Are you tired of keeping up with the Joneses?
Do you need to stop pretending like you’re a Kardashian on Instagram? Cuss you ain’t. (Sorry, not sorry).
In the age of social media, having “followers” is a measure of your success; posting filtered pictures with edited text, we project an image of happiness for the world to see, but it’s not a complete picture.
Immersed in these highlights of other people’s lives, it’s hard not to wonder why yours doesn’t look that way, but the truth is that no one does. Once we realize what’s behind the curtain, it’s a little easier to let go of envy and focus on what you have instead of “Keeping up with the Joneses”.
Who Are “The Joneses”?
While the actual name comes from an old comic strip, the idea is universal; it’s your fictional neighbor with more money and nicer things than you that you’re constantly trying to keep up with. It’s your peer group – whether it be your college friends, your coworkers or your social circle, the “Joneses” are the people that have the success you wish you had.
Whether it looks, possessions, a career or money that you envy, these people have something you don’t, and you’re willing to spend money you don’t have to obtain it. Your friend invited you on an expensive trip but you don’t want to admit that you can’t afford it, so you go anyway; you see your classmates doing well and you wonder why you’re so behind; the idea presents itself in different ways, but we’ve all fallen prey to it in some way.
Why Do We Care?
It’s human nature to want to compare yourself to others, and with constant glimpses into the lives of others via social media, it’s become easier than ever to do just that. There’s an intangible but very real social pressure to be “successful,” but success means something different to everyone.
Whether your weakness is weekend brunches or the latest technology, all of us have succumbed to this social pressure in some way; buying things we don’t need to maintain a certain standard of “success”. The problem for all of us on a budget is that this mindset is holding us back from achieving our financial goals. If you’re spending money you don’t have to keep up with your friends, you’re essentially stealing from yourself – that was money that could have gone towards paying down your debt so that you can actually afford that lifestyle in the future.
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We all want what we don’t have, but the dirty little secret is that the Jones’ likely can’t afford those nice things either; according to recent studies, over 125 million Americans carry credit card debt, totaling over $504 billion as of 2017. Your friends across the street might have a new car in their driveway, but it’s unlikely that they actually “own” it in the truest sense of the word.
While debt has become “normal” in our society, what it means is actually something very bizarre – the idea that we are paying someone else interest for fronting us the money to buy something is a strange concept when you actually stop to think about it. Why pay extra for something I want now, instead of just waiting until I have the money to pay for it myself? The answer is instant gratification; being patient is hard, but I would argue that a mountain of debt is harder.
Breaking the Cycle
While it’s easy to get caught in the cycle of buying things you can’t afford to impress other people, the only way to live like those people can’t is to STOP. Stop trying to keep up, and instead spend your money getting out of debt, so that you can truly afford the life you lead and plan for a future where money isn’t holding you back.
Rather than thinking of what other people “have”, ask yourself whether you want their payments & debt… the answer is probably a resounding “no”. I find that as soon as I hear someone else’s problems, I would gladly choose to keep my own.
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Outwardly, most people like to have the appearance of success, but many of those same people are facing mountains of debt to maintain that image. The new cars and clothes are a source of instant gratification, but also a source of lasting stress. The payments pile up, the stress seeps into other areas of your life, and before you know it you’re surrounded by stuff that is no longer new and shiny, but you’re still left paying for it.
It can be hard to cut yourself off from the luxuries you’ve come to take for granted, but the alternative is continuing to spend your hard-earned money paying someone else interest. Every day you carry a balance is more money going to lenders, and less money in your pocket to spend as you wish. So now for the harsh truth…
Ladies, if you have credit card debt, I’m sorry but you can’t afford to get your nails done.
Guys, if you’re paying off your car, I’m sorry but should you really be buying that new video game console?
The harsh truth is that if you are in debt, you simply can’t afford to spend money on luxuries if you ever want to get ahead. In our “treat yo’self” society we’re taught that you deserve these things, but the reality is that deserving something has absolutely nothing to do with being able to afford it.
Things You Can Live Without
I’ve found that the idea of changing your lifestyle is often harder than the reality. Obviously giving up your morning coffee (without which you can’t function as a human being) seems impossible, but consider giving up some less vital conveniences first and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to live without a few of them.
It’s amazing how much we don’t miss it. With so many cheap streaming services available, most people like watching their shows without commercials anyway. It’s also had a nice side effect, which is that we watch less TV and get outside more!
Magazines, clothing, wine, etc. – these are luxury items. While the convenience factor is nice, anything you actually need can be purchased at a store when it’s needed, instead of arriving at your door (and winding up forgotten in a closet somewhere).
This covers everything from getting your nails done to having your car detailed. Ask yourself what’s really necessary – do you need to pay salon prices for a mani/pedi? Try doing your nails at home instead! Do you own a sponge and a bucket? Wait for a nice day and wash your car yourself!
BONUS: Doing these things on your own often causes you to treat your possessions (and yourself) with more care – instead of complaining about a chipped nail or a missed spot, you’ll find yourself taking pride in the work you’ve done yourself!
While some travel can’t be avoided, vacationing outside your budget is a quick and easy way to dig yourself further into debt. Budget for your trip and figure out what you can (and can’t) afford; a tropical getaway might sound nice, but a budget-friendly camping trip is often just as rejuvenating, and doesn’t break the bank.
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5. Eating Out
This one is my own personal downfall and one I am still working on, but it’s still improved tenfold over what it used to be. Going out every now and then should be a treat to celebrate a special occasion, but eating out constantly cheapens the excitement of it. Most people don’t realize how much they spend each month eating out, so I encourage you to track it for the next month – I promise you’ll be shocked.
Since eating out has been tricky for me to give up, I remind myself that this isn’t an exercise in self-denial, but a practice in self-control. I still partake in the occasional happy hour, but I limit myself to the happy hour menu and one drink. My husband and I still order take out occasionally, but we keep it within reason and plan more of our meals at home. Remind yourself that this is about progress over perfection – you don’t have to cut yourself off entirely, but make choices with your future in mind!
Once you’ve started paring down the unnecessary conveniences in your life, the next step is to keep track of everything you’re saving and put that money towards your debt. Saving $120 on the cable bill only to spend it on a new phone would be a waste – this only works if you’re putting the money you’re saving towards your debt!
***HINT: Another great place to look for savings is in your monthly bills; go through each of them and call around for comparisons. Many times if you talk to your current company to tell them you’re thinking of switching, they’ll work with you to lower your payments (and if not, go for the cheaper option!) – even a few dollars a month adds up over time!
The Bottom Line
In the age of social media, we are immersed in the highlights of other people’s lives; we see their perfect photos and think we’re somehow lacking when our life doesn’t measure up. Remind yourself that these are indeed highlights, and behind the scenes, it’s often a different story. Instead of comparing yourself with others, take a look at your own life and remember what you’re grateful for.
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Cutting back on your expenses can be tough, but rather than seeing it as giving things up, try to keep in mind that you’re bringing it back to basics so that you can live the life you want for yourself and your family.
The temptation to give into instant gratification is powerful, but you’re worth more than that, and so is your future!
Are you over keeping up with the Joneses?
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