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  Is keeping up with your peer group too expensive? Susanna Stuart questions
 whether having the latest designer handbag will really bring you social acceptance

              henever you go over-                                                                             (perhaps more usually) about
              seas, do you notice                                                                              celebrities.
              how the exchange                                                                                    A third group of people tend
rates always seem to turn                                                                                      to be more individualistic: their
against you? Even the act of                                                                                   currency is evident by the things
changing money from one cur-                                                                                   they do and achieve. Sports
rency to another is expensive.                                                                                 people and high achievers don’t
    But here’s one currency                                                                                    need to trade on gossip or flaunt
exchange that can save you and                                                                                 fashion labels to earn their place
your kids some big money.                                                                                      within their peer group.
    I’m talking about social                                                                                      I can spot two groups who are
currency, and this is one of                                                                                   probably spending too much to
the subjects my partner, a                                                                                     feel part of their crowd. If you are
researcher, is always talking                                                                                  trading gossip, it takes time and
about. As he puts it, social cur-                                                                              the news is second-hand any-
rency is like Pokemon cards, but                                                                               way, so the value isn’t high.
for adults. It might take the form                                                                                The brand and label route is
of gossip, of jokes or the way we                                                                              even more expensive. I noticed
flaunt designer labels.                                                                                        this last year at Australian
    The Pokemon craze was never                                                                                Fashion Week, when an attendee
really due to the pictures and                                                                                 pointed out who was carrying
details on these trading cards: it                                                                             this year’s $20,000 Louis Vuitton
was the fact they created a kind                                                                               handbags and who – poor things
of social glue that enabled even                                                                               – were sporting last year’s. Did it
the shyest kids to mix with their                                                                              really matter?
playground peers. For today’s                                                                                     I wonder if a financially
kids, brands and texting are the                                                                               savvier form of social currency
hot currencies.                                                                                                is simply to get out there and
    Social currency is the stuff we                                                                            achieve something in our
swap when we actually mean                                                                                     own right. I’d say, if you’re look-
something else. Two guys talking                                                                               ing at a budget blow-out each
about their cars are probably                                                                                  week, one answer might be to
establishing a pecking order. Two                                                                              examine the currency you trade
friends comparing holiday                                                                                      with your friends. N
photos may well be doing the
same thing: the winner these           position in the social pecking
days is probably the one who           order by buying a chic $100,000                          Slash your vehicle costs
says: “Oh, how sweet – I see           European convertible – but I                                 • Drive lightly and smoothly.
you’re still using film.”              might achieve the same                                        • If you have a mileage computer, set it
    We use social currency in          thing far less expensively by                                 to monitor how many kilometres you are
various ways – to establish our        being a great networker.                                     achieving per litre.
                                                                                                                                                      ILLUSTRATIONS VERITY PRIDEAUX

social positions, to affirm friend-       In reality, all of us tend to    • Keep the windows closed when you are travelling at speed.
ships and to seek acceptance           have a dominant social currency.    • Keep the tyres pumped.
from our peers.                        Some of us use brands and           • Turn the air conditioner off.
    The trouble is, different social   labels to say who we are. Then      • Plan your trips. Combine errands to save time as well as money.
currencies have different dollar       there are those who use gossip –    • Walk or use the bus whenever you can.
values. I could establish my           the latest news about friends, or

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