The Modern-day Aspirationals
The use of symbols to show social position has been with us since the start of civilization. Owning scarce materials and using them are symbols that show class membership. Status symbols separate the actual rich from those who only aspire to be rich; known today as the “aspirationals.”
Time has not changed the desire for status. The social and economic changes in the 21st century altered material consumption, consumer behavior, the meaning of status and how people achieve it.
In trying to imitate the rich, aspirationals focus on the appearance of what they believe is the lifestyle of the actual rich. To make things worse, the media takes advantage of the consumers’ aspiration for a wealthy lifestyle and strong sense of status through advertising.
One can become wealthy through the compulsion to work, but at a price. The overworked and busy lifestyle has become the aspirationals’ status symbol. Unknown to the aspirationals, the increase in wealth does not buy them happiness.
The fact is, the busy life robs them of the freedom of a leisurely lifestyle, which the rich enjoy. Contrary to common belief, the rich are the way they are because they can relax and enjoy everything life has to offer. They do not spend money on material things. Until the aspirationals realize how wrong their lifestyle is, financial freedom will remain a dream to them.
Aspirationals – the New Elite
Before the industrial revolution, the wealthy elite or the leisure class dominated society’s top echelon. It was then easy to distinguish the rich from the less-affluent members of society; the leisure class established their social and economic status through their possession of material goods.
Those at the lower end of the economic class imitated the habit and lifestyle of the rich. The desire to appear rich prompted a disposition towards materialism which was often wasteful, irrational, and beyond their means.
The imitation of the rich through conspicuous consumption manifests the importance attached to social status rather than the value of the object.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution, however, changed consumer behavior and the forms of material consumption. The manufacturing introduced led to the rise of the middle class and the reduced cost of manufactured goods. The middle class who accumulated wealth through meritocracy and cultural capital became the new elite – the aspirationals.
The rise of the new elite introduced an aspirational lifestyle with a new set of values and norms. The aspirationals worked for long hours, changing the dynamics of work. They held a different outlook on leisure, consumer behavior, and material consumption.
The distribution of authentic goods made possible by mechanization and specialization allowed the new elite to acquire property. With the accumulated wealth, they now have available disposable income with which to buy status through the acquisition of conspicuous goods.
A new aspect of the aspirational lifestyle is the appearance of “business.” Aspirationals work long hours, sending the message that time is valuable. This has the effect of reducing leisure time. Being busy and the lack of time for leisure have become the new status symbols.
The hectic way of life is contrary to the time when the Aristocratic elite occupied the top of the social class. The Aristocratic life of taking time off for leisure was indicative of wealth and social position. You could still see the taking of leisure today in TV shows like the Lifestyle of the Rich and the Famous.
Valuing productivity and busyness over leisure changed the aspirational’s lifestyle. The need for efficiency and productivity kept them busy even when on vacation, making the “to-do list” even when they are at rest.
The effect is for people to feel guilty when they take the time off for relaxation. But, in the long run, they regret missing out on leisure activities.
The Media and the Aspirational Lifestyle
The media is another force which contributed to the status consumption of the new elite. The media has a profound influence on consumer tastes and trends. The media spreads images of the lifestyle of the rich as something to emulate, which cultivates a new behavior of the middle-class consumers.
Marketers promote their brand by presenting individuals with the desired qualities their target consumers seek. For instance, strong athletes for the energy drink or beautiful women for the skin care. The purpose of the aspirational advertising is to present reference groups that are glamorous and accessible by buying and using their product.
What is not obvious in the aspirational advertising is its attempt to tap into the aspirationals’ need to appear rich. Further, the advertising presents a social comparison that could put the consumer at a disadvantage. A comparison between the out-group and the aspirational’s in-group imply that the in-group is inferior to the out-group.
Going back to the beautiful models as a reference group, a comparison implies that the consumer’s in-group is not as soft-skinned as the model. Identifying with the inferior in-group could threaten the consumer’s self-esteem. The consumer may not even be aware of the negative effect of the comparison.
Media today is pervasive and sophisticated that it reinforces consumerism, creating needs where there are none and turning luxuries into necessities. The existence of the internet facilitates consumer acceptance of products through blogs and comments expressed on websites.
The influence of media is deep, but people may not be aware of the effect. People think they can escape the advertising trap and that they are free to do what they want. But, the fact is, the media guides the way people appear and dress.
Debunking the misconceptions about millionaires
Many believe that the rich are rich because of connections and heritage. It is a popular belief that the rich are great spenders. It is the belief that the rich are educated with advanced educational degrees. Further, many people has the notion that the rich are business owners.
What is less known is that the rich are rich because of their habit of accumulating assets. The rich have a knack of valuing experiences instead of objects. They also strengthen relationships that could protect and build their wealth.
In Dr. Tomas Stanley’s Millionaire Next Door, seven attributes mark the millionaires:
Millionaires are frugal. Most people think that since millionaires have money, people expect them to spend a lot of it on most anything – from food to big houses. On the contrary, the millionaires are frugal (the opposite being wasteful.) Frugality is the foundation of building wealth.
Allocation of time, energy, and money to contribute to wealth-building. Efficiency is a significant element in accumulating wealth. People who become wealthy know the significance of allocating time, energy, and money to increase their net worth. The rich spend more time on investment planning to increase their wealth.
Financial independence is valued more than high social status. People who become rich work to become secure financially. The aspirationals work to appear rich but do not have the means to live up to the rich.
Rich people did not receive economic outpatient care from parents. Rich people learn how to be frugal, responsible, and self-reliant at an early age, and they show these attributes in their consumption and lifestyle.
Adult children of rich people are economically self-sufficient. Rich parents ensure the self-sufficiency of their children by reducing the size of their estate. Not to do so would subject their children to estate tax liability when they pass away.
They are accomplished in identifying market opportunities. The rich know what and how to target business opportunities and pursue them. If they need to spend to pursue the opportunities, they do so knowing the return will more than compensate the expenses.
They choose the right occupation. Knowing the right occupation is indicative of a person’s character. The level of wealth of the rich is not determined by the type of business but by his character. Businesses can change, but character is a feature that no one can take away. The same is true with intellect. For instance, a creditor can take away your business, but not your character or intellect.
Money as a means of escaping the rat race
Becoming wealthy is not about luck or getting the right break. The millionaires accumulate wealth because of habits that enable them to increase their net worth. These habits are ambition, integrity, optimism, persistence, resilience, and frugality. There are many more habits that could enhance one’s ability to accumulate wealth.
There is a difference between the rich and the aspirationals. Becoming rich is not about material possessions, it is about the ability to accumulate wealth with ostentatious spending.
In trying to appear rich, the aspirationals fell into the trap of aspirational advertising and succumbed to the “busyness” as an indicator of social status. In the process, they rob themselves of the ability to enjoy life and experience leisure activities, which is the key to accumulating wealth.
In wanting to be rich or to appear rich, people end up in financial ruin, unable to keep up with the lifestyle of the rich. An aspirational will have more chances of success if, instead of living a hectic life and material consumption, they spend their valuable time on planning for investment.
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