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!


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