The Southern California area I live in is a hotbed of overleveraged real estate, leased automobiles and high-end lifestyles that for many have been financed via the housing ATM over the last few years. Sure, there are truly wealthy people who can easily afford that $3 million dollar home, but the masses made the switch to the fast lane lifestyle via easily available credit. The words moderation and frugality are not known here.
While this attempt of keeping up with the Joneses is slowly coming to an end with real estate values plummeting, reality has really not sunk in yet. Why is it that many have the uncontrollable desire to show off or at least give the impression of keeping up with the neighbors?
Shira Boss’s book “Green with Envy” tries to shed some light on this question and presents a whole new way to look at financial (un) happiness. It’s a fun read since the author looks into the lives and checkbooks of our neighbors and presents the shocking gap between public image and what’s really going on behind closed doors. The book features 4 scenarios:
1. The young couple next door. The pay cash for their apartment and go on shopping sprees. You wonder how they can afford it.
2. The manager and his family who move into a gated community. Within five years their savings are gone, and their credit card debt is over $100,000.
3. The U.S. congressman who wants everyone to think he’s arrived. Meanwhile, he has to sleep on a cot in his office.
4. The baby boomer at fifty. He’s got kids in college and no retirement fund—and the clock is ticking.
It’s a compelling tell-all about what’s going on with other people, while presenting a new perspective on financial well being. I found it extremely timely given the fact that real estate is now in a prolonged slump, reducing wealth and causing many with big, inflated egos to face reality sooner or later.