Have you ever read the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde or watched the 2009 movie? The novel and movie tell the story of a portrait of a young man who finds himself in a moral freefall; however, the effects of his lifestyle do not appear on his face, rather the portrait of him becomes increasingly grotesque over time. With every evil act committed by Dorian, the portrait gains a scar or disfigurement. Dorian’s attractive appearance and magnetic personality lead others to his life of sin and debauchery but much to their dismay they do not have the painting to bear the after effects. Once I became a financial advisor, I realized that Dorian Gray was not just a literary character; however, there are thousands of financial Dorian Grays wondering the streets all over the place.
Who is a financial Dorian Gray?
A financial Dorian Gray is a person who leads an excessive lifestyle without much thought for the financial tolls this lifestyle will cost. This person typically pays for clothes at full price, rarely looks for coupons or deals, mindlessly spends money, probably drives an expensive car, lives in an expensive house and furnishes it with expensive items. To the naked eye, this person is living a wonderful life and it seems as though we should aspire to achieve this lifestyle. And you may say, “Shannon, what’s wrong with engaging in these activities? These people work hard so they should “indulge” in the finer things if they choose.” Yes, indulging in the finer things seems like a wonderful idea when we work so hard, the problem is when the indulging becomes the focus rather than just an occasional reward. Just like the portrait reflected the evils of a carefree lifestyle, a financial Dorian Gray’s credit card or bank statement illustrate the true damages of financial irresponsibility.
Why should we beware of financial Dorian Grays?
Just as Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray was an incredibly appealing and persuasive person, so is a financial Dorian Gray. The problem with both is that they typically lead you to make financial and moral mistakes alongside them. I have good friends who are financial Dorian Grays. I don’t have to worry about them reading this blog, because they have no interest in frugal living or making responsible financial choices. They both earn good livings but lead excessive lifestyles. They wear expensive clothes; drive expensive cars, travel all over the place and stay in expensive hotels. We used to go on a trip with them every year, and without fail, it was always the most expensive trip we ever took in the year. Just trying to keep up with these friends, led to financial challenges in my household. When we couldn’t “afford” to go on the trip (i.e. we decided to spend our money on more responsible endeavors like buying a home), we became less appealing to them as friends. Even for those who have above average salaries, it is difficult to afford to hang around with a financial Dorian Gray. If these people choose to live a financially irresponsible life, that is their own concern, but you cannot let them coax you into joining them.
The grass is not greener
I am frequently advising clients against comparing themselves to their financial Dorian Gray friends. My clients are convinced that they are “missing out” on something because they do not have what their friends have. And my response to my clients is “Yes, you do not have mounds of debt from which you can’t escape or no emergency or retirement savings, and these are good things not bad.” I have met with a number of “potential clients” who I was told have “lots of money” because they make lots of money only to find out they have nothing but debt and “stuff” because of poor choices throughout their adult lives. Financial Dorian Grays typically do not have enough assets to even work with a financial advisor. So, don’t concern yourself with trying to keep up with them, remember that they have a hideous credit card statement lurking in their home just as Dorian had the portrait in his attic. Trust me, I have seen these statements, and they are hideous.
If you think you may be a financial Dorian Gray and your debt burden is becoming difficult to bear, you can make a conscious choice to change. In the novel Dorian Gray, the lead character could not exist without the portrait; however, you most definitely can exist without credit card debt and the sooner you tackle it, the healthier financially and mentally you will feel. There are amazing personal finance blogs out there with great tips and tools for tackling debt issues. If you have friends who may be financial Dorian Grays, try to minimize the time and money you spend with them if they hurt your personal finances. If they are good friends, they will be more than willing to engage in less expensive activities. If they don’t want to help you save money, then I would think they are not really good friends and worth sharing your time.
Are you a financial Dorian Gray or a recovering one? Do you know of any? How do you keep from becoming one?
If you are still not sure about financial Dorian Grays, check out this guy…