WEALTH MATTERS: Keeping up with the Joneses will leave you unhappy and likely broke

Metroland Media:  By Randy Cass

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

We all know that friend, neighbour, family member, or co-worker, who seems to have it all – the house, the car, the jobs, the kids, the clothes, the jewelry, the vacations, and everything in-between. While some don’t care that their neighbour pulled up in a new BMW, there are those who see the BMW pull up to the curb and are suddenly compelled to go get one for themselves. As you’ve probably heard the saying before, it’s called “keeping up with the Joneses.”

The classic idiom refers to the comparison you make between you and your neighbour, or whomever, as a benchmark for social class and the collection of material possessions. Failing to keep up with the Joneses is a no-no, and is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.

Here’s the catch – keeping up with the Joneses will make you unhappy, and most likely broke. Especially these days, where the Kardashians are the modern day version of the Joneses, and a pair of new Levi’s blue jeans have been replaced with Chanel bags (how did that happen?). So what do you do, compare your life with Mr. Jones and spend to relieve your feelings of inadequacy and failure to be “as rich”, or live within your means and pass on the next shopping trip that’s sure to drain your emergency fund savings?

Competition is a strong motivator for man. Everyone wants the smallest phone, the most exotic vacation spot, or the newest iPad (because who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Kirk aboard the Starfleet). But remember, wants are not needs. Coveting a lifestyle that’s not your own can lead to excessive consumption and spending. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, consumers usually shop when they’re feeling sad – an emotion strongly associated to feelings having to do with a lack of control. In short, a fundamental reason we enjoy spending money is because it allows us to feel in control over our lives, even when we’re not.

You’re never going to know how wealthy or poor the Joneses are because you don’t know the whole story. Perhaps they won the lottery, were given gifts, or maybe they go to town couponing. It shouldn’t matter to you, because numerous people driving around in their fancy cars (like the Joneses), or with the newest Apple iPhone are actually deeply in debt. Just because someone has an abundance of material items or spends their money on “wants” does not mean they are wealthy.

It’s easy to forget about your own achievements and goals when you’re so focused on someone else’s, but by doing so you’re doing yourself a gigantic disservice. The Joneses may have a fancy car today, but no retirement savings for the future. You may have a basic car, but a growing retirement fund. If that’s the case, the Joneses should be concerned about keeping up with you.

Having too many dollars and not enough sense to know where to put them is not something to be envious of. Rather than focusing on someone else’s financial situation, spend that energy on your own situation. Figure out your goals, and achievements, then see if they have anything to do with Mr. Jones. Chances are, they won’t.