Sunday, June 18, 2017

Spending that counts - What we know from the latest surveys on the rich.

I am currently reading The Sum of Small Things : A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett and it looks like I would have to update some of my thoughts on saving and spending to the latest findings of social science research.

Apparently, it is no longer cool to get into conspicuous consumption. Rich people no longer show off their expensive fashion and toys. Because the middle-class can consistently use credit to purchase the trappings of material wealth, the rich in the US are moving onto other things to maintain their social and cultural distance from the hoi-polloi. This trend has gotten the progressives particularly worried because the rich are no longer spending in a stupid and flashy manner and almost every dollar now is being put to increase income inequality in Western societies.

I will just share three things the aspiration class are spending on these days to maintain their social economic status. If you are observant enough, you will be able to find that financial bloggers also tend to spend very tactically within these three categories :

a) Labor-Intensive expenditure

The first category care utility driven rather than status driven. The new rich prefers to spend on things to give them more time.

The rich has maids to assist them in house-work and childrearing. Some even pay to have people do the gardening for them or to walk their dogs. The aggregate effect of buying time with money means that they have more time to spend either making more money or quality time with their kids. Social scientists are now detecting ( to their dismay ! ) more quality time wealthy individuals are spending with their children.

Even in Singapore, sociologists are detecting that richer families tend to believe in more filial piety.

b) Experience-driven expenditure

The second category are non-utility driven but also non-status driven expenses. Travel comes into this category but I can imagine many kinds of expenditure of this category which does not result in much travel. Some blogger friends have been very public about the staycations they pay for. Even I would be going on a staycation after my internship in early July.

I do not really agree with the author that travel and experiential goods are non-utility driven. Doing charity work in Lhasa may be something nice to put in a resume to distinguish yourself from other candidates. In the age of Instagram, being able to relax next to the beach is no longer something you get to keep to yourself.

But you can't deny that money being spent on experiences is going up over the next few years.

c) Consumption that counts

The third form of consumption which scares the living crap out of liberals is that the rich is starting to buy things that really count. From time spend attending seminars to subscriptions of the New Yorker and The Economist. Wealthy women, already very well read compared to their less-educated peers, are spending more effort breastfeeding their children ensuring that their children gets a huge jump over their peers.

This blog supports category (C) the most because, individually, investments that really count cost very little money but may require years of education and study to exploit fully and will pay dividends over hundreds of years as your children gain a permanent heads up over their peers.

What does this mean for the big picture ?

Rich people will stop acting rich. They will retain ways to signal to each other their social economic status but they will stop inflicting psychic damage to attract the envy of the middle class.

But income inequality and social mobility will suffer even more once the rich learn to invest their time and money properly.


  1. Interesting article, as I study all aspects of finances as a recently retired RN. I believe the Rich in America will spend on #2: Something not quite overt as, say, a piece of expensive jewelry or flashy car, but on travel to various parts of the world. Again, much thanks for a thoughtful read, indeed !

  2. Actually travel is getting rather overt these days with Instagram.

    One lesson I picked up from the book is to trust the rich to find innovative ways to distinguish themselves from the rest of society and permanently entrench their children in the upper classes.