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Stop! Keeping Up With the Joneses Meaning & Origin – The Joneses Are Broke

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Did you ever feel like you are making decent money but can’t keep up? You are not alone. We all occasionally envy the homes and cars of our friends and acquaintances. But what does the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” mean? What is the origin of the idiom?

As a financial planner, I have seen the deepest details of all of your neighbor’s finances. And it’s about time I share a dirty little secret with you- it’s not pretty. The Joneses are broke! And you should never go broke to impress others.

Between the psychology of social media, the mentality of FOMO (fear of missing out) and trying to live like the Joneses – I understand.

In this article we will go through the origins of the phrase, the meaning, and I will share some real world experience as a retired financial planner.

Key Takeaways: Keeping Up With the Joneses Meaning & Origin

The Origins of the Phrase Keeping Up With THe Jones
  • Keeping up with the Joneses” is a phrase that refers to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.
  • The origin of the phrase is often attributed to a comic strip of the same name created by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand, which was first published in 1913. The comic strip depicted the social climbing McGinis family, who struggled to keep up with their neighbors, the Joneses. The Joneses were never actually shown in the comic, but they were often referenced.
  • This comic strip reflected a societal trend of the time where people were increasingly aspiring to maintain the same level of wealth and social status as those around them, particularly their neighbors.
  • This phrase has since become a common idiom, used to describe the actions of people who try to keep up with their peers in terms of spending and lifestyle, often stretching their means to do so.

Feel free to jump to the above section you are most interested in first. But I would suggest you read the article through.

A Brief Background of Keeping Up With the Joneses’ Meaning

The story of the financially strapped Joneses

The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” refers to the concept of trying to match the material possessions and lifestyle of one’s neighbors or peers, often spending beyond one’s means in order to do so. This idiom dates back to the early 20th century and originates from a comic strip series in the New York Globe called “Keeping Up With the Joneses” (1913-1940).

The comic followed the lives of the wealthy McGinis family, who were constantly struggling to keep up with their equally affluent neighbors, the Joneses. While originally used to satirize upper-class social competitiveness, the phrase became widely known and applied more broadly over time.

The central concepts encoded in the idiom keeping up with the Joneses—conspicuous consumption, status anxiety, wealth inequality—relate closely to broader academic fields like social psychology, sociology, economics, and consumer culture theory.

Related Reading:

Who Are the Joneses That We Are Trying to Keep Up With?

  • The Joneses are your friends, coworkers, children’s friends, and parents.
  • They are acquaintances, such as people from church, your social clubs, and people in your neighborhood.
  • They are people you don’t know that you see on social media, a stranger who is well dressed and has a nice car or house.
  • They can even be characters on a TV show.
The economics of the Jones Family

Most importantly, when trying to keep up with the Joneses, what we mean is that we are trying to keep up with their lifestyle. We look at the Joneses as a wealthy family who has social status. The larger houses in a desirable neighborhood. The nice new car. Expensive vacations we see on social media.  

It’s usually just a facade. The difference is that their living expenses are just much higher – credit card debt and high car loans and mortgage payments. Typically they have a low credit score. It’s all about conspicuous consumption for them.

I know, you are rolling your eyes. Remember, I was a financial planner for many, many years. I saw under their hood – very few people know better than me. Your neighbors don’t have as much money as you think thye do.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Keeping Up With the Joneses – The Origin 

Jones is a very popular surname, 5th most popular last name in the US. Odds are you know one, probably even a friend or neighbor.

So why do we try to keep up with the Joneses? They may look rich, successful, and happy – but this is how you spell Jones; “b-r-o-k-e .” They appear well off, but even though their grass lawn may literally be greener – it comes at a cost.

Our motivations for trying to keep up with our neighbors and friends financially

Some examples of celebrities who have filed for bankruptcy include:

  1. Burt Reynolds: The successful star faced financial challenges after an expensive divorce.
  2. Perez Hilton: The celebrity blogger declared bankruptcy in 2005 after accumulating credit card debt.
  3. Lenny Dykstra: The former center fielder filed for bankruptcy, was later indicted on bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement charges, and served time in prison.
  4. Dionne Warwick: The singer filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2013.
  5. Michael Jackson: Went from being a top musician with great wealth to bankruptcy and debt
  • Fun Fact, the author of the comic strip that originated the term in 1913 said he wanted to call it “Keeping up With The Smith’s,” but it didn’t have the same ring to it.  

We want what we don’t have to impress people we probably don’t even like

The sad state of Finances and the Joneses that we are trying to keep up with:

  • 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck
  • They don’t have any money saved – 66 percent don’t have cash in case of an emergency; less than $1,000 in cash/bank accounts. 
  • Less than 1 in 3 (32%) stick to a strict budget.
  • More people (56%) save $100 or less per month than save over $100 per month.
  • More than 1 in 4 do not save ANY money each month.
  • Nearly ¾ say they are in debt today, and more than half believe they will always be in debt.
  • These problems persist across all income levels, not just those with low incomes.
  • Even top earners have been struggling to make ends meet – those earning $250,000 or more, 36% reported living paycheck to paycheck.
Consequences of trying to keep up with the Joneses

What does that all mean? Does that mean your neighbor that you envy driving that nice car? 8 out of 10 of them can’t afford it. But it impresses you, so maybe it’s worth it for them?

Want an easy way to save money? Try the viral cash stuffing envelope trick!!!

WHAT DOES KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES MEAN

Keeping Up with the Joneses
  • Keeping up with the Jones meaning? Comparing your peers or neighbors for what goods and lifestyle upgrades you think YOU should have
  • So many people are trying to keep up with their friends and neighbors without realizing it.
  • It can snowball very quickly and lead to LIFESTYLE CREEP!!
  • Your income is growing, but you are still living paycheck to paycheck. Learn what to do with a pay raise to avoid this.
  • Why do we try to keep up with the Jones family? To ‘impress’ others, it’s not about yourself.
  • It is human nature to want to live like others and be socially accepted. It is normal to think the grass is greener and grow your social status. To think, “If they have it, I deserve it too.”
  • We want to keep up with peers and feel like we are successful in life. It is human nature to feel the need to have OTHERS look up to and respect us—Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.

Personal Story: It reminds me of a story when my teenage son went for his annual physical and asked the doctor what he could do to be taller. She said he was average height, but he kept insisting. He finally told her that all of his friends are 6’3″ and 185 pounds. She smirked and said, “Get shorter, friends

The moral of the story? So if your friends make you feel inadequate for what you don’t have – don’t change who you are, but consider new friends…  

Keeping up with the joneses
  • A lot of keeping up with the Joneses is about our ego or peer pressure. The fear of missing out (FOMO), wanting to have the best, drives our natural desire to “spend to impress.”
rich people private jet
  • Six Ways to Get More Happiness for Your Money
    • Remember that social media is other people’s highlight reels of life. Did you ever see a couple smile for a selfie, then instantly go back to their frowns and bury their faces into their own phones… Exactly – but the picture looks great on instagram.
    • How dangerous is social media to wanting to keep up with the Joneses? Almost four in 10 US adults with a social media account (39%) say that seeing other people’s purchases and vacations online makes them look into a similar purchase or vacation.  
    • One in four US adults with a social media account (25%) were left feeling jealous after seeing someone’s post about a purchase or vacation online in the past year.
  • It’s normal to want material items. It’s normal to wonder why you are falling behind, what you are doing wrong, or missing out on. What makes it worse? We are bombarded with ads daily, and it is one click away.
  • It is normal and okay to spend money. You just need to prioritize where and how you spend your money – life is short ENJOY IT
  • The problem with keeping up with other peoples material items, is that you are falling into the same financial trap that the Joneses are falling into—living beyond their means, not saving money, not investing in the future, and adding more debt.
  • At one point we all fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the Joneses. It usually starts in high school when social pressure is at its highest. And again, a few years after we start our careers, the third wave is when you start having kids and trying to keep up with other parents. The last wave is when you retire and try to keep up with your other retired friends.
Keeping Up With the Joneses Cartoon

Why Do We Want to Be Like The Joneses?

Warning – Nothing Good Comes From Keeping Up With The Joneses

Appearances Can Be Deceiving
  • Human nature and psychology. We all want to show off our successes and have what others have.
  • We unconsciously and irrationally look around others to confirm our social and economic status.  Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist says the animal brain often takes over when it comes to money and comparing ourselves to those around us.
  • We make poor financial decisions and try to appear wealthier than we are – which ironically causes us to become less financially secure over time.
  • Materialism Addiction Syndrome – we need materialism and instant gratification.
  • Behind closed doors, though, each family and individual has their issues and struggles around money. Money and all that it affords don’t truly bring fulfillment, and constantly comparing ourselves to others only creates misery in our lives.

Six Ways to Get More Happiness for Your Money

The Truth Is The Joneses Are Broke!!

First off, does it even matter if Joneses are broke? The key point I want you to get from this long article is – to be happy with what you have. Be happy with what your friends have.  

But at the same time, you must know – there is a very good chance that keeping up with the Joneses will make YOU broke. And a good chance that the Jones are heading down a path to being broke themselves.

The Broke Joneses
  • Short-term wants and the need for instant gratification overtake the concerns of consumer debt when the thought is, “ehh, the car payment is only an extra $100 per month”.
  • Then an emergency comes up or a job loss. Not many share that bad news with the world. But we all have a few friends who love to complain all the time about how the world is always working against them – and we tend to try to avoid those people. The Joneses are much more fun, though…
  • But the people you are trying to keep up with our most likely broke… Or struggling.
  • Look at all the stats I mentioned at the beginning of the article. 17% consider themselves “financially vulnerable” or struggling in all parts of their financial lives, 20% earning $30-100,000 say they spend more than they earn.
Live like no one else now today, so that you can live like no one else tomorrow.

It’s futile to try to keep up with the Joneses. Someone will raise the bar even further when you believe you are getting close. A newer, cooler one is released as soon as you purchase the most current device or gadget.

After remodeling your kitchen, a new house trend emerges, making you feel a little out of date. Based on what you want and can afford, make your financial decisions, not what you feel you should do to keep up.

A Finacial Planners Advice: How To Avoid Trying To Keep Up With The Joneses 

definition of envy
  1. First, become conscious of your spending. Why do I want this? Will I be happier if I have two more of X? Will THAT be ENOUGH or will I still want more of something else?
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others. The “success” you think others have, may not be what it appears. TRUST ME ON THIS – I have thirty years of looking at your neighbors finances.
  3. Learn to live within your means. What do you value financially? What are YOUR priorities? 
  4. Wants vs. Needs list – Plan for the things that make you happy.  What do you want? When and how important is it to you? No one cares more about your finances than YOU do.
  5. Be patient, but be ready. You want to replace your car next year – find out what car you would want, now. Keep an eye on sales. Or go in and make a deal with a salesman – this is exactly what I want, this is how much I will pay, not a penny over. “When you are short of your quota by one car, call me.”  I bought my favorite car on a New Years’ eve that way and saved THOUSANDS of dollars. I loved and still miss that car…
  6. Be the Joneses by NOT keeping up with the Joneses. Have everything YOU WANT, not what they want. But get them on your terms. Don’t go broke trying to keep with the Joneses, because their credit card balances are nothing to envy. Again, trust me – I’ve seen them when they have come in asking me for my financial advice.
  7. Stuff” is a temporary high or happiness. Stuff plus money in the bank is even better!
  8. Stop living beyond your means – no more spending more than you are earning.
  9. Track your spending and expenses. Here are the best budgeting apps to use, free and paid.
  10. It’s okay to treat yourself without guilt. Just do it smarter, and you will be proud instead of guilty. My wife wanted a juicer – I found the top-of-the-line juicer for the cost of a mid-range one. It was amazing; I did everything. Even collected dust better than other juicers after three months…
  11. Unfollow materialistic influencers – do you have anything to gain by knowing what a Kardashian wants to sell you?
  12. Consider unfollowing “friends” who constantly need to flaunt what they have. don’t let what others have to diminish your happiness. Be happy for them, but don’t be jealous. Just remind yourself that they are likely spending and not saving… Be Warren Buffet, who still lives in the same house.
  13. DECLUTTER AND SELL YOUR S#IT on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Offerup, eBay, etc.
  14. CREATE A BUDGET NOW
  15. Start with the BASICS – and a great way to start is to follow Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps
A Cautionary Tale

Don’t you think you can do it? 

Don’t you think you WANT to do it? 

Try it for a year. One year. 

See if you return to your old ways – I guarantee you won’t.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (04 April 1913)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey breaks down average Americans spending in detail, and you can even filter the data by different demographics. It’s a great way to see how your spending compares to the average American.

If your goal is to be in a debt spiral, don’t change a thing. But, on the other hand, if your goal is to be debt-free and stress free – take the road less traveled.

The benefits?

  1. You will be in control, not letting others control your choices.
  2. You will be confident and less stressed.
  3. Your financial  goals, not others, will drive you.
  4. You will teach your kids the vital financial literacy they need to be successful, lifelong habits of success

Next Steps – The Origins of The Idiom Keeping Up With the Joneses

Need Versus Want keeping up with the joneses meaning

Ultimately, sound personal finance comes down to living within your means, prioritizing needs over wants, and balancing short-term and long-term goals. By following the practical budgeting strategies, smart saving and investing habits, and sensible lifestyle adjustments covered in this article, you can take control of your finances.

Gain peace of mind knowing every dollar is working optimally for you.

What resonated most with your current financial situation and goals? Did any spending changes or investing approaches spark inspiration or raise further questions?

I invite you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending me a direct message. Connecting with others pursuing financial independence keeps us all motivated and accountable.

With over a decade of experience advising clients on budgets, debt payoff plans, retirement strategies and more, I’m here as your trusted partner for all things personal finance. Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter using the form below – I regularly share additional money tips and insights exclusive to subscribers.

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Michael Ryan
Michael Ryanhttps://michaelryanmoney.com/
Who Am I? I'm Michael Ryan, a retired financial planner turned personal financial coach. And author and found of blog. My advice is backed by decades of hands-on experience in finance and recognition in esteemed publications like US News & World Report, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. 'here'. Find answers to your financial questions, from budgeting to investing and retirement planning, on my blog michaelryanmoney.com. My mission is to democratize financial literacy for all.