For Appearances’ Sake: Why is Gay Spending Beyond Our Means?
The myth of the Pink Dollar, and how keeping up with the gay Joneses is corrupting our priorities
By Mike Fleming
If you’ve been out and proud long enough, you’ve already heard that gay people are affluent and have tremendous buying power that can be harnessed for activism and marketing. But is it true, and what effect does that nottion have on our spending habits and financial priorities?
Is the concept of the Pink Dollar doing us more harm than good? With skyrocketing displays of wealth and plummeting credit scores, sorting and setting our priorities in the right direction may start with acceptance that gay affluence is a myth in the first place.
The age-old thinking goes that, since most gay men and lesbians don’t have children, and since many same-sex couples have two incomes, we have money to throw around. Like a broken clock that’s right twice a day, it could feel true on a case-by-case basis.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that we do throw money around – on trips, cars, homes, watches, and myriad other trappings and luxuries. To compound the idea, business heads, gay rights advocates, advertising and marketing people, and LGBT think tanks love to tout the Pink Dollar and its apparent power. This summer, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce branded the “LGBT Economy” the seventh largest in the world, bigger than entire countries including Russia.
But comparing LGBT consumer spending – an overwhelmingly large $917 billion annually – to entire nations and their Gross National Products is like standing a 19-year-old twink next to a 50-year-old daddy bear and calling them the same because they’re gay. They have things in common, but they are not the same.
Pink Dollar: Fact or Fiction?
The annually updated Income Inflation: The Myth of Affluence Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans puts an even finer point on it. A joint publication of the Policy Institute of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, it examines the economic status of a population group that is stereotyped as an economic elite insulated from discrimination by their wealth.
We are the only market segment compelled to spend based on quite the same criteria, so when we buy, we are emotionally attached to what our purchases mean. Shopping can be an extension of ourselves. Making materialism a priority in gay culture becomes a tangled web mired in personal issues.
Income Inflation calls the image of high-income gay men and lesbians “distorted” and asserts that it “has remained in force through the reliance on a limited number of marketing studies, conducted on behalf of gay business groups about their members and gay publications about their readers.”
The report compares the economic status of lesbian, gay and bisexual people with that of heterosexual people. It consistently finds that LGBT Americans do not earn more and do not live in more affluent households. In fact, according to two most recent studies it examined, gay men earn less, on average, than similarly qualified heterosexual men.
If that’s the case, and that $917 billion spending number is accurate, why are three-to-five percent of people in the U.S. spending more than some large countries? Have we bought into our own hype? Are we spending beyond our means to try and make that hype a reality?
Even if some of us can afford to spend frivolously, what about the rest of us trying to keep up with the gay Joneses?
The 2017 Gay Community Survey of readers from gay media outlets around the world — including Goliath Atlanta and its sibling Peach ATL, as well as Georgia Voice and Project Q in Atlanta — show big spending by about a third of gay and bisexual men in every consumer category, especially electronics, home furnishings, new cars, clothing, homes and major home remodels. More than half in the last year have purchased theater tickets, salon services, concerts, or fundraisers with a cover charge of $100 or more.
Whether we can actually afford it was not part of the survey. Some 14 percent of respondents, and 17 percent of gay and bisexual male respondents, say they are doing “great” financially. Another 30 percent perceive the are “doing better than most.” Together, that’s less than half.
Another third of those male respondents feel they are “barely breaking even,” and the rest categorize themselves as “falling behind” or “struggling to make ends meet.”
Overspending to Overcompensate
So why are so many of us spending what we don’t have? Is it part of gay culture, and is it fixable?
On DebtFreeGuys.com, the entire website is devoted to gay men and their money. Bob Wheeler, the CPA, radio host, and author of The Money Nerve: Navigating the Emotions of Money, says that gay men may overspend to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy.
If you are at an expensive dinner with friends and try to pick up the tab, the impulse may be driven by ego and not reality. Wheeler says that he had three cards declined in a similar situation before he realized his expectations were inflated by his drive to prove his wealth.
“In the LGBT community, it’s a competition to maintain appearances,” he says. “Overspending can also come from too many of us ‘living for today.’ Whether because so many of us, especially middle aged and older men, have seen the ravages of HIV, AIDS, or been abandoned by family friends or society, we may search for happiness in consumption.”
The problem of course is that, like any addiction, it takes more spending to fill the hole as time goes by.
The DebtFreeGuys host Wheeler and others in a YouTube series called Queer Money Week that helps analyze the problems and take steps to correct them. To fix our finances, experts now say, we must decide that we want to change. We must understand our feelings about money, our financial fears and dreams and learn what we really want in life.
Sources: Daily Worth, the LGBT Community Survey, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Queer Money, The Money Nerve, DebtFreeGuys.com.
Eight Signs You’re Overspending
If you need to own up to too many of these, eliminating them is your first step to solvency.
You’re using plastic to pay for an increasing number of purchases.
Your lifestyle exceeds your budget, or you suspect so because you don’t budget.
You Grew Up Poor or Rich
Feeling deprived as a child could trigger you to buy, or being raised with the finer things could have you trying to maintain a certain lifestyle.
Many people live according to their presumed expectations of others and try to maintain an image that they think they “should” have.
You’re usually fine, but spend too much money with friends or colleagues because you’re too insecure to admit you can’t afford it.
You can’t control many of the events in your life, but you can feel in control temporarily when shopping.
Some people just can’t say no. There’s a difference between surprising a boyfriend with flowers once in a while and over-indulging those we care about.
Not understanding short-, mid- and long-term financial goals can lead many to give in to spending temptations in the moment.
This story appears courtesy Project Q Atlanta.