Itâ€™s a fascinating phenomenon if you stop and think about it. People are willing to damage their current and future financial situation in order to keep up with the Joneses.
The usual antidote to this kind of behavior is pretty simple and easy – that is, on paper. Itâ€™s the usual same old advice that gets put out there by all the personal finance experts.
Live below your means, budget, donâ€™t buy things you canâ€™t afford, differentiate between needs and wants, etc.
But with all that being common sense and that kind of same advice being offered again and again and again via recycled words, expressions, and clichĂ©s through books, articles, seminars, etc., why is it that people ignore it and still feel the need to keep up with the Joneses?
Alas, thereâ€™s more to this than common sense and logic and the only thing that can prevail against these two seemingly infallible trains of thought is human emotion.
And this brings us to the usual suspects that come out of the wood works that thrive on human emotion â€“ advertising, instant gratification, the need to compare oneself with oneâ€™s own peers, etc.
But these usual suspects that thrive on human emotion all seem to be interwoven with this one concept:
People have a tendency to do all they can to preserve and increase their social status within their own respective social circles. They want be admired and recognized by others and climb the social ladder or at the very least, retain their own level of status within the group.
What happens if they donâ€™t?
Feelings of shame, embarrassment, and social exclusion start to develop.
We live in a society that puts money on a pedestal. Anybody who has it is automatically deemed as â€śgreaterâ€ť than the average Joe. People tend to glorify the lives of the rich and famous and have linked up the association of anybody having large amounts of money with high status.
Nobody wants to say it out loud but itâ€™s unfortunately the truth in that this is how society really values people and how in turn, the people that make up that society judges others within it.
Because most people have this type of association burned into their minds, itâ€™s the rule they know others play by and the rule that they themselves have to play by in order to determine their own status level.
And since it seems as if more and more people are living â€śthe lifeâ€ť now and whether thatâ€™s due to the ease of credit, advertising, or the media showing the lifestyles of the rich and famous – it makes people wonder how theyâ€™re able to afford it and why they canâ€™t, so in an effort not to get â€śleft behindâ€ť, they start trying to keep up.
And then it starts.
Once the race is entered and they start to play by the rules of it, it gets harder and harder to exit because they know how they will be judged by others in their social circle if they do so. They in turn, do all they can to save face, even if it means harming their current and future financial situation by getting into serious debt.
So what to do given all this?
The very first thing to do is to determine what your values in life are and to rank them in order accordingly and if youâ€™ve already determined what they are, itâ€™s to make sure theyâ€™re actually what you do value and that theyâ€™re in the right order.
Itâ€™s because your money and your attitude about it in general will be dictated and flow toward what you value most.
If you donâ€™t have a set hierarchy of values, you will easily defer and adopt the one given to you by society and in a society where money and status is valued above all else – it then becomes really easy to get sucked into keeping up with the Joneses.
Most people havenâ€™t really sat down and thought about what they value most and have justified it. They just absorb the most current and popular trend via osmosis and live their lives according to it, feeling â€śstuckâ€ť deep down inside while really desiring to have the freedom to do what they really want to do.
What do you really value in your life? Why? Really justify it.
Obviously, this answer will be different for each person depending upon their upbringing, culture, religion, etc., but itâ€™s a question that needs to be answered.
What this does is that it puts YOU back in control, rather than giving up your power of choice to the masses.
When you can base your decisions on money on YOUR chosen set of values, values that you have thoroughly meditated upon and believe are right for you, and money and status are not at the top of the list, that pressure to keep up with the Joneses evaporates into thin air.
Once you determine what your values are and you stick to them, your social circle will start to filter accordingly and also attract those with similar values. If your top values are not compatible with keeping up with the Joneses, you will attract people of the same nature who feel the same way and as a result, you wonâ€™t feel as much pressure from the group to keep up with the Joneses.
But what of those who do choose money, status, possessions as their top values in life? Nobody can certainly judge them for doing so. Everybody is different and has their own reasons for choosing their own values.
The only thing to realize about that though is that people eventually adapt to their lifestyle, possessions, and surroundings in time. I believe the phrase is called hedonic adaptation. The house, the car, the clothes, the gadgets â€“ it all gives you a high when you first buy it, but after a week or a month later, it loses itâ€™s luster and you return to your baseline level of happiness. You eventually get used to it all, until you get another high from purchasing but as time goes on, you will need even stronger and stronger â€śdosesâ€ť of purchasing to get the same effects as before.
Now thereâ€™s absolutely nothing wrong with buying nice things. If you like nice things and you can afford it, go for it. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Never feel ashamed for doing so. Never feel the need to apologize.
But if you find yourself stretched too thin financially to the extent where your current and future finances are in serious jeopardy, itâ€™s time to sit down and examine your motives behind it all.
If your motivation lies in the fact that your self esteem and confidence are based on the things you buy and how many people you can impress as a result, in other words everything outside of yourself, itâ€™s very shaky ground to base it all upon because it can be taken from you in an instant, whereas if you base all that internally, it can never be taken from you.
Then, you have people on the other end of the scale who get a certain high or satisfaction thinking that they are â€śbetterâ€ť than those who seem to be, at least in their own eyes, keeping up with the Joneses and assume they are in huge debt for doing.
The thing is – they donâ€™t know the whole story. For all they know, they can readily afford it and if so, let them enjoy it.
Donâ€™t waste time trying to figure out if other people can or cannot afford their chosen lifestyle because you can never know the entire story.
Itâ€™s better to concentrate on your own journey because by constantly looking at other people while youâ€™re going toward your destination, it will become much easier for you to crash and thatâ€™s what a lot of people do.
But even if you choose your own values and find that money and status donâ€™t rank at the top of them and stick to them accordingly, thus relieving any pressure to keep up with the Joneses, this objection will inevitably arise.
If society and the majority of people in it judge people based on their outward appearance, possessions, finances, etc., even though you choose not to play that game, you will still be judged accordingly by it and since you choose not to play the game, you will be judged negatively accordingly it in the sense that people will confer lower status upon you.
But if you feel like you are living up to your own values, to what you want to do and that youâ€™re doing the best you can, then how other people judge you, who donâ€™t know your entire story and the status they choose to bestow upon you based on their lack of knowledge has no significance. Itâ€™s baseless.
The only person who can really judge a person is that person. Nobody else.
After evaluating what your values are and feeling strong convictions toward them and you find that they arenâ€™t conducive to keeping up with the Joneses, it can slowly erode if you donâ€™t consistently maintain those convictions of your values over time. Media, advertising, and society in general will start to slowly poke holes in your resolve â€“ consistently, and thatâ€™s the magic of it all. We are exposed consistently to this so it influences our behavior and it becomes really easy to be sucked back into the race of keeping up with the Joneses in order to impress others through showy displays and status symbols.
Maintain your own personal chosen values and beliefs and youâ€™ll come to the point where youâ€™ll feel freedom â€“ the freedom to live life the way you see it, not by the way you think you should, based on how others will view it.
If you align your money with your own personal values and your values are rock solid, you wonâ€™t feel the need to compare yourself with the crowd because youâ€™re traveling down a different highway now – towards a different destination thatâ€™s feels just right for you.