For any young person interested in the concepts of Lifestyle Design and/or FIRE, one of the most underappreciated traits that can help put you on the fast track to reaching your goals is a strong sense of self-confidence. This is so valuable due to the fact that it is very easy to become distracted by those following the more common template society has laid out for us.
Self-confidence can help fight the magnetic pull of the crowd and its behavior in a variety of situations. If everyone is spending their money on expensive clothes you might feel like you should too, just to fit in. But a strong level of self-confidence may allow you to be honest with anyone suggesting you join in – perhaps you are saving for something more important to you or maybe you just don’t like the styles/brands others do. This can be easier in theory than in practice when effective branding subconsciously influences purchase behavior from one end while friends or colleagues may exert a form of “peer pressure” from the other.
Although the term “peer pressure” is typically applied to adolescent or school-aged groups, a similar phenomenon exists in many adult workplaces as well. From a personal example, when I was in my late 20s I signed on with a Fintech startup as only the second employee. About a week or two into things the other guy asked me to take a walk with him. He wanted me to go to the local jewelry store and get a Rolex. He wore one himself and suggested it was what guys in Finance should wear, as it projected an air of success. The craziest part about this is that this person ended up filing for bankruptcy only a few years later. I have no idea if he kept the watch.
My experience is not uncommon, either. A friend of mine joined a fast-paced Sales organization in Southern California around 2010 and quickly learned of a peculiar parking system the employees had devised (and followed quite seriously) in which the zones you could park in were determined by the cost of your vehicle. At the time, BMW was the preferred status symbol and the more expensive the model the closer you were to the entrance.
My buddy told me stories about guys who landed a few commission checks and bought 3 Series BMWs only to find their colleagues teasing them about running out for a “starter” BMW. Imagine feeling compelled to buy an expensive car only to have to constantly upgrade. By the time you realize how silly it is to try and keep up you’ve already put yourself on the hook for a multi-year loan with a large monthly payment. Getting caught in a cycle like that can significantly derail savings goals and postpone financial freedom.
Another big expense in your twenties and thirties can be vacations. Whether intentional or not, it can seem like your friends are doing great and that you should be keeping pace. Like many purchases, however, vacations are generally booked online with a credit card and so there is no way to differentiate between those friends who can truly afford these trips and the ones who are digging themselves deeper into debt with every sunset margarita. Notice that no one ever really posts their credit card bill. It is entirely possible that after the latest joyful Instagram photo your friend went back to stressing out over how they’ll ever pay for all of it.
None of this is to say watches, cars, or vacations are bad things that everyone should avoid. Rather, when considering a large purchase, just be certain it is your own internal happiness meter that is being set off. In my experience, perhaps as much as any other trait, strong self-confidence helps a person skip over many of the items on the imaginary, yet very real, Successful Adult Checklist that many subconsciously carry with them.