How people financially hide behind fancy clothes - opinion

If you budget and have the money for certain “luxuries,” then go ahead and treat yourself — But don't buy things you can't afford.

Luxury Watches (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Luxury Watches
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

“I wear wigs all the time on shows and every day when I’m in public at Dollywood. People say, ‘How many wigs do you have?’ And I say, ‘Well, at least 365 because I wear at least one a day.’” – Dolly Parton

A while ago, I was at an event with my wife, and I couldn’t get over the luxuriousness in the way many of the guests were dressed. 

I’ve been to my share of very, very upscale evenings, and there is a certain realization that when a couple appears in their finest, they can afford it. This particular evening was different.

There were many very young couples dressed to the nines who were clearly living well beyond their means. From the cost of a single woman’s dress, heels and lavish wig, you could feed a large family for six or seven months. Sure, some of them could afford it, but for most it was clearly a case of keeping up with the Joneses.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the garments of the high priest. The splendor of these garments seems odd for a religion that emphasizes an internal rather than external approach to spirituality. Judaism doesn’t seem to place such importance on external beauty.

Illustrative photo of Israeli money (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Illustrative photo of Israeli money (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

On this, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “Clearly, the Mishkan [Tabernacle], and later the Mikdash [Temple], were exceptions to this. Their emphasis was on the visual, and a key example is the Priests’ and High Priest’s sacred vestments, bigdei kodesh. This is very unexpected. The Hebrew for ‘garment,’ b-g-d, also means ‘betrayal,’ as in the confession we say on penitential days: ‘Ashamnu bagadnu, We have been guilty, we have betrayed.’ Throughout Genesis, whenever a garment is a key element in the story, it involves some deception or betrayal.

“There were the coverings of fig leaves Adam and Eve made for themselves after eating the forbidden fruit. Jacob wore Esau’s clothes when he took his blessing by deceit. Tamar wore the clothes of a prostitute to deceive Judah into lying with her. The brothers used Joseph’s bloodstained cloak to deceive their father into thinking he had been killed by a wild animal. Potiphar’s wife used the cloak Joseph had left behind as evidence for her false claim that he had tried to rape her. Joseph himself took advantage of his Viceroy’s clothing to conceal his identity from his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food. 

“So it is exceptionally unusual that the Torah should now concern itself in a positive way with clothes, garments, vestments.

“Clothes have to do with surface, not depth; with the outward, not the inward; with appearance rather than reality. All the more strange, therefore, that they should form a key element of the service of the Priests, given the fact that ‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Sam. 16:7).”

RABBI SACKS connects his answer to the sin of the Golden calf, and in short says, “The Mishkan represents acknowledgment of the fact that human spirituality is about emotions, not just intellect; the heart, not just the mind. Hence, aesthetics and the visual as a way of inculcating feelings of awe.”

The splendor in these specific clothes is limited to the Mishkan.

Last week I was sitting with a young couple who actually had above-average monthly income but were in constant debt. When we started analyzing their expenses, it became quite clear that there was zero discipline in their budget. 

If they wanted to buy something, they bought it. When I pressed them about the fact that they didn’t have the income to justify their standard of living, they said, “Don’t worry, everything will work out.”

A few years ago, Charles Schwab Corp. commissioned a survey of 1,000 people to learn about their financial habits. Reporting on the survey, Maryalene LaPonsie of US News wrote, “81% of millennial respondents were somewhat or very confident in their ability to meet financial goals. That compares to 65% of Gen X and 54% of baby boomer respondents, respectively.

However, data suggest millennials are not spending money on items that further traditional long-term goals like retirement or homeownership. For instance, the Charles Schwab survey revealed that 60% of millennials buy coffee that costs more than $4 per cup, 69% buy clothes they don’t necessarily need and 76% will spend money on the latest electronic gadget.”

I can’t tell you how many people I know who get free coffee from their office will line up to pay 15 shekels for a coffee. One a day comes out to just about NIS 4,000 a year – for coffee! Imagine if that money would be put into savings. Do you realize that NIS 4,000 saved annually for 35 years at a 5% interest rate will grow to more than NIS 370,000!

I am not at all saying that you should go without luxuries. If you budget and have the money for certain “luxuries,” then go ahead and treat yourself. But if you can’t afford to buy “Brazilian hair,” buy something synthetic instead.

A secure retirement is a lot more beneficial than a closet filled with expensive wig heads and high heels that you just had to buy 30 years earlier.

The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.

The writer is author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing (McGraw-Hill), and is a licensed financial professional in the US and Israel. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. ( Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, FSI. For more information, call (02) 624-0995, or email [email protected]