I’m sitting at Starbucks, facing a window that overlooks the parking lot.
I see an attractive girl who seems to be about my age, late twenties. Her outfit is awesome. She’s wearing my winter style: skinny jeans, boots, puffy vest, ponytail, tiny gold earrings. We have the same taste. I wear that exact outfit every day from November through February.
But her outfit blows mine out of the water. My clothes are generic and well-worn. Hers are designer and crisp. She’s accessorized with a Louis Vuitton handbag, which adds panache and polish to her casual-chic appearance.
I watch her climb into her car. It’s a Lexus, of course. And it’s not just any Lexus: it’s high-gloss white, like an iPad on wheels. It looks new, it’s spotless, and it features a sunroof.
The Joneses strike again.
For a brief moment, I wonder what she does for a living. “How does she afford this?,” I think.
Then I consider how much money I’ve poured into investments throughout my early-to-mid- twenties. And I consider how much I’ve spent on world travel, my Achilles’ heel.
No wonder I still drive a beater car. I’m spending every dime fattening my 401k. Whatever money is leftover buys my plane ticket to Malaysia.
Then I realize I’m leaping to conclusions. I can’t make any assumptions about this girl. I don’t know jack squat about her. Her retirement account might be in the seven figures. Or it might be zero.
Her outfit might represent one week’s pay, one day’s pay, or one hour’s pay. She might have paid cash for her car, or she might have a six-year loan. I have no clue.
Is she spending every dime she earns? Or is she a budding female Warren Buffet whose discretionary spending represents only 1 percent of her income? Anything is possible.
Unless I see an audited financial statement of her personal accounts, I’ll never know. I can’t make any assumptions by looking at her.
Which is why it’s silly to compare myself to her – regardless of whether I’m lamenting my beater car or postulating that I’m more prepared for retirement.
She drove away an hour ago. A jet-black VW Jetta rolls into her empty spot. The car’s chrome rims momentarily blind me as the driver pulls in.
He also seems to be in his late twenties. Sandy blonde hair. Aviator sunglasses. He’s wearing a sharp, well-tailored suit. Polished shoes. The perfect tie. I wonder what he does for a living.
And the Joneses strike again.