This is a guest post from Mike Collins of Saving Money Today. I've written about keeping up with the Joneses myself in Why Do We Try to Keep Up with the Joneses? and Thou Shalt Not Keep Up with the Joneses.
When I was a little kid my friend Tony always got whatever he wanted from his parents. He always had the newest video game, the cool sneakers, and pretty much anything else he asked for. And whenever I would ask my parents for something that Tony already had they’d respond with the old line, “If Tony jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump too?”
Each time my mom or dad said that, I’d always walk away rolling my eyes and grumbling to myself about how cheap they were. But now that I’m an adult with kids of my own I can finally understand the wisdom that my parents tried to instill in me. I only wish I had learned that lesson sooner.
Of course, I’m not the only one who could benefit from my mom and dad’s wisdom. Our society has become completely obsessed with instant gratification and “keeping up with the Joneses.” We constantly compare ourselves to our neighbors and try to one up each other. Failure to keep up means you’re a failure at life.
Here’s a real life example of what I mean. I have two friends who are extremely competitive and always trying to top one another. When Dom bought a big, flat-screen TV Paul ran out and bought a bigger one. When Paul got a backyard swing set for his kids, Dom ran out and bought a $2,000 playground with swings, monkey bars, and a gigantic slide. Where does it end?
In private conversations with each of my friends, I’ve come to learn that they’re both up to their eyeballs in debt. Yet instead of putting an end to their foolish spending, they just keep the cycle going indefinitely as they each get closer and closer to the poorhouse.
Does their competition sound a little familiar? Maybe you don’t compete with someone in particular, but how many things do you buy just to make yourself look or feel good? Do you buy a new cell phone every few months and jam it full of apps and a data package costing $120 a month? Do you trade in your cars every few years just because you get tired of driving an “old” car? Do you always get the most expensive, top of the line gadget with the most features even if you don’t even know what half of those features do? If so, you may be trying too hard to keep up with the Joneses instead of focusing on your own goals.
Remember, the Joneses might not be as well off as they appear to be. As the story of Dom and Paul demonstrates, perceived wealth is often no more than a smokescreen for deep financial problems. And if you spend all your time and energy worrying about what other people have, you could wind up just as broke as them.