Are you burning or signaling your wealth?

Four questions to consider before getting wants in Midlife.


Wants, needs, splurges, they are endless, aren’t they? We want and want and want. Finding the delicate balance between giving in to that next purchase and holding back is something some have mastered well and others are struggling to. I term “wants” as anything outside of basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, bills, all that I need to survive. In today’s post, I put forward the questions I ask myself before getting my “wants”.

Why do I want the things that I want?

Ways in which we signal status

The more important question

Why do I want the things that I want?

When a work promotion or earned bonus occurs typically means my bank account is smiling wider, and there is the innate impulsion to want to go out and spend. My need for a bigger house and a shinier car suddenly jumps 1000X. I want to match my new status (at least in my head).

Now the house I have fits us all just fine, and the neighborhood is great. Given I have teenagers I know I don’t need a bigger space. I’ll probably wind up with two empty rooms in the next couple of years when my children fly the nest. Why pile up more debt in the form of a mortgage to fit into this new status? I have been having these conversations with myself in the last four months, trying to talk myself out of it and shift the idea that increased earnings shouldn’t always equal increased expenses.   Just because I can afford it doesn’t mean I have to do it, right?


I pulled up at the car park the other day; my junior colleague waved me a chirpy hello as she stepped out of her black Porsche 911. I cannot help but notice it drives smoother than my beat-up Betty. Betty is my 14-year-old Benz A1, it drives well and given I only use it for the weekly one-hour commute to work, I can’t justify replacing her just now. Betty is not as pleasing to the eye as a Porsche, but she still gets the job done!

It’s another black Friday, another flash sale; I catch myself doing the same thing I’ve always done when these “deals” come around. I lurk around websites, waiting to pounce on whatever catches my eye – a cozy sweater, another cute pair of trainers that my daughter doesn’t need, and maybe even throw in that back scratcher. The dopamine hit of new possessions quickly wears off; it is replaced by the guilt that comes with unnecessary purchases.


The sense of entitlement to the things we want in midlife is real. When you’ve ticked off the “to dos” of life, what else is there to do – SPOIL YOURSELF! You’ve worked hard, buckled down, and delayed gratification by prioritizing others. Why shouldn’t you get the things that you want, a bit of extravagance should to subtly signal one’s place in the world should not do much harm, right? If not now, then when?

The trusted Google defines Status signaling as the behaviors, possessions, or actions individuals use to communicate or display their social, economic, or cultural status within a society or group. This signaling can take various forms and often involves consciously or subconsciously showcasing symbols, possessions, or behaviors associated with perceived higher status.

Ways in which you can signal status 

  1. Material possessions: Owning luxury items, expensive cars, designer clothing, or living in affluent neighborhoods to signal wealth or high social standing.
  2. Consumer behavior: Purchasing certain brands, products, or services known for their prestige or exclusivity as a way to signal affluence or sophistication.
  3. Educational and career achievements: Displaying degrees, job titles, or affiliations with prestigious institutions to signal intelligence, success, or professional status.
  4. Lifestyle choices: Adopting particular hobbies, travel destinations, or leisure activities associated with high status or cultural sophistication.
  5. Social circles and connections: Associating with influential or affluent individuals or being part of exclusive clubs or groups to signal belonging to elite social circles.

Nearly 40% of Americans Overspend to Impress Others*

The more important questions

The pressure to care about your standard of living and the appearance of wealth to peers is often not worth the sacrifice involved. The financial implications can range from being deep in debt, not being able to retire early, or lacking the freedom of choice to do what you want to do.

Thanks to social media, things are not really what they seem. The appearance of success you are trying to keep up with might not be real to start with.

Asking the more important, deeper questions can help provide clarity on the “whys” of getting wants. So when the temptation to spend wastefully or worse still overspend hits. 

  1. Why the need to impress in the first place?
  2. What is stoking my need for validation?
  3. Does it add any value personally or to the world around me when people admire or are envious of my status?
  4. Does it bring the happiness I so wishfully crave

Note that this piece only focuses on the financial implications of “keeping up with the Joneses”. There’s been a range of studies delving deeper into this phenomenon.


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