“The Joneses” Are Broke

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The following is the first post by MPFJ staff writer, Catherine Alford. Cat is a freelance personal finance writer who blogs at www.BudgetBlonde.com. Enjoy and welcome her to the MPFJ family! 

We all know that family. They seem perfect. Both parents have great jobs. Their kids are doing well in school. They drive expensive cars. The mom carries a designer bag. The dad plays golf every weekend at the country club. It seems like they always have a housekeeper or a gardener helping to keep their home looking pristine. Essentially, it seems like they have it all.

If there’s a new type of TV out, they’ve bought it. If there’s a new gadget, they have it. If there’s an exotic locale, they’ve been there. If it has a Nike check on it, it’s on their feet. Sharing isn’t a priority; each kid has their own iPad to keep them occupied on road trips.

Being around a family like that can definitely make the rest of us feel a bit inadequate, and it’s really tempting to try to “keep up with the Joneses” as the saying goes.

However, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years of adulthood, it’s that the Joneses are broke.

Okay, I’m not saying that every single family who seems to have it all is secretly drowning in credit card debt. I’m just trying to illustrate that many people who treat possessions as status symbols rarely take the time to carefully save or invest because they’re always spending their money on the latest thing.

So, here are a few steps you can take to combat those times when you feel like you just don’t measure up.

Remind Yourself of Your Successes

Sure, the Joneses look successful, but you’ve had your own great successes too. Go through them in your mind and give yourself credit for how far you’ve come. Perhaps you just spent the last 3 years rigorously paying off all of your debt. If that’s the case, then you likely went without life’s little extras for a few years! Wasn’t it worth the sacrifice? Doesn’t it feel great to be debt free?

Similarly, maybe you just finished college, or maybe you just got a promotion. Perhaps you got an award or maybe a lot of people read your blog. Listing your own successes in your mind reminds you of all of the great things you’ve done. Maybe the Joneses should try to be measuring up to you!

Realize You’re On Your Own Journey

Every single person has their own path that they are on. Each of us has had our own trials and our own tribulations. Maybe the Joneses used to struggle, but one of them lost a parent, and they recently got a huge inheritance. Perhaps they won the lottery. Or, maybe it’s all a clever ruse.

The thing is, we’ll never truly know what other people’s finances look like unless they tell us. So, it’s best to not concern ourselves with what people might or might not have.

Don’t let yourself feel inadequate or inferior to someone else just because of what it appears they have. You don’t know what path they are on, and you don’t know how different their journey is from yours. Keep your eyes on your own goals and remind yourself why you maintain the lifestyle that you do.

Understand That Worrying About Them Wastes Energy

We can’t help the fact that it’s human nature to compare ourselves with others. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all do it. Yet, if trying to keep up with the Joneses is causing you anxiety or even worse, hurting your pocketbook, then it’s time to assess the situation.

How many times have you felt that you don’t measure up simply because of something the Joneses owned or said? How many times have you had those jealous feelings? Every time they post on Facebook? Everytime you interact with them at soccer practice?

Those types of negative thoughts are harmful to our psyche. Instead of using our energy to succeed in our own lives and our own careers, we can easily waste it going through someone’s vacation Facebook album wishing we were them.

When you catch yourself feeling this way, channel your energy into something positive. Ask yourself, “What do I have to do to reach that level of financial security that I think they have? Is feeling like less of a person in comparison to them actually helping me achieve my financial goals?”

The answers are yours to seek out, but just remember that things are not always what they seem. As long as your finances are on track and you are achieving your own goals, what the Joneses do in their day-to-day lives truly does not matter.

How about you all? Has anyone else ever come across this type of person? Have you felt tempted to keep up with the Joneses? 

Or, do you make a concerted effort to only focus on your own accomplishments?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4078/4873936727_e939fe30be_o.jpg


  1. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    Good post Cat! We've just satisfied ourselves by living for us and not for others and being content with what we have. If we try and keep up with the Joneses then it's a never ending race. My Dad would always say of the “Joneses” that they may have a huge house, but no furniture inside of it because they were broke.

    • Why thank you, John. 🙂 Your dad sounds like we'd make pretty good friends. Isn't that the truth?! I don't feel much of a need to keep up with them either, but for some people, it's just innate in their behavior. I don't have the “jealous of the Jones gene” (say that 3x fast!)
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  2. I never felt a need to keep up with the Joneses. There are two reasons for this:

    1) My parents were very frugal and lived well below their means. I was taught and adopted the same attitudes.

    2) I live in a less expensive neighborhood than I can afford which means the Joneses don't have all that much anyway.
    My recent post Book Review: The Intelligent Asset Allocator

    • Hey RJack! Thanks for the comment. I think living in the less expensive neighborhood is definitely key. One of my favorite excerpts from The Millionaire Next Door talks about two brothers who live in different neighborhoods and how that affects what they buy.
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  3. I know my neighbors are dead broke. 🙂 Every time there's a minor crisis, they go into frantic mode, trying to pay for it. And yup, they make more than we do. I'd rather be secure and have an emergency fund than shop impulsively and have nothing when things go south!
    My recent post Making A Meal Plan–Saving Money On Groceries, Part 2

    • Yeah, I mean having a crisis is a part of everyday life. The water heater breaking or the car that needs repairing isn't much of a crisis if you have an emergency fund! I totally agree with you. I mean, it really doesn't matter how much you make. It's how much you spend, right?
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  4. myfijourney says:

    I would love to see the net worth of various people I work with. Especially the liquid net worth. Everyone here seems to have expensive houses, spoiled kids, fancy cars, etc. To be fair, they all pull in the kind of salary needed to afford those things, but I wonder how many of them are working on building real income producing wealth like I am.

    For example: One lady here needed her parents to help her scrape together the down-payment for a house. With her experience, she probably makes around what I do. While houses here are expensive, I could scrape together a down-payment with 2-3 years of aggressive saving if I so desired.
    My recent post A Brief Primer on Options: Part 3 (Two ways to enhance your dividend growth portfolio with cash-secured puts)

    • Exactly. Maybe you can go around your office and ask people to spot you $10 and see who can come up with it? Kidding 😉 And yikes about your co-worker. I feel like if you have to ask someone to help you with a downpayment, maybe you're not ready for home ownership. But, that's just my opinion.
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  5. debtroundup says:

    Good article Cat. I used to want to keep up with the Joneses, but I have since learned that they are probably more in debt than I. Just because you show that you have wealth doesn't mean that you actually do.
    My recent post One Year Lived Book Review and Giveaway!

    • Thanks, Grayson! It's definitely all about perception. It's amazing how many designer bags I used to have. Embracing minimalism has been good for me!
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  6. We try to avoid keeping up with the Joneses but occasionally something slips through the cracks… oh well!
    My recent post Call for Guest Posts and Maybe More!

    • Haha — Well you're definitely not the only one, Lance. I was just writing to Grayson about my love of nice purses. Just because I've embraced minimalism doesn't mean I've given ALL of them away. 😉
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  7. So true, Cat. Comparing ourselves with others just leads to unhappiness. I try to focus on our goals, but it's easier when I remind myself why those goals are important to us. I've wondered how some people can afford their many vacations, but later found out that it was all on the credit card and they are up to their ears in debt. It really does help to remember what we have achieved and be thankful for those things. It helps us to keep going.
    My recent post Garden with Much Less Water: Save Money and Enjoy Great Vegetables!

    • It's definitely interesting when you actually do get to talking about money with those people and they say things like they really want a savings account etc. and you know they are spending pretty much everything they have.

  8. Shannon-ReadyForZero says:

    Awesome post, Cat. Truer words were never spoken. The fact is we just don't know what goes on behind closed doors and comparing ourselves with our neighbors based on possessions is just a fruitless – and often misleading – exercise. You are so right that it makes more sense to focus on your own goals and accomplishments rather than worry about the Joneses.
    My recent post 10 Mental Barriers to Paying Off Debt: What’s Stopping You?

    • Thanks, Shannon. You've been very kind today sharing/commenting on my posts. 🙂 We definitely don't know what goes on behind closed doors. I think that's a good lesson for everything including relationships and people who we think have it good.
      My recent post What To Do If Your Site Is Clickbombed

  9. My best friend is this type. He bought a BMW right out of school and recently purchased a home in the heart of Charlotte, NC, yet he is still paying of his school loans. We get along great, but I just shake my head when I hear of his spending. Although I am known in my group of friends as notoriously cheap, I will say that, sometimes, I am tempted to “keep up with the Joneses”. It passes, though, and I just stay focused on my savings and retirement goals.
    My recent post Car Accident – The Effect on the Wallet – Part 1

  10. Actually, I almost feel sorry for the people who feel like they have to spend so much money to impress others. They are literally throwing their money down the drain. The problem becomes when they get older and haven't properly prepared for their retirement and all of a sudden they realize that they don't have the money they need to retire.
    My recent post The Three Things The Media Should Focus On After A Tragedy

    • Yes, that's definitely a part of it. I do feel sorry for them to some degree, but it's really hard for me to understand that way of thinking when I am so very different!
      My recent post I Joined The Yakezie Challenge & A Writing Wrap Up

  11. I try my best not to get caught up in what others are doing with materialistic endeavors. Really, I'm interested in bettering my own life and being responsible. It makes no sense, when we think about it, to live for the approval of others. Live for our own needs, dreams, and happiness!
    My recent post Alternative Ways to Calculate Your Real Net Worth

    • Wise words, my friend! Everyone's life would definitely be much better off if we just worried about us and not what others think!
      My recent post I Joined The Yakezie Challenge & A Writing Wrap Up

  12. bluecollarworkman says:

    Agree! It's tough because when you see these types of people, you just assume they have it all. How could they not? They're all smiling and perfect! I usually get a little bit of that jealous anger thing happening, “Looks like someone likes to waste money” is what I”ll think. Really I should be doing what you say, which is, just staying cool. I don't know their deal and it doesnt' really matter. I just gotta think about my own deal and how much debt I've come out of!
    My recent post A Career Change Puts You Back at the Bottom

  13. Awesome post, Cat. I have plenty of friends who spend far more than I do, even though (I know) that they don't make as much AND they're carrying debt loads. Plenty of my friends have student debt, car loans (to finance their new cars) and small credit card balances. It looks like they have it all … but their net worth is negative.
    My recent post Forget the Steak. Create Your Own Sizzle.

  14. Great post Cat, I agree the jones' broke, the keeping up with the jones' in a consumer driven society is what is stealing our morality, integrity, and sense of giving! It's unfortunate, but we need to more emphasis on relationships and experiences rather than things. At least that is what I tell my wife!
    My recent post Residential Property Inspectors, I Question Their Motives?

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