Is peer pressure leading you to debt?


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Your friends and peers influence your life. Wikipedia explains that

Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms.

Peer pressure often starts at very early stage in life and it never stops. The term “peer pressure” has come to connote a very negative thing (as the cartoon above indicates), but it can be a significant positive force also. (example1, example2)

There is no doubt that everyone needs a peer group to act share one’s emotions and feelings. But, the problem begins when one starts changing their behavior or act according to peer group, just to remain “fit” in the group. This is also a very common complaint from parents, when confronted with un-acceptable behavior from their children.

The most vivid memory that I have of dealing with peer pressure is during my college days. I come from a poor family and it can be easily seen from my cloths or my bi-cycle wherein my classmates used to come dressed up impressively or in their two-wheelers/four-wheelers. I felt extreme pressure to match up but never had the money, and so I could never “fit” or got accepted into the peer group.

I recently shifted to a new apartment (just few months back) and started interacting with my neighbors, and I realized that there are many folks who have a habit of “showing-off”, making them prone to financial debts. So their wives will sport an iPhone, spend Rs 2500 on window-shopping randomly every week, esp on apparels (and despite that they dress shabbily), keeping a full-time servant, chauffeur (without any real-need) or commuting daily by cabs (wouldn’t it be cheap to own a car) or spending evenings in lavish restaurants (I know for sure that these are not their company paid facilities).

The motivation for these actions is not any real need but peer pressure to fit in the group. If we are surrounded by people who are rich (or showing-off that they are rich), then we would also feel the need to upgrade our cars, cloths or throw lavish parties. The whole problem with why we succumb to peer pressure is because we feel the need for acceptance.

Peer pressure can lead to significant waste of money and it's not just ourselves who we have to worry about. If you have a partner or children you'll also suffer financially whenever they come under peer pressure. So at one end you may want to reduce your monthly expenses but on the other hand you may be forced to spend unnecessarily on useless things just to satiate your family’s emotional needs, so they be part of some crappy peer group.

It is extremely difficult to fight peer pressure, since it can come in from variety of ways:

  • Keeping up with others in terms of buying big cars or expensive plasma TVs or mobiles
  • Impressing your girl-friend/wife/in-laws in terms of expensive gifts to justify your love or caring not only to the concerned person but also to everyone in your peer group.
  • One of the biggest pressure for newly married folks comes in the form of this question, “So where are you going to honeymoon?”. Most folks will burn-out their entire saving just to mention that they went to Singapore/Bangkok (crowded place) rather than an idyllic Kerala/Darjeeling.
  • Buying bigger houses just because everyone in their peer group has bought a house. This is especially true in Bangalore, since most people coming here are in some kind of strange hurry to own a house. It is termed as “biggest investment of your life”, even if it turns out to be crappy decision. I totally oppose it.
  • Sending their kids to expensive schools (I was aghast when I got to know that my neighbor’s one year kid goes to a school whose fees is 15 lakhs a year) or throwing a totally unnecessary lavish party as a show-off. How can a one year kid distinguish whether his birthday was celebrated in a high end restaurant or their own house? The consolation given by parents – I want to give my kid the best I can afford. Duh.

So how to handle peer pressure and how to stop yourself from bleeding financially? How to stop accumulating debt by resisting peer pressure? Here are some pointers

  • Stop worrying about what “others think about me”. Others are probably busy thinking the same thing and don’t have time to think about you.
  • Trust your own instincts rather than following the herd. If you are convinced about your choices and reasoning behind them, then stick to it. You can only decide what is best for you. You should have the confidence in what you believe and the boldness to stand for it.
  • Recognize peer pressure. If you are trying to spend money on something, ask yourself critically, as to why you are buying it. If you really need it, then only go ahead with the purchase.
  • Be absolutely clear about your monetary priorities and be honest discussing it with friends. Remember that everyone’s priorities will be different, so there is no “one fit for all” solutions in financial world.
  • If some friends are just putting pressure despite your resistance, then ignore them and find new friends. A friend who does not care about your opinions is not worth friendship.

Remember that if you don’t want to get under any peer pressure influence, try not to put anyone (especially your friends) into it as well.

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