Maybe it’s because I work in technology but I’ve never thought of tablet computers and 3D TV’s as status symbols in today’s world.  According to this article from the UK’s Dailymail these symbols have changed significantly from 20 years ago.  

It might have been enough to own a house with a 2 car garage and take a vacation once a year before, now however there are many more “must have” items for those wanting to show their success.

While it’s natural for people to seek status symbols, spending beyond their means to acquire them is what leads to problems down the road.  Setting your expectations too high too early in life is how people can end up buried under piles of debt.

Related: Why Do We Save?

Here are a few items from the list that particularly peaked my interest:

  • A smartphone
  • An iPad or Tablet
  • A smart TV or 3D TV
  • A dog walker
  • A cleaner
  • A nanny
  • Personal number plate
  • Champagne in the fridge
  • A holiday in the Caribbean, Maldives or Seychelles which costs $7,500 

Electronic Gadgets

When you take away the carrier subsidies, smartphones are quite expensive with an unlocked iPhone starting at $789 ($699 plus tax).  

For the married men out there that like to have the latest and greatest phone, just remember that you can’t give your wife a hard time for wanting to buy an expensive hand bag after you’ve spent $800+ on a phone!

Related: The Cost Of Keeping Up With The iPhone

Thinking back 10-20 years, would “a Computer” have been on this list instead of an iPad/Tablet?

Desktop PCs and laptops are basically commodities these days with the price of entry as little as $400, while a decent PC bought in the 90’s would have cost $5,000!

The big difference between computers of yesteryear and smart phones, 3D TVs and tablets of today is the cool factor.  15 years ago your desktop PC would be locked away in an office somewhere, but these new gadgets are highly visible.

Outsourced labour

The next three prestige symbols I listed are services which many might not have thought of as status symbols before.

Dog walkers, cleaners and nannies have become status symbols over the last few decades as more and more women have entered the workforce and commute times have gotten longer.

Related: Is A Long Commute Time Destroying Your Job Satisfaction?

The less time you have, the more important these services become which then turns them into prestige services.

What’s interesting is that if you have a small home that doesn’t require a lot of cleaning, you wouldn’t associate the same level of prestige with having a cleaner as someone who has a large home who never has enough time to clean it!

This means that in many cases, status and prestige are relative.

Personalized plates

It’s funny that personalized license plates made it into this list.  Since the cost of getting your own plate is fairly reasonable ($250) given the length of time you’ll use it, I suppose the level of prestige associated with this item speaks more to the message that someone puts on it or the car they put it on.

People might be more likely to put a personalized plate on an expensive car with a message like “GR8 CAR”.  Sorry I couldn’t come up with something more creative.

Who actually has champagne in the fridge?

I think this is probably a better indicator of status than a smart phone.  There are thousands of people roaming around talking on their iPhones and I can almost guarantee you that none of them has a bottle of Dom Perignon in the fridge!

Travel to far off lands

I found the last item, travel, particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, given that this is an article from a British newspaper, it’s worth noting that destinations like France, Italy, Spain and Greece are not on the list.  If Canadians were asked to come up with a similar list, one or more of those destinations would be on there!

Related: Using A NEXUS Card To Cross The Border

This means that the status associated with a trip is really a factor of distance.  For Canadians, a trip to the Caribbean is fairly common so we wouldn’t associate the same level of status with a visit to Cuba as the English would.

Secondly, the researchers specifically note that the trip has to cost at least $7,500 in order to have an impact.  To me, a trip is a trip whether you spend $3,000 or $7,500.

This distinction must reflect the exclusiveness of a hotel or resort (meaning more $$) for determining status.

It’s only a status symbol if you believe it is

Building on the house cleaner example earlier, things or services only become a status symbol when you actually believe that they are.  By managing our expectations we can actually reduce the desire to purchase such items.

It’s ironic to think that the fewer prestige symbols we buy, the more wealth we can build!

Andrew Martin is a personal finance and investing blogger from Toronto, Ontario with a background in technology and a passion for travel.  His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians build wealth by sharing facts, stories and advice.

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14 Comments

  1. Joe on April 5, 2013 at 4:50 am

    If everybody had to wear their “number” (i.e. their net worth on their shirts), I think our society would be a lot wealthier. Super scary from an identity theft perspective but wealthier lol.

  2. Bet Crooks on April 5, 2013 at 6:31 am

    We had to replace our Camry last year after someone decided not to stop like the cars in all the other 5 lanes of traffic and unfortunately we were in the car stopped in front of them boxed between stopped cars on either side, watching in horror through the rear view….

    anyway, it was fascinating listening to my husband report on what everyone at work thought he should buy. We were, of course, going to buy another Camry. But everyone was explaining to him why he should buy something else. Basically all of the explanations ended up coming down to prestige. Many of the recommended cars weren’t even reliable or safe just expensive.

    We would have bought another Corolla, but to take everyone on our cross Canada road trips, we need the trunk space of a Camry. Ugly. Non-prestigious. Vanilla. and unfortunately recently found to be not very safe in a diagonal collision. But extremely good value for the money and very reliable. If it’s like our other cars, we’ll have it for about 15-20 years–by then we should be able to go back to the Corolla.

  3. sr on April 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

    It is unfortunate that the author mentioned the Maldives as a ‘status symbol’ travel destination. The Maldives recently sentenced a 15 year old girl to 100 lashes for being repeatedly raped by her step father. Her mother and step father murdered a resulting baby. The neighbours reported the situation, the authorities blamed it on the 15 year old girl. There is no ‘status’ in travel to the Maldives.

  4. Robin on April 5, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I think it is interesting that you included maid/cleaner services in this list. I would not consider that anywhere near the status symbol it used to be. There has been an increase in the number of inexpensive house cleaning services like Molly Maid that bring these types of services well within the reach of many families that would otherwise not consider such a service. (WHAT?? A maid?? MOI??)With both adult members of a household working full time and the increased commute times to live in a decent affordable neighborhood, it is necessary to calculate the time/cost to have a cleaning service come in a couple of times a month versus spending your valuable time deep cleaning your house. What is your time worth and what do you want to spend your off-work time doing?

  5. krantcents on April 5, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I have only succumbed to one of your items! A house cleaner, she has been with us for years and well worth it. My wife and I are busy and we already have our nest egg. Very little debt too. We still max out our retirement savings.

  6. Timothy Mobley on April 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Agree with everything on your list except the house cleaner and the nanny. In households of two professionals with long days who earn decent wages, it becomes a question of opportunity cost to hire a house cleaner. As far as a nanny is concerned, the one-on-one attention an infant receives from a nanny cannot be compared to daycare. Again, that assumes the working mom’s wages would more than cover for the nanny. Everything else on the list is pretty much right on.

    • Bet Crooks on April 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Um, I assume you mean the “lower income earner’s wages” would more than cover for the nanny, right? : )

  7. steve s on April 7, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Is it just me or are there a lot more MB’s and BMW’s on the roads these days? It would be interesting if people wrote their net worth on the back of their cars.

  8. Michael on April 7, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Steve, I notice it too and suspect that most of them are heavily financed. If people had their net worth at the back of their cars many would be too embarrassed to drive their fancy cars

  9. Anne @ Unique Gifter on April 8, 2013 at 9:41 am

    The first computer my parents bought for our house cost $5000. When you include inflation, that’s an insanely large amount of money!
    We drink a lot of sparkling wine and have about half a case in the fridge at all times. HOWEVER, it’s cava from Spain, not champagne from France. I did win a bottle of Champagne on the weekend though 🙂 I’m looking forward to it!
    I think the balance between “status symbol” and “falsely considered a necessity” is interesting. Take, for example, smartphones. I don’t consider them a status symbol at all. However, I strongly believe that way too many people who can’t afford them still get them.

  10. Andrew @ 101 Centavos on April 11, 2013 at 3:50 am

    With the ubiquity of smart phones and tablets, they’re not the status symbols they used to be. A couple hundred bucks will now get you a decent used laptop on ebay or Craigslist.

  11. KC on April 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

    I have a smartphone and consider it a tool. Until 5 years ago, everyone knew where I was (home, work, and occasional travel). However, I started travelling frequently and payphone was few and far in between so I got a cell for emergency. Now, I have a smartphone and consider it a tool. It allows people to reach me, a phone for emergencies, and a way to get in touch with clients through emails, documents, calendar, etc.
    Everything else on the list is definitely a luxury UNLESS you have no debts, in which case, feel free to spend your money however you wish!

  12. Julie on April 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I guess “keeping up with the Jones” is a fad that transcends the generations. Will it truly ever go away? I imagine not.

  13. Eric on May 5, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Geez, we don’t have ANY of the ‘status symbols’, (although I have been to the Seychelles), ESPECIALLY the personalized license plates……these, I’ve always thought of as self inflicted/applied targets……if, ‘you’, deliberately or inadvertently, cut someone off or otherwise antagonize them, they’re unlikely to EVER forget GR8 CAR, but an alpha-numeric combo will be dropped from the memory banks within an hour.

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