Are You Average? Do You Even Want To Be?

by Miranda Marquit · 7 comments

One of the things that many of us aspire to be is, surprisingly, average. We want to have the same things that those around us have. (Or at least, have the same things we think those around us have.) This is natural. We all like to feel as though we belong.

However, it’s not always best to be average — especially when it comes to money.

After all, do you really want to spend money on something just because someone else is? Do you really want to buy something just to maintain appearances?

Average = Debt

Even though the recent recession saw an increase in the savings rate and a reduction in debt levels, there’s still quite a bit of debt out there. On average, the American household has several thousand dollars in credit card debt.

The average American borrows to pay for college, to buy a car, and to buy a home (not to mention borrowing for other things, like furniture, vacations, and weddings).

It’s true that some of the things we borrow for have some other value. I’ve borrowed to pay for my education, my transportation, and my shelter. These are things that enhance my quality of life, and that I would have a very hard time saving up for to pay in cash. (As a student, I racked up credit card debt, and I regret that. That’s done with now, though, and I pay for most things without debt.)

What are you willing to go into debt for, and why? Before you even borrow for “good” debt, like a house, consider why you’re purchasing the home. We bought a house because we wanted a stable place in a good school district for our son.

We also bought a home that was less than half what the bank said we were approved for. We could have bought a bigger, fancier house and lived on the mountainside, but we didn’t want to spend that much. We have other priorities.

Instead of Going for Average, Go for What You Want

According to the New York Times, the average size of a TV in North America is 38 inches. Everyone I know with a TV has at least a 50-inch model, though. Our TV is 32 inches, because we just don’t care about having a big TV.

We spend our money on other things, like Lord of the Rings action figures and trips. It’s not exactly “average,” especially in my neighborhood, but it’s what we like to do with our money.

That should really be the focus of your saving and spending decisions. Rather than asking yourself whether you have what others do, and whether you look “normal,” consider your financial priorities and bring your spending in line with them.

It might be comforting to be average, but it can also get confining. Figure out what you prefer to spend your money on, and then adhere to those principles. You don’t have to be average.

How have you applied these practices in your own life?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Elizabeth says:

    I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read about the LotR action figures. Thanks for sharing, it made a good article very memorable.

  • Krystyna says:

    We strive to be well below average. We still have an old model tv and have no plans to replace it until it dies. Our cars are older and we think it is insane to lease one since you have no equity at the end. Our house is tiny but we can afford the mortgage. We do not have a gardener and, in fact, got so sick of paying high water prices for lawn that most of it was replaced with attractive planting boxes full of food. I learned to quilt and make artisan jams so I make most of the gifts we give. In another life, long ago, things were more important to me … at least to a degree. Now living simply is a pleasure.

  • Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey says:

    My husband and I were one of the average Americans. Borrowing money from banks, relatives, and friend to buy a car, house, appliances, even pay the hospital bill. We hated ourselves so we did our best to go debt-free and save money for emergency situations and to buy the things we need.

  • Daniel says:

    Great points! Striving to have what the “average” american has in all respects is most likely not a good thing. Like you said in the article it is very important for us all to prioritize our goals because it is unlikely we can achieve all of them at once. Especially if both a solid retirement and being the first to own Luxury Widget A are on the list.

    Looking purely at the ability to consume, the average income is quite a bit higher than the 50th percentile in income because the average ends up skewed by all of the very large annual incomes. Median incomes, the 50th percentile, hover in the mid 30’s to high 50’s, and this is heavily dependent on location, background and profession. Most/All of us like to compare our income to the “Average” person that we think makes less than us, and most/all of us comparing possessions compare ourselves to those with more disposable income than ourselves. It is just a recipe for financial disaster.

    Much to MoneySmartGuides’ point, it is this comparing that adds to our desire to make poor financial decisions. We as human beings tend to try for instant gratification rather than delaying the payoff because it allows us to keep up with the Joneses.

  • MoneySmartGuides says:

    I do my best to shy away from comparing myself to others to see if I am “average” or not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. You have to be happy with the things you have. Once you give up trying to be like everyone else and just be yourself, you will have a huge weight lifted off of your shoulders and will be able to live the financial life you want to.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    Financially I strive to be above average. I am saving for retirement more than most my AG and bought a house worth much less than what I could have been approved for. Both seem like good decisions so far. Who wants to be average when you can be better. Average is only 50%.

  • Stephanie says:

    This is a life lesson it took me way to long too learn. I have finally learned it but at a cost. The cost being daily stress due to a debt level that is suffocating. The knowledge that some of my dreams (like travel) may never be recognized because by the time we manage to pay off the debt we will then have to concentrate immensely on retirement savings or we will be work until we die.

    This is not meant to be depressing but realistic. I do have hope that we can increase our income and still realize some of our dreams but I also know that there is a chance the results of our mistakes can never be undone.

    We now weigh our purchases carefully and no, we have no intention of being average any longer.

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