But if you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it. Take pleasure boats. In the old days, if you owned a yacht, you were by definition either wealthy or related to Toni Soprano.

Until recently, you usually could tell a rich person by the luxury car he drove or the fur coat she wore. Today, there is a blurring of class lines and the downright diminishment of the so-called middle class. Blame it on downward mobility.


There used to be other telltale signs of being upper class. If you sent your kids to private schools, had a summerhouse in the Hamptons, lived off your investments, took vacations more often than you worked, then you were wealthy.


Now we can add a few other signifiers. No. 1, I think, should be: Sends his shirts and laundry to the dry cleaners.


Have you taken a suit to be dry-cleaned lately? I have, and the only people in line with me were recent lottery winners. The typical dry cleaning bills read like this: 10 men’s dress shirts, $75; seven silk ties, $125; lined leather top coat, $2,995; appliqué skirt, $11,000.


But seriously, routine services have now become stratospherically costly. Take by-the-book car maintenance. If you were to adhere to the prescribed maintenance on your car, you would find that it is a reverse Ponzi scheme. For the 15,000-mile tune up, you could spend, roughly, a dollar per mile –– well, almost.


But if you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it. Take pleasure boats. In the old days, if you owned a yacht, you were by definition either wealthy or related to Toni Soprano.


I am never mistaken for being wealthy. I can’t even afford valet parking. I always ask the waiter what’s on special –– and that’s at fast food chains.


I buy all my clothes off the racks, and these racks are way in the back of the store. They contain shirts and jackets that hearken back to the 1930s and the Dust Bowl.


No Rolex watch for me, either. I make due with an analog watch with simple numbers used in the primary grades. If Mickey’s hand is on 12, it is time for recess.


Apparently, Romney is rich. He’ll bet you $10,000 that the winter will be milder this year. Newt Gingrich is not really rich because he is only recently rich. President Obama admits he feels as if he is rich with his $400,000 annual salary.


Soon, with tuitions rivaling the cost of a big house in the suburbs, college may become solely the province of the rich, as it was with the Ivies, circa 1922.


In my time as a journalist, I met only one really wealthy person. He was named Charles and had recently married. He told me an interesting story about speaking to a group of 20,000 water buffalo hunters. As a prince, of course, he was charming.


Peter Costa is a columnist for GateHouse Media. His latest collection of humor columns, “Outrageous CostaLiving,” is available at amazon.com.