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Do You Judge People by How Much Money They Make?

by Melanie on August 11, 2014 · 24 comments

in career, employment, income, staff

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The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll offer a refreshing point of view for us. She just quit her job to freelance full-time. Melanie is a great writer so I think it will work out just fine for her. 

Do You Judge People by How Much Money They Make?

judge people by how much money they makeMoney can change things. That much is obvious in tales from rags to riches, where people forget where they came from, start acting differently and forget any common sense they might have had when they were broke.

Knowing how much money someone makes can completely change your perception of them. As much as we want to believe that money makes no difference on our perceptions of others, it definitely does.

I’ve seen this firsthand in my own life and have internalized many of the feelings associated with it. When I would tell people about my work at nonprofits, I would get that sort of pitiful look that said everything. By revealing my nonprofit worker status, I had revealed that I was obviously not making the big bucks. That I was surviving on less.

This has been met with both awe and pity, and a conciliatory statement, “You must be doing such great work!” In other cases, I’ve had friends forward me corporate job postings, pushing me to do better, taking little to no account of the fact that I have no desire (or experience) to work in the corporate world, even if it would bestow me with the riches that are so obviously lacking.

I realize how my income and judgment from others have shaped my feelings about my own self-worth. I have money scripts in my brain that I’m working hard to overcome.

Scripts like:

  • You’ll be low-income forever.
  • You’re not entitled to a higher income.
  • And other variations of self-sabotaging garbage.

Conversely, I’ve been guilty of judging others by how much they make, usually in the case of them making a substantial amount of money.

My scripts continue:

  • Oh well, they must have majored in something useful!
  • They probably got help from their family.
  • They don’t know what it’s like to struggle! (Ha. This is the most ludicrous.)

I’m embarrassed by all of this. It’s just plain silly, but we have strong emotions and perceptions around money. Money means status and it means success. Think of the societal markers we have to define how much money people have:

  • Clothing
  • Cars
  • House

We judge people by what they wear. In a flash of a second, we can determine if someone is homeless or a successful businessman. In some places, a car is more than a form of transportation. In Los Angeles, where I’m from, if you don’t have a car, it’s mostly a sign that you are low-income because you need a car, and most people don’t take public transportation. Our living situation is also up for judgment. Size and location matter. I remember when I lived in Los Angeles, I worked in a rough part of LA. I decided to live two blocks from work so I could experience the neighborhood and walk to work. When I would tell people where I lived, I was met with shock, “How could you live there?! In THAT neighborhood?”

Think about all of the ways that we consciously or unconsciously judge people by how much money they make. We have a lot of beliefs that have been ingrained in us based on our cultural upbringing, society, family, friend group, job and more.

I was talking to a friend and asked him bluntly: Do you judge people by how much money they make?

He replied, “No, I judge people by how they ACT about money.”

I rather liked that answer. Our feelings shouldn’t be tied up so much into how much people make, but how they act with their money. Are they rich and stingy? Broke and begging? Do they use money as a tool to manipulate others? Do they hold it over other people’s heads, as a sign of power? Are they constantly broke, but always buying junk they don’t need?

I think it’s important to remember we’ve all got issues, especially money issues. We’d rather talk about sex and drugs in this country, than talk about money. Money holds a lot of power both in our minds and in the real world. It can mean the difference between getting by or thriving, it can mean financial servitude or financial freedom.

Money affects all of us.

Do you judge people by how much they make? Or how they act with their money? What money assumptions are you dealing with? 

Photo credit: Flickr Kris Krug

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Louise August 11, 2014 at 12:29 am

Good article, afraid I’m really guilty of judging people too – I tend to think high earners are selling their souls (and all their free time)

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 11:45 am

I think we all do a little!

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Ted Hu August 11, 2014 at 3:42 am

I don’t. I’m old schooled. I care far more about deed and critical thinking and open mindedness. Now more so that we are FI. Money affords choices. It also attracts kiss assers and attracts unnecessary attention to yourself.

When I goto shop or run errands I put on a white costco tee and shorts and flops. And do my thing. People often discount by appearance and there are also those who are just nice decent folks. It’s all in eye of beholder. It’s easier to meet the latter when you don’t have to deal with the former.

Returning to LA after a decade plus in Seattle. Both places have their share of superficial but in LA diversity keeps it real for those who embrace it. It’s all a matter of perspective and the wisdom one garners aging and living.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 11:48 am

I like your philosophy! I really miss the diversity of LA — and you are right, there are superficial, kiss-ass types everywhere. Even if they don’t make a bunch of money!

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Emily August 11, 2014 at 5:34 am

I don’t think I judge people based on how much money they make because I have a very low salary (about to go to $0!) and so when people make more (most everyone) I just think “Good for them.” I do have more judge-y thoughts about what people do with their money, but if I don’t agree I’m more sad for them than anything else, thinking they don’t know how much they’re getting ripped off or don’t know how saving can work in their favor.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 11:51 am

I hear ya! I try to get inspired by higher earners and think “if they can do it, so can I” (to an extent).

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Jon August 11, 2014 at 6:12 am

When I was younger, I would judge people by how much they make. But then I began to read books and wise up and realize that what people make doesn’t matter, it’s what they do with their money that matters. You could make $100K a year and be up to debt to your eyeballs, or make $20k, live frugally and retire rich. It’s all about your attitude about money, not how much you make.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 11:55 am

Ding ding ding! In some cases, I’m richer than others, because at a pretty low salary, I am demolishing my debt. While some other people make much more and are just “getting by.” Attitude and what you do are key components to financial success!

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Justin August 11, 2014 at 7:11 am

In general, I don’t judge someone by how much money they make. I live in a very diverse neighborhood with older people (often millionaires or with a fat pension), tech workers, and working class immigrants.

I never know if the guy on the sidewalk wearing flannel is a millionaire who owns ten rental properties in the neighborhood, or if he owns a small landscaping company that nets six figures a year, or if the guy with the long ponytail and ragged 5k t-shirt commutes to his silicon valley job from 9 to 5. Or he might just be scraping by painting houses or plumbing for a living.

What you do to provide for yourself and your family is only loosely correlated with who you are as a person.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Yeah, I think living in diverse places helps you realize that you never know people’s situations.

And this, “What you do to provide for yourself and your family is only loosely correlated with who you are as a person.” — YES. Love it.

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Tommy August 11, 2014 at 9:20 am

I don’t judge people by the money they make but how they live. When I was still working as an engineer I admired the local coffee shop’s 30 year old barista who made peanuts for pay but lived a simple life. He walked to work from his modest apartment, was hard working, sociable with everyone coming in the door and the happiest person I had ever known. We would talk and I was fascinated at his low stress lifestyle. The opposite end of this was the Jack-Wagon millionaire who owned half the buildings on the street including the one the coffee shop was in who would come in with no eye contact or hello, make a big mess when adding his sugar and cream and walk out without an effort to clean up or even an apology. He even got his coffee free as part of the lease agreement and didn’t tip. The barista would laugh it off and just clean up after him.

I always migrate to people I would want to be around regardless of their income or bank account. I have no idea how much money the people I hang out with have and they don’t know of my financial status either. Kindness and character wins over money or a lack of it.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm

That’s a great story. There is something to be said about a simple, nice life. Sometimes I think ambition can get in the way of happiness. A lot of my friends are of all income brackets and I totally agree — kindness and character all the way!

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kammi August 11, 2014 at 9:55 am

I come from a more or less recently colonized (by the British) country, so I think that class is still huge in our society, and I do tend to judge people based on class (which sometimes does tie in with money). I will judge a person based on poor grammar, or someone who has a crappy work ethic, or even eats (and speaks) with their mouth open (a huge peeve for me!) or their lack of consideration for others (what my mom likes to refer to as “being piggish”. I grew up in a well-to-do neighbourhood, for example, and my mother did look down on the neighbours who would take up the entire street when they were parking in their garage, and literally stop traffic on their street just to get into their garage (grrr!). They did have money, but having class is more important.
That being said, I also can tell whether someone is wealthy in the US by the way they speak about money. I had a coworker once who would rant about how he “hated people who owned BMWs.” Though hilarious to me (you can’t judge someone’s net worth based on whether they own a BMW or not), it said a lot more about him. So that’s the stuff I look at typically and judge people by. One of the things I seem to notice is that in the US, it’s very difficult to find someone wearing a suit that fits (the shoulders, the pair of pants and the back of the suit). It’s either too large or much too tight! Years ago, that would have been a sign of someone perhaps who was too poor to afford their own suit and had to borrow or rent one, rather than have one made specifically to fit their body type!

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 12:16 pm

I’ve heard that people in other countries are a lot less flashy with their wealth than people in the U.S. That they want to NOT stick out in a crowd, whereas in the U.S. some people definitely like to show it off as a symbol of status.

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idogicat August 12, 2014 at 8:09 am

You are right. In some Asian countries, people tend to hide their wealth, so that the other people won’t envy them for this. This helps to maintain a good relationship with others and avoids different kinds of unnecessary obstacles…

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canadianbudgetbinder August 11, 2014 at 10:26 am

Such a timely post as one of my CBB fans wrote in saying she was embarrassed by where she worked after graduating University. I had plenty to say to her in today’s blog post as a response but in the end no one knows what your goals are or how much you love what you do. It’s your life after all, they don’t have to live it. Money does make the world go round for some people but we don’t all need 6 figures to survive. Emotions are what we create not others. So if we are happy with our life than we won’t let those emotions get the best of us.

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm

That’s sad! I don’t think she should be embarrassed. We all have to work jobs we don’t like at times and it helps us grow. It won’t be forever either.

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Tawcan August 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

I really don’t care how much money other people make. Why take on other people’s stories when you have way more things to take care on your own life?

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Melanie August 11, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Yep! I try to focus on myself and increasing my own income. Also being empathetic to people’s situations.

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biker4life August 11, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Great post. It’s a fact that we live in a judgmental and competitive society.

Who really cares what others make, or what I make in terms of defining “self worth”. Keeping up with the Jones’ is a sure fire trap to financial indebtedness for life. Avoid it like the plague.

Unless everyone wears a folding sign around their neck stating their net worth (and maybe their FICO score for giggles) then it’s a crap shoot to try to judge. I learned this by reading Millionare next Door which proves you cant judge a book by the cover — those who have the cash often do not flash it. And there are plenty of “under accumulators of wealth” who drive the rented BMW, live in the rented McMansion, full of rented furniture, and are 1 late mortgage payment away from the poor house. You just can’t tell – well- on first appearances. As others have said, one’s attitude about money reveals a lot more about them than the clothes they wear…but the “reveal” takes time.

It’s perfectly normal/natural to judge – it’s just that society is most often misqueuing based on what they see physically (house/car/fancy clothes).

The older I get, the more I am finding the USA trend of the Sam Walton types – they choose to try to blend in…because somehow US culture “criticizes” those who have worked hard and earned a living and saved and are financially successful. It’s funny -as if it’s a crime to make money and become wealthy.

I myself drive a “hoopdie” car and wear levi’s and t-shirt most often when I go out, covered in tattoos and on weekends I ride an old ratty harley davidson. But I have zero debt and significant 7-digit net worth accumulated over a life time of hard WORK. I pay cash for most things too. When I tell people what I did for a living, I see the gears spin, the clutch slip, and the smoke come from between their ears. I’m simple. I like simple people too.

Society programs us to think successful people “look” a certain way. Probably correct some of the time…but not always.

So, you just have to be confident and comfortable enough in yourself to not give a crap what others “think”.. or baffle them right back with the same bullshit that they are trying on you…. and in the end…just find a partner in life who is compatible to your values, not just in love with your “looks” (which includes the fancy car/fancy house/fancy clothes and all the smoke and mirrors that go with looking and acting the part – you know, big hat…no cattle).

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Wade August 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

The “Millionaires Next Door” is the group I strive to be in. Unassuming cars, houses, watches, clothing. No debt. A nice healthy batch of savings and investments. You can spot the super rich (maybe) or the low income (maybe). Can you spot the hidden millionaires who live a plain and unassuming lifestyle? I hope you never can. Interesting post. Thanks.

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Mom @ Three is Plenty August 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm

I used to judge people by their money, but that’s changed in the last few years. I’ve learned that what you see isn’t always what you get as far as income or net worth. We’re in the process of moving cities, and I’m finding it difficult to judge the “class” of people in the neighborhoods we’re looking in. But, I have no idea how much money these people have, just how they look, how their houses look, and what kind of cars they have. We’re looking for a neighborhood that is kept up and there are less expensive cars parked in driveways – Camrys, Accords, etc. So, in some ways, I’m still judging based on what I think people are making…

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papadad August 12, 2014 at 8:25 pm

better than looking at the cars in the driveway (how many, I wonder, are leased)…go spend some time at the local neighborhood school (elementary/middle/high) to see the level of parental involvement. I find that is a very good indicator of general value systems and that is a good proxy to the value systems on money and wealth.

If you find high energy parents who are involved in their kids lives, volunteering in the classroom or on the sports field, chances are you have found a neighborhood with the right “stuff”.

people who are broke are generally trying to make ends meet – working multiple jobs at difficult hours –or out at the Latte shoppe spending all their cash…either way, they dont have much time to engage in their kids lives / be in the classroom. Those who have found balance, are on the path to financial freedom, tend to find pleasure in low cost activies, generally are the ones who are in the classroom. Not always, but I bet it applies 90% of the time.

Any other “alternative” approaches to detecting net worth/income/wealth ? The above is one of my favorites….

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Alexis August 12, 2014 at 7:35 pm

I think people are definitely judged by the money they make and the money they spend. Especially when people are spending money on high costly items like diamonds and expensive purses, people tend to judge that they should be donating the money rather than buying more and more purses and jewelery.

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