Conformity can take you a long ways in many areas of your life. That is why we all participate in it – consciously or not. Even if we take pride in our uniqueness, it’s nearly impossible to avoid being a conformist in some areas of your life.
Ponder for a moment just how ingrained it is for most of us, most of the time:
- We conform to certain behaviors, rituals, and test-taking standards in school from kindergarten through high school and beyond.
- We conform to the rules of the road in order to get a license and avoid citations.
- We conform to getting accreditations, certifications, and/or degrees to put on our conformed resumés so that we can conform to certain interview standards to show that we meet our employer’s view of what a properly conformed employee is.
- We conform to workplace behaviors.
- We conform to proper tax preparation and submission to avoid penalty, or worse.
- We conform to the rules of law to avoid fines and imprisonment.
- We conform to wearing whatever the current approved hair style and wardrobe of clothing for our gender, race, age, sexuality, workplace, profession, place of worship, and event is. Inquiring minds want to know: what is the proper dress code?
- We conform to buying whatever the latest approved tech gadget, appliances, home, kitchen, and autos are.
- We conform to friendship, neighbor, family, romantic, and other relationship standards.
- We conform to the diet and workout routines of the year.
- We conform to the religious beliefs and rituals of our friends, families, and neighbors.
- We conform to the music we listen to, the television shows, sporting events, and movies we watch, or the books we read.
- We conform to the social exchanges and behaviors surrounding momentous occasions (weddings, holidays, birthdays, graduations, congratulations, funerals, anniversaries, illness, and so on). Hallmark’s entire business model is built around our conformity.
As social creatures, conformity is deeply embedded within us. It’s in our DNA. It’s part of the fabric that weaves us all together.
Conformity is mostly good for human kind. Without it, there’s a strong potential for society to devolve into chaos. However, there are times when we must break free of conformity in order to improve our lives and improve the lives of others.
- If everyone around you is eating an unhealthy diet and abstaining from physical activity, should you?
- If a growing contingent of society is making poor, selfish decisions based off of fear, anger, and hate, should you?
- If others are wasting resources and polluting, with no concern for the impact, should you?
- If your classmates or co-workers are slacking off to levels that would negatively impact their performance, should you?
The same is true in personal finance. There is good conformity. And there is bad conformity. But the tilt is very one-sided.
The good mostly starts and ends with us preparing for, obtaining, and retaining a job, which leads to necessary income (note: conformity can take us a long way, but the wealthiest among us are often entrepreneurial nonconformists).
The bad side to conformity in personal finance is much more permeating:
- Conformity leads to us buying all of those pricey gadgets.
- It leads to expensive and multiple brand name degrees and sizeable education debt that our pay will never be able to justify.
- It leads to us buying expensive and always shifting wardrobes.
- It leads to choosing convenience, laziness, and a sedentary lifestyle where we want others to do hard work for us – from preparing food and drink to chores around the house.
- It leads to us staying stuck in the same job, devoid of personal growth.
- It leads to us buying far bigger homes than we need.
- It leads to a significant waste of environmental resources
- It leads to us buying much more vehicle than we need, and updates far more often than we need them.
- It leads to us spending significant money on events, vacations, and experiences, in fear of missing out on what everyone else has seemingly consumed.
- It leads to us spending far more on weddings and other ceremonies than any otherwise reasonable person should.
And all of this conformity results in us spending everything that we earn and more, which leads to significant debt, poor credit, bankruptcy, homelessness, poor life and job decisions, stress, relationship conflict, and unfunded retirements.
It is perfectly fine to conform to positive human social norms. But when it comes to personal finance norms, you really need to be a non-conformist in almost all matters in order to truly succeed.
- The Two Paths to Financial Independence
- To Build Wealth, you Must Defy Status Quo
- Improve your Finances with Gratitude
- Lifestyle Inflation Justified
Interesting concept that nonconformity is required in almost everything related to personal finance. I think it is interesting that almost all financial advice conforms to good behavior, pay yourself first, live on less than you make, don’t borrow to buy depreciating items, etc. etc. but that most financial behavior conforms to self destructive practices. I suppose that may be true in other areas as well. In my case I followed the good advice and not the mass behavior so I’m happily early retired from a great career pursuing even better paid and non paid side gigs that match my set of personal values. Thanks for an interesting take on human behavior, and some very good advice!
Yeah… on social media we’re all part of the “thundering herd of individualists” ha ha
Great post, it is relevant to those like me who want to do well financially by not keeping up with current trends. I think the real challenge is developing the courage and social skills to combat the social judgement that comes with driving older cars, wearing off brand name clothes, buying used furniture, not having te latest phone etc. Some people are more likely to show off their new car than their portfolio balance.
I think that it is hard to know when conforming is helpful and when it can hurt. What makes someone know that they should not conform and decide to strike out on their own to make more money? Sometimes you have to go with your gut and be bold but other times it pays to just “play it safe” depending on where you are in life and what your goals are.