One of the things I like to talk about when I travel the country speaking about the principles and habits of successful wealth-building is learning to recognize and avoid what I call poverty traps: behaviors and ways of thinking that sabotage our ability to increase our net worth and build wealth. The poverty trap I’m going to talk about today is going to hit close to home for many people in the Black Enterprise family, particularly in light of the current economic crisis: Too many of us are working and spending to look rich instead of saving and investing to build wealth.
I ran across a prime example at a Black Enterprise wealth-building presentation I delivered at a conference in Houston a few years ago. A young woman came up to me to tell me that she had recently graduated from college and had landed a decent job right out of school, making about $30,000 a year. She was single with no kids, and had flown to Houston from Atlanta to attend my presentation because she wanted advice on how to get rid of credit card debt she had begun to accumulate in college and to catch up on her student loans. She was so stressed out about her debt burden that she was considering filing for bankruptcy.
Now, I’m thinking, between air fare, hotel and registration, she had to have spent at least a $1,000 to come to Houston for my presentation—and I was right. She paid for it with a credit card, of course. After talking with her for a few minutes, I found out why she couldn’t pay her debts and save any money. At 25, she drove a brand new Lexus. She had a weave that Beyonce would have mugged her for and admitted spending hundreds of dollars a month on her clothes, shoes, hair and nails. Of course, she had a fly suit, expensive designer shoes, and a Tiffany bracelet. And the biggest source of her credit card debt? Completely furnishing her new apartment as a birthday gift to herself. In short, her net worth was less than zero, but she looked and lived like a million bucks.
My advice to her is my advice to you: Stop spending money to just look like you have money. Get a less expensive car. Stay away from the mall. Get on a budget. Cook at home and pack leftovers for lunch instead of dining out. Focus on paying your debts and saving money, not just looking rich. Don’t get so caught up in the lifestyle of