Keeping up With the Joneses: How to Finally Break Away

The Joneses. You know ‘em, you love ‘em, and for reasons that have yet to be understood, they’re impossible to ignore. As a result, many of us have been keeping up with the Joneses our whole lives even though we generally all agree we shouldn’t. 

But why, even to a chorus of advice against it, do we continue to pursue the elusive Joneses? More importantly, how do we break out of the self-harming cycle of chasing them?

Who Are The Joneses?

The Joneses are your friends. They are your neighbors, family members, and coworkers. And, I am sorry to say, the Joneses are you and me. They are everyone and no one because they are a metaphor for something we all sometimes feel, rather than specific people. 

Human beings often look for happiness in all the wrong places. For instance, material wealth is a common target. We often, if erroneously, believe that things we can buy that make us look successful will make us feel differently on the inside.

Of course, these things never make us happy, at least not for long. So, rather than adjust our approach and set a new goal, we turn to envy.

We look to other people who have more than us, who spend more money than we do and have more expensive things. We develop the unfounded notion that these people are truly happy. If we want to feel satisfied, all we need to do is get to where they are.

We call these people the Joneses. But rather than specific people, the Joneses are a symbol. They are the eternal, Sisyphean pursuit of happiness through material means. They are to happiness what a treadmill is to traveling: constant movement that will never translate to progress.

The Many Problems of Keeping up with The Joneses

Most of us have heard the same advice as long as we’ve been old enough to hold money: avoid keeping up with the Joneses. But why, beyond vague platitudes of money wisdom, is keeping up with the Joneses so problematic?

If we all have this natural instinct to keep up with our peers, can it really be so detrimental? Let’s explore some of the specific side effects of keeping up with the Joneses and why we keep reminding ourselves not to do it.

Keeping up With the Joneses Wrecks Your Finances

Above all else, keeping up with the Joneses can devastate your finances over the long term.

Individually, lifestyle upgrades and purchases may not seem to make that much of a splash. After all, what’s a few dollars here or a vacation there? Don’t we deserve it?

First of all, yes, of course you deserve it. You deserve everything wonderful in the world. 

The question is, how much does each indulgence benefit you, and what is the cost of that benefit? Each luxury expense or lifestyle upgrade adds up. Over time, these can trap us in a cycle of ever-increasing spending while our savings sit stagnant.

It’s not Possible to Keep up With the Joneses

The Joneses are a metaphor for the life satisfaction we seek through material possessions and status symbols. The problem with that pursuit is that it has no end, no finish line. 

Spending more money, time, and energy to buy higher quality things may occasionally result in a small burst of happiness. But that burst always wears off, and our appetite for something new returns. The result is a life that costs more and more of our resources but leaves us no happier than we were at the start. This endless cycle is known as lifestyle creep.

Keeping up with the Joneses is less of an intentional effort to match the lives of one specific group of people than a personification of this cycle. Rather than see lifestyle creep for what it is, we project our appetite for material satisfaction onto the people around us, making them our Joneses.

Keeping up with the Joneses is an unattainable goal; we will never find happiness that way. So if we want real, lasting happiness, we need to look elsewhere.

Keeping up With the Joneses Is a Vicious Cycle

One of the more nefarious problems with keeping up with the Joneses is that anyone can be the Joneses to anyone else, and those roles can change. No one is definitively the Joneses all the time.

Your coworker may be the Joneses when they move to an upscale neighborhood. Your friends may be the Joneses when they upgrade their cars or buy the latest electronics. Even your parents can be the Joneses when they renovate their kitchen, and you start getting ideas.

Some people may be your Joneses one day, and you can be theirs the next. Unfortunately, when both of you try to keep up with the Joneses, it creates a vicious cycle of both parties escalating and trying to keep up with each other.

No one is the Joneses of their own story (unless your surname literally is Jones, in which case, please carry on). However, when we allow the anxiety of not having enough to drive us and continue trying to keep up with everybody else, we inadvertently become the Joneses for someone else. In so doing, we perpetuate a cycle of insecurity, competition, and hollow satisfaction.

Instead, let’s see what happens if we dedicate ourselves to building contentment, mutual support, and lasting fulfillment.

5 Tips for Keeping AWAY From the Joneses

We all want to have close people in our lives. Chances are that these people will keep buying things, and sometimes we will feel envy. So assuming we’re not going to completely overturn our consumerist culture overnight, what can we do to feel more at peace in this environment?

Below are a few tactics that can help you avoid keeping up with the Joneses, build a more peaceful money mindset, and maybe even lift up the people around you.

1. Hone Your Abundance Mindset

One factor that drives us into the cycle of keeping up with the Joneses is the scarcity mindset. That is the natural tendency to attribute our unhappiness and discontentment to the things we lack. 

The scarcity mindset fuels the endless pursuit of more, which never yields the result we expect. If, instead, you work to replace your scarcity mindset with an abundance mindset, you can start feeling satisfied and enthusiastic about all that you already have.

2. Know Who Your Joneses Are

As we know by now, anyone can be the Joneses to anyone else. However, most of us have certain people who routinely arouse our feelings of money insecurity and lack. Identifying some of your most frequent offenders helps you prepare for and reduce these feelings.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as setting boundaries or avoiding money conversations with these people. It may be worth clearly communicating to them that you don’t like talking about money and spending too much. In some more extreme cases, if you find that these people routinely bring you down in other ways too, it may be worth reevaluating your role in that relationship.

3. Spot Jonesy Jargon

As you start practicing keeping away from the Joneses, you’ll notice there are specific phrases people often use when trying to influence others’ purchasing decisions. They may not be consciously pressuring you to buy something, but the resulting influence is the same. Some of these phrases include:

  • “It’s totally worth it.”
  • “Everyone should have these.”
  • “I can’t believe we didn’t buy it sooner!”
  • “It only cost $60.”

An important thing to remember is that, while these phrases feel like advice or peer pressure, they are usually attempts from the Joneses to seek validation. Therefore, you can help to alleviate the stress on yourself by offering them that validation rather than giving into the feeling of envy.

4. Replace Envy With Support and Validation

One critical thing driving us to keep up with the Joneses is the words and actions of the Joneses themselves. We often feel the strongest desire to keep up with the Joneses when they tell us about their new thing and how happy it has made them.

Sometimes this is overt bragging about some lifestyle upgrade, but more often, it is honest enthusiasm. In either case, it wakes the voice in our heads that tells us we should have that thing, too.

In these scenarios, you may find it helpful to put yourself in the Joneses’ shoes. From this perspective, you can see that they’re less likely trying to put pressure on your decisions and more likely seeking validation for their own.

By being an active listener and focusing on sharing their enthusiasm for their new thing, you can more easily shift your own attention away from uncomfortable feelings like envy and lack. 

5. Try Not to Be the Joneses

One of the most important things we should always keep in mind is our influence over the people around us. This influence may be entirely unconscious, but it’s still there. The people in your orbit pay attention to you and may adjust their choices according to yours.

Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t just hurt you; it hurts these others, too. 

We each have a responsibility to face and work with the uncomfortable emotions that lead to lifestyle creep. However, the less we can put this negative influence on others, the better it will be for everyone.

As you reduce your inclination toward lifestyle upgrades, try also to steer away from pressuring others, or doing anything to stir insecurity in them. Remember, if they don’t feel as much pressure to upgrade their life to keep up with you, they’ll likely exert less of this pressure on you in the future. 

Let’s Break the Cycle of Keeping Up With the Joneses

The Joneses are all around us, and sometimes they even are us. It may always be this way, and that’s okay. We all have a natural drive to want to keep up with the Joneses and match their lifestyle inflation, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it dominate our lives.

Paying close attention to your money mindset and changing the conversation around you about money can go a long way. By learning to keep away from the Joneses, you can instead start to create your own circle of influence. Instead of insecurity and peer pressure to buy things, you can create a circle of positive reinforcement and good money choices. You can build a community that focuses more on social connection than status symbols.

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

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