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We’re all familiar with the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses.” It is so common that it has its own Wikipedia page.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.
That’s right. If we can’t keep up with our neighbors in the accumulation of material goods, we are perceived as inferior. Spending money and obtaining things with credit has become so accepted that is seems weird not to do it.
We tried so hard to keep up with the Joneses, that we surpassed them. I believe we actually turned into Joneses. People wanted to keep up with us. Who wouldn’t? Let’s look at what we had.
- A Brand New House-New homes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. You have to live somewhere. If you have a down payment and interest rates are low, it might be a smart move. However, with our new house, we went a bit overboard. We also felt that we had to have lots of other things.
- New furniture. Our new house was much bigger than our old one, so we had to have new furniture.
- New TV’s. You can’t use an old TV in a new house!
- A New High End Grill. Because clearly our old one that worked perfectly fine was just too small for our new deck.
- Kitchen Gadgets. Now that we had lots of cabinet space, we had to buy new things like a milkshake maker, electric knife, and Fry Daddy. Didn’t matter that we never used them. We had to fill our cabinets.
- Premium Television Programming. We had to have something to watch on our new TV’s.
- New Mountain and Road Bikes. Because we had storage space for them, and one bike per person is never enough.
- New Skis. Can’t make it in Colorado without them.
- New Tools. We had a Home Depot credit card. Why not?
- New Clothes. If you have a big closet, you have to fill it up as well.
- New Cars-We were pre-approved. The flyer in the mail said so, and we had a big garage to put them in.
- Trips-Didn’t matter that we had no cash. Everyone takes plastic.
You get the point. To be a Jones, you have to keep buying. It doesn’t matter if you already have something. You need the newer, fancier, more expensive version. Your job is to keep ahead of the everyday spenders and make yourself stand out.
You know what else you get to have if you’re a Jones? It’s probably the most important part.
HUGE AMOUNTS OF DEBT
If you aren’t swimming in debt up to your eyeballs, you aren’t really seizing the American dream. Joneses really wouldn’t keep much in savings either. Things, not security, matter to a true Jones. We ended up working our butts off to make payments on all the stuff we thought we needed. It can be really exhausting. After we saw some family members (also Joneses, obviously) lose everything because they couldn’t keep up with the game, we started to rethink what it meant to be a Jones.
Maybe being a Jones isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? After much soul searching and time spent figuring out what really holds value and what doesn’t, I’m proud to say we gave up our Jones identity. Although it was scary at first, I am happier without it. Joneses don’t really have time to enjoy life. They are too busy running to stay ahead of AMEX, Discover, Visa and Mastercard.
The next time you aspire to become a Jones or even keep up with one, decide to be a Smith, a Carlisle, or even a Bernatowicz. You might find yourself leading the pack in the right direction instead of into the vortex of “Keeping Up with the Joneses.”
Kim is an optometrist and reformed spender who blogs about her journey toward achieving 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar. No harm was intended if your given surname is actually Jones.