My kids have a remarkable talent. I am not sure how they have the energy to do it, but it seems as though they instinctively know when mom and dad are cleaning up one of their messes. Something must trigger inside their young developing minds that tells them: they are cleaning up our toys, it is time to go to another room in the house and create another mess.

We are lucky if I can even keep up. It seems as though the toys are coming from everywhere, and when I finally think they have exhausted their efforts they go back to the first toys we cleaned up and start the process all over again. Now, this may be a small exaggeration, but not by much.  

You are probably wondering how this applies to finance and rightfully so. There is an interesting comparison and it has to do with your neighbors, the Joneses. Luckily, we all have one of these families in our neighborhood so it should be easy to relate – for some of us we may be that family.

The Joneses – like my children with their toys – have a remarkable ability to exhaust those who try to keep up. The difference is, the Joneses always have the really cool stuff that everyone wishes they had: the latest car, the cool drone that flies overhead (sometimes a little creepy), boat, and the list goes on.

If you are like me, you wonder how they even have time to enjoy these new purchases. Is it even about enjoying them or is it all just a status symbol? I get exhausted just thinking about it.

What motivates the Joneses?

Inside most of us, there is the longing to be respected by others. This acceptance we seek comes in many shapes and sizes. Whether it is how well we raise our children, our positions at work, or by which university we did or did not attend. These areas seem to validate who we are and how we feel about ourselves.

Because not all things in life are easily comparable, there is one criteria we all use to compare ourselves against other, and it is by the “things” we have.

This is where the Joneses come in. It doesn’t take long for the neighborhood to notice that new shiny car sitting in the driveway. It is hard not to notice the new toys they buy for their kids, especially when your kids come home and tell you all about it. The Joneses slowly become a thorn in your side. Your mind immediately starts making plans of how you are going to keep up.

The Irony Of Keeping Up With The Joneses

The concerning thing is that this mentality is a trap. It is like being stuck on a Ferris Wheel with no way to get off. What is ironic about the whole situation is that the Joneses are also trying to keep up with someone else. Their need to be accepted by their peers is driving their behavior.

Maybe it is society as a whole or a specific person, either way, it affects how they act with their money. As a result, their finances suffer. The snowball rolls downhill and affects anyone who is willing to participate in the game.

So why do we do it? There is no doubt we all like new and exciting things. If we are being honest, who wouldn’t rather drive a new Tesla than a twenty-year-old Honda? It is obviously a more comfortable ride with many perks not found in older cars. The true problem is, the Honda will not turn any heads on the freeway or in your neighborhood.

We have been trained to associate nice cars with wealth, and in most cases, it is not reality. I have met many wealthy individuals that drive older cars. For those of us that recognize the game of keeping up with what it is, we understand that nice cars are usually a burden for those who drive them.

Do we really want to be happy, or just appear to be happy?

When I was in college I put two semesters of tuition on an interest-free credit card. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but once the interest-free period was over it hit me. I felt like I was trying to swim with a backpack full of bricks.

That is the sad reality of debt, it is a burden that weighs us down. When we buy these things on credit we hope it will make us happier, but the truth is our pleasure is only momentary. The reality of having to pay the debt back will eventually hit us, and when it does it will affect our emotional well-being.

It is imperative we change our mindsets, and the first step is recognizing the true burden of keeping up with the Joneses. We must realize there are true principles that bring happiness in finance – and life. We must be honest with ourselves as we analyze why we are trying to keep up.

What helps me is recognizing the peace and contentment that comes from having no debt. To me, this is real happiness. The credit card debt I had in college affected my productivity, how well I slept, and my overall well-being. It was then that I realized I didn’t want to play the game of keeping up with the Joneses. The debt was just not worth the perceived satisfaction.

In this day of social media, it is common for us to post only the positive things in life. We are eager to show others the nice vacation we have just gone on, but do we also post the credit card statement afterward showing the new balance if it was paid with credit? Seeing these events on social media leaves us feeling inadequate and continues the vicious cycle of keeping up with the Joneses.

Solution To Managing Your Money

Here are a few suggestions I would offer to help break this cycle and free ourselves from the social pressures of keeping up.

  • Recognizing debt for what it is: Stop and consider the emotional cost of having debt. There is no doubt it is affecting your productivity at work, the time you spend with your family, how well you sleep, and your ability to move your career in a direction that fits your goals. Removing debt will free you from the chains that are holding you back.
  • Focus on Progress: The excitement of things will fade, and usually very quickly. There is lasting fulfillment however in the power of progress. Use your time and some of the money you would have spent on luxuries instead on personal development. Take a few online courses or buy books that will help you personally or in your career. This will not only improve how you feel about yourself but can also help you increase your income.
  • Find friends with similar goals: You’ve heard the saying: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This is for better or worse. If the people you are spending time with cause you to fall into this trap of unwise money decisions, consider adding new friends that share the mindset you are working towards. You will find this liberating because now you will have someone to help motivate you with finances instead of the opposite. In the end, this is a more enduring relationship.
  • Find fulfillment with your family: I have found this to be the most helpful. I have heard my children on more than a few occasions ask why we don’t have a car like our neighbors (I think our Honda Odyssey is fairly nice and definitely practical). What is even more shocking to me is that this is coming from a five-year-old. It truly does start at a young age. This has been a great teaching opportunity as we get to explain to our children we prefer to save our money for experiences, rather than “things.” As we have explained this to them, they have not only been receptive, but are now making comments about how important it is to make smart money decisions. Making sure your kids are on the same page with your financial goals is very important.
  • Smart money decisions should lead to abundance: Too often we catch ourselves with the mindset if I want to be good with my money I can’t have any fun. This may be true starting out if you are in a deep hole financially, but this is not the end goal. When I think about my financial decisions it has nothing to do with not enjoying life; rather it is how will this decision help me to spend more time with my family, retire earlier, and pursue a career that is fulfilling. Keep abundance in mind when you are practicing smart financial decisions as it is a much better motivator than scarcity. Nobody likes the thought of having to go through life without enjoying the money they work so hard to earn. It is a matter of cutting in the areas that are not rewarding your life and diverting that money to the areas that matter.   

Mindset is everything when it comes to our finances. We must recognize this game of keeping up with the Joneses for what it is. In the end, smart financial decision will help us live a more fulfilling life. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to keep up with others, instead save that energy for the things that really matter. Smart financial decisions will bring the prosperity we are truly looking for.