How To Get Past The “Keeping Up With The Joneses” Mentality

This weekend, we’re staying at an exquisite estate owned by relatives of my wife. It’s a gorgeous house, gorgeous land, and well-kept, too. In other words, it’s enough to bring out those little bits of jealousy within me – it would be truly amazing to live here.

Not too long ago, I would have consoled myself by buying something fabulously expensive and showing it off to others, like a neat gadget or something, and it was that mentality that helped lead me down a path of financial collapse. Now I realize that having such things isn’t something that should drive me crazy with jealously and cause me to spend foolishly, but I can use it as motivation for the right kind of financial planning.

Here are some ways to get past the desire to keep up with the Joneses, or at the very least cause it to fuel sound financial planning.

Be honest about the socioeconomic differences between yourself and the person you’re looking at. In many cases, they’ve simply made much more money in their lives than you have, and thus you have some work to put in before you can get those trappings that you desire. Is it reasonable to think that you should have the same home as Bill Gates? No, it’s not. How about Warren Buffett? Keep following that same thought line and soon it will become clear why some people can afford nicer homes and items than others. Instead of wanting what they have now, look at the aspects of your own life that you can improve: education, personal development, and so on.

Don’t compare yourself with people much older than you. I have a great aunt that lives in a fabulous house that’s gorgeously decorated, but she’s twice as old as I am and has been in the work force for much longer. I’m currently doing as well as she is right now and thus over my life I should be able to catch up and surpass her. Instead of wanting what someone else has now, set a goal to have what that person has at that stage in your life.

Know what’s really important to you and don’t worry about the rest. The central focus of my life is my family, so I’m willing to forego some of the trappings that I could afford right now in order to give them a nice life. Instead of filling yourself with desire for the things someone else has, ask yourself what is really central to your own life and follow that instead.

Estimate how much debt the Joneses have. This is perhaps the most powerful exercise for me. Whenever I see someone with elegant trappings, I ask myself how much debt they likely have, and when I start running some numbers, I usually get very squeamish. Living this life, I realize, would leave me without much freedom at all: I would just keep walking forward, day after day, like a soldier going to war. My life right now affords me some freedom; if I decided I wanted to change careers, I could, or if something happened, everything would not fall apart. Instead of lusting after all the material goods, do a thumbnail sketch of their debt and imagine your life with that sort of debt load.

Good luck with not keeping up with the Joneses.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...