I had never actually heard of the Joneses until I began reading Dave Ramsey nearly a decade ago, and I have mostly only heard the expression “keep up with the Joneses” in financial settings. My family has never, to my knowledge, purchased anything to keep up with their neighbors or friends. I could be wrong, but if they did it certainly wasn’t anything like a boat or ATVs – you know, anything large and expensive.
When I first read about the Joneses, I felt pretty smug about myself. I certainly didn’t have any problem like that. In fact, to this day, I’m not certain any of my friends have been Joneses, and, to my shame, I can’t actually say I know my neighbors in this apartment building.
But then I had to ask myself: who actually are the Joneses?
I’ve decided the Joneses are anybody who have something that I don’t have. What I mean by this is that anybody who has something I don’t have can, intentionally or unintentionally, influence my decision to purchase said item.
And here’s what often isn’t mentioned about the Joneses: sometimes they actually can afford the swag they buy. The great danger is assuming they can’t and writing yourself off as a smart cookie while you criticize their lack of financial discipline, but this simply may not be true. The Joneses are who we perceive them to be. They could be your friend who bought an iPhone X, or a neighbor who bought a ten-year-old Maxima which looks so much nicer than your rusting twenty-year-old Accord. They could be your friends who always invite you to join them at expensive restaurants. They can even be your parents who decided a sleep number bed would help them get better sleep. Or they could be an acquaintance who has a massive gun collection. Whatever.
There’s no point calling out the Joneses – the Joneses are in your head. They are the status and the utility that you crave. They are either the things you covet or the things you feel pressured to buy.
Despite the highly inflated housing market here in Denver, many friends have bought-in, and I often feel the current whispering to me, “You should buy in, too!” My financial disagreements with homeownership, and my desire to leave within the next 3 to 5 years don’t make this a tempting prospect, but I can say that I definitely feel the pressure. I also wonder what sort of message I send to my friends when I try to persuade them to join me at various restaurants, a great weakness of mine.
If you want to make smarter decisions than keeping up with the Joneses, you have to understand your desires for what they are. Are you trying to be accepted? To fit in? Are you trying to present yourself in a certain light (“I’m an extreme off-roader!”, “I’m a Mac guy!”, “I’m a nature lover!”, “I do humanitarian work!”)? You have to understand whether that’s something you truly want or if you aren’t just kidding yourself and trying to fill-in your insecurities. When you are happy with yourself, you won’t strive so hard to keep up with who you think you want to be.