Why You Shouldn’t Keep Up with the Joneses

3 min to read

One of the hardest things in life is to look at everyone around you and see that they have certain items. From having two cars, to that big screen TV, to an annual trip to Disneyland, it can be tempting to believe that you are “supposed” to have certain items. There are just things — from smart phones to bigger houses — that have become “normal” in our society.

Unfortunately, when you look at the Joneses and figure that keeping up with them is “normal,” you might be surprised at what you find. Chances are, the Joneses lifestyle has them in debt, and that’s not really something that you want to keep up with.

Debt is Part of the “Normal” American Lifestyle

Think about it: Debt is part of the “normal” American lifestyle. We are expected to buy cars using loans, and even the big screen TVs and the latest computers are bought using “special financing deals” that are really loans. Few people save up for purchases of more than a few hundred dollars; they just get a loan.

As a result of this reality, the truth of the matter is that the Joneses are, quite likely, up to their eyeballs in debt. When you look at your neighbor’s boat, your co-workers fancy new tablet, or think about your sister-in-law’s regular visits to the spa, it’s a good idea to take a step back and realize that it’s easier than ever to have the trappings of being rich without actually having the wealth.

Our debt-driven consumer culture pretty much guarantees that most of the things you covet were bought on credit, rather than being bought with money already earned. As a result, keeping up with the Joneses likely means that you are keeping up with their debt — and their interest payments.

There’s no reason to be normal when you realize what that means for your finances. Instead, it makes more sense to figure out what you want out of life, regardless of what those around you are doing.

What Do YOU Value?

When you see what everyone else has in terms of material possessions, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the noise. Advertisements, the things you see when walking down the street, and the items that everyone around you talks about, all point you in the direction of making certain purchases — and making those purchases now. This combination of peer/societal pressure, plus the ability to obtain instant gratification, often means that you make spending choices without really thinking about them.

Instead of just buying something because you’re “supposed” to, or because everyone else is, it makes sense to consider your purchase in terms of your own values. What do you want your life to look like? What things matter to YOU? If you don’t like going out to an expensive restaurant, there’s no reason to just because it’s your neighbor’s favorite restaurant. If you don’t watch a lot of TV, there’s no reason to sign up for satellite TV and get NFL Sunday Ticket just because everyone at the office is talking about sports.

It can be a difficult path to walk, especially since we tend to want approval from our peers. This is where understanding your own desires, values, and motivations is so important. You need to know what really matters to you. If you prefer to take your family camping for vacations, then there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on an expensive cruise, even if the Joneses regular enjoy cruises.

Valuing Financial Freedom

The other reason to avoid keeping up with the Joneses is the value you have for financial freedom. Because the Joneses are probably in debt, keeping up with them means putting yourself in the chains of debt. If you value financial freedom, you’ll have different priorities. This means that instead of mindlessly spending on what others consider “normal,” you find yourself saving up for what you want, and even putting money away for the future.

When you decide that you value financial freedom over what you think is going on with the Joneses and their lifestyle, it’s easier to make a conscious decision to stop spending on things that don’t matter, and plan for a better future for your family.

Miranda Marquit is a freelance journalist specializing in topics related to personal finance, investing, and entrepreneurship. She writes regularly for a number of web sites, including AllBusiness, Huffington Post, and Wise Bread. Miranda’s work has been published at U.S. News & World Report, MSN Money, Fox Business, and Business Insider. Her work has been linked to from USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and she has appeared on NPR Morning Edition and American Public Media’s Marketplace