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Stress, Social Status, and Buying Stuff
Old 04-26-2014, 12:02 AM   #1
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Stress, Social Status, and Buying Stuff

Watched a documentary on Netflix called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer" earlier today that made a connection between social status and persistent long-term stress. Well worth a watch.

I got to thinking about how people that aren't posting on an early-retirement blog on a Friday night spend their extra money. If it is true that stress is correlated to a persons' position in society, then "status symbols" could be viewed as an attempt to reduce stress by climbing the social ladder.

I think that if what people are seeking is a status gain to get reduced stress, the target group is very likely the workplace for those working. Since pay largely goes with rank in the corporate world, then this is pretty much a guaranteed failure of an approach. The cruel irony is that debt-driven consumption leads to financial stress. The only logical path is to either fly up the ladder (quite tough statistically) or to try to check out entirely from that game.

I've pretty much taken the check-out approach and while I'm still working, I work remotely most of the time (live in TX, work in CA). Going to the office feels more like a vacation than a job at this point. Of course I have almost no career advancement potential with this arrangement, but I don't seem to care about that as the pay and my feeling of making an impact are still there. My career focus (my status?) is mostly centered on FI. I am a technical expert in my field and I've noticed many on this site are as well. Perhaps, this recognized expertise enables many to skip the status symbol battle and thus achieve FIRE? That is, if you're tops in at least one thing, perhaps that's enough?

Thoughts?
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Old 04-26-2014, 05:28 AM   #2
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The cruel irony is that debt-driven consumption leads to financial stress.
There is little doubt what you have said here is true. I was stressed almost to the breaking point at the height of our keeping up with the Jones phase. I was in the planning stages of getting my first BMW when I was introduced to Dave Ramsey by a friend at work (divine intervention?) Through Dave's program I was finally able to see the insanatity of many of my previous decisions and realized I needed to change my ways quickliy. Now, as Dave says, my paid off home mortgage is my status symbol of choice (although I could now pay cash for brand new his and hers 7 series BMWs if I wanted too, there is no way I ever will). More importantly I now have the freedom to walk away from my job if it does prove to be too stressful.

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I am a technical expert in my field and I've noticed many on this site are as well. Perhaps, this recognized expertise enables many to skip the status symbol battle and thus achieve FIRE?
Maybe, I guess it depends on whether or not you are having Maslow's needs satified well enough through your job. Once upon a time I was one of those recognized experts as well (as you say quite a few here are experts) but for me that wasn't enough, I searched for that status in other areas of my life also. Luckily I have matured or grown old or just don't care anymore, either way I'm quite content now with my station in life and the stress has just kind of melted away (awesome side effect of FI)
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Old 04-26-2014, 06:04 AM   #3
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I believe the more you care about showing others your "worth" via your possessions, or want to show off via your possessions, the more than can cause stress. For me, once I started focusing more on things I cared about, rather than what I thought I should have due to social status/pressure, the stress started to go way down. It also lead to a lot less desire for "things".

One theme from the book "Stop Acting Rich and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire" that struck me was how people who didn't have much tended to spend a lot more on things to show off their status, as compared to those who were truly FI. This seemed in many cases to result in a cycle of increasing stress, as they kept spending more and more on things but because of that were not gaining as much ground as they hoped, and kept spending. I have seen this in a couple of DW's siblings who were always show how they were better off than us but what they had or where they lived when we were younger, but now are experiencing lots of financial and personal stress because of those actions.

As for being an expert, in can be a two-edged sword. I am considered an expert in several areas by my Megacorp to put in front of clients, and have articles published and speak at various conferences. There is still the pressure to increase that expertise, and at some point I decided not to push any further because the added stress wasn't worth it. For example, I could increase my base salary at Megacorp by 30% If I took on a job role that required 100% worldwide travel, much of it on the spur of the moment. Not worth it for me at this stage in my life.

I look at where I came from, what "society" expected of me, and where I am now, and that alone gives me a lot of contentment, and no need to push for further professional/social advancement and the resulting stress that comes with it.
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Old 04-26-2014, 07:48 AM   #4
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Possessions are the boat anchor of life. Useful for a while but the asset becomes a liability when the attempt is made to simplify one's life into a clearer needs model versus trying to gain pleasure from acquiring more stuff.
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Old 04-26-2014, 09:52 AM   #5
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Possessions are the boat anchor of life. Useful for a while but the asset becomes a liability when the attempt is made to simplify one's life into a clearer needs model versus trying to gain pleasure from acquiring more stuff.
Very true. Yet, I find it difficult at times to resist the temptation and fall back into the trap of buying just one more whatever. Fortunately, sanity returns after a short while. Currently, I am working on cleaning out my garage and a few rooms in the house, and donating many good object to people who need them more than I use them. It's a good feeling.
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Old 04-26-2014, 10:47 AM   #6
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I loved the stress video. I've watched it twice.

We've checked out, too. We're in the process of declutteirng and eventually downsizing the house. We've gotten rid of a boatload of stuff and I haven't missed any of it. We must have 10 times the stuff we had when we were first married. Most of it just feels like an anchor that is keeping us from living in a lock and go beach condo.
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Old 04-26-2014, 01:10 PM   #7
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Stress Portrait of a Killer > Documentary Addict

Just watched, thanks. Now, off to continue reading my latest library selection.
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Old 04-26-2014, 01:47 PM   #8
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I remember starting out long ago, my consulting business was doing well and was looking into buying a BMW. When I found out how impressed a certain family member was about me buying a BMW and how well I must be doing, I changed my mind and bought a Jetta. I had no respect for this guy, who only seemed to be interested in money and looked down on others. I so disliked his lifestyle and attitude about people it turned me around, there was no way I was going to be like him. Found out later how he looked down on my Jetta. Now THAT made me feel good! There really is stress caused by constantly trying to keep up with higher and higher levels of consumption, and nothing to be gained by doing it.
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Old 04-26-2014, 02:18 PM   #9
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This thread is interesting and very timely for me. Earlier this week I checked three books out of the library:

The Overworked American
The Overspent American
Affluenza

The first two books were recommended on another thread here, and I read Affluenza years ago and am re-reading it.

I consider myself fortunate to have never been bitten by the "keeping up with the neighbors" bug. It just never mattered to me. My lack of desire for "status" is seen as very odd by my coworkers (with one exception), most of whom seem to be in a never ending competition to acquire the newest shiny toy, the biggest office, the fanciest vacation, the next promotion, etc. They also exhibit classic signs of stress and anxiety, and appear to live from paycheck to paycheck, even though most seriously out earn me. I am happy to do the best j#b I can at my mid-level position, then drive home in my no-status car to my no-status house.

Many years ago I heard an expression which rang very true for me (I would give credit if I knew who said it): "If your outgo exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall."
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Old 04-26-2014, 02:19 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by jollystomper View Post
One theme from the book "Stop Acting Rich and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire" that struck me was how people who didn't have much tended to spend a lot more on things to show off their status, as compared to those who were truly FI.
Back in the 70s, I took a few sociology classes and read about this phenomenon. Sociologists referred to "portable status symbols" with the idea that something you could show off to others had more chance of being expensive than something you only used around home (cars, clothes, etc.). Particularly prevalent in lower socioeconomic groups. The idea impressed me enough to influence my buying habits ever since.
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Old 04-26-2014, 03:00 PM   #11
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This thread is interesting and very timely for me. Earlier this week I checked three books out of the library:

The Overworked American
The Overspent American
Affluenza
I liked the part in the Overworked American where the author points out that we not only work more than workers in most other developed countries, but more than medieval serfs -

Medieval peasants got more vacation than Americans- MSN Money

The serfs had more holidays, breaks and afternoon naps.
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Old 04-26-2014, 03:05 PM   #12
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Hey! Quit bashing all those people borrowing money and spending it on all that stuff! Do you realize what would happen to the economy, and your PORTFOLIOS, if everyone adopted our lifestyles! God bless the consumption obsessed for they power the economy!!!!!
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Old 04-26-2014, 04:57 PM   #13
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Like I mentioned above, good info on how stress works, but...
Nature vs Nurture; about the gendercide of the forest baboon tribe, followup after a couple more generations, before drawing conclusions please.
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Old 04-26-2014, 06:00 PM   #14
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Like I mentioned above, good info on how stress works, but...
Nature vs Nurture; about the gendercide of the forest baboon tribe, followup after a couple more generations, before drawing conclusions please.
They didn't only follow the baboons. The stress studies on British government workers showed similar results.
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Old 04-26-2014, 07:06 PM   #15
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They didn't only follow the baboons. The stress studies on British government workers showed similar results.
Dagnabbit, I missed, didn't make, the eurofication connection.
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Old 04-27-2014, 07:20 AM   #16
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Stress Portrait of a Killer > Documentary Addict

Just watched, thanks. Now, off to continue reading my latest library selection.
There is no App for happiness: How to Avoid a Near-Life Experience
Thanks for posting those links. I bookmarked them and will watch later.

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Hey! Quit bashing all those people borrowing money and spending it on all that stuff! Do you realize what would happen to the economy, and your PORTFOLIOS, if everyone adopted our lifestyles! God bless the consumption obsessed for they power the economy!!!!!
I have often thought of thanking the "Spendarina" SIL for her contributions to our portfolio. Somehow I doubt she would be appreciative.
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Old 04-27-2014, 10:08 AM   #17
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Hey! Quit bashing all those people borrowing money and spending it on all that stuff! Do you realize what would happen to the economy, and your PORTFOLIOS, if everyone adopted our lifestyles! God bless the consumption obsessed for they power the economy!!!!!
+1 We applaud them at every opportunity!
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Old 04-29-2014, 10:09 AM   #18
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Watched a documentary on Netflix called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer" earlier today that made a connection between social status and persistent long-term stress. Well worth a watch.
Thanks for the reference. I found it on Youtube, and agree that it was well worth watching.

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The only logical path is to either fly up the ladder (quite tough statistically) or to try to check out entirely from that game.
As noted in the movie (48:00-48:30), there is a third path for those low in the employment hierarchy without the means to check out entirely: viz., derive social status from hobbies (e.g., be the captain of a softball team).
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Old 04-29-2014, 10:41 PM   #19
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I liked the part in the Overworked American where the author points out that we not only work more than workers in most other developed countries, but more than medieval serfs -

Medieval peasants got more vacation than Americans- MSN Money

The serfs had more holidays, breaks and afternoon naps.
Hmmmm. I occasionally refer to myself and my cow#rkers as serfs on the j#b. Guess I'll have to stop doing that!

I haven't started Overworked American yet - I started with Overspent instead, although I think she wrote the other one first.
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Old 04-30-2014, 08:31 AM   #20
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Of course I have almost no career advancement potential with this arrangement, but I don't seem to care about that as the pay and my feeling of making an impact are still there. My career focus (my status?) is mostly centered on FI. I am a technical expert in my field and I've noticed many on this site are as well. Perhaps, this recognized expertise enables many to skip the status symbol battle and thus achieve FIRE? That is, if you're tops in at least one thing, perhaps that's enough?
It worked well for me. What you describe is almost exactly where I was before I retired. I was doing computer forensics (basically just data recovery combined with knowledge of search & seizure law and evidence admissibility, a narrow niche at the time) and in the mid 1990's it was seen as a "black art" done only by wizards. So there was some status conferred by that. I didn't bother taking promotional exams because I was exactly where I wanted to be.

And I had everything else that mattered. A nice but not large home, a wife who thought (and still does) that I was "the best thing that ever happened" to her, and time to play with radio control airplanes and a pickup truck to take them to the field. I didn't care that the pickup was ten years old and had peeling paint, the mechanicals worked fine.

So I was relaxed, enjoyed both my job and time off, and had virtually no stress anywhere.
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