My brother's wife is from a third-world country. In spite of all evidence to the contrary over the last 30 years, she believes that all Americans are rich. She spends Brother's Navy pension like it was water, and when it runs out in the middle of the month, she goes whining to our parents. Who, of course, are rich because they are Americans.
$200 sneakers are 'better' than $20 sneakers, simply because they cost 10x more. (Never mind that they wear out at the same rate...) This goes down the line with everything. If you get a widget on sale, you got a good deal, even though you may have three perfectly serviceable widgets at home already. But the new widget is 'better' because it is new.
Because ALL Americans are rich, and this is how rich people spend money.
POD. I have spotted the same pattern of thinking in West Africa. Here in Finland, I am a student and have to live a very, very low-profile life. Even though I make my do better than most of my student friends in humanities, I would not survive at all if I did not live in a cell flat with two strangers. The flat's owned by the local student apartment foundation, so internet, water and electricity are included in the rent. The main reason for me having the bucks for the occasional pint of imported beer (my deepest respect to the many breweries in Britain, the Eire and the U.S. - we only have two proper breweries here) is that I have such a small rent to pay. After all, that's the biggest single expenditure in a household.
But, in West Africa I am rich because I am white. Of course, the amount of money I use daily would support a West African family anywhere outside central Dakar for a week or two, but most people there don't seem to understand that things also cost much more in Europe. I once explained a friend of mine that he would have to put his wages aside for two weeks in order to buy a pack of the cheapest blue-collar tobacco in Finland, and he seemed to get it only after that. He was utterly shocked by that fact. Earlier, I tried to tell him that what I pay for a small bag of bread at home would feed him an his family for four days - his response was "of course, in Europe you have better bread". But when I took tobacco for the example, he stated in the blankest of tones I have ever heard that ordinary tobacco is the same everywhere (he knows it - he has been offered countless fags by European tourists) - so can it be that bread is no better in Europe? Yup, so it is. And he shook his head slowly, then nodded and said that "so an ordinary European has the same trouble with money that we have here, and only those of you are rich that can pay to get to TV".
Actually, I think that he got the point better than he understood himself. The examples of the rich Western lifestyle that common Africans get is the one provided in the trendy series in the telly. Naturally, they have little means to figure that the image is false, and that even common Westerners envy the lavish lifestyle of the trendy people in the trendy series. The tourists that appear to the hotels in the beach reservations near Dakar have gone there to spend their money, which helps keep up the belief that all whites are rich and educated. Again naturally, most Africans that somehow reach Western wealth will want to show off and adopt the trendy Western TV lifestyle instead of thinking with their own brain and putting the money to better use. And these people, on the other hand, are admired by fellow Africans, which results to - can anybody guess? In my opinion, this is the most vicious form of postcolonial development. Many people sacrifice their own culture before a mirage which they believe, falsely, to be "good Western life". Another Senegalese friend of mine, who has worked in those beach reservations, has coined a term of his own to describe this. He once explained to me that he thinks I differ from the tourists there, because I am "not lazy and fat and moneyblind". I got interested of this expression "moneyblind", and he explained to me that it is what he calls the people who have so much money that they become lazy and tire easily and eventually start having difficulty in seeing and recognizing joy. That is a thought that I have often pondered since. Should more people understand his idea, many things might turn to a better direction.
However, there is also a certain point in charging the so-called "whiteness extra" throughout Africa. If one has afforded flying to another continent, one surely has the money to support the life of ordinary locals. I don't mean accepting being harshly fooled in every bargain, but simply keeping in mind that what's five cents for you could be two days' living for someone. I think that the sequences of believing that every white person is rich are much worse than the idea itself. After all, the latter is half true.
To return to the actual topic, which seems to be more of a personal than an intercontinental discourse, I have faced the problem of my student friends thinking I'm some sort of a miniature squire. All of them are completely broke by the 15th day of each month and I am not. Luckily, they all have realized, after a small conversation with a hint of algebra, that they lose most of their money in their own high demands on living - I am the only one of us who lives in a cell flat. And I don't even try to repeat the life of my parents; I don't do my things the way they do when I can find a cheaper alternative. Further on, I rarely buy clothes or furniture or actually anything else than food, tobacco and alcohol. And the trick of affording the latter two is heavy work through all the holidays. Of course, I count myself lucky for my father taking me to work since I was 12. I learned even the roughest of the physical work by my mid-teens and first managed a construction site when I was 17. For a three-week period only, of course - my father took a holiday and left me a list of what he wanted to be done by the time he was back. So, I do know the value of work. I still remember the cost of each of my guitars, and I remember what site I was working on when I bought them, and how many weeks it took to save the money. Roughly the same applies to most of my more precious property.
Another aspect of saving money that some people have difficulty to figure is that not all that's expensive is good, but all that's really good tends to be expensive. A good example of this would be my winter boots - they cost a crispy sum back when I bought them. They are not trendy - I do nothing with trendy clothes, I'm too functionally oriented - and there is actually nothing appealing about them. They are completely unadorned and would probably cause dysentery to any Italian fashion designer. I know a girl who buys new shoes of about the same price at least every other winter. Trendy shoes with the unpleasant tendency to wear up quickly, they are. And she has the nerve to call me a rich mustard every time I snicker at her moaning about the price of winter shoes! Oh how many times I have reminded her that I bought my trusty boots when I was sixteen. And I'm twenty-two now. And my boots have been in the heaviest of use (including several drunken 16 kilometer walks home, countless hikes on foot or on skis, and ordinary day use whenever it's cold outside), yet they show no signs of aging to this day. It's about taking care of your property. It's about investing in high quality instead of pretty look. It's always better to pay a crispy sum for something that lasts for years instead of having to pay small sums repeatedly. Some people just can't figure this and consider those who figure rich. Even if they simply are good in evaluating investments.
When I am being frowned upon for having a long-term vision about my pennies, I usually explain about accepting the slight inconveniences in my daily life - such as a flatmate with a rather African sense of time when it comes to washing his dishes - to occasionally allow myself some conveniences that I consider better than a solitary flat. If I am asked for sums, I tend to give an answer unclear enough to make it understood that I have culturally inherited a heavy distaste towards talking about my money. The way I use it, no problem, but the cash itself - bugger off. This really frustrates people in insurance companies and the like, but then let them curl up in their desperation. Us from the Savonia region are famous for not talking about money and never answering directly, and making other people just cope with that.