So many in American society look at the people who are living in the expensive neighborhoods, driving their expensive cars, eating out at expensive restaurants and think, "Wow... they've got MONEY." And I suppose some of them do. But what people spend isn't really a good measure of how wealthy or not wealthy a person is. Even the people who live this lifestyle and stay "within their means" are not necessarily wealthy. If a person takes home a large paycheck and spends it all, they are technically living within their means... but once that money is spent, they're no longer "wealthy."
I really think that if Americans focused less on looking wealthy, we'd have a better chance of becoming wealthy. But too many of us are interested in the look -- so interested, in fact, that we're willing to pay well more than a product is worth (in interest) in order to have the product quickly. (This is true of cars, boats, expensive homes, televisions bought on credit or home equity, etc...)
I work in the real estate industry, and I can't even tell you how many times I've heard the mantra, "If you want to be successful, you have to look successful." Many of my peers pay large amounts of interest on car payments in order to look more successful than they are... and I have a hard time understanding why people want to be represented by a real estate agent who spends their money on a nice ride rather than investing in real estate. But I guess that's something to ponder later.
What does success look like, anyway? Does it look like an expensive car? Does it look like a really nice house? Maybe success looks like a powerful position or a great title... If we're talking about financial success, I don't think that it looks like any of those things. I think that financial success looks like breathing easy because you've saved enough and invested enough so you don't have to work so hard just to keep your head floating above the water-line. I think success looks like something better than even a pay-as-you-go system... although it certainly starts there (rather than drowning in debt).
We're trying so hard to keep up with our neighbors that we're drowning in debt... never realizing that, in turn, our neighbors are looking over at us and trying to keep up, also drowning in their own debt. At this rate, we're all going to pull each other down and drown together.