The Joneses are Probably Broke



“Don’t buy things you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.” ~ Dave Ramsey

My wife and I went to a kick-ass party last night.  The hosts’ home was gorgeous; thousands of square feet filled with all the best furniture and stuff money can buy.  A backyard with deck the size of half my house, and a kitchen that could be featured in an HGTV cable show.

My wife asked me, “How do they afford all of this stuff?”.  I have to admit that I walked through some rooms and secretly wished I had that setup.  The “old me” came rushing back…the “me” that hankered to keep up with the Joneses.

As soon as we got back home, the “new me” reappeared.  I reminded myself that I don’t particularly want or need to live up to others’ standards. I reminded myself that even though we could probably afford the payments on all the stuff we saw, we would be in debt up to our ears.  And although I know nothing about the finances of that particular family, I do know that the appearance of wealth does not mean someone is, in fact, truly wealthy.

We all have our Joneses.

It has only been a few months that I have been immune to the feeling that I must, through my spending, keep up with others. These days, I barely care what brand of clothing others are wearing. I say “no” way more than I ever have when asked to go out to eat. My house is still in need of a huge paint job. You get the idea.  That said, we all have Joneses that we continue to meet and want to be like.  Last night was a glimpse of that.

Who are your Joneses?

Surely we all have our Joneses.

  • I used to be in the “arms race” of cars; probably one of the most common ways of trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Also one of the most expensive.  Are you driving a car to impress people you don’t even know?
  • Golf, while one of my favorite hobbies, can be a trap of keeping up with others.  Whether it’s the newest driver, clothes for the game, or even membership at the club, one can get trapped into an appearance of wealth.  Does this sound familiar to you?
  • Then there is one of the most expensive ways to keep up:  buying the larger home.  I was so close to doing this several times when the economy was flowing nicely.  Thank goodness something held me back..a huge mortgage would have negated any chance of me quitting my day job.

There is also the subtle “keeping up” effect with being a patron of arts or community-focused non-profits. It feels incredible to give to needy organizations, but I have found myself looking down the list of supporters for an organization and wishing I could be on the list (or higher up on it), too.  Not good.

All said and done, the Joneses may be broke.

All that glitters isn’t gold.  You have no clue what the credit card balances of your friends are.  If they make $300k a year and spend $301k, guess what?  They are more broke than your friend who makes $30k, spends $29k and lives in a van down by the river.

So ask yourself these questions before trying to keep up with the Joneses:

  • Does the activity you are about to spend a lot of cash on improve your health, well-being or cultural literacy?
  • Can you buy the same item for less money? Could you resell it if you changed your mind?
  • Are you sacrificing your retirement and security to be a part of a group? Are you using credit or ignoring savings to make these purchases?
  • Why do you care so much about what people think of you?
  • Will your purchases truly get you what you seek (approval, membership, friends), or will there never be enough?

By our very nature, we all want to belong somewhere.  There does not need to be a price tag attached to it, though.  Will your friends shun you if you live in a different neighborhood?  What happens if you don’t have the Pottery Barn living room set?  Will people not want to be around you if you drive a used Toyota instead of a BMW?

First off, you don’t want to be hanging with those people anyway.  Second…they may be in debt up to their ears.  You never know!



  1. Even the guy by the river may have his Joneses, the ones with a cooler van. It is hard not to compare. Then the media tell you you should have that much by age X, or that this new car is all the fuss right now. Focusing on one’s priorities isn’t easy but once you realize you don’t need much it makes you very happy.
    Pauline recently posted…Defining my dream, little guest house in GuatemalaMy Profile

    • Yes, there is always a cooler Van, Pauline. Forget about the media…my favorite blogs have told me I need X at a certain age…I’m dying over here!

      • “my favorite blogs have told me I need X at a certain age…I’m dying over here!”
        Tony, this is the exact reason why I am sick of magazines like Money that I used to read all the time.
        It’s all the same stuff.
        It’s like Cosmopolitan, but for money.
        50 ways to please your man.
        37 tips to investing.
        We get it.
        It’s all the same.

        It’s just not a path that I’m interested in…
        Brooks recently posted…An Entrepreneur’s Diary Entry at Age 9My Profile

        • You are right, Brooks. It is all the same. It is important to read the opinions (mine included) but each of us have individuality that must be accommodated.

  2. It’s amazing how many people get trapped in the pattern of defining their self-worth by the possessions of others. Because that’s what’s happening when you envy the Joneses. You’re judging yourself based on a perceived material lack compared to someone else.

    Not the wisest thing.

    I used to envy the Joneses too. Always wishing I could afford the things they had. Fortunately, I don’t see things quite the same way anymore. I’m pretty damn happy in my little red barnhouse. I have few things, but they’re everything I need. Now that I think about it, maybe that makes me one of the Joneses. Hmmmm . . .

    Trevor recently posted…8 Kickass Secrets Successful Entrepreneurs Know That You Don’tMy Profile

  3. I used to always envy others material wealth, but then I realised that it was causing me to spend money where I didn’t need to and since I stopped I couldn’t be happier :)
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted…Should I Buy a Rental Property as an InvestmentMy Profile

  4. Great post! I try not to compare myself to others too much. Yes, we do have nice cars, but we didn’t buy them to impress others – we actually do enjoy them :)
    Michelle recently posted…Student Loan Update and $805 in Extra IncomeMy Profile

    • I loved my cars, too. I really did. Hopefully some day I can completely afford to pay cash for them so I can drive guilt-free…

    • Unfortunately the money you spend on a car is truly not the best us of your hard earned money – you’re spending money on something that DEPRECIATES, rather than APPRECIATES (like a house – well, most of the time! And at least the house can go back up in value if it takes a dive, right?!). Anyways – I just don’t get people who spend a ridiculous amount on a vehicle. I think people who drive those big ass SUVs should pay a higher gas tax – seriously. They usually are ALONE in them half, if not most of the time – so if they can afford them, they can afford the gas tax. Everyone wants to have a safe, dependable, reliable car, for sure. You don’t have to spend gad of money to get one. The last car I bought was a Honda Accord coupe – drove it for 15 years with absolutely no problems. Maintained it and that thing never let me down. I finally gave it to a friend who needed a car (and it’s STILL GOING!). So having only spent $17K on it (it was a 1994), it served its purpose without costing me a ton of extra money – which I was able to save once there were no more car payments (for 11 years!). Average insurance, average maintenance. The snazzier and more expensive the car – the higher the cost to maintain/insure. Worth the money for something that continually DEPRECIATES? Your money is much better off invested where it will GROW for you! I don’t care what I drive as long as it’s safe and reliable. I’m one of those people who is NOT impressed with the type of care someone is driving. Because when I was driving that 15 year old Honda Accord – we had millions in the bank. And you certainly don’t become a multimillionaire by spending every dime you make!

  5. Great points, Tony. Judging from the amount of “stuff” we are donating, giving away, or selling, we were trying to keep up with someone – perhaps the Joneses and the Smiths, and all of their friends! We seemingly made a good purchase, a small affordable townhome not far from work. I’m not sure why we didn’t keep thinking simple, but it sure makes a great story now. I got rid of a bag of photos – a whole Target bag. Really, who needs another picture of a flower? My goodness!
    Tammy R recently posted…Yezzzzz…our new book is FREE!My Profile

  6. It’s very much human nature to want to keep up with the Joneses. There’s been some interesting sociological studies recently showing countries with less separation between rich and poor are much happier than countries with a wide spread. They theorize that it’s because people aren’t feeling the strain of trying to keep up with others. Knowing this is very helpful in terms of opting out of that game and finding your own path.
    Pretired Nick recently posted…What’s your minimum monthly requirement?My Profile

  7. That’s right we don’t want to be hanging with the joneses and we should shut the mindset off that we need to compete with others. We live in a very wealthy area and many of the homes are near a million or over. We walk around every day and look at what others have and dream of what we would like our dream home to have. We do at times wish we had more but other times would be SO PROUD to say we are debt free, mortgage free if someone had a problem with our lifestyle. We don’t care anymore what others have or what they think. Life doesn’t revolve around Want. Great post Tony.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted…What are Realistic Investment ReturnsMy Profile

    • My wife is incredible at this; she finds expensive homes and figures out ways to make ours look the same way for less money. Genius!

  8. Really enjoyed reading this, Tony. The old me comes out to haunt the new me at times too. We recently had a money meeting and realized we were living on about 6/10 of our income. That felt great!!

    And though I see many things I think I want, I almost immediately realize I don’t. The only thing I want to be keeping up with these days is the metronome;)
    cj recently posted…Yezzzzz…our new book is FREE!My Profile

  9. I generally don’t care much for what other people have… I’m more interested in what I have 😉 But it is easy to get sucked in. For me, it’s usually extravagant trips that get my jealousy going. I try to remind myself that they’re probably financing the trip on debit, or their parents are paying for it, or they probably have no savings… etc. I try to use it to motivate myself to save more!
    CF recently posted…May garden update: Seedlings!My Profile

  10. I’m curious – does it make you feel better if the Joneses are broke? Would it change your behavior knowing that the Joneses are really better off?

    I ask because I know a lot of Joneses who are definitely not broke (they just plain have more money!) I admit I get the green-eyed monster sometimes, but most of the time I remind myself that their situation is not my situation, their paychecks are not my paychecks, and their priorities might not be my priorities.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted…How I got engaged / (or what if one person is ready but the other is less so)My Profile

    • First off, I am so appreciative that someone is writing something questioning my stuff. I’ve been waiting for it!!

      It doesn’t make me feel any better. Actually, I WAS THE JONESES. I was broke, but I had the best of everything. My point (and I could have made it more clear) is that envy is probably misplaced. It’s not about feeling better if someone is having a rough time, it is all about having a clear perspective on your own financial situation, as you mentioned.

      Thanks for the post!

  11. I get super jealous of Joneses that travel a lot. We do vacations, but I’m a bad person and always lust after even more travel. I have such a hard time when I go to charity events and the like because I come in with a budget, and then I get super competitive, and then I sulk about it. But if an organization is going to use that tactic on its patrons, at least it’s for a good cause!

    Haha, you’re getting to know so much about me in my very first comment. Love the blog!
    femmefrugality recently posted…The Cost of WalkingMy Profile

  12. I’m fortunate in that I don’t really have any Joneses with which to keep up. I have a decent house, but that was definitely more for J and I than it was to keep up with anyone – nobody that I used to try to impress even know that I own a home. I used to definitely want all of the nice things to show off, but I just don’t care anymore – haha!
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…Don’t Dig a Money Pit in Your GardenMy Profile

  13. I’ve definitely tried to do my part to keep up with the joneses. I spent a lot of money buying a lot of stuff I didn’t need. Mine wasn’t so much super fancy possessions as I’ve always got more of a thrill in buying used stuff for a good price. I would try to keep up with the joneses in going out to bars and restaurants and spending un-told money just because it was the thing to do. Well no more. Trying to get out of those habits cause they are not beneficial what soever and don’t impress anyone in the long run
    thepotatohead recently posted…Why I’m Trying to be More Mustachian and/or Why I Have a Man Crush on Mr. Money MustacheMy Profile

    • A lot of small stuff really adds up, doesn’t it?? I paid a lot of stupid tax on cars and trading them in, etc. Awful…

  14. Tony, great stuff here. I learned while working in personal banking that most of them are indeed very broke. Since we moved out of the suburbs and into the country, we are kind of on the outside looking in at the Joneses and those keeping up with them. What an eye-opening picture! I’m SO glad we don’t care about the Joneses anymore.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Why You Should Choose to Start Your Journey to Debt Free TODAYMy Profile

    • Very cool, Laurie. The funny thing is, I used to be the Joneses to others, which I didn’t explain in the post. Of course I had MY Joneses, too. As soon as I ditched my stuff, a lot of people were very confused!

  15. I buy the expensive cars because I love them, but that’s where I draw the line. I’m the girl at the thrift store with her 30% off coupon buying beat up furniture I can take home to refinish. The funny thing is, most people ooh and ahh over my DIY projects–not the things I splurged on when I was young, dumb, and in debt!
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted…To Marry for Money: Gold Digger or Financial Genius?My Profile

  16. The Joneses are definitely broke! This is a great idea for a post and similar to one I’m writing up for another blogger. My basic message was, “there are consequences for spending money on things out of the ordinary.” Some of those big ticket items can really hurt one financially and many little ones over time. Making habits of them can ruin ones’ life.
    Scott @ Youthful Investor recently posted…5 Great Books to Learn Asset AllocationMy Profile

  17. Great post! I have also learned the hard way that just because people appear right doesn’t mean they are. Keep fighting those demons! I will too! :)

  18. Great article! It’s unfortunate that so many people get caught up in appearances and judge a book based on it’s cover. With a mindset like that you put yourself in a rat race. I’d rather spend my money on traveling and experiences, instead of appearances.


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