The phenomenon of “keeping up with the Joneses” is ignited by things like hearing about your neighbor’s fantastic planned vacation or seeing them drive up in their sleek new car. Before you know it, you overlook your goals and plans and fantasize about getting the same luxuries or newer products your neighbors or friends have been showing off around town.
Coveting social status is a road best avoided. Trying to keep up with the Joneses will make you feel unfulfilled and opens the door for financially destructive decisions.
Here’s what it means to keep up with the Joneses and how to avoid it best.
What Does It Mean To Keep Up With the Joneses?
According to the dictionary, ”keeping up with the Joneses” is thinking and trying to buy things that people you know own in an attempt to seem as successful and progressive as them.
The phrase originated from the comic strip “keeping up with the Joneses” and started to form part of the English language following a comic strip that ran for 25 years. In this saying, the surname “Jones” refers to any generic neighbor or friend.
The idiom became an effective symbolic way to express the urge to compare yourself with your neighbors, especially in amassing material goods and services. With the increasing availability of material goods, you can easily define yourself by what you possess.
If you focus on appearances and trying to appear well-off — coveting your neighbor’s house, TV set, expensive dress, car, or planned vacation, you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Origins of Keeping Up with Joneses
The idiom “keeping up with the Joneses” was first used in a comic strip by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand in 1913. The strip, “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” followed the lives of the Jones family, a wealthy family who had everything their neighbors wanted. The strip became very popular and was eventually featured in more than 200 newspapers across the U.S.
The Joneses family, who inspired the original phrase, were not from New York City but were a fictional family in the comic strip created by Momand. However, there were real-life families in New York City who were the envy of their peers who inspired the comic strip.
One such family was the Schermerhorn-Jones family, who built a grand mansion with a style of a Scottish castle in the 19th mid-century. Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones built the mansion, which became known as the Jones Mansion and was considered one of the finest homes in the city.
The Joneses Mansion symbolized wealth and status in New York City, and other wealthy people felt pressure to keep up with the Joneses. This pressure was fueled by false values and the belief that having the same things as the Jones family would elevate their own status among their peers.
The McGinis family, for example, lived near the Jones Mansion and were determined to keep up with the Joneses. They spent a great deal of money on fine clothes, cars, and other luxuries in an attempt to emulate the Jones family’s lifestyle. The Joneses and other prominent New Yorkers began to build villas in the Hudson Valley.
Why Do People Try To Keep Up With the Joneses and Other Rich New Yorkers?
Let’s face it. The phrase trying to keep up with the Jones can have widespread effects on your financial and social life. So why is it hard to say no and be done with it?
Comparing and keeping up with the Joneses and other rich New Yorkers is at the core of our human psyche — we are an innately competitive species. Over the ages, humans have had to compete for food, mates, territory, and other things to survive and thrive. The urge to keep up appearances may be more complex than trying to survive.
Social media amplification has made comparisons global, almost unavoidable, and potentially destructive financially and socially. Social media makes it nearly impossible to avoid seeing what’s happening with your coworker, one’s family, and friends.
Social status presents plenty of opportunities to compare ourselves with others, and what’s even more enticing is the fact that people share only the best moments. You’ll do yourself harm if you take the skewed versions and highlight reels of reality you see on social media seriously.
Additionally, by nature, we want to be liked by others, making keeping up with the Joneses more alluring. Because you want to be socially accepted and happier, it’s easier and normal to think things are better on the other side.
We want the society and people around us — neighbors, colleagues, and families to respect us, so we’re always looking around for the things that will make us stand out. Peer pressure, ego, and fear of missing out (FOMO) are the biggest drivers of the desire of trying to live a lavish and fabulous lifestyle.
Why Keeping Up With the Joneses Can Be Financially Destructive
Everybody wants to prove to society that they got it figured out. The problem with that mentality is that it will gradually erode your financial muscle and eat away your long-term dreams — it’s unsustainable.
The core reason trying to keep up with the Joneses is financially destructive is that you’re shortchanging your future. You’re in for regrettable consequences when you make purchases with little or no value besides impressing your neighbors.
Here’s why trying to keep up with the Joneses can be financially destructive.
Poor Financial Decisions
If you base your decisions on how your friends are doing and buying, you can bet you’ll be calling the wrong shots, which will hurt down the road.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself well and spending on yourself occasionally. When done with clear priorities on things that matter to you and not based on your generic neighbor’s latest acquisition, you increase your chances of living a happy and fulfilled mind.
The problem can happen when you try to keep up with the Jones, in which case you’ll;
- Likely take on more unproductive debt
- Increase your investment risk
- Hinder your savings efforts. You’ll find it hard to meet your savings goals if your spending habits are influenced by how people around you spend their money.
Decline In Long-Term Happiness Due to the Quest for Social Status
The irony is that trying to keep up with the Joneses initially promises to make you happy. Later as the consequences of your decisions become evident, the opposite happens — you become less happy.
The haphazard spending gradually erodes your financial security as you try to keep up appearances. After a while, your joy will decrease as you realize how much you spend trying to impress. Remember, there are always nicer things and services — cars, houses, electronics, collectibles, trips, you name them. You cannot count on these things to make you happy because it’s a non-ending cycle.
How To Stop the Philosophy of Keeping Up With The Joneses
Here’s what you can do to avoid the destructive habit of keeping up appearances and being on the path to financial security.
Accept It’s Normal and Forgive Yourself
First, accept that while it’s not the best thing for your financial well-being, comparing yourself with others is normal. Naturally, we base our self-esteem on how much money we earn compared to those around us. Once you accept it is ordinary but unnecessary, you’ll be better positioned to deal with trying to keep up with the Jones.
Identify Your Coveting Triggers
List down the things you find alluring and tempting to have, yet you don’t need them. If you feel too fixated on what your friend, family, or colleague has, take a moment to figure out the things you really want. You could create a financial vision board. Once you’ve pinpointed your financial goals, you’ll find it easier to prioritize the items and spending habits that will get you there.
Love The Things You Own
The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you’ll never be done, as the cycle is continuous. It’s never-ending, no matter how much money you make.
In a recent Fidelity Investments survey, 42% of American millionaires disclosed they “didn’t feel rich.” They feel they need an average of $7.5 million to get there.
Even millionaires compare their standard of living and their appearance in relation to their peers, and the secret to avoiding comparison syndrome is to appreciate and love the things you already own.
Accept that somebody will always have a bigger car, a more immaculate house, and finer things in life. While at it, appreciate that the things you now own were once on your list of things to pursue.
You can never know the sacrifices the people you envy make to get the things they currently have. They may come at the cost of relationships or debt.
So you want to be grateful for what you already own, including your health, relationships, family, or even a fulfilling career.
Think beyond the materialistic things you see people flaunt on social media and TV. One effective way to appreciate the things you already have is to make a daily gratitude list. You’ll keep the urge to compare yourself with others and unnecessary spending at bay.
Objectively Deal With the Concept of Keeping Up With The Joneses
When people brag and highlight reels about their lives, you want to handle them by neutralizing them in a way that leaves bad feelings aside.
To keep working on your goals amid the temptation to spend as your neighbors:
- Control your reaction and ignore competitive comments from people trying to make you feel like you’re falling behind. They’ll eventually stop.
- Compliment your competition. Don’t respond in ways that encourage further competition. You’ll end the game feeling better and at your level.
- Speak up about your feelings instead of resolving to acquire the things you were teased with. Make your friend or family member know they’re making you uncomfortable. You’ll make them more sensitive in the future.
- Audit your expenditure to determine if you’ve been sidetracked to spending on things that do not further your financial goals and long-term targets.
- Before you make a purchase, examine your motives. For example, do you really want to buy that expensive item and get into debt because of it?
Optimize Your Life for Something Worthwhile
Ask yourself about the things you want in life. You want to optimize your life for financial independence and freedom because it would enable you to achieve more things.
Decide to refine your spending habits to keep you from trying to keep up with others while placing you on the path to financial growth. Learn as much as you can by reading financial books, intelligent personal finance articles, and watching videos on how to keep your finances in check.
You can also optimize your life by surrounding yourself with the right people. When the people in your life understand the importance of delaying gratification for better gains in the future, it will be much easier to resist the temptation of trying to keep up with the Jones.
One of the reasons you can easily fall into the chains of trying to keep up with the Joneses is a lack of self-awareness. You’ll find yourself drifting from one shiny thing to another when you don’t know yourself. When you understand who you are and plan out what is most important, figuring out precisely how to manage your finances should not be a problem. And no shiny thing should ever make you abandon your plan.
In a FOMO world full of instant gratification, the temptation to try to keep up with the Joneses can be so strong.
Acquiring things and spending your hard-earned cash because you saw somebody do it can, and eventually will, take you down the road of financial trouble. The concept of keeping up with the Joneses will see you making wrong financial decisions, sinking into debt, and becoming increasingly unhappy. So take the pressure off and be yourself – make a financial plan and stick to it!
Josh is a financial expert with over 15 years of experience on Wall Street as a senior market strategist and trader. His career has spanned from working on the New York Stock Exchange floor to investment management and portfolio trading at Citibank, Chicago Trading Company, and Flow Traders.
Josh graduated from Cornell University with a degree from the Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at the SC Johnson College of Business. He has held multiple professional licenses during his career, including FINRA Series 3, 7, 24, 55, Nasdaq OMX, Xetra & Eurex (German), and SIX (Swiss) trading licenses. Josh served as a senior trader and strategist, business partner, and head of futures in his former roles on Wall Street.
Josh's work and authoritative advice have appeared in major publications like Nasdaq, Forbes, The Sun, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News, Fortune, The Street, MSN Money, and Go Banking Rates. Josh currently holds areas of expertise in investing, wealth management, capital markets, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and personal finance.
Josh currently runs a wealth management business and investment firm. Additionally, he is the founder and CEO of Top Dollar, where he teaches others how to build 6-figure passive income with smart money strategies that he uses professionally.