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Keeping Up With the Joneses Meaning – Don’t Waste Your Time

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?

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.! Of course, you don’t want to keep up with the Jones family as much as you think you want to. But trust me, I see what they are too embarrassed to tell you…

A Brief Background of Keeping Up With the Joneses’ Meaning

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

Keeping Up With The Joneses: The Bad Habit That Costs You Money

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.

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, the desirable homes, in a desirable neighborhood. The nice new car. Expensive vacations we see on social media.  

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

Keeping up with the Joneses

Keeping Up With the Joneses 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.

  • 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.

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!!!


Bullet Points:

Keeping Up with the Joneses
  • The idiom Keeping Up With The Joneses originated with a comic strip in the early 1900s
  • 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 the Jones family 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. 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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
  • Social media has made this so much worse! You see many of your’ friends’ on these expensive vacations, driving fancy new cars, upgrading to desirable homes in desirable neighborhoods, or other material items.
    • 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 insta
    • 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 (2%) 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 the Joneses 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 HS 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.   The 17 Most Popular Budgeting Apps
  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.
  15. Start with the BASICS – and a great way to start is to follow Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps

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

Backstory – The Origins of The Idiom Keeping Up With the Joneses

Need Versus Want keeping up with the joneses meaning
  • Creator Arthur Morman in 1913 as a newspaper comic strip
  • Summary: the Boston Globe comic strip was a comedy about the McGinnis family who tried to keep up with their numbers, the Joneses. The cartoons were based on Normand’s life on Long Island of living beyond their means.
  • The title and story of a family struggling to “keep up” with the neighbors resonated with people, and the “phrase keeping up with the Joneses” quickly became a common catchphrase.
  • Parody of American conspicuous consumption driven lifestyle.
  • Inspired by the book The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen (click title to download a free copy)
  • It is still a popular phrase over 100 years later:
    • TV SHOW with Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fischer, a suburban couple who think their new neighbors are secret agents.
    • 2009 comedy directed by Derrick Borte featuring Demi Moore and David Duchovny – move to suburbs acting like an average family, but in reality were secretly product marketers, trying to get all of their neighbors to keep up with the Joneses. It instead leads to families breaking up and debt.

Keeping up with the Joneses Comic Archives

1920s American Economic Literature: A study of the depiction of economic theory and the influences of economic affairs in Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, concerning The Theory of the Leisure Classes by Thorstein Veblen

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Michael Ryan
Michael Ryanhttps://michaelryanmoney.com/
A former stockbroker, financial planner, and owner of my own financial planning practice and then a property & casualty agency. I have since retired and decided I want to help individuals and business owners by offering personal financial coaching. And now, I have started my blog - www.michaelryanmoney.com - to bring financial literacy to everyone. In a short time I have already been quoted and featured in US News & World Report, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, and more (https://michaelryanmoney.com/home/press/) As a financial planner, I helped people from all walks of life. If you have questions about money, I will help you find the answers at www.MichaelRyanMoney.com
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