Manage Money ArticlesMindset

Stop Keeping up with the Joneses: How to Live Your Best Financial Life

When we attempt to keep up with the Joneses, we often find ourselves caught in a relentless cycle of comparison and consumption that can have detrimental effects on our financial health.

They look fancy, but it’s time to stop keeping up with the Joneses.

Some of us have been guilty of this — keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths, the Clarks, or any other family who seems to have it together on your block. In some cases, we’re trying to keep up with the Kardashians through their lavish family lifestyle shared in every possible media channel.

You may not be the jealous type per se, but if you work hard and earn decent money but can’t seem to get ahead, you might wonder: what am I doing wrong? How can they afford bigger homes or take vacations? Wondering how they can drive fancier cars?

In my first published book, You Only Live Once, I wrote: “Keeping up with the Joneses is trying to live someone else’s life instead of spending your money building the life of your dreams.”

What does “Keeping up with the Joneses” mean?

It refers to the tendency to compare one’s material possessions and lifestyle to others, often leading to overspending, financial insecurity, and a never-ending pursuit of external validation.

Self-evaluation and reviewing your money habits are some of the best ways to get your finances on track and improve your money. Maybe the people living a seemingly “good life” are making smarter decisions with their money, and you might be able to learn a thing or two from these people. But oftentimes, it’s the complete opposite, and the “good life” that the Joneses enjoy is nothing short of a facade.

There is a mental reason we spend the way we do, and it’s worth reading my previous article on the psychology of spending to better understand our impulses.

Understanding the Impact of Comparison Culture on Your Finances

The implications of succumbing to the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality extend far beyond mere consumerism. Here’s why it’s crucial to recognize and address its influence on our financial well-being:

  1. Financial Strain: Constantly striving to match the lifestyles of others can result in overspending and debt accumulation. Purchases made to impress or keep up appearances often lead to financial insecurity and hinder wealth-building efforts.
  2. Emotional Distress: Comparison culture fosters feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction, as individuals measure their worth based on material possessions rather than personal values and achievements. This can contribute to anxiety, stress, and overall diminished well-being.
  3. Delayed Financial Goals: The relentless pursuit of status symbols can divert resources from meaningful financial goals, such as saving for retirement, investing in education, or building an emergency fund. Prioritizing short-term gratification over long-term financial security can hinder progress toward wealth accumulation.

Reasons You Shouldn’t Try and Keep Up with the Joneses

Up to their eyeballs in debt

The people across the street might be the financial envy of everyone on the block. No matter how bad the economy becomes, they always land on their feet. However, before you praise them for beating the odds, there’s a good chance that your financial role models are up to their eyeballs in debt.

According to 2023 statistics American household debt is nearly $18 trillion. It’s possible the people who live across the street or next door could belong to this group of credit-trapped Americans.

Big home and house broke

Some people don’t understand the concept of living below their means. If they have the income to afford something, they’re buying it without any thought or consideration to disposable income. The truth of the matter is some of the people you admire are “house poor.” This phrase refers to those who spend much of their income on house payments and have very little money left for anything else.

Here’s a pro tip: Make extra money to pay off your mortgage. Find ways to supplement your income.

An empty savings account

Unfortunately, there’s often zero disposable income for building a cash reserve when you’re house poor. Financial experts have always preached the importance of paying yourself first.

Some even recommend saving 20% and living off 80%.

According to a 2019 Federal Reserve study, approximately 44% of Americans don’t have $400 to cover an emergency expense and borrow or sell something to make money. Over 44 million people don’t have emergency savings at all.

Here’s a pro tip: Have an emergency fund. Save 6 months of your basic living expenses into that savings account.

Keeping up with their Joneses

Keeping up with the Joneses is a vicious cycle that never ends. Here’s the thing, the same way you’re trying to keep up with the people across the street, this same family might be trying to keep up with another family themselves.

Basically, as you try to keep up with your Joneses, they are constantly trying to acquire things at the same level as their Joneses. You’re both running the very same race–and no one wins.

Instead of worrying about other people and their money, you only need to be concerned with your income and improving your personal finances.

If you’re looking for a financial role model, look to those who spend their money wisely. These people may not live in the biggest houses, drive the nicest cars, or take exotic vacations. Rather, they have zero debt – or minimal debt – and have emergency funds. Most importantly, they’re content with what they have and how much they earn, and they don’t feel the need to keep up with anyone.

How to Break Free from the Comparison Trap

Escaping the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mindset requires conscious effort and a shift in perspective. Here are some actionable steps to reclaim control of your finances.

Step 1: Define Your Values

Take time to reflect on your personal values, goals, and aspirations. Identify what truly matters to you beyond material possessions and societal expectations. Align your financial decisions with these values to cultivate a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Step 2: Practice Gratitude

Cultivate gratitude for what you have rather than focusing on what you lack. Keep a gratitude journal or regularly reflect on the blessings in your life to foster contentment and reduce the urge to compare yourself to others.

Step 3: Set Meaningful Financial Goals

Establish clear financial goals that reflect your values and priorities. Whether it’s saving for a dream vacation, purchasing a home, or achieving financial independence, having specific objectives provides direction and motivation to resist unnecessary spending.

Step 4: Create a Budget

Develop a realistic budget that allocates funds towards essential expenses, savings, and discretionary spending. Track your income and expenses diligently to ensure alignment with your financial goals and avoid overspending to keep up with others.

Step 5: Practice Mindful Spending

Before making a purchase, pause and consider whether it aligns with your values and priorities. Evaluate whether the item will bring genuine joy and fulfillment or merely serve as a status symbol. Practice delaying gratification and prioritize experiences over possessions.

Step 6: Limit Exposure to Social Media

Recognize the curated nature of social media and its role in perpetuating comparison culture. Limit your exposure to platforms that trigger feelings of inadequacy or envy, and focus on cultivating genuine connections and meaningful experiences offline.

Step 7: Celebrate Your Progress

Acknowledge and celebrate your financial achievements, no matter how small. Whether it’s paying off debt, reaching a savings milestone, or sticking to your budget, take pride in your accomplishments and use them as motivation to continue on your financial journey.

By breaking free from the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” trap and prioritizing financial well-being over societal expectations, you can cultivate a sense of fulfillment and true wealth that transcends material possessions.

Want to learn more? Read my recent book, Happy Money Happy Life, to help you break free from the comparison trap and spend on what matters most to you.

Conclusion

When we attempt to keep up with the Joneses, we often find ourselves caught in a relentless cycle of comparison and consumption that can have detrimental effects on our financial health and overall well-being.

Remember, keeping up with the Joneses often causes us to prioritize short-term gratification over long-term financial security. Instead of saving and investing for the future, we allocate resources towards fleeting luxuries and status symbols. This delays progress towards meaningful financial goals such as retirement savings, homeownership, or educational pursuits.

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, and founder of phroogal.com and thesmilelifestyle.com. His purpose to help others live their best lives through experiential and purposeful living. Jason is also a certified yoga teacher and breathwork specialist and has traveled to over 40 countries.

Related Articles