‘Why Do Poor People “Waste” Money On Luxury Goods?’ -TPM


In these days of austerity, there is a good deal of moralizing about other people’s consumption habits, in particular, about “conspicuous consumption,” or the purchase of goods to display higher social status.  Much of the criticism seems to be directed at poor people.  Tressie McMillan Cottom (TPM Cafe: Opinion) challenges the claims that such purchases are irrational or immoral, citing “empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men”:

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege… In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership.

Read more here.



4 responses to “‘Why Do Poor People “Waste” Money On Luxury Goods?’ -TPM

  1. I found this article to be very relevant in our society today. People are constantly spending money that they do not have. The worse part is that often it is money spent in materialist things, such as a $2500 bag as the article points out for example. I agree with the main point of this article which is people who essentially engage in this type of behavior do it to achieve a sense of belonging. I think this is rather poor decision making on the part of the people that do this. It is very important to live within your means. This article talks about poor people who spend money that they don’t have. I can understand the frustration someone in this situation may have and why they may give into these materialistic desires. However when one’s socioeconomic status is considered to be poor, priorities should be different.

  2. The point that the author is trying to get across is that seemingly ‘wasteful’ purchases of status items–designer belt, shoes, watch–are necessary in a society where poor people of color are judged on their appearance, much more severely than white males. In response to kasfiislam, the money that the poor people in this article use to purchase a designer bag is not just giving in to “materialistic desires,” but more deeply and importantly, for these people having that designer bag may cost them a job that pays little, but which they need just to survive. If anything, I’m sure the people stuck in these socioeconomic ruts feel conflicted when they have to in essence, purchase something that they will be judged for not wearing, and when they do wear it, are criticized for a ‘lack of discipline,’ and ‘wasteful spending,’

  3. I agree with jblanchardo100 on the fact that this article talks about how poor people may necessarily not want to purchase certain products but may need to, just to be able to gain respect to be able to survive. I can relate to this article because being a woman and a Latina, I sometimes feel that I have to prove myself to others, that even though I am a first generation immigrant I do speak english as well as I speak spanish. In addition, when the author mentions that the VP of the cosmetology school laughs at the woman who wore a cotton tank top instead of a shell made me realize that before any interview I have ever had i try to look my best (as any other person) but because I am a minority, I make certain that my appearance is impeccable. I think the worse part about this is that most poor people are not spending their hard earned money on desires but as status symbols to help improve their mobility in life.

  4. “One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.” this quote from the article i think really sums up our society today. people see that the ones with the best jobs, the pretty wives, the cool cars, are the rich and famous people. obviously everyone is going to want to look like them because then maybe by chance they will one day get that good job, and wife and car. i think its because society values expensive goods and the people who own them that the poorer people in the world have no choice but to try and buy the same stuff and try and look the same way. its all about survival and if survival looks like fancy cars then it makes perfect sense that people will do whatever they can to buy those things.

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