"Look at a group of female friends walking down the street. They're often all dressed identically: the same shoes, the same belts, the same handbag."
But what is not easily apparent, Ms. Orman said, is that one of the women may have saved for months to buy her one expensive handbag, or more likely, put it on her credit card. Her identically dressed friends, meanwhile, may have the salary or the family money to afford a closet full of designer purses.
"That is how we get in trouble," Ms. Orman said. "We think our friends are just like us, and if our friend can afford something, we fool ourselves into thinking we can afford it, too."
I'm far from poor—my wife (a math teacher) and I (writer, editor, web guy, whatever) both make decent livings and enjoy our jobs. Sometimes we remark to one another about the kinds of furniture or techie gadget or clothing purchases we make blithely, in cash, that we would have had to scrape together for months to afford in our student days.
But years ago, when our oldest daughter was born, we made the decision that our kids would stay with family while they were young, either with one of us or with grandparents on occasion. Over most of the ensuing decade, we've adjusted our schedules, which has included my working part time, working freelance while staying home full time, and now my wife working part time while I'm back to a full time position.
Some of those changes we planned, some were unpredictable. Our choices were good ones. We're better off than some of our friends, and not as well off as others. Yet had either of us been ambitious and made the time, perhaps we could have been earning six-figure salaries and driving fancy cars (or fancy bicycles).
On the other hand, I think of the type of person and the type of father I would have had to be to achieve that, and that's not really me—at least not the me I have become. Both my daughters are in school now, so I could begin tackling some grand ambitions about ten years later than some of my friends did. Yet being a father shifts your priorities, and I've stumbled into a bunch of rewarding pastimes and hobbies and jobs.
I like this daddy track. I'm not trying to get rich. And most of my friends are happy to split the bill at White Spot.