How expensive is your ego?

By William Cowie

For Five Cent Nickel

Published: Tuesday, March 11 2014 12:40 p.m. MDT

Lest we be too hard on our ex-friend, there are many areas of our lives where shrewd marketers have succeeded in convincing us that we simply have to hand them more money so we can feel good about ourselves. Is Starbucks coffee really that much better than the brew offered next door? Maybe not, but no self-respecting worker wants to be be seen entering the office with a paper cup from a cheap coffee place in their hands. Same with purses, sunglasses, sneakers (anybody still wear those?) and phones. If you really have to be part of the iPhone revolution, why not buy a perfectly good iPhone 4 on eBay for $200, rather than (effectively) $700 for a new 5? The newer one is not more than three times better, no matter what criteria you use (coolness, of course, excepted).

Many of our parents and grandparents were perfectly happy in a Levittown house with about 900 square feet, one bathroom and no garage. Those things were so hot in the ’50s that their developer made the front page of Time magazine. When was the last time that happened? Today, things are different. Now it’s McMansions or their (only slightly) smaller cousins. Do we really need more space for our smaller families, or can it be that we simply would feel embarrassed to invite folks over to a Levittown house?

Employers know this too. How many excellent salespeople have accepted a promotion to sales manager, which actually pays less?

Ego is a choice

As we’re riding the tail end of this economic cycle, are you utilizing that little bit of extra income to boost the emergency fund or get caught up with the IRA, or are you finally getting that thing you’ve been wanting for the past few years but couldn’t quite afford until now? A friend who really “felt” the last recession recently bought a new Buick Enclave, the poor man’s Escalade (poor being a decidedly relative term here). He looks good in it, gotta tell ya. And it is a peach. U.S. News even ranks it the No. 1 affordable midsize SUV today. For $40,000 (terrific deal, of course). Could he have gotten a perfectly nice vehicle, similar, for half the price? Of course he could.

How about you? How expensive is your ego? What are you driving or wearing, compared to what your geeky left brain says you could have done if nobody ever saw you? How do you rationalize the (always terrific) deal?

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