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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.