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How 'bout them apples?

Do middle class folks really need ostentatious displays of wealth?

By Donna_Freedman Nov 2, 2009 3:12AM

Sam's Club thinks I deserve luxury. Specifically, the retailer thinks I deserve a pair of Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel, rolled in pecan pieces and drizzled with three kinds of chocolate. This particular luxury would cost me $18.22 -- plus shipping, since it’s available only online.

The two-piece treat was one of several items highlighted in an e-mail whose subject line read, "Luxury You Deserve At Sam’s Club." That got my attention because I’d just read a review of a new book called "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster."

Back in the 19th century, the "luxury" trade was small and aimed squarely at European aristocrats. Now it's big, big business and marketed to the middle class. For example, the author mentions a secretary who’s saving to buy her second Prada bag.

She's putting money aside to buy a purse. She’s not saving for a down payment on a home, startup funds for her own business, tuition to further her education or, God forbid, retirement. 

It’s a handbag, people. It carries tissues, ChapStick, subway tokens and a wallet that’s a lot lighter since luxury became not affordable -- because then it wouldn’t be luxury, see? -- but at least attainable by the common folk. 

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling
The devil may or may not wear Prada, but I betcha he bought stock in the company. A quick look online for Prada purses showed a basic leather shoulder bag for $1,240 and other styles going for upwards of $2,500. Or maybe even more; I quit looking because I felt slightly queasy.

As long as the rich people who make this stuff can convince the rest of us that we need this stuff, then the rich will get richer and the rest of us will get nowhere.

Americans are drowning in a sea of red ink, yet we continue to lust after expensive accessories, designer clothing, new cars every couple of years. "You deserve the best of everything," the ads whisper. If we don’t redecorate our McMansions, buy season tickets courtside and go to the priciest restaurants, how will people know we’ve made it?

For what it's worth
Let me answer that question with a question: Why do we think personal worth is validated by the display of net worth?

And here’s another one: Why are the people who define "success" also the ones who package and sell it? Heck, some of them even offer in-house financing.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting things. But there’s plenty wrong with letting someone else decide what you should want. Other people’s notions of the luxe life are turning us into a nation of indentured servants shackled to credit-card debt. Buy now, pay for years.

If I wanted to purchase those caramel apples, I suppose I could. But I don’t "deserve" them. It’s darned dangerous for us to start believing that because we work hard, we must cosset ourselves with ever-pricier rewards. That way madness lies. Insolvency, too.

If you want to buy them, hey, go ahead. But buy them because they sound tasty to you -- and because you can afford them. Don't go into debt to buy two apples daubed with sugar. Or a purse stamped with someone else's name.

Published Oct. 4, 2007



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