Why You Don’t Want to Keep Up with the Joneses

Most of us have heard about “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s the idea that you need to have the same stuff as your neighbors, or at least look as though you are just as prosperous. In a lot of ways, it’s about status – you don’t want to appear as though you are poorer than your neighbors.

It’s better, though, if you don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. You, and your wallet, will both much happier if you stop worrying about what your neighbors have.

The Joneses are Probably in Debt

One of the best reasons not to keep up with the Joneses is the fact that they are probably in debt. Indeed, a recent survey from RateSupermarket.ca discovered that 38.8 per cent of Canadians have more than $5,000 on their credit cards. Add in other types of debt, and the average Canadian household has more than $100,000 in debt. In late 2011, per capita household debt in Canada actually surpassed the debt in the United States.

That makes things fairly obvious: Debt is becoming the norm. If you are trying to keep up with your neighbors, chances are you are actually trying to keep up with their levels of debt. And if you are trying to live debt free, that’s the short road to financial defeat.

Do the Joneses Even Have What You Want?

Another consideration is whether or not the Joneses even have the same things that you want. A lot of people in our neighborhood have much larger TVs than we have. We have a relatively small TV in comparison. But having a big TV isn’t important to us. So, since we don’t care about having a big TV, why would we buy one just to fit in with the other people in our neighborhood?

Before you rush out and buy something that one of your neighbors has, stop and think about why you think you ought to make the purchase. Are you trying to impress someone? Or do you think it will truly contribute to your quality of life? Review your values, and make purchases based on what’s important to you, rather than make spending decisions based on what you think you “should” have because the neighbors have it.

Can You Afford It?

Even if you think that you are buying something because it will enhance your quality of life, you still need to make sure you can afford it. Just because the neighbor just bought a new lawnmower doesn’t mean that you need to buy one today. If you can’t afford it, you should save up the money for it.

Thinking that you should have something because the neighbor has it can quickly lead to overspending and debt. You will be much better off if you recognize that you should save up for something, rather than buy it immediately using credit. It can be tempting to make a purchase based on what others are buying, but you really do need to take a step back. Realize that you won’t be happy making decisions based on what others want, and you certainly won’t be happy if you go into debt buying things to impress other people.

23 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Want to Keep Up with the Joneses

  1. Interesting article Miranda. Do you have a link to that Ratesupermarket survey? Are those numbers calculated before or after Canadians have made their monthly payments to their credit card? I’m always wary of numbers pertaining to credit card balances because they are rarely crystal clear on this point. Carrying a balance and temporarily have a high balance are two very different things.

    One point I would make is that sometimes it doesn’t make sense to save up for something that will significantly enhance your happiness and quality of life or will save you a lot of time.

    For instance, if you are always spending hours upon end maintaining that lawn mower or doing other DIY things when you could be using that time to earn extra money consider just dropping the cash and paying it off quickly. I’ve gone through periods where I would waste oodles of time just to not spend some money and it totally isn’t worth it!

    1. Thanks for posting the link. Since it was a survey, it’s likely that those numbers are fairly realistic. People who pay of their card every month probably wouldn’t include those amounts when reporting their credit card debt level.

  2. Have to agree with saving mentor there about needing to drop the money to navigate properly. I walked out of a store today after finding out the washer/dryer I had looked at wasn’t included in a company rebate even though I desperately need the washer/dryer. The ones that came with my house are not acting properly and leaving unsightly messes behind or taking way too long to dry but I made myself not just jump and go ahead and buy when I found out the sale didn’t apply to the models I was looking at.

    I hope to find a better price on a set but this is something I desperately need if I am going to be able to properly wash clothes.


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  5. Dave Ramsey talks a lot about not caring what others thing when you live frugally and save (especially when getting out of debt), and so much of his point is that most people’s finances are a mess themselves, and they don’t have to live your life, you do. Really encouraging post. Great Job.

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  12. Good post! So often we use our purchases to try to “fit in” or because it’s “expected”. I’ve come to believe that the people who actually matter don’t really care how big my TV is or whether or not I own a car.

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    1. We have a Canadian neighbor here in Silicon Valley who seems to have fallen into this exact trap. He leases luxury cars, wears expensive clothes and rents an expensive house he could never afford to buy. We feel badly for him because he doesn’t seem to understand that the really wealthy/wise make do with less, drive older cars that are paid off, and own modest homes which increase in value almost by the week.

      It may look like Mr. Canada-California has made it big while the economy is strong. The eventual downturn will find him with no home equity, no ownership of vehicles, and fancy clothes worth pennies on the dollar. He’s chasing the appearance of the “American Dream” but he’s chasing it the wrong way, imho.

      He may have to return to Canada (as he did in the last recession) poorer and still not wiser. Sad to watch – and sadder still to realize he’s probably one of many who think debt is the way to look like a success.

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  15. Two years ago new neighbors moved in. I put some pots of herbs on my back steps, and a couple days later she did the same thing. Then she told me that she was going to put in some pavers like ours. then my spouse built me a lattice and she asked her spouse if he would build her a lattice…Then I put 2 blue pots in my back garden. Within hours she had put 2 blue pots in her back yard. Then we put lights on our tree; she put lights in her tree. We bought a tent at an estate sale for our son and put it up, a couple days later she bought a tent for her son and put it up. We put a small patio in (we did ourselves); a couple weeks later sheput a patio in (but had it contracted out). The neighbors put up rainbarrels; she put up rainbarrels. We put some roses on the side of the house across from thier house a few days ago. Guess what: today she went and bought large with huge blossoms hydrageas and put them in across from our roses; not only that but she continued to mulch and plant on the whole side of the house trying to up one on us. We bought a fountain and put in our backyard; she bought a fountain and put in her front yard. A neighbor put in a rock garden, she immediately put in a rock garden a few days later. We are now growing bushes so she cannot see over in our yard anymore!

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