Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses – They are probably BROKE!

people partying

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses”. We envision the Joneses of the world as having the dream life – great jobs, fully-furnished McMansions, expensive cars, designer bags, and Instagrammable holidays to exotic locations.

The infamous phrase basically means keeping up with appearances by comparing our financial success to our neighbors. We think we will be happy if we can acquire a pair of new Nikes just like the dude next door. Or get our hands on the latest Apple product because the kid across the street has it.  This toxic behavior is what’s causing most people to rack up debts up to their eyeballs.

The Joneses also have debts – huge ones!

What many don’t know is that the Joneses themselves are broke.

Hold on. I don’t mean to say that every single family who seems to afford what the majority cannot is drowning in debt. It is just that there are a lot of people out there driving around in their new cars who are actually deeply in debt and they’re just very good at sweeping their financial woes under the rug. Some may have not realized their bad spending habits yet, only to realize too late that they may not survive the next week following a sudden unemployment.

Case in point, the 60% NBA ballers and 78% NFL players who filed for bankruptcy less than five years after their retirement.

How on earth did that happen when they earn more in one year than most of us make in a lifetime?

Well, it all comes down to poor judgment when it comes to handling their finances. Most of these athletes don’t realize that their careers are short-lived. Therefore, they involve themselves in conspicuous consumption like there’s no tomorrow with their outrageous salary. And they continue living like that even after retirement.

What many don’t know is that the Joneses themselves are broke.

Yes, folks. The Joneses are most probably living paycheck to paycheck with less than a $1000 in their savings account and zero investment. With their mortgage, car loans, and credit card bills, their individual net worth might actually be in the negative.

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Why do we want to keep up with the Joneses?

The phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” typically referred to our next-door neighbors who seemed to have all the impressive things we desire, but with the wide reach of social media these days, the Joneses also now live on our feeds. And there seem to be too many of them to keep up with. At least, that’s what they would like us to think.

We tend to be very privy of their daily lives from their vacation posts on Facebook and Instagram to the essentials and knickknacks they keep in their bags as shown on their YouTube channels. Seriously, most people now vlogging on YouTube publish content about their lives and discreetly flaunting what they can afford (and they make money off it), rather than posting informative content that could improve other people’s lives. I was actually guilty of the former that I had to stop and reassess the content I should be doing on YouTube. I realized that kind of content only forces me to spend and spend money, instead of actually doing what I love, which is to produce good quality content that helps others. I best do that in writing though.

There’s nothing wrong about watching these people show off their lives on YouTube though. It’s actually entertaining to watch. They either inspire others to work hard to afford the things that they want or they influence people to spend more now just so they can be like these vloggers. Two outcomes with different morals. From my point of view, I just wonder how much that purchase or vacation has put a dent on the vlogger’s income. For the lucky few, probably not much.

So what really motivates us to keep up?

There are numerous factors that drive people to consumption:

  • The desire to flaunt their wealth and success
  • The need to have what other people have
  • Seeking confirmation of their social and economic status by the people around them
  • Maintaining an image of having an opulent lifestyle
  • Getting the momentary rush or high from spending money to fill a void in our lives
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When we start comparing our lives to someone else, it’s usually a recipe for disaster. We spend and spend just to keep up, but we just couldn’t get on their level because the reality is, there’s always going to be someone who is richer, better looking, has a bigger house, and drives a nicer car than us. It’s a race you can’t win and will instead drive you nuts if you allow it to happen. Not only that, but if you continue to drive down that road, you will wind up broke. On top of that, you would create a life of stress, worry, and anxiety.

Stop comparing your life to the Joneses’ edited lives

By now, you would have realized by reading the things I just said that most of the Joneses have poor spending habits.

Sure, it’s easy to feel insecure when we see their trips abroad, but it’s only the edited parts of their lives that we see on social media. But if we saw the reality of it all, the envy would probably vanish once we realize there wasn’t anything to envy in the first place.

The non-filtered version of their lives doesn’t show photos of their horrified faces once they open their credit card statement after the trip.

The point of this article isn’t to shame the family next door who seems to have it all, but are secretly in a lot of debt. Rather, it’s an eye opener for everybody who thinks that the Joneses that so many of us aspire to be like are just superficial representations of an idea. Perhaps, an idea of having “made it”. But having made it doesn’t necessarily mean we buy our way into happiness by having the latest, the most expensive, the biggest, or the grandest.

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There are a lot of options to be happy and keeping up with the Joneses – who are still probably debt-ridden – certainly isn’t one of them.

Stop comparing and don’t compromise your financial security just to show the world that you also have a life to be envied. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, you should keep up with your own goals when it comes to your hard-earned money. One idea might be to stash some money away to open up an investment account or a retirement fund. Even as simple as saving for an emergency fund can help you avoid debt when the need arises.

Create your own happiness that ideally doesn’t require you to spend a lot of money. Even budgeting and living a frugal lifestyle has weirdly given me a unique sense of happiness.

Live within your means

This simply means don’t spend more than you make. If you can’t afford to pay for a car in cash for now, then don’t. A car falls in the “want” category, not a “need”.

Avoid debt as much as possible. This is why I refuse to get a credit card.

Related Post: Why Not Having a Credit Card Gave Me More Financial Freedom

We don’t really mind driving used cars as long as they take us to our destination safely. Anything that has motor in it depreciates in value year after year.

Set your priorities and trim your wants and needs.

Learn from those in the low-income category. They limit their needs and only spend for the necessities a.k.a. items you cannot live without.

Learn to say “no” to people, even to your friends and family. If your child asks for the latest iPad or your friends invite you to an exotic holiday somewhere expensive, it’s okay to say “no”.

I chose to live a frugal lifestyle partly because I am concerned about the future. Two years ago, I suddenly lost my job when the company I worked at for 3 years declared bankruptcy. I realized one day that I should anticipate these kinds of major events. The future isn’t certain and we should be ready when life decides to deal us with a bad hand.

Isn’t it nicer to say that your family’s future is secure rather than letting everyone know you just bought the flashiest toys your credit card/ money can get?

Have you tried to keep up with the Joneses? How did that experience affect you?

Related Post: Why I Started the Frugal Living Journey

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Nikkah of Get Financed Lab is a caffeine-fueled work-at-home ninja, hustling her way to financial independence before she turns 40. Like most millennial, she dabs on blogging, starting side-hustles, freelancing, and slaying the mommy life. This blog is her personal finance journey peppered with her words of wisdom, which should always be taken with a grain of salt.