The Darker Side of Keeping Up With The Joneses

Financial bloggers often speak of the downsides associated with keeping up with "The Joneses"; the folks who seem to be living that elusive "good life".

The thoughts go a little something like this:

  • You spend more than you intend to because they make you want things you hadn't even considered important.
  • You're never happy because you keep thinking about what they have that you don't.
  • You feel the need to get bigger and better versions of the newer things you own as soon as you see they've upgraded their lifestyle. 
  • You feel that, if you're a good provider like they appear to be, you need to be giving your family everything others are providing (education, leisure, experiences, material goods).
  • You feel that if you go to a good school you have a chance at a better life like theirs.
  • You never save enough because no one has their bank balance printed on their forehead but folks will sure notice that you're driving a beater or that you're not wearing the big brands.

If only that were the extent of the consequences associated with aspirational spending. The reality is that, for many, keeping up with "The Joneses" has far more dire consequences, as the movie of the same name clearly illustrates.

If you're lucky, you just feel unhappy most of the time because you simply can't feel content with what you have. For many, however, it doesn't stop there. Some of us experience:

  • Depression associated with seeking external validation of our self-worth;
  • Financial worry caused by a large and/or growing debt load or insufficient savings;
  • Strained family relationships caused by heavy work responsibilities associated with jobs that pay enough to maintain a given lifestyle;
  • Stress associated with procuring the lifestyle that lead to health issues
  • Fear of the potential shame associated with being found out as living above our means; and
  • Frustration and anger at never having "enough" that can lead to isolation and substance abuse.

If a few or many of the above manifests, it can even lead to the ultimate sacrifice: giving up your life to finally be free of the burden that you believe will never ease.

Suicidal thoughts are a reality for many and unfortunately, as many movies, documentaries, books and nearly 68 million hits on Google for "debt and suicide" elucidate, a significant number of people, and even families, follow through. 

Building Up Our Immunity

"The Joneses" are not bad people. They're part of our increasingly materialistic society and they don't know the damage they're causing. As a matter of fact, some of us are likely "The Joneses" to other people. What's worrisome is the effect "The Joneses" have on people who find themselves emotionally vulnerable. 

Becoming vulnerable to the lures of their lifestyle is easy if you feel you're not enough in your professional, personal, academic, family or social life. One small taste of affluence can easily make you want another hit. Soon, the small hits aren't enough and you want something bigger, better, badder. Affluenza is not much different than a heroin addiction when you really think about it.

How can we avoid the darker side of keeping up with "The Joneses"?

1. Identify the Problem & Stay Away!

First, we need to recognize the signs that we're dealing with this type of influence. If we find we're around people who are overly materialistic and make us want things, we need to stay away. Period. It may even mean that we're living in a toxic neighbourhood and we need to move.

2. Build A Financial Cushion

Second, we need to ensure that we have the financial wherewithal to address monetary slip ups, big and small, and that means having an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses to deal with unexpected high spending, emergencies, job loss and other events that can pull the carpet from under us and lead us to feel we don't have our life under control. Counterintuitively, money scarcity can often lead to more spending and/or poor performance at work that only serve to exacerbate the problem.

3. Invest In What Matters Most

Third, we also need to be vigilant and build up our immunity by staying mentally and physically healthy. We need to ensure we're taking care of ourselves by focusing on what really matters: the quality of our relationships, gratitude for what we have, our uniqueness as individuals, and our ability to continue to learn and develop. Interestingly enough, these activities have little to nothing to do with money and that means they're available to everyone.


If you're currently dealing with the darker side of this issue, please seek help.

When we feel we're in trouble, it's easy to think that our problems are bigger than they actually are and we don't have the mental bandwidth left to help ourselves. That's why asking for help is so important.

So please, talk to someone. Get some guidance. Get some help so you can get through it. Here are a few options, but there are a ton of additional resources out there*:

*If you know of a better resource, please let me know!

If you want to explore this issue further, here are some resources that might be of interest:

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