Patrick Bateman, after all.)

2 - People underestimate the total cost of ownership of certain items. I can get an utterly amazing phone (computer! everything machine!) for free. And I mean, $100/month isn't that much, right?

3 - A lot of luxuries really aren't that expensive, all things considered. I mean, remember that phone from point 2? You can buy a fairly capable computer, that can crunch numbers, play video games, play video and audio on large screens, call anyone, receive data from anywhere, run any arbitrary code, be a learning tool, be a work tool, and last all day on a single battery charge... often for $150. Are smartphones a luxury? I'd say for most people, they aren't strictly necessary. But a 1MHz computer used to cost $10,000 in today's money. We spend 100x less for something 100x more useful than our parents may have. And hell, you can get older smartphones for free, because people are upgrading and have absolutely no use for their old device. We're very quick to assume someone is spending $1000+/year on a phone when they might actually be spending nothing, and use it as a phone only for 911 calls (free)!

Obviously there are cases of obviously insanely stupid spending, but someone earning $10k buying $300 shoes on credit is about as wasteful as someone earning $50k getting into debt for a $50k car. Yet nobody complains about the second one.

davisgang90

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2013, 06:01:29 PM »
The lede is between eye-rolling and vomit-inducing. The rest of it is logically inconsistent and makes its points with anecdotes rather than anything solid. I can counter-anecdote anything the author said (once I knew somebody who got hired based on their skills and not their silk shells), and most of her arguments vilify straw men.

So I don't think highly of it. But surely you have an opinion, since you posted it. What do you think?
Well said.  Seemed like she justified poor people spending money on an expensive purse because RACISM, that's why!

Bruised_Pepper

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2013, 06:10:21 PM »
I found the article interesting because of two things that I don't have to worry about:
1) others' perception of me because I'm a minority [...]

I'm a white male and I work in the non-profit world!

I'm in the same situation, but the fact that the racial/economic slant didn't apply to me made the article feel alienating--I couldn't connect to it emotionally.  Also, I would argue that for EVERYBODY who deals with ANYBODY in their job, your appearances matter.  It's not just that you have to have a suit to be respected by your co-workers, but it makes you look more professional to your clients (or more inviting by ridding yourself of the jacket/tie).  And even when your company has no expectations of a certain dress code, everyone will have some sort of reaction to your level of dress, be it positive/negative or subconcious/overt.  If you dress down, some of your coworkers might enjoy it that you don't look like a company man, but your bosses might prefer people who do (even if they aren't allowed to display that preference.)  On the other hand, dressing up might alienate some of your coworkers (though others might take you more seriously or be more inclined to follow your directions.)

But to do so I just went to the local thrift store and picked up some new dress shirts and ties there, and people immediately began to notice the difference. And if I really need to dress up, my suit from Jos A Banks will do.

Off-topic, but have you had luck finding ties at thrift stores?  I mostly see "Father's Day reject" ties there.  About a year ago, I waited until Men's Wearhouse had a 3-for-1 on ties and bought some stylish ones then.

El Gringo

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2013, 06:21:30 PM »
Off-topic, but have you had luck finding ties at thrift stores?  I mostly see "Father's Day reject" ties there.  About a year ago, I waited until Men's Wearhouse had a 3-for-1 on ties and bought some stylish ones then.

There were a lot of losers there, but I've been able to get some good ones. There's a great spot just outside of DC that has two HUGE thrift stores under the same roof, so they've had a ton of selections, including a lot of rejects, but also a few good ones. Some of them work too for dressing up with a more hipster/quirky flare. Being in my mid-20s and at a non-profit I can get away with that. Nothing super quirky, but stuff that I wouldn't wear with a suit when meeting someone outside the organization. 

StarryC

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2013, 07:45:47 PM »
I think being in DC is your advantage there- lots of people wearing ties compared to most places.

Carolina on My Mind

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2013, 08:30:59 PM »
Getting a little off the original topic, but:  El Gringo, where are these great thrift stores of which you speak?  MD or VA?

grantmeaname

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2013, 09:18:45 PM »
Then please, post an eloquent and well thought out counterpoint about why you think appearance, race and mannerisms have nothing to do with how you're treated.  Please provide "solid" evidence to prove your points since anecdotes and personal experience are apparently unacceptable.
"I found this piece of persuasive writing to be unpersuasive, but recognize that other people could disagree" != "I disagree with the author's views". Nice strawman though - crank out four more like it and maybe UC-Davis will hire you too.

El Gringo

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2013, 09:53:28 PM »
Getting a little off the original topic, but:  El Gringo, where are these great thrift stores of which you speak?  MD or VA?

In Maryland. It's Value Village and Unique Thrift Store, right off of New Hampshire Ave. and the Beltway. Are you in the DC area?

BroncoRon

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2013, 10:43:06 PM »
Because they're not really poor.

MrsPete

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2013, 03:19:53 PM »
Interesting article, but I think the author took a true concept -- professional people will treat you better if they perceive you as "worthy", and your appearance is their first clue to your value -- and stretched it out too far:

The author describes how her mother was successful in navigating the world because she owned one designer outfit, was immaculately groomed, and spoke well.  I don't doubt that what she says is true, BUT . . . imagine that instead of designer duds (which I personally could not have distinguished from quality-but-no-name items), imagine a woman showing up to those same appointments wearing something I might wear to work on a casual Friday:  Well-fitting dark jeans, a long-sleeved good-quality tee, a bright-print scarf, dark leather shoes or boots with a low heel.  Imagine immaculate grooming, a classic haircut, simple earrings.  This is a casual-but-well-dressed outfit for today's world.  I can't believe a woman dressed this way would be received differently from a woman whose tags bear designer names.

I agree that the person who goes to an appointment in sweatpants or torn jeans dangling off the buttocks, low-cut spaghetti-strap top, tattoos and cornrowed hair, and a pair of flip-flops as a finishing touch . . . will have find that the person whom he came to see has already made judgements about him before he opens his mouth.  But I don't think that person has to go the expensive designer route and spend thousands to reach "acceptable". 

Most importantly of all, however, I suspect what makes just as much difference as the dress, is the "ability to speak the Queen's English" and knowing how to present oneself.  I have to believe that this is more important than the outfit. 




chasesfish

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #16 on: November 03, 2013, 04:57:26 PM »

I also think it's part of the reason people have a problem with MMM.  Choosing to not show people you are rich, or not spend all the money you have as soon as you have it is pretty counter-cultural.  I think that's why there are a lot of engineers around here.  Apparently it's a field where not spending on cars/ suits/ jewelry doesn't hurt you much.  The lawyers seem to be more conflicted because they think/know/feel that nice suits/ nice cars/ nice houses/ watches/ expensive hobbies etc sometimes make a difference in important business and social relationships.

I have a always questioned why people buy shit they can't afford, but do understand the professional social climbingl

I'm in a profession where there are some caps on how high you can go without all the social bs, both internal and in the community, unless you are overwhelmingly competent in your job.   I'm not willing to buy the white Lexus or triple the house size.  The interesting thing about it is most of the clients don't care about this stuff, just internal people and other positions that refer clients to you.

Now the interesting calculation is are the extra expenses worth the pay increase (of course not), then it's just getting over the ego hit of not being considered for a promotion.

expatartist

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #17 on: November 03, 2013, 05:16:26 PM »
Clothes when worn well and by the right person have a transformative quality, and for some can be a kind of armor. My impression of the essay was that is what the author's mom was doing when she slipped on her special clothes for these kinds of situations: going into battle.

NB: Not to be too pedantic, and I know it's American slang to use the term this way, but in N. America we don't use the Queen's English (thank goodness).

grantmeaname

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2013, 05:54:40 PM »
NB: Not to be too pedantic, and I know it's American slang to use the term this way, but in N. America we don't use the Queen's English (thank goodness).
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Christiana

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2013, 11:07:48 AM »
The article was interesting, though not well-written.  The problem with using that approach to get a job is that you have to keep it up.

Personally, I would need more than a good designer outfit to disguise my various awkwardnesses, so for me it makes sense to take the hyperfrugal lunch lady route.  (Though I will keep MrsPete's casual outfit suggestion in mind.)

Lina

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #20 on: November 04, 2013, 12:33:11 PM »
Interesting article, but I think the author took a true concept -- professional people will treat you better if they perceive you as "worthy", and your appearance is their first clue to your value -- and stretched it out too far:

The author describes how her mother was successful in navigating the world because she owned one designer outfit, was immaculately groomed, and spoke well.  I don't doubt that what she says is true, BUT . . . imagine that instead of designer duds (which I personally could not have distinguished from quality-but-no-name items), imagine a woman showing up to those same appointments wearing something I might wear to work on a casual Friday:  Well-fitting dark jeans, a long-sleeved good-quality tee, a bright-print scarf, dark leather shoes or boots with a low heel.  Imagine immaculate grooming, a classic haircut, simple earrings.  This is a casual-but-well-dressed outfit for today's world.  I can't believe a woman dressed this way would be received differently from a woman whose tags bear designer names.

But I don't think that person has to go the expensive designer route and spend thousands to reach "acceptable". 


I also agree with the concept but I don't think it is the designer labels but rather the quality of the outfit combined with the immaculate grooming that is important. Mrs Pete, I would switch the jeans for slacks if I would strive for a casual but well dressed look for the meeting the author is describing. I guess the dress code also have changed a bit since the author was a kid.  Having big designer labels is in many places seen as tacky. I have had the same experience in many workplaces as the author has described. Superiors have commented that because I am appropriately dressed for the occasion I can accompany them to certain functions or that they can see that they don't need to talk to me about dress codes. I believe in dressing for the occasion. My outfit varies from the dark jeans, slacks to suit depending on who I am meeting and the occasion but always with high quality clothing and a professional look.

Jamesqf

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #21 on: November 04, 2013, 12:41:46 PM »
There's also a considerable level of context that has to be applied.  As for instance, outside of fashion-related industries, many people simply aren't going to recognize designer labels (or expensive clothes sans labels).  In some areas & industries, going too far in that direction will get you labeled as "a suit": that is, not technically competent, and/or out to screw over the people you're interacting with.

Albert

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Re: Why poor people waste money on luxury goods
« Reply #22 on: November 04, 2013, 01:30:24 PM »
There's also a considerable level of context that has to be applied.  As for instance, outside of fashion-related industries, many people simply aren't going to recognize designer labels (or expensive clothes sans labels).  In some areas & industries, going too far in that direction will get you labeled as "a suit": that is, not technically competent, and/or out to screw over the people you're interacting with.

You would become sufficiently good at it just by being around colleagues who buy that kind of stuff. Difference between expensive and very expensive clothes is not that obvious, but cheap and expensive is easy (20$ or 100$ jeans). I'm no fashion expert and and our industry is not very formal, but still I could do that 9/10.