Envy the rich and famous
Luxury items are accessible now more than ever -- and without the wealth they once implied. With more and more people sporting expensive goods, it's easy to feel left out and far behind.
"The income disparity has gone up considerably, and what has happened is that it has changed our consumption patterns," says Ronald Wilcox, professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia and author of "Whatever Happened to Thrift? Why Americans Don't Save and What to Do about It."
Envy colors our perceptions. "What we decide is reasonable to consume is what we view being consumed around us," he says. "But because income disparities are so incredibly unequal, what we view around us really is beyond our ability to afford."
Consumers can get caught up trying to keep up with the Joneses or the upper-middle-class families they see on TV, believing they should own the same things others own.
"The problem with this scenario is that living like the rich doesn't last that long. And if you consider appearing in bankruptcy court as being famous, then you have achieved half your goal," says Terry Rigg, editor of Budget Stretcher, a Web site for the frugally minded.