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A few years ago, I was invited, along with a group of my friends, to a party at a waterfront mansion here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The house featured two elevators, about 20,000 square feet and a living room that resembled an upscale hotel lobby.
As we stood in a small group marveling at a side of life we’d never seen, one of my friends said, “Doesn’t this make you wonder what you did wrong? I mean, why don’t we have houses like this?”
My response: “Really? I was just thinking about how long it would take to walk from the garage back to the master bedroom when I left my keys on the nightstand.”
Since my first mansion party, I’ve been to many others. I’ve also ridden on mega-yachts, kicked back in vast home theaters and otherwise enjoyed the spoils of other people’s good fortune.
I’ve learned something along the way: It’s fun to know rich people.
But I’ve also learned that trying to impress people with ostentatious displays often creates the opposite effect. In other words, things you think are earning envy may be causing people to think you look silly.
Here are some of my favorite examples:
1. An expensive sports car
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“Want to see how fast it will go?”
That’s the question I’ve been asked all three times I’ve been a passenger in a Ferrari. My answer was consistent: “Please, no. I’m begging you.”
It doesn’t work. Instead, it’s zero to 100 in five seconds on a city street.
I’m sure there are lots of people who enjoy riding in loud, cramped cars that can theoretically go more than 200 miles an hour. I’m not one of them.
While these guys — yes, in my experience they’re always guys — probably imagine themselves envied at every traffic light, are they really getting the status for which they paid?
They’re getting attention, all right, but maybe not the kind they wanted. When I’m stopped next to a Ferrari, all I’m seeing is someone who’s combined a midlife crisis with a big checkbook.
2. A boat
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If you take a ride down the Intracoastal Waterway here in Fort Lauderdale, within 5 miles you’ll pass more than $100 million in largely unused boats.
But if boating’s a crime, I’m guilty. As I write this, I have two 30-foot boats docked behind my modest waterfront home. I love boating, and I love working on my boats.
But the only advantage to actually owning one — especially a big, complicated one — is that it makes any other indulgences you have seem practically free. I’ve owned boats for many years, and I can state unequivocally that I’d be better off if I paid $1,000 to rent a boat for the day whenever the mood struck.
When someone asks me, “What’s the best boat?” I say, “Someone else’s.”
The only thing you can do to make boat ownership more foolish is to borrow the money to buy one, or to buy a new one. Think cars depreciate when you drive them off the lot? Chicken feed. Boats sink in value so rapidly that it’s truly astounding.
They also tend to sit unused for long periods of time, which is the worst way to maintain one.
Boats are no way to stay afloat. And unless you have money to burn, this pastime may not bring you the status you think it will.
3. Plastic surgery
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You think you look younger. What you might look like is someone who’s so insecure they had to have plastic surgery so they could pretend they weren’t getting older. And don’t even get me started on breast enhancement, especially the (literally) over-the-top variety.
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Tasteful jewelry can definitely add to one’s appearance. But if you’re wearing too much, you might as well just wear a dress made of $1,000 bills. It’s brassy, not classy. There’s a fine line between good and gaudy.
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I get it: If you have millions of dollars, you’ve got to put it somewhere, and where you live is as good a place as any.
But if you’re borrowing heavily to impress your friends with a house that’s way bigger than you need or can afford, you’re not looking rich, you’re looking crazy.
Besides, who wants to walk the length of a football field to let the dog in?