Tag Archives: social ceiling

Social Status and Money

Seems like they go hand in hand, doesn’t it? The more status, the more money, and people often hope the reverse is true: the more money, the more status. We’ve lived with this hierarchical model for millennia.  And there is money right there in the middle of it.  But what is money’s role in this?  And what other choices do we have?

Anthropologically forming groups of “us” and “them” is a very human thing to do.  Money and what we do with it helps define our group, doesn’t it?  It’s a chicken/egg thing.Pyramid (as an illustration of social status and money)
This is another place where we think money is defining what is going on. However, what I think it really does is reflect our desire to be accepted or comfortable—or maybe even both.

I notice that we get nervous when we are out of our social comfort zone.  Those places where we feel comfortable are ingrained.  We are also very adept at recognizing them.  I remember once while house hunting, we found a great house.  It was perfect on many levels and the thought that went through my head was “I’d have to put on makeup and get dressed to go to the mail box here!”  I’d hit a true “social ceiling”: It wasn’t about money, the house was right on the money, it was something else. I’d like to think that it just felt too “stuffy” for me.  Who knows?

What I do know is that when we tie our money to the “social status” game we create more havoc in our personal finances.   We create a Money Trap.  You’ve heard me talk about them before.  Money Traps are things that steal away our attention from what is truly important to us.  They distract us and have us spending on things that we don’t really care about.  In the status game we somehow think that driving the more expensive car will move us up the social ladder and that doing that will make us happy.  It’s more likely that it will just keep us spinning to have more, instead to figuring out what we actually think that illusive “more” will create.

Here’s an example:  I once worked on the management team of a new shopping center in Thousand Oaks, California.  It was the late 70s and this mall, called the Oaks, was a big deal.  It had a full mile of stores inside the mall before you even walked into the department stores at either end. It was a very expensive mall with high-end stores.  The odd thing is that in finding the site, getting the permits, and building the mall, the developers had never really done any demographic research.  Thousand Oaks was a suburb of L.A.  It had nice houses.  It looked good from the outside.  However, for most of the families the husband drove a nice car into L.A. every day to work.  The wife stayed home with the 2.3 kids, drove an old car, and shopped at Target.   The home had lovely furniture on the first floor.  Upstairs there were mattresses and unfinished furniture in the bedrooms.  The developer had looked at the outside image to decide what the inside economics was like.  I felt bad for the families.  For me, it wasn’t that they couldn’t “afford” what they wanted.  It was that they were living a lie.  Looking at the money we can see that.  Looking at the outside we don’t.

What we really want is to belong. To be one of the “cool” kids. The problem is that most of the “cool” kids are longing to be one of the even “cooler” kids.  There’s the trap.  It’s the trap that I once heard described as “comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.”

So money doesn’t actually make any of this social status happen, it just reflects how hard we are striving for it and what we will do to get it.  My guess is that if we could all get clearer about that we might make different choices, ones that might have us feel happier.

If you’d like to untangle that just give me a call at 503-258-1630 or contact me through my website at: https://www.shelltain.com/contact/


Shell Tain, The Untangler