Why Keeping Up With The Joneses Will Make You Broke

I’m sure almost everyone at one point in their life has felt the need to keep up with the Joneses. Whether you are five years old and want that new toy everyone is playing with, or if you are 50 years old and are feeling the need to upgrade your house, car, etc., everyone has experienced it. The problem…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 12, 2024

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Why Keeping Up With The Joneses Will Make You BrokeI’m sure almost everyone at one point in their life has felt the need to keep up with the Joneses.

Whether you are five years old and want that new toy everyone is playing with, or if you are 50 years old and are feeling the need to upgrade your house, car, etc., everyone has experienced it.

The problem with this is that keeping up with the Joneses can actually make you broke.

VERY broke.

When trying to keep up with the Joneses, you might spend money you do not have. You might put expenses on credit cards so that you can (in a pretend world) “afford” things. You might buy things that you do not care about. The problems can go on and on.

This can then lead to an excessive amount of debt and potentially set someone back years with their financial goals, if not decades.

Keeping up with the Joneses will make you broke and unhappy because:

  • You will never be happy no matter how much money you spend.
  • You will constantly compare yourself to EVERYONE.
  • You will go into debt because that’s the only way you feel like you can keep up.
  • You will have a loan payment for everything because that’s the only way you can “afford” everything.
  • You won’t have any money leftover for retirement, an emergency fund, etc. because you’re spending it all on things you do not need.

Here are some things to think about if you want to live your own life and start ignoring the Joneses:

 

Are the Joneses broke?

WHO CARES?

You’ll never know how rich or poor the Joneses are, and honestly it shouldn’t matter to you. You don’t know the whole story behind the Joneses. They could be rich, they could be poor, they could be anything. Maybe they won the lottery, they were given the item for free as a gift, or something else. Maybe they coupon their brains out and that’s how they afford the things they have.

They also might just be putting everything on a credit card. They might be drowning in all different kinds of debt (house, car, student loans, etc.) and putting on a happy face for show.

Just because someone has a lot of material items and/or spends their money frivolously does not make them rich.

Stop wondering how they are paying for the things they have. Start living your own life and stop trying to live someone else’s.

The fact of the matter is that you do not know what the financial situation is. It shouldn’t matter to you anyways because you are supposed to be living your own life.

 

Figure out why you want to keep up with the Joneses.

One question that everyone needs to ask is WHY you want to keep up with the Joneses. What makes their life so much better that you feel the need to put your life on hold to mimic theirs?

Figuring out the answer to this question can help solve a lot of financial mysteries. Once you figure out why you have these feelings, you can come up with an action plan to stop. If you don’t, it will most likely just turn into a vicious cycle that constantly eats away at you until you become broke.

 

Think about your own life and your own goals.

What do you care about? You should only do what makes you happy. Just because another person loves buying the newest iPhone the second it comes out or loves having a new car, it doesn’t mean that you have to as well.

Everyone is different.

It doesn’t make your decision better or their decision better, it’s all about what is best for you, and whether or not it can fit in YOUR budget and if it lines up with YOUR goals.

 

Jealously won’t get you anywhere.

I used to be a fairly jealous person. I would come up with excuses for why things weren’t working out for me and why everyone else had all the newest things. Then I realized something…

Being jealous wasn’t doing me any good.

Instead, I was wasting time and wasting my own happiness. Being jealous about the things that other people have isn’t going to get you anywhere.

  • Don’t be jealous that your neighbor has a nicer house than you.
  • Don’t be jealous that your best friend just bought a nicer car than what you have.
  • Don’t be jealous that your cousin just went on a fantastic tropical vacation.

You don’t know their circumstances, and you have to realize that everyone values different things. Focus on yourself and bettering your own situation. Don’t be preoccupied with tearing others down and making them feel bad.

If you want something, then save up money and reach your own goals!

 

Live within your means.

The point I’m trying to get at with this whole entire post is that you should always aim to live within your means.

Have your own budget, spend money on things that you can afford (I don’t care if your neighbor can afford it even if you work just as hard as them), create your own financial goals, and more.

Do you try to keep up with the Joneses? Why or why not?

 


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. kammi

    Nope. I don’t keep up with them because I learned fairly early on that it’s tiring to keep up with that stuff. Plus, I’m a proponent of good taste and good craftsmanship; often the Joneses have NEITHER because ‘stuff’ is ‘stuff’, and good quality stuff takes TIME to make and maintain. I have more respect for a brilliant watch maker or piano maker or the pianist than the guy who has one sitting in his house and doesn’t play it at all (ack..you’re making it depreciate because pianos need to be PLAYED and TUNED!!) Plus, good stuff has to be taken in small doses, sparingly, so that you can appreciate each (would you crowd 1000 da Vinci paintings into a four by four foot room or would you space them out so that you can appreciate each, and maintain each properly?) I grew up with minimalist parents who have done pretty well, but they never cared for “stuff”. We care more about education (not in an academic sense, but self learning and expanding your mind) and relationships, which unfortunately can’t always be measured in things packed into a room or a new car.

    1. Kammi, I LOVE your comment. You said it perfectly. Glad you do not try to keep up with the Joneses.

  2. Oh I love this! I’m all about the “who cares” camp. I think it applies to all aspects of life–you’ve got to live your own life in a way that’s fulfilling for you, not according to someone else’s vision. And, keeping up with the Jonses will put you on an endless carousel of consumerism–there’s always something new to buy or lust after. Better to ignore it all to begin with!

    1. Thanks! Yes, I don’t get why people care so much!

  3. In my younger days I was really bad about this, but I think I hadn’t made enough developments as a person to understand what most important things in life are. Now I notice I’ll start to feel pangs of jealousy about once or twice a year and its usually because I’m really close to paying off a debt or I’ve recently said no to a major “want”. Whenever it happens I remind myself that every day I make a choice to do something differently than the people I’m envying–how can I stay jealous after reminding myself that I’m doing what I TRULY VALUE more??

    1. Thanks Brittany! Yes, you have a different life plan. Everyone does! 🙂

  4. I used to babysit for the Joneses. They live in a $900k house while the husband (doctor) is still paying off his student loans. They lease their cars and constantly overspend. I know they also didn’t even put down 10% when they bought their home. If something happens to the husband or his job, they are in big trouble. I know I would not feel secure in that situation at all. And without knowing all that you would think they were filthy rich based on appearances.

    1. Wow that is crazy! I wonder how they are doing behind the closed doors.

  5. Amy

    I’ve definitely been there, but you’re right that it can all be an illusion. And besides, let’s just worry about ourselves!

    1. Yes, it can all be an illusion, so trying to keep up with them can be a huge disaster.

  6. Super interesting!! I’ve never really cared what people think about me nor do I have a desire to shop all the time or always have the “latest and greatest” of everything. I would rather create memories with my family and live below our means! I will say, though, that there is a rental home I’ve been eyeing that would require us to break our current lease. While I know that’s not smart, it’s definitely a huge “want” of mine haha! Maybe that’s keeping up with the Joneses lol 🙂

    1. Haha I think if you truly want it, then that’s not really keeping up with the Joneses 🙂

  7. Travis @Debtchronicles

    The other thing about the Joneses is that they’re a moving target. Once you’ve “passed” one Jones family, there’s always another one around the corner that has more than you do. It’s a self-defeating cycle.

    1. Yes, exactly! It’s just neverending.

  8. I love this idea of “who cares” if the joneses are broke or really have enough to afford all those things. Just because someone else has something doesn’t dictate my own need for it.

  9. Dennis

    I’ve learned to be the one they had to keep up with early in my life. Then I realized (shortly after) that it was stupid of me to be doing such things. Now they are the ones that keep wasting money and I only purchase or acquire what’s needed and invest the rest.

    Definitely something to watch out for. It’s a trap!

    Great points Michelle! 🙂

  10. It so very true that we do not know what others circumstances are. I know of a couple that like in a gorgeous house, nice cars, out to eat all the time but it’s an illusion. They are one paycheck away from losing it all. If they are the Jones’ I don’t want to keep up with them.

    1. Very sad Tracy. I hope they learn from their mistakes.

  11. The funny thing is … we may each be The Jones to someone else. We all make choices that are right for our family and someone might be wondering how you did it! We don’t try to keep up with anyone but we are curious how families do the things they do … not out of jealousy or greed … just pure curiosity!

    1. Yup, you are correct!

  12. The cartoon in the middle is perfect! That pretty sums up the whole situation.

    1. Yeah, I saw it the other day and knew I had to make a blog post about this 🙂

  13. As Carrie at Careful Cents said, compare = despair. That phrase is really sticking with me because it’s natural to compare yourself or aspects of your life to others’, but it’s so dangerous! You can really get sucked into a downward spiral if you aren’t careful, which is why I loved that little phrase. Live for yourself and focus on what adds the most meaning and happiness to your life.

    1. Yes, you said it perfectly Natalie. Live for yourself and everyone will be much happier!

  14. Sounds like a good plan 🙂

  15. It’s enough of a challenge to take care of my own house let alone worry about what other people are doing. I don’t have time for that. As long as I focus on what’s best for my family I’ll be happy and all right financially in the end.

    1. Yes, exactly! Too much time is wasted wondering about other people.

  16. That cartoon is incredible! Absolutely sums up modern times.

    I’ve never concerned myself with what other people do, have or earn. My happiness has nothing to do with the standard of car that the person in the house next door to me has. This is the first time I’ve seen the response to the question of “Are the Joneses broke?” as being “I don’t care”. I couldn’t agree with this more. Great post!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you agree 🙂

  17. Adrienne

    Great post shell! I know for me I’ve never been too concerned with material possessions or anything like that, but after college I felt like there was a lot of pressure to “keep with the joneses” in the sense that I had to find a good job to keep up with everyone else my age.

    Now I’ve found myself unhappy with my current job, but am working hard to find something I enjoy more regardless of whether it comes with a pay increase or not.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Adrienne! I’m excited to see what you choose to do next 🙂

  18. The problem with keeping up with the Joneses is that most people try to keep up with ALL the Joneses and that can get out of hand really quick.

    1. Yes, that definitely gets out of hand quickly. AH!

  19. Mrs. Maroon

    I have been guilty of comparing and judging myself based on others in the past. I have since had some sense knocked in to me by Mr. Maroon. I still want to shake some of my family members though when I see how much they let that kind of comparison affect them.

    One way to look at it is with an ‘attitude of gratitude’. Your situation could always be worse – so instead of focusing on what you don’t have, concentrate on what you do. Seems especially appropriate considering the time of year that is quickly approaching.

    1. Yeah, having the attitude of gratitude is always a great think. Love that phrase!

  20. I don’t try to keep up with Joneses. I could care less about them. As long as I’m happy, I’m good.

  21. I absolutely love the graphic that you included with this post. We have no idea what’s going on with people and we make a lot of assumptions based on looks. It’s food for thought.

    1. Yeah I found that image and I knew I had to include it somehow!

  22. I think everyone naturally tries to keep up with their peers. It’s not always a bad thing, as it can spur someone into action to get done with college and start a career, or to push themselves to a higher level in their work or field. But yes, it can create financial havoc and it’s better to live within your means – key word “your.” It’s hard to keep up with people who are willing to either spend beyond their means or whose means are much higher than you.

    1. Yes, I agree. It’s not always a bad thing if it can result in motivation to do better.

  23. I’ve learned to stop caring about what everyone thinks and to just do my own thing. Makes like 1,000 times easier. I hope your old boss and his wife figure that out eventually.

  24. I love the “who cares?!” attitude! I know I’m in a MUCH better financial situation than most people out there but if I wanted to, I could easily look around and find people who are better off than I am. The graphic is awesome, you really have no idea what people’s situation is. Great post, Michelle!

    1. Thanks Charlotte 🙂

  25. I think the Joneses are probably broke, but like you said, who cares? That envy will keep people broke. It’s sad really. My wife and I were able to become debt-free because we chose to not care about what people thought of us…and actually people ended up coming to us for advice more than judging us for driving old cars and living in a small mobile home while we were paying off debt. Funny how that works!

  26. When I used to live in Atlanta, I seen so many people living above their means just in order to keep up with the Joneses. It made me sick to my stomach as I know that most of these people could not afford their current lifestyle and probably living paycheck to paycheck. Only if they knew.

    1. Yes, only if they knew! It is truly sad.

  27. I’ve never understood the need to keep up with the Joneses. I think the Joneses are flat broke or swimming in debt, like most of the other commenters. Something that I consider “keeping up with the Joneses” that people don’t realize is the madness surrounding weddings. Just because someone’s cousins or friends had huge, expensive weddings makes them feel pressured to keep up and throw something similar, so people aren’t disappointed or assume they are cheap. I hate this concept and worry how it will impact my family when I get married, because I want simple, and I think they will be more concerned with what other people think. Such a shame.

  28. natalie

    Hi,
    this is so true. I’ve actually never felt any inclination to keep up with anyone, least of all my neighbours! But weirdly my father does – he talked for a long time recently about the neighbour getting a brand new car and how it was better than his and so on. Not long after that, guess what? Yep, he got a new car. One that he deemed “better” than the neighbours. Somehow, this made me him feel much better and I find that very sad indeed :/

  29. I think that we all have this behavior pattern inside of us, but we have the choice to either “Keep Up With The Joneses” or be who you are and live life for yourself. We don’t need to prove our worth to anyone else, there is only one person we prove our worth to, ourselves. Once you understand the underlying mechanism that is controlling it all, you can then free yourself.