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March 26, 2010

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I think you may be preaching to the choir when it comes to trying to appear more wealthy, show off, etc.

But I think most of us are still affected by the "baseline effect" of what is and is not reasonable by the wealth around us (instead of just our own financial situation and goals). Its easy to think buying an average new car is something "reasonable" when my friends buy luxury new cars and I know they don't make more than I do.

Well, you have to register at MSN Smart Money to leave a comment, which I ain't a-gunna do, so I'll add my two cents here.

What Dunleavy says is nonsense. When I was married to the corporate lawyer, we lived in an expensive neighborhood and the women to whom I was exposed let money pour through their hands like water. I was brought up a cheapskate and all the time we were together I was still a cheapskate. As long as you don't whine "I can't afford that," it's very easy to get out of lemon verbena foot rubs.

Stand in front of the mirror and shape the lips: NNNNN... OOOOO... Practice putting it together: N...O... NO! Need an excuse? "I'm allergic to verbena"; "we have some other things to do and so we need to move along"; or simply "I'd prefer not, thank you."

Don't want to hire a cleaning lady? Excuse: "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I can't stand the mess those women make of my house."

Don't want to drive a Jag 'cause you don't have an extra room over the garage for the live-in mechanic? Excuse: "Consumer Reports says this Toyota is the best car on the road."

Feel no need to spend $2,000 on a ski weekend? "Ever since that avalanche barely missed me, I just can't stand skiing."

WhatEVER.

If you can afford a big house in a swell neighborhood (Zillow estimates ours, still occupied by former DH and his younger model, at about $750,000), then you have to be prepared for higher power bills, higher water bills, higher maintenance bills (20 grand for that new shake-shingle roof!!!), and higher taxes. In our case, moving into Swell Neighborhood was not so much a matter of keeping up with the Joneses (we lived in a perfectly fine lawyers' ghetto in the first place, in a very pretty house that cost a helluva lot less all the way around) but of getting into a district where our kindergarten-age son could safely attend public school without ex-DH having to commute upwards of an hour. Good in-town school districts are expensive.

Now, what WAS keeping up with the Joneses was ex-DH's insistence on keeping the kid in the very expensive private school once we'd moved into a decent public school district. Excuse: "He had such a difficult transition from Montessori to traditional kindergarten, I don't want to make things harder on him." LOL! But DH could afford it.

When you have plenty of money, you tend to spend it on what's important to you. If what's important to you is something stupid, then...well, you're just spending your money on stupid stuff. That's one's prerogative. It's a matter of personal values, not so much following the other sheep off the cliff.

I think one of the reasons why so many people try to "keep up" is that as a society we are very competitive. We have been raised that way. Be it sports, business, political, or international, we have all been taught to try for number one. Well, appearance plays into that as well. Your appearance of wealth is just as important as your actual wealth (at least it seems that is the mentality).

I can tell you, with me, it was that my list of wants FAR exceeded my list of needs. It was so long that it started bleeding over into my list of needs (my mind was telling me that I needed that brand new car or the best cable package, or the new TV). And if I wanted something, I went and got it regardless of cost. However, one of the things that helped me realize that what I was doing was wrong was my budget. I kept seeing a lot of money at the end of my estimated budget, but seeing it disappear or go negative when it came time to putting down the actual numbers. Over time, I got tired of this and decided to do some "house cleaning" on that list of wants. Now, I don't want for much anymore and if I do want something, it is usually small in price or I tell my family to put it on my list for birthday or Christmas. It has really helped me to increase my net worth significantly as well as reduce my debt as well. Of course, reading FMF helped significantly, too.

What's helped us is to get hobbies we really enjoy (blogging for me and Curling/gaming for my hubby). If you stay busy and happy, you forget that you wanted that cool new phone, etc.

The only thing I see my husband eyeing that worries me is our friends' bigger houses. I really don't want to move anytime soon...

I think that we might be seeing some changes in this approach now. Not across the board, but some people are embracing frugal as kind of "cool." Maybe these folks have been severely impacted by our economic conditions over the last few years?

Anyway, rather than look with envy at those who have nicer, fancier material things or better homes in tonier locales, keep in mind that many of these people are making the decision to save less. Additionally, many folks are operating dangerously in terms of contingencies if they lose income. One job loss and they could be in a world of hurt.

Maybe a "richer" life is to live with less, in a smaller house with an practical but non-flashy used vehicle, and less material things.

It's that herd mentality. Everybody want to be similar, so when the Jones family and Smith family buys a new car... Well, I better too, I want to fit in...

If you do this too much though, you're living in a financial Jonestown (don't drink the kool-aid!).

I choose to follow a frugal lifestyle, so the Jones Family doesn't bother me... at least not too much (boy I do like their new car though...haha) ;)

It all comes down to financial responsibility and willpower...

For me, I think it helps to have defined goals for things such as retirement and wanting to stay out of debt. I've got a number that I shot for and regularly track my progress against it. Without that it would be easy to say I want that bigger whatever, newer whatever and just spend the money. Since I only have so much to go around I have to prioritize where my money goes. Since I don't want to be in debt, but still want to hit my goals, I don't care much about the Joneses.

You can "have it all"--with one exception: don't get the really "big stuff".

When my ex and I were still together, he constantly griped about how "small" our 3000 sq ft home was (it's not--it's a 4 BR split level, just not a McMansion in the rizty neighborhoods where our co-workers live). He also wanted to take resort vacations twice a year and travel for fun internationally once a year also.

When we split in 2006 he immediately went out and bought a brand new McMansion with his GF, while I took a look at my reduced finances and our kids' upcoming college bills and decided to stay in the old family home. He's also continued to travel and take those $10K all-expense-paid vacations in Cancun etc.

Now he's (of course!) way underwater on his mortgage and complaining that he can't pay the child support (he doesn't pay any alimony of course--we are both professionals in the same field and make the same amount), while my only debt is my house that will be paid off in 4 yrs even though I put in a new kitchen & bought a brand new car last year. I can also afford to buy nice furniture & yes, I have one of those flat-screen TVs. I also have a very large emergency fund, and two retirement accounts and college savings that are fully on-track with my goals.

So...if you keep a lid on your "wants" especially regarding your home, it's amazing how much $ you'll have leftover to take care of everything else you want .

I also would discourage anyone from taking international travel and destination vacations especially if you have kids, at least until your finances are solid. I know travel is enlightening and all that, but it is appallingly expensive and kids don't really care--my kids enjoy camping and stay-cations (Mom stays home from work & their friends come over) and vacationing in cities we can drive to or where we have family.

I suspect the "Joneses Syndrome" is actually not so much trying to keep up as it is seeing everything they have and for most people it makes them want it too. Certainly there is some social stigma attached to trying to play the part but when you keep driving less than nice cars and see all your neighbors driving the new BMW or Lexus you start to covet that a bit. The longer you covet the more likely you will decide you want or deserve or need that as well. You see your neighbors having "fun weekends on the boat" and you start to long for that kind of life. The grass is greener over there so if I do some of those things I will have that fun life I see them having.

If you are in a neighborhood where everyone is driving a used mid level sedan and your co-workers are driving used mid level sedans then you aren't seeing greener grass very often and are less likely to covet it and think you want or need it.

The problem is that we are surrounded by so many different people at work, in church, in our neighborhoods, and then there is the mass marketing we are subjected to 80 times a day that we are often bombarded with opportunities to covet what the Joneses have. When you are coveting what they have many people are not able to properly think about long term costs. Seeing so many others doing it has a normalizing effect on you. Its the same as with the housing bubble. From here we can all say it was crazy, but at the time everyone was doing it so to tell someone it was a crazy thing to buy houses at those prices meant telling them, you realize the whole world, I mean the whole damn world, has gone mad right? Everyone buying these houses is crazy. EVERYONE IS CRAZY!!!! When you tell people that, there is only one person they think is crazy and it isn't them.

It's the same with the Joneses thing. Everyone out there in this society is living beyond their means. The whole world is crazy. But when everyone is crazy, that becomes normalized, and most people simply don't have the awareness of it to recognize it or the will power to stand against the intoxicating allure of it.

There is a good reason Coveting made the 10 Commandments. I leads to really bad decisions and behavior. I believe the "Joneses syndrome" is as much about coveting as anything.

I'm a nurse. Recently the new car bug has flown thru my department. One gal who bought a Acura last year, gorgeous car BTW, is thinking about trading it already. I drive a sweet little, manual tranny, Granny green 2003 Subaru with only 55,000 miles. Everyone who has a new car is bugging me about getting a new car. Argh, leave me alone! It's paid for and I'm saving to buy the next car with CASH after I drive the wheels off this one.

It is pack mentality. It is the financial suicide. It is what got us into the mess we are in. However, it's probably a good thing I work with the people I do...somebody has to keep the auto workers employed at $68 bucks an hour.

Part of it I think is just evolution-in the competition for mates, shiny stuff has usually been a useful tool, and so marks of high status (big houses, stupid cars, etc.) are a marker of a particularly eligible mate. Thus, when single, you show off to attract a mate, and when married with children, you try to present as a family worth marrying into (part of finding a good school district is just making sure your children hang out with other wealthy children, and become normed to that culture).

Not to be overly deterministic about this, because obviously we can overcome our instincts, but it is part of what is going on here. In a competitive landscape like life, the first sign that you are loosing is that you are not winning (however society defines that).


Norma, Not sure if you're serious but auto workers are NOT paid $68 an hour. Those figures cited by auto companies and media are not actual hourly wages. Those numbers include all labor costs including the retired workers which at US auto companies greatly outnumber current workers. Its a bogus way to inflate the wages to make the workers look the bad guys.

FMF -- You could turn this into one of your Sunday posts, because 'Keeping up with the Joneses' is really about coveting, regardless of whether the Jones' wealth is real or illusory. As Apex pointed out, coveting didn't make into the 10 Commandments for nothing.

When we covet, we create misery. There is misery when we don't get the object of our desire. There is misery when we maltreat ourselves and others in pursuit of the thing we desire. And there is misery when we finally get the thing, and find it does not satisfy so we go off in search of more and more.

I don't necessarily believe that FMF readers are immune to coveting or trying to 'keep-up' either. Speaking only for myself, at times I've fallen into the trap of coveting another's net-worth, wrongly believing that it will equal security. It's not the trappings of an extravagant lifestyle that I was after, but the high income and the high savings balance. I may have identified a different 'Jones Family' than referred to in the article, but it's still trying to keep up, it's still coveting, and it can still be misery inducing.

Norma's post really hit on something I believe.

I think as much as people in the US try to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, the proverbial Joneses also do more harm than good when they encourage people with less nice things to splurge....such as the peer pressure Norma talked about relating to purchasing new cars.

Sometimes it might seems like good natured ribbing, but to me it seems like the big spenders sometimes joke and encourage their friends to also buy similar items, be it a new car or a larger house, becuase they themselves feel guilty and are in debt up to their eyeballs, but they feel if their friends join them in the predicament, they will somehow be justified in their actions.

Misery loves company.

I don't think it is really a matter of coveting. Coveting is when my ancient vehicle keeps breaking down and I become jealous of the person whose vehicle never does.

I think it is much more the herd mentality (normalizing effect) and the basic mating instinct, both of which were already mentioned.

The herd mentality occurs because most people don't think for themselves, or doubt their decisions. As with the houses example above, if EVERYONE is doing it, it is difficult for me to be confident that I am doing the right thing by NOT doing it. If everyone has cable TV - what am I missing? etc., etc. And a lot of marketing is designed to sow those doubts and then offer a solution.

The underlying mating instinct is so basic we don't even realize we are doing it. It's not just making the family seem like an eligible one to marry into. It's simply about making ME look like an eligible partner. Even if I am happily married and have no intention of cheating, deep inside I am still driven by evolution/genetics to make myself attractive to members of the opposite gender.

@Mark,

Many elements probably factor in. However you gave an example of coveting right in your post:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4GGLG_enUS349US349&defl=en&q=define:covet&ei=9CmtS-WaK4iOtAOQkInuCw&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title&ved=0CAYQkAE


Covet - v. To wish, long, or crave for (something, especially the property of another person);


You said:

"everyone has cable TV - what am I missing?"

You see what others have, wonder what you are missing and then start to want it. Thats the definition of coveting.

Coveting is a big factor. And Coveting is a significant contributor to herd mentality. Without it, why would the herd necessarily tend towards spending too much money on things we don't need. If people started behaving responsibly, living on less, getting by with less stuff does that become infectious like materialism and consumerism does? I don't know of any significant examples of where it does and minor examples are coupled with some kind of brain washing or other form of coercive control. Why not? Cause no one covets that lifestyle so the herd doesn't follow it. The herd follows those things that are appealing.

@Apex: What people covet most is the acceptance and respect of their peers, and they do what it takes to achieve this.

The examples of people acting responsibly are indeed coupled with brainwashing or coercion in some form, which could include peer pressure such as religion. We need others to affirm our beliefs and decisions.

Even on this blog, I often sense that comments contain some "look at how frugal I am - approve of me".

I think consumerism and materialism are also largely a product of brainwashing. And that brainwashing uses our insecurity to pressure us to follow the herd. In fact it invents the herd!

There are large parts of the world that are close in wealth to the US that don't consume in the same manner (e.g. Western Europe) and parts that are poorer but still consume and take on debt like Americans (e.g. Russia). It all depends on the level of sophistication of the marketing.

In Russia, people will literally go hungry to afford brand-name clothing and in France you will be laughed at if you flaunt more than one expensive item. Hence in France, you follow the herd and feel good by limiting your consumption and in Russia you follow the herd by starving to afford Gucci. In Russia, you proudly show your friends your new purse, and in France you hope no-one sneers and calls you "Americain" for buying one.


Coveting?

really?

how about coveting respect, love, companionship, safety, security, stability, trust, honor, acceptance.

Coveting and greed are both overhyped "bad" words. They are not bad. Tehy are necessary. Without coveting, there would be no desire. Without desire, theyr wouild be no growth, no advancement, no acomplishment. We would be nothing.

I covet all the time. And I am greedy as hell. Greedy for success. Greedy for accomplishment. Greedy for stabilty and contentment. Greedy for life and love.

As far as the Joneses I couldn't care less about them or any of my other neighbors. When you truly know who you are and what is important to you, the outside matters little.

I have found that this stance is best achieved when you have acheivements based on your own choices. In other words, if you have been successfule in something, whatever it is, it helpd with confidence and self understanding. When you have that, your "jones" influence goes away.

The advertising blitz that we are exposed to every day is doing its very utmost to get us all to spend. It has intensified a lot since this recession got underway. It seems every merchant is doing their very best to get us to buy something by means of special offers. You can't blame them, that's their job - to sell their products.
All it takes to resist these pressures is discipline. We are fortunate that we have been married for 53 years and there isn't much we need. The furniture was all acquired years ago and we are all done with remodelling etc. In our quiet retired lifestyle there is no urge to try to keep up with anyone. We don't have any money worries whatsoever but that isn't a reason to rush out and buy "Stuff". This year our largest expense is a vacation that takes us to Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, but we have always taken nice vacations and thoroughly enjoy them and the opportunity of learning, discovery, and meeting new people.

We are inundated with advertising, it arrives by e-mail, postal mail, the daily newspaper, and commercial TV. It's hard to escape it but easy to kiss it off. We have lived in the same beautiful neighborhood of individually designed homes since 1977 but have purposely avoided becoming too friendly with others in our court. The only time everyone came out and gathered in the street was in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake occurred, but since there was no disruption to our lives or damage to our home, everyone soon went back inside.
We feel absolutely no pressure to keep up with anyone. We love our lifestyle (and each other of course) and if there's something we really need, we don't hesitate to get it and can honestly say that we don't envy anyone.

Keep preaching Gordon Gekko Troy.

You can have a desire and drive without having to have greed or covetousness. I don't know why you would assume not coveting means there is no desire.

It's the same as people who excuse egostical A-holes by talking about the need for confidence. You can have confidence without being an egostical jerk (although many people with confidence are egostical jerks, that doesn't mean you shouldn't reach for a higher standard of confidence because if you are an egostical jerk, you might be successful, but I don't want to be around you and likely neither do most other people.)

You can have desire and drive without being greedy and coveting. If your drive comes from greed and coveting, I don't want to be around that either. It might drive you, but the underlying force of greed and coveting is likely going to show through, and its not appealing to most people.

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