In a society that is quick to measure worth by the number of zeroes in a bank account, it is easy to get swept into the temptation of displaying our financial well-being—hoping to impress others with how much we can afford.
This isn’t new. Conspicuous consumption was a phrase first used in 1899 to explain “the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury commodities specifically as a public display of economic power.”
But trying to impress others with our wealth is an empty and foolish game. It is wise for us to remind ourselves of that fact often and steer our decisions away from it.
The desire to impress others can deeply influence our choices—the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the neighborhood we live in, the vacations we take, even the jobs we pursue. But the momentary admiration that these material possessions bring is short and temporary.
Before we know it, our car gets dented, fashion trends change, or our phone is out-of-date. Those once impressive possessions no longer turn heads. And we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of buying, displaying… and having to restart again.
There’s always going to be someone richer, someone with a bigger house, or someone with a more luxurious car. Trying to impress others with our financial means and purchases is a game with no finish line.
And all of this occurs at the expense of our happiness—and often, our financial health as well.
When we use money as a marker of success, we quickly lose sight of what truly matters.
Besides, one person’s wealth doesn’t make them inherently more successful than someone else. There are too many other factors in play—beginning with where we started in life.
The self-made millionaire might be celebrated, but what about the person who rose from abject poverty to a life of stability? Or what about the man or woman who could have been a millionaire, but gave away their money to the poor? Their journey might not be as glamorous, but it is probably more remarkable—even though they will likely never be featured on a magazine cover.
Some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met had few dollars to their name.
Success in life is not measured by the dollars in a bank account. It’s measured by the love we share, the selfless approach we take to life, the obstacles we overcome, the progress we make, the legacy we leave, and the lives we touch.
There are greater memories that we can leave than the number of things we were able to buy.
I have been told by some people, “I don’t care if I leave a legacy. I’m not trying to leave an impression on others.”
I usually reply, “But you don’t have a choice. You will always be remembered by someone. The only question is, ‘What will they remember you for? Will you leave them with positive memories or negative ones?”
It is wise for all of us to reflect on our legacy and the inheritance we leave behind. And I’m not talking about financial wealth, but the example we set, the lives we touched, and the difference we made.
Imagine using our wealth to break the cycle of poverty for a child, provide medical aid to the sick, or solve any of the problems in the world you are passionate about solving. Each of those decisions may result in less wealth to showcase with your purchases, but they all bring about more good in the world and fulfillment in our lives. These actions increase the value of our money far beyond any material purchase ever could.
Whenever we are tempted to buy something just for the purpose of impressing others, we should pause and ask, “Why?” Usually the motive isn’t healthy… and neither is the result.
In the long run, it is our actions, not our assets, that leave the greatest impression.
I would be interested to know your thoughts on the following: I purchased a second property for my children so that it would be an easy transition from living at home to being independent. I have used all the money I have and taken out a second loan to secure this investment. I feel that it is a gift to my children, whereas after telling my friend of my purchase, they think that it is ‘virtue signaling’ and ‘setting my children up to fail as adults’. I am conflicted because I value the concepts of minimalism, not worriying about ‘keeping up with the Jones’, and not buying into consumerism; yet I seem to have committed the greatest sin of them all – buying something that is unobtainable to the vast majority of the population (four walls and a floor).
What say you?
I am seriously concerned that I can not consider myself either virtuous, or minimalist! However, I can accept it if most say that I am a fraud!
Basule Isaac Ahamada says
I definitely agree. Material possesssions are always subjected to the “hedonic treadmill.” Pursuit of meaning and purpose to impact other people will always bring a glow of fulfillment.
Elizabeth Mburu says
Fantastic I wish I had met this article years back,
Have even taken notes. Like in class
Jim Carpenter says
Maureen Pucheu says
The message in your article is totally in line with my philosophy. And yes, a good quote from Bob Gage :)
Bob Gage says
Inspiring reading, I am reminded of that saying “People are to be loved and things are to be used, not the other way around”
John P. Weiss says
“What will they remember you for?” Indeed, this is the salient point. Better to be remembered for character and kindness than wealth and consumption. And I admire beautiful souls more than shallow fops and narcissists.
Mel Carter says
Rita Vallari says
Great article, thanks.
Donna Gibbs says
This article is so true. It makes me remember that material things don’t make me happy for long if at all.
Amazing, I am in my early fifties and I am a great advocate of financial humility being the engine of growth in life.