When I was in high school I was a “smart kid.” I got great grades and studied hard. I chose to make school a priority rather than going out partying every night. I got called a nerd, dork, or geek, as well as some other less flattering names. I learned to hide my intelligence and to “play dumb” around the kids that I knew would torment me. I learned to apologize for my intelligence and mastered phrases like, “I didn’t study all that hard,” or “I just got lucky and guessed those last five answers.” When people wanted to talk about my academic success, I would shrug, hide behind my hair, and mumble that I wasn’t that smart, really. While this strategy worked to avoid confrontation and keep me out of the cross hairs of my taunting classmates, it did nothing to teach me to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. It took me years to get over it and to value my intelligence.

Lately I’ve found high school playing out all over again, only this time it’s not my intelligence that’s getting me into trouble, it’s my fiscal success. With the economy in its current condition, I find myself in the crosshairs of people who are not doing so well. Let me state up front: I don’t brag about our finances and I don’t go around actively telling people how much I have or that we haven’t been affected by the recession (knock on wood). In fact, I try to keep as much private as possible. But in a close neighborhood, workplace, or family, people have a general idea of how you’re doing. They know when you take vacations. They know when you go out for lunch. They know when you show up with a new(er) car. They know and sometimes, when things aren’t so hot for them, they turn on you.

As a result of simply living my normal life, I have people coming up to me and saying things like, “Must be nice to be so rich,” or, “It’s coming for you [economic woe], just you wait. You won’t escape forever. And then you’ll have to suffer like the rest of us,” or, (said behind my back, but so that I could overhear) “They’re going on vacation again. I guess they think they’re something special.” This hurts, just like it did in high school. I’m not rich, and I’m not special. I’m merely well prepared and fiscally responsible. For a while I’ve tried to apologize for my comfort and downplay my success. I’ve told people that we’re, “Just lucky,” or that, “We dodged the bullet,” or that, “I’m sure we’re next.” I’ve tried to hide behind my hair again, shrug and say it doesn’t matter. Anything to get people to stop looking at me as though I’m some kind of freak or that I’m not normal just because I’m not suffering economically.

But not anymore.

The final straw came the other day when I was at a neighbor’s house. She was hosting one of those house party things where you are encouraged to buy some kitchen ware, Tupperware, or other stuff. I went to support her because it was her first party. She needed more people to fill the room, so I went. I was being neighborly. I thought if there was something I needed, I would buy it to help her out. When it came time to buy the kitchen stuff she was selling, I looked through the catalog but couldn’t find anything I needed or even wanted. So I said, “Sorry, I’ll have to pass this time.” (I thought it was a polite answer that got me around the fact that everything in the catalog seemed like unnecessary junk, to me.)

She said, “Oh, come on. You’ve got so much money, surely you can spare something to help me out.”

I hemmed and hawed and said that I didn’t have that much money. That we were feeling the pinch just like everyone else, and that I was trying to be careful with money these days. I mumbled something about my job not bringing in as much as last year, blah, blah, blah.

She huffed and walked away and later I overheard her in the kitchen talking to some of the other ladies.

“Please. She’s not hurting. She just got back from vacation, but she won’t help me out by buying one thing. I know she has the money. She’s got everything.”

After I let myself out, I stopped on the way back to my house and thought about it. Why did I feel like I had to apologize for my choices to this woman? Why couldn’t I just say, politely, “Sorry, no. There’s just not anything in that catalog that I need. But maybe next time or I’ll let you know if a need comes up.” Why did I have to hem and haw and act like I, too was suffering when I’m not?

The answer is, just like in high school, to avoid being different. Even if different is good, we don’t want to own up to being different. My financial success or intelligence does not make me superior to anyone, but it does make me different. And in our world, different is to be avoided. In high school it wasn’t cool to be smart. Now it’s not cool to be doing okay financially. So we try to dumb down our success and good fortune to make ourselves seem the same as everyone else. To blend in.

It took me many years to own my intelligence; to be able to confidently answer questions in class and to be proud of my good grades. Of course in hindsight I see that all that studying paid off. I got a great education and many opportunities have opened to me because of it. I wish that I had had the confidence in high school to make even more of myself. I’m not going to make that mistake again.

After I left the party, I vowed that I would no longer apologize for my financial well being. I’m not going to brag about it or even bring it up directly, but I’m not going to dumb it down anymore, either. I’m done trying to blend in. We got to this point in life through hard work, sacrifice, and making good choices. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of. While a lot of people we knew were spending and upgrading, we were saving and downsizing. After many years of hard work and planning, we’ve reached the point where not even an extended layoff or medical emergency would derail us for too long. And that’s something I’m very (and justly) proud of.

So the next time someone wants to make me feel badly for going on vacation or for showing up at work in a “new” used car, I’m just going to smile and either say nothing or say something simple like, “Yes. I worked hard for that.” I’m done trying to hide and feeling ashamed for doing well financially. I created my success and hiding it or dumbing it down only cheapens my efforts.

Do I feel badly for those who are not in the same good place? Yes, absolutely. I know what it’s like to suffer. I’ve done it. And I’m more than willing to help those who want to help themselves. If you come to me with an attitude that says, “I want to know how you afford to go on vacation so often. Teach me,” I will be more than happy to show you how I save money. But if you come at me with a snarky, sarcastic, attitude that says, “It must be nice to go on vacation every other day,” then I’m going to smile and say, “Thanks. It is.”

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22 Responses to Don

  1. DesignFlaw says:

    I can totally relate to you. I actually come from a culture where it is socially acceptable to keep an eye on other’s finances. I agree with you, you should no longer dumb it down, but say it to their face that you have worked hard to achieve what you have and would like to enjoy your life. I have alot of relatives who give me a hard time, and every time they do I always politely let them know that I had to earn every penny of where I am at today. Ha!

  2. Princessperky says:

    I think your confidence is wonderful.

    A few stock phrases should help greatly.

    Folk need to hear the truth, that you worked hard for what you have and can enjoy it, keep telling them it was luck an they will keep telling themselves it isn’t their own fault they are in CC debt up to their eyeballs.

  3. Joan says:

    Maybe it takes something a little different than “I worked hard,” as they probably worked hard, too. Maybe something like, “I’ve been budgeting and saving for this for six years, as I do with all my big purchases.”

  4. Julie says:

    I have been married for 32 years to a husband who has worked 7 days a week, most weeks. He has worked so hard and I have taken good care of his money. I can relate to you too. Most of his co workers make comments about him having money and nice cars, but they refuse to work more than about 25 hours a week.

  5. Monkey Mama says:

    It’s little better than bullying. The point everyone misses when they think you owe them a handout is that you wouldn’t be doing so well if you wasted your money on those stupid parties or whatever else anyone is selling. If you are doing well people think you owe them something.

    I just want to shake people sometimes. Am I rich or cheap? Make up your mind. If I am both, maybe there is a correlation. 😉

  6. Myrna Garren says:

    I think the green eyed monster and anger is going to be around for a while. It’s a lot easier to mind your business and make comments like that then to clean up their mess. Keep your confidence up and don’t apoligize for your situation.

  7. justme says:

    My DH coworker was selling a product called nonnie and tried to get Dh to buy some.I was expensive (40$) and something we absolutly could not use or give away

    Dh politley declined and the man said you buying this would be like plucking hairs off a cat you would not even miss the money

    My Dh was really hurt by the remark, we have just got used to people hating us for being responsible

  8. Anonymous says:

    I really hate to go to those parties and hear people complain about their financial woes as they pick out a set of four plastic cups for $40 and six equall overpriced kitchen gadgets they’ll never use.

    Part of the reason you have the money is because you don’t buy stuff you don’t need at home demontration parties. I wish more people would be smart enough to see that connection.

  9. jendreyer says:

    Good for you! I am fortunately in the same situation from our family living well within our means. I surely don’t feel the need to apologize or make excuses… in fact I don’t fall for the “poor me” method family has of trying to guilt me into paying for things.

    Could we on paper afford to live life up in a more expensive house, yes, but other areas would suffer.

    Hang in there and don’t let the “keeping up with the Jones’ neighbors get you down.

  10. anonymous says:

    I’ve been in the same situation. Most recently with a “friend” who gives me a hard time about being “loaded” (I’m not). But he’s got a $600,000 house while I’ve been in the same $190,000 house for 10 years. I want to figure out some way to explain why I’m financially comfortable without being condescending.

    Basically a polite way to say “The reason I am financially secure is because I don’t buy stuff like this.”

  11. Jay Gatsby says:

    When somebody tries to guilt me into buying something I don’t need, I stand my ground and say I don’t need whatever it is they’re selling. There is no shame in standing your ground; there is only shame in a cowardly retreat.

  12. Hilary says:

    I second Joan’s comment. If you say something like “Oh I’ve been saving for a long time for this” or “I didn’t get my hair done for two years” or even something like “I guess we spend our money differently than you” rather than a comment about hard work, I think that would be more polite and also more accurate.

  13. Jackie says:

    Good for you! Even if some people think they are just teasing you (possible), it’s still something you don’t need to hear all of the time and certainly nothing to apologize for.

    My two older sisters used to make a lot of comments around me about how our parents have so much money saved up, that it’s probably more than we even think it is – usually in some kind of conversation about how my parents can afford to buy something but have chosen not to. Now I’m as guilty as my sisters when it comes to encouraging them to splurge a little more, but sometimes it sounded almost like my sisters were personally offended. Anyway, they finally stopped making those comments when I told them “Good! We should be glad if they’ve saved so much, because that means they’ll be able to take care of themselves in their retirement since none of us have done half so well as them.”

  14. Jen says:

    I agree that in this case it was envy. I’ve found that a good number of people, some of them are my friends, even, resent those who have more money, and there’s not much you can do.

    I would have been really offended that my neighbor felt entitled that I should help her out by buying stuff! But, I think in this situation the best response would have been “I just don’t see anything I need. Maybe next time.”

    I would be careful about phrases like, “I guess we just spend our money differently,” because it could be interpreted as snobby and make the situation worse.

  15. ThiNg says:

    You are battling with the same question that all of us seem to be:

    “Are we better than other people because we planned and prepared?”

    I was taught the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper from a young age. Nowhere in that story does the Ant shut the door and leave the grasshopper to starve and nowhere does he get to say “I told you so”. IMHO, the proper thing to do is just to offer to help.

    The opens his door and allows the Grasshopper to come in and eat.

    P.s. If someone accuses me of having money I won’t part with, I just list the things that I want that I don’t have yet. e.g. “I don’t want to buy any ‘crap’ from the magazine because I am using that money to buy my first Ferrari”

  16. Slinky says:

    Good for you!

    I try to be open about my finances too. Like you said, don’t brag or anything, but don’t hide it either. If it inspires one person to try harder or ask for advice it’s totally worth all the mean comments.

  17. Maureen says:

    People are complainers and they love nothing more than to complain about the fact that others have more. It’s a sad reality but at least you will stand up for yourself from now on. Why do people push you to spend when you don’t want to? It’s happened to me outside of the situation you were in so it wasn’t going to benefit anyone. I agree that if someone were to actually ask me to help them I’d be more than willing to but people won’t own up to their own mistakes and instead choose to blame those who’ve made it. Good on you!

  18. Caroline says:

    My approach to saving money is similar to yours and I’m still comfortable in this economic downturn as you are.

    This being said, I think you should have bought something from the catalogue and donated it to a thrift shop.

    If you try to control your money *too* tightly it simply controls you. Not to mention the possible bad karma for years to come. Anything can happen, so although improbable, the tables may be turned one day.

  19. Shelley says:

    I’m appalled at the behaviour of your ‘friend’. She doesn’t seem to understand what is selling. Next time she should just invite everyone over and put out her begging bowl; then you could contribute without taking home something that would just clutter up your house.

  20. Wow! Where do you live that adult people behave this way? You don’t expect comments like that from anyone above the age of 5. By 6 they are taught better.

  21. Ron says:

    Excellent! When things go bad nobody comes to say “Here, let me give you a helping hand”. So why should you bend over when things are good! Cheers my friend! Keep it up!

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