Does Your Financial Reality Match Up with Your Perceived Financial Class?

“For me, there’s a disconnect between my perceived culture and class (professional, upper-middle-class-ish), and the reality of our financial situation,” Amy wrote in her comment on this post about Debt Repayment and Self Image.

WOW. That line really struck me – and struck me hard. You see, that line is the summary of how we lived our lives back in the ‘burbs. There was a definite disconnect between our money situation and how we felt we should be living as inhabitants of an upper middle class-ish community. 

Basically, we were living a lie. Things looked great on the outside; we had the McMansion, nice cars, our kids were involved in all of the obligatory extracurricular activities that those around us said they should be involved in, but our debt kept being a problem: staying stable at “high” best case scenario, and growing higher and higher at worst case scenario.

But we continued to live in non-reality. It wasn’t until we moved to the country and took our family out of the rat race (at least from a geographical standpoint) that we saw that lifestyle for what it was.

It’s nobody’s fault but our own – we allowed ourselves to succumb to the peer pressure of the community. But we just didn’t see it until we were out of the glass bowl.

In the country, you really do feel as if you are living a permanent vacation of sorts. Not from a work or maintenance standpoint – there have been days when the level of hard work we’ve had to do out here has had me in tears. But from a reality standpoint, living in the country leaves us alone with our thoughts – and with the truth about our financial situation.

It was moving to the country that allowed us to relax – probably for the first time in our lives. And it was moving to the country – where no one could see the emperor with no clothes; no one but us, that is. The stark-raving silence of the country drowned out the noise of the work of keeping up with the Joneses and left us to face the truth about our financial reality.

And the truth was that we’d spent the last 17 years living in a cultural class that exceeded our financial reality. That was a tough truth to face. We spent many months being angry – at ourselves, at each other, at the world.

And then we realized that, angry or not, our only way out was to work our way out of the debt mess we created. And so we do. And the journey has gone slower than we’d have liked it to. There’ve been setbacks and roadblocks that have made this a one step forward, two step back kind of a journey.

But it’s working. We are headed toward debt freedom. Complete and total debt freedom. And as the numbers on our debt go down, down, down, our levels of peace and relief go up.

I share all this in hopes of encouraging you that, if you are struggling with debt right now, things can be different.

It will take work. It will take sacrifice. But I don’t like to call it sacrifice, because what it really is is learning to understand what is most important to you. It’s about learning to understand that all of those things you’ve been buying that aren’t in line with your true financial goals have been wastes of your time and money.

When you take the time to understand what you truly want out of your life and out of your money, and to face the chains you have forged for yourself in life, then you can start spending your money in a way that is truly in line with your dreams.

And then your non-spending isn’t about sacrifice any longer; it’s about learning to live your dreams. And that’s a wonderful way to live. 🙂

Have you ever had to face up to the fact that you were living a financial lie? 


*Image courtesy of Flickr & Jay Tamboli

14 comments on “Does Your Financial Reality Match Up with Your Perceived Financial Class?

  1. Several years ago, we were living a lie. We bought new, fancy cars on a regular basis, but have since paid off all of the consumer debt. You are right, it doesn’t really feel like sacrifice because we are now living according to what we value most in life…and we have more freedom and flexibility to boot.

    1. Amanda, that’s awesome! Huge congrats to you guys!!! So glad you are enjoying the benefits of a consumer debt free life.

  2. Everything we do in life is a lesson. When hubby and I started out, if we had $20 left to our names, we spent $30. Now we know better. Lessons learned. Someday, when I’m a millionaire, I will still live frugally. Not because I’d be trying hard to do so, but because I see no reason to do otherwise. Embracing minimalism breaks the chains of materialism.

    1. Love that comment, my friend!!! “Not because I’d be trying hard to do so, but because I see no reason to do otherwise.” Beautiful. 🙂

  3. We ended up having to sell our house years ago due to bad financial times brought about by the recession. The bottom just dropped out. But in hindsight, we bought a house at the wrong time and the decision should have really been thought through at a more profound level. Financial lessons are some of the most difficult to learn 🙁

  4. I’m not sure if sacrifice is the right word to describe it. Although I have used it many times, its not like after becoming debt free we went back to the way things were before. We’ve changed, so I can’t really say I’ve sacrifice to become debt free, I’ve changed to become debt free and changed for the better. Less stress, more happy.

  5. We moved to this “upper-middle-class-ish” neighbourhood, and within a year, DH started the career roller coaster ride that would bottom out in 6 years of under/unemployment for him. Ugh! As a result, we have never kept up with the Joneses in this part of town. There are a couple of Porsches on our street – but we still drive our ’99 Dodge Caravan : ) We have faced our financial reality within the ‘burbs.

  6. We love the living in the country as well. It has been an adjustment from living right down the street from any restaurant or store imaginable. Not like I went to them often (except Trader Joe’s where I would spend every last dollar on junk food & coffee) so I wasn’t a big spender, but it was the prestige factor of living among the glitz and glamor.

    I get a kick out of Facebook & seeing my friends posts. I realize I have no desire to return to that lifestyle since I never really partook in it to begin with. I wish the conveniences were right across the road, but as you said we don’t plan to get too involved with youth activities & owning expensive cars just to look the part.

    Who knew gardening & planting trees that will bud in the spring & some more that will bud in the fall could be so much fun?

    1. LOL, I hear you about Trader Joe’s – they have the best snacks!! Funny – we’re not on FB but my hubby is always baffled by his coworkers’ obsession with it. And like you, we are falling more in love with gardening each year. Ah, the good life of the country nerd. 🙂

  7. That’s funny you mention this. When we relocated to houston our house was definitely “upscaled” and suddenly all of our neighbors were driving Mercedes, and Hummers or $60k trucks, and I remember thinking, “Lord, I guess no more yard work in a tank top…” Seriously, I wore a t-shirt the first few times doing the yard before I realized,”What the heck do I care what thy think about what I wear to do yard work in?” That was a literal conversation in my head. It’s amazing what your environment can do to your mindset. Now I wear my big straw hat, sleeveless shirts, sometimes (gasp!) no shirt, and smile thinking that in another few years, we can move away from there and like you, get back to some country living.
    I just put in another 4X8 raised bed in the backyard though and we planted some more veggies. Since we finally didn’t spectacularly fail with this last season on our mini garden, I decided to upscale it and add some more area to grow stuff. Things were getting too choked out in the little space where I had been growing things. Ahh, simplicity.

  8. The connection you make with location is a good one. We’ve lived in the same suburban-with-hints-of-rural area since 2008. There’s a real mix of incomes in the immediate area, but I naturally gravitated toward others who matched with how I saw (see?) us: educated, professional, upper-middle class-ish. However, when our daughter started public school, I started meeting people from much more diverse socioeconomic groups, which has helped with some of my internal struggles with class and culture. But I certainly can’t say that I never struggle with this anymore.

  9. This is something that I think is incredibly common with millennials. So many of us our close with our parents (boomers) who outearn us nearly 2:1 on average. When we see ourselves in our parents socioeconomic bracket (which we are socially but not economically), it can be tough not to spend as our parents do now.

    I know that is certainly a pressure I face especially with regards to where we’ve chosen to live.

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