The Millionaire Next Door

All Stars of Consumption

Is being frugal fashionable today? Perhaps, considering the severity of the economic times. The more important question is: how long will it be fashionable? The following is an excerpt from my new book, Stop Acting Rich, highlighting the focus on hyper-consuming, highly compensated members of our society and their spending habits.

America is a nation of excesses. And these excesses, especially when it comes to consumption, have a profound influence upon our young. They are constantly told that spending is the American way. Often their role models are highly compensated professional athletes and entertainers. Day after day, the public relations machinery keeps cranking out stories about the multi million dollar mansions that this athlete has purchased or the fleet of exotic cars that this movie star owns.

By sensationalizing and glorifying these powerful role models, the press sends a message. It says that happiness is obtained by spending freely on cars, homes, and parties. But in reality, spending will not make people happy. And very few people grow up to become star athletes or movie celebrities.
Our local newspaper published an article that featured in glowing terms the home of a professional baseball player. The article mentioned that the interior space of the highly decorated, nine bedroom home was 25,000 square feet (Jennifer Brett, “Home of Brave A Comfy Expense,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 30, 2007, F3). Apparently this fellow is an all-star in terms of spending.
What else is so interesting about this home? Nationwide, only 3 percent of America’s decamillionaires live in a home that has nine or more bedrooms. The square footage of this baseball player’s home is four and one-half times larger than the median square feet (5,600) of the primary homes owned by the chief executive officers of Standard & Poor’s 500 firms (Judith Burns, “Sell Signal: When Boss Buys Trophy Home,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007, p. D6). These are America’s major league caliber- business leaders who run companies that generate billions in sales revenues and employ millions of Americans.

Could it be that many of these CEOs do not feel the same need as the baseball player to display their success, and supposedly enhance their status, via homes, cars, and accessories? Perhaps just being the head of a major corporation has a lot of status attached to it all by itself. And in terms of making a real contribution to our economy, these CEOs have a much higher batting average than the baseball player. In fact, in this regard, he probably belongs in the minor leagues. Nevertheless, he is still a role model, a poster child for the “smell the roses” society of hyperconsumers in America.

We cannot count on the press to paint an accurate picture of how carefully most achievers allocate their dollars, yet most achievers are very satisfied with their lives. Their satisfaction has little to do with the brands that they own. We would do well to adopt the values of the majority of the real achievers in America and not those who are of the “star” variety. The big house baseball player, a one in a million young phenom, was born with his extraordinary talent. But most achievers know that their type of success was not predetermined. Often it takes twenty or thirty years before they break into their own version of the really “big league.”

3 thoughts on “All Stars of Consumption”

  1. Is there any research to show WHY some people have to consume so much more than the average? I’ve dealt with frugal living for years and it seems like there must be some need that they’re trying to fill. And (I’m just guessing here) the things that they buy are unable to fill that need. So they keep trying…and trying…

  2. Just was reminded again today of Warren Buffet’s (the richest, or second richest man in the world depending on who is counting)frugality. He has lived in the same house for 51 years (because he is happy in it) and he drives a 16 year old car bought from a discount lot (because it works and does the job and gets him where he wants to be). What bigger role model do we need?

  3. The only professional athlete I know is an NFL player you’ve never heard of. He’s a long snapper – the guy who hikes the ball to the punter and holder for the place kicker. Being a long snapper is like being Vice President – your name only gets called when you screw up. The long snapper can’t even be elected to the Pro Bowl game. They only sign 1-year contracts, usually for the NFL minimum. Anyway, this guy has been in the NFL for over a decade, he lives in a 3,000 sq. ft. house (no mortgage), and he drives a seven year-old Chevy Tahoe SUV.

    Mr. (un-drafted) Long Snapper has seen dozens of high-profile, bonus baby players blow through millions of dollars on fancy cars, parasitic hangers-on, overpriced mansions, strip clubs and other detritus from the “Pimp My Ride” lifestyle.

    The career of an NFL football player averages about three years; but the injuries stay with them a lifetime. These guys hear all about saving money and planning for the future in the mandatory seminars put on by the NFL, but they still squander all of it.

    As my buddy says “The newspapers will never, ever write about me – unless I screw up.” And that applies to the profile pieces which dwell on the hyperconsumption pattern of the local jocks. He’ll only get the attention of the media if he does something dumb with his money or on the field.

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