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Does It Cost More If People Assume You’re Rich?

people assume you're richWe all know that first impressions are very powerful. Obviously, we all want to look our best while giving off an aura of confidence, but what about literally looking like a million dollars ? Lots of people can’t tell a JC Penney suit from an Armani, but anyone can see what kind of car you drive or find out what you do for a living. I’m curious if sometimes things cost more when people assume you’re rich.

Car Shopping

I’ve experienced this first hand during car shopping. When we bought our Altima several years ago, I remember the salesman trying to upgrade me to a Maxima because he said I could afford it. Because of my occupation, he assumed I had all kinds of money to burn. I wonder if he would have done the same to a social worker or teacher?

This time around, I almost told the car salesman I was a writer just so he would assume I am poor. I ended up being honest, but since we were paying in cash, he obviously knew we had some money. I don’t think it changed the prices we were given, but who knows?

I think the best thing to do is educate yourself about car values before you leave home. That way, you aren’t fooled into spending more because of a smooth talking salesperson.

Repair and Service Work

We live in a nice neighborhood, and I know lots of people assume everyone living here is rich. In reality, I know one of our neighbors is drowning in debt and one house was foreclosed on a couple of years ago. On the surface, though, we look awesome. I’ve seen painters, electricians, and landscape workers quote more per hour in our neighborhood than in other areas around town.

You can’t change where you live, but do get multiple estimates on service work just in case someone is jacking up the price because they think you can afford it.

Are Doctors Guilty As Well?

I don’t think I’ve ever treated someone differently based on their ability to pay, but I am guilty of making judgments about what people can or can’t afford. I have no problem recommending daily disposable contact lenses to people who seem to be put together and have stable jobs, while I almost never recommend them to Medicaid patients. I assume that people on Medicaid don’t have disposable income, but maybe they qualify for Medicaid because they live off dividend income and don’t have a regular paycheck.

I assume that dentists and medical doctors probably recommend higher cost levels of treatment to rich looking patients. Would you suggest a cosmetic procedure to someone who looks like they don’t have a dime? Probably not.

With any medical treatment or prescription, it’s very fair to ask about costs. If you feel the option is too expensive, ask for an alternative. Unless you need a specific drug or procedure to prevent serious illness or death, there probably is a less expensive way, even if the doctor assumes you can afford what they recommend.

Should We All Look Poor To Pay Less?

I don’t think we have put off showering for multiple days and wear clothes with holes to get the best prices, but we also don’t have to talk about having money. Just like The Millionaire Next Door, we can be wealthy in an unassuming way. Someday, I hope to tell people I’m a freelancer or property manager or even just a stay at home Mom. I’ll let them assume I’m poor while secretly having much more than the person who drives a BMW but is loaded with debt.

Do you like people to assume you’re wealthy or do you fly under the radar? Have you ever thought a poor person was rich or vice versa?

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About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I used to have to walk about 20 minutes to the bus station late at night when I’d get off my restaurant job and I purposely wore a coat that was falling apart to work so that I wouldn’t be targeted as a wealthy woman, walking alone at night. Not that I was wealthy, but I can look pretty put together if need be 😉

  2. I’d rather fly under the radar as much as possible as we’ve experienced similar things as you have with your car buying experience. I do think it happens more than we care to think of/admit. I know we can be guilty of it with our business by thinking if they’re a big international company then they can afford to pay more so I know we’ve been guilty of this train of thought.

    • I think it goes both ways. I make assumptions about others and they probably assume about me. It’s human nature, but not something I’m proud of.

  3. My dad always tells me of a friend of his that would wear torn clothes and look overall grungy, but he was a millionaire. He walked to a Ferrari dealership with enough cash to pay for one outright. The salesmen wouldn’t give him the time of day. Before he left, he pulled out the cash, told the salesman the commission he just lost, and went to another place. It’s always showed me to be careful on assuming one’s wealth based on appearance.

    • I’ve seen many really grungy looking people pull out wads of hundred dollar bills. Maybe that’s how they became so wealth, by not caring to spend money on appearances.

  4. We own a Lexus and a 11 year old pick up truck. One time we met with a handy-man to do some work on a rental property we were preparing for sale. My husband said to drive the pick-up so the guy wouldn’t think we were rich. So guess what? He pulls up in a Lexus! After we used him for a couple of jobs -to which he drove his truck – we laughed about that because when he found out we had a Lexus also, he offered to buy it!

    • I do the same as you, Kathy, whenever I need to get estimates on a large home repair or improvement job. I park my 1996 Dodge Dakota pickup in front of the house, and wear old jeans and a sweatshirt to meet the contractor. I can’t prove it helps; but I’m sure it does not hurt.

      And, Kim, your one-liner about getting multiple estimates on jobs deserves its own post. By getting multiple estimates, I have been able to save anywhere from 33% to a whopping 90% on what the highest bidder would have charged me.

      • It is amazing what different people charge for the same project. I was blown away by the difference in electrical bids on our first rental house. I also think if you sort of act like you have a clue, they are more likely to charge fairly. The whole damsel in distress persona probably doesn’t help the bottom line very much.

    • That’s a great story. I’m glad I’m not the only one who wants to look down to earth when meeting repair people.

  5. Really interesting question Kim! I don’t think I approach any situation in thinking, “what will people think of me of where I stand financially” but more along the lines of, “how do I want to present myself in any particular situation.” So if I go to a networking event, I want to appear confident so I will dress and try to fit the look of a confident person (whatever that is). But if I’m going to the grocery store I don’t care what kind of image I’m presenting. Does that make sense. So I’m aware of the vibe I’m giving off, but it does;t mean thinking about how they view me from a financial standpoint.

    • If find that I don’t do my job as well if I don’t look the part. I’ve been called in for emergencies when I’ve been at the gym or grocery store. I usually go on in to see the patient rather than making them wait for me to shower and get fixed up. It feels really weird to see a patient in my gym clothes, even if I’ve explained what I was doing. I think you’re right that confidence and looking the part go hand in hand.

  6. We live in a pretty affluent community so there is definitely plenty of judgement about what you wear, where you live and what you drive. I also know that appearances can be very, very deceiving, so I don’t take much stock in it personally, although I assume people probably make all sorts of assumptions about us. 🙂 It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some price adjustments based on the zip code you live in so you’re absolutely right that we should do some comparison shopping!

    • I think you can’t help but make assumptions. It’s sort of human nature, but I really try to avoid generalizing what I think people can and can’t afford. We had one fellow who came in our office once who looked so rough the receptionist was trying to sign him up for indigent care. Turns out he was the owner of a salvage yard and had tons of money. He actually came in because he wanted Lasik surgery! We really learned a lesson on that one.

  7. I had a recent bad experience that I know was made worse because the person assumed I was rich. I think it’s awful to think that way. Even if someone is rich, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be taken advantage of just for that reason alone. If there is a price or service available, it should be the same no matter what your wealth status.

    • I don’t think anyone should be taken advantage of regardless of wealth, gender, or mental status, but it happens. That could be a whole other post all on its own!

  8. We pretty much fly under the radar because … we aren’t rich;0). My brother is a farmer who happens to like nice cars. He walked into a dealership in his farm clothes and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. He went to another dealership to buy his fancy car. It’s actually kind of sad that we have to think this way. If a repairman came to my house, I would expect the same price that he quoted in the fancy neighborhood or the run down hood.

    • You would expect that, but when there is really no set fee structure, I guess you can quote whatever you want. That’s kind of why I tend to like installations and such from places like Home Depot. The fees are written in black and white so you have an idea before anyone ever comes to your home.

  9. I think it’s a very real danger. I never thought about repair projects being padded based on lifestyle. Yikes.

    Luckily (I guess) we don’t live in the nicest area. It’s not bad. It’s perfectly suburban. It just isn’t filled with luxury houses. So I suppose we’re safe from that sort of thing.

    I think I’ve gotten lucky with my doctors. They tend to start with the lower-cost options/diagnostics when possible. Then again, my insurance isn’t exactly prestigious. So maybe that’s the reason after all.

    • I’m not sure if certain contractors charge more based on the assumption that you have money or if they just give more discounts to people who seem to be poor. Maybe it all just depends on how badly they need work at the moment. Their quotes could be less in off season times when they aren’t as busy.

  10. I would rather fly under the radar. Husband has a good job, but loves his 1995 pickup truck so that is what he drives. When we first were married (and young) we went and priced blinds for our new house on a Saturday (definitely not dressed up). The salesman wasn’t very helpful, but when I went back after work one day (dressed for work) I got a completely different reaction. We still have those blinds and first house 20years later.

    • Those stores always make me think of the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts is trying to buy a dress on Rodeo Drive dressed as a hooker. I guess we should never assume based on how someone is dressed, but I do agree that it makes a difference.

  11. Kim, I came from a top notch university (I was a scholar) so when colleagues know that I am from that university. They want me to treat them most of the time (it’s hard to say no sometimes) and expect that I am generous or something. I just wish I hadn’t shared my info with them. But, I am trying my very best to say “NO”.

    • That is tough. I never thought about people assuming you have money if you went to a certain school. I guess I’m lucky my universities were not that prestigious!

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