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On looking poor

Smart Spending recently discussed a Saving Advice post on how looking poor can benefit you. The comments are great reading; a lot of the readers have anecdotes on how some snobby salesperson missed out on a great commission by passing over a person who didn’t look like he had much money to spend. There are definitely advantages to looking poor–or at least not looking rich. The original poster, Shannon Christman, lists some: it can help you negotiate, it can net you freebies and like-minded acquaintances, it can make you feel good to laugh up your sleeve at an unsuspecting salesperson.

So why don’t more people do it? Because we don’t; we go to the bar with friends when we really can’t afford it, we buy a new dress for our friends’ weddings because people we know will be there, we send our kids to school with lunch money when we should be getting financial aid.

Generally speaking, people don’t like to look poor. We like to keep up with the Jones, to look like we’re winning at life–to socially conform. “Normative influence” is the pressure we feel to be like others so that we’ll be accepted. If we look poor, we won’t look like everyone else, and then they might not accept us.

Blunt Money posted on this a while ago, saying, “For me, it’s easier to do what I really want to do when I have the money to do otherwise. I’m less concerned about what others think…But when I really had very little money coming in (there were a few years not that long ago when I made $4,000 or less per year) I was more concerned about what people thought.”

Similarly, a recent post on FAIL blog: (via Get Rich Slowly) is about someone who’s looking for a new service: “video rental store but for books.” This would be a great idea, maybe even something for a young entrepreneur to jump on…if not for the fact that we already have something called a library. (Or a used bookstore, perhaps.)

But look past the apparent tragic unawareness on the poster’s part of public services. Why, in fact, do people use Netflix instead of the library? Would people actually use a book-Netflix? I suspect they would, even if they were getting the same service for a little money rather than for free, because “only poor people can’t afford to pay for books.”

How much does your fear of looking poor influence what you do? Do you truly want that new car or shiny watch, or do you just want to look like a well-to-do member of society? If you didn’t care what other people thought, would your spending habits change?

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