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Embarrassment of Riches

Call me well-off and I'm liable to slap you.

Now, it could be that folks making more than $125,000 a year don't feel rich because in some areas of the country, the cost of living is so high, said Michael J. Weiss, a marketing analyst and writer who helped develop questions for the Visa study.

"You may not feel rich if you're living in one of the big cities, but by any measure you are doing very well compared to the general population," Weiss said. "In fact you are doing better than 93 percent of America."

_____Column Archive_____
Loan Terms Can Make It Hard to Climb Out of the Subprime Pit (The Washington Post, Feb 17, 2005)
When ID Theft Starts at Home (The Washington Post, Feb 13, 2005)
Read Michelle's Past Columns

Still, this group of consumers isn't buying bling-bling. Instead, they hide their wealth and opt to live more modestly, eschewing traditional trappings.

They look for bargains. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of affluent consumers surveyed said that they clipped coupons, compared with the national average of 65 percent. They liked shopping at Sam's Club rather than Saks Fifth Avenue. In the population as a whole, less than half shop at club discount or warehouse stores, according to the Visa study.

"Many of these people grew up in middle-class households, became college educated, survived the bursting of the stock market bubble and emerged with a very pragmatic and level-headed approach to money," Weiss said. "They are living a lot more down-market than their wallets might suggest."

So if this group is so financially pragmatic, why would Visa want to go after them?

Seventy-eight percent of affluent consumers said they had a payment card that enabled them to receive rewards. That's compared with 38 percent of the general population.

Visa research estimates that the affluent consumers' average monthly credit card spending is 2.5 times that of other credit card holders (they also, I might add, pay off those charges every month).

Even though these consumers are doing well, they live below their means. They are dogmatic about getting more for their money. So businesses that thought they should come at them with glitzy advertising or promises of living like the rich and famous have it all wrong.

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