Keeping Up With The Joneses In The Digital Age Comments63 Comments

As the internet has evolved and we truly enter the digital age as a society, the biggest enemy of our personal finances has been quietly growing stronger and stronger. No it’s not inflation. It’s not government taxes. It’s something much less obvious. It’s those pesky Joneses!

It might seem innocent enough when you are on Facebook browsing through their vacation photos or reading about their great new house/car/boat/tv. Meanwhile it is pushing your savings to the edge of a dangerous precipice.

After all, you’ve worked very hard and you’re a good person. So why shouldn’t you deserve all that awesome stuff too?

Why The Joneses Are Stronger Than Ever

The problem is not that there are many more Joneses today or that they are wealthier than in the past. The real problem is how they have found more ways to infiltrate our lives.

Since we are more connected than ever, it is inevitable that those social networks include people who are wealthier or at least appear to be. Unless the Joneses in your circles are quite humble, they are bound to be mentioning things that are only attainable with a lot of money.

In the past, wealth classes were much more segregated. The rich lived in the expensive neighborhoods and exclusivity was a big part of many social gatherings. As a result, the less wealthy were somewhat ignorant of how much more rich people possessed and how they lived.

Sure people might have had a rich relative or boss, but without the rampant online boasting, modesty was a much more valued trait. Even if you were exposed to the excesses of the rich, it wasn’t likely something you were reminded of so frequently.

The other major factor is the media. The limited media platforms meant that the focus was on actual news and not so much what celebrities are doing, wearing, buying and so on. Limited media also meant less advertising of sought after luxuries.

Today all of that stuff is present on a daily basis.

It’s Not Just The Devil You Know

Speaking of celebrities, they are often the other Joneses that we are always reminded of. In their case though, their wealth and possessions are so extreme, that it is easier to overlook.

Random strangers on the street, in the mall or in a club can all create a degree of jealousy in people. Most of us are just naturally envious of others. The grass always seems greener on the other side.

Even fellow bloggers might be proud to tell people about a large amount of savings, a high salary, a nice new car or other riches.

So it’s not just people within your circle that can get you wanting more.

The Joneses Are Really The Minority

Remember that if you’re reading this post you are likely above average wealth. You are probably on your own computer with high speed internet. You are much better off than a high percentage of the world’s population. No matter what your financial situation, there are bound to be lots of people who are both richer and poorer than you.

The ones in a more dire situation are just more quiet about their finances. So it just seems like there are more people richer than you.

Of course, the Joneses shouldn’t really be your enemies. There are plenty of benefits to networking with those that are wealthier and you don’t want to neglect current acquaintances just because they are doing well. You just have to establish a rational view of the situation. You need to accept that some people will have more than you. Also you have to learn to be content with what you do have.

The true enemy for your financial future is really your own envy. The better you can deal with that envy, the better your finances will be.

Do you let the Joneses affect your financial decisions? Or are you able to focus primarily on your own finances?

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By : Jeremy Biberdorf | 14 May 2012
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63 thoughts on “Keeping Up With The Joneses In The Digital Age

    1. Jeremy

      Yep, it’s best to just avoid that trouble and not worry about how well other people are doing. Everyone takes a different financial journey. It’s a race against yourself and not against anyone else.

      Reply
  1. Jordann

    I’ve definitely fallen prey to the Joneses. It happened to me more in University, I’m better at saying no now. In University, it seemed like all of my friends went to school on their parent’s dime, spent all of their time partying, and only did enough work to keep their parents off their back.
    This contrasted sharply with my situation, I paid my own way. I tried to live like them, which resulted in a lot more student debt than I probably should have had.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      In college that is particularly tough to avoid. Then you are seeing firsthand what everyone else is enjoying. It’s hard not to spend the money to take part in all those things too. You want to have that fun and be part of the group. So you end up saying yes to those nights out drinking or those meals out at restaurants. Or worse yet, maybe they all want to take a spring break trip somewhere nice. Unfortunately that’s also when we aren’t mature enough to fully understand the importance of healthy financial habits. Plus who hasn’t used the excuse that we’re only young once?

      Reply
  2. Paul @ Make Money Make Cents

    It is always fun (and depressing) to think what it would be like to have more cash than I know what to do with. When I start feeling jealous, I look back at all I have, especially the things money cant buy and realize how lucky I am. I never let it affect my own finances.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Great mindset to have Paul. Having lots to be happy about doesn’t even have to be about money and possessions. Family, friends and love are all much more important than money. If you can keep that in mind, you’ll very rarely be tempted by envy.

      Reply
  3. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    I used to compare myself to others a lot. It was not healthy I know. I have since worked very hard at breaking that habit and I have become much more confident in myself and they things I have in my life. Now I just try to make me happy and not worry about what others think. It is very empowering.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      You’re so right. It is your own personal happiness that is important and not how you are doing financially compared to others. I’ve been focusing on that kind of stuff lately and I agree that it is very empowering. As long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter how much others have.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy

      It can be tough to fight that urge, especially when it is someone you know personally who came from a similar background, went to the same school or started work in the same industry. You just naturally want to compete with them. The real competition is against yourself though.

      Reply
  4. John | Married (with Debt)

    It’s definitely hard not to let the Joneses influence your spending decisions. I think I was beaten down to the point of not caring by debt. I had to get out no matter what the Joneses thought.

    I am preparing to deal with that with our 7 year old daughter, who attends the private school where my wife teaches. She is starting to go to other kids’ houses and notice that they are much bigger and nicer than ours. Thankfully the kids all wear the same uniform or there would be clothing pressures.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Interesting points about how both debt and children can affect the battle with the Joneses. A lot of people get into debt because of the need to try to keep up with others. Most people eventually realize that they need to change their ways and make paying off that debt a bigger priority. It takes some willpower to stick with that though.

      As for children, that must be tough trying to explain to them things like that. It might end up being a good life lesson for them though. If they understand something like that from an early age, maybe they can avoid envy later in life.

      Reply
  5. Jason @ WorkSaveLive

    Great thoughts here Jeremy. Despite knowing all of these things, and coaching people to become cognizant of them, it’s hard to really avoid it and not wish you had something “better.”

    I love looking at vacation pictures and all of the great images, but it certainly makes me want to go on a trip as quick as possible!

    However, we tend to make the proper financial decision at the end of the day, but I think some of the joy gets taken out of it because you know there is something more “fun” you could have done with the money.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yes those vacation photos can be one of the tougher temptations to deal with. Your friends and family always look so happy in those exotic destinations. You can’t help but want to experience the same and not be left out from it. That’s where the delayed gratification comes into play and you allow yourself a vacation like that, but just not too often. So you’re not completely deprived of that stuff, but you are being responsible about it.

      Reply
      1. Jason @ WorkSaveLive

        I just went to FB and saw one of my old high school friends posting pictures of Israel. I’m a little jealous right now…

        You were right about this plugin getting people to come back and comment on your site more. Your Alexa Rank has gone down tremendously in the last few days. Great work dude.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy

          Yeah I think the vacation pictures are the ones that I get the most jealous of. I want to go experience all those things too. Marriage and baby photos add a lot of pressure too.

          Reply
  6. Justin @ The Family Finances

    Ha, this is so true. We like to make faulty comparisons based on what other people spend. It’s sad because we’re comparing the complete financial knowledge of ourselves to the partial financial knowledge if someone else based solely on what we see them spending. What you don’t know is that person may be up to their nose in debt or subsidized by wealthy parents or family. I call this phenomena “comparison spending” and, unlike comparison shopping, it is definitely not a good practice.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Exactly…we don’t know the full picture most of the time. Maybe they saved up for years for those things or maybe it put them in debt. Or maybe they busted their ass in their careers and made a lot of smart moves to get where they are. Maybe they make other sacrifices in their lives to afford those things. We just end up seeing the good side of all those things and not how they actually got it.

      Reply
  7. yourlifeforless

    It does seem that we notice the people who have more than we do, more often than we notice people who have less. And I think you hit on the reason: the rich are the ones being portrayed in the media. They’re also often the ones boasting of their new car/clothes/other item. Nobody’s going to brag about being poor.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yep, it’s all glamor and little struggle. The media wants us all to keep spending in pursuit of that perfect lifestyle. And our acquaintances want to impress us with what they achieved. Financial struggles are something that people get embarrassed about and rarely want to share those details with other people.

      Reply
  8. femmefrugality

    If the Joneses are bragging all over my facebook feed, they get unfriended. I still value humility, no matter what the medium. That being said, most of the Joneses I know value this trait, too, so I haven’t had to delete too many people.

    I was at a country club the other day for an event. There was a wedding there full of monied people….I was amazed at what huge snobs people can be! I must not have been wearing a designer and they could tell, because other than that, I should have fit it.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      The thing is that it’s not always conscious bragging. Sometimes they just genuinely want to share those vacation photos or pictures of their new home. There’s definitely a gray area. I don’t unfriend people like that, but if it’s not someone I personally know such as a blogger, I’m probably a lot less likely to visit their blog much. I’d rather spend my time connecting with down to earth bloggers.

      As for the country club snobs, I don’t get why some people have to be like that. It seems that they feel the need to look down upon others to make themselves feel better about what they have. For some people once they start chasing possessions, that becomes the most important thing to them. It can even end up trumping personality.

      Reply
  9. MyMoneyDesign

    The Joneses used to bother me, but not anymore. It’s pointless to keep comparing ourselves to other people because our circumstances will never be the same. Unfortunately, though, I do think the media has escalated this to a whole extreme level. How many young girls do you know trying to “keep up with Kardashians”?

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yes the media has got much worse about it all. I recall watching Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous when I was a child and that was the most extreme wealth you’d see. Now it seems like every reality show takes place in some mansion. The lives of celebrities are much more on display than in the past.

      Reply
  10. From Shopping to Saving

    I definitely know this feeling well. Everyone is always posting about their new toys/clothes/shoes and vacations on facebook, including engagement rings, surprises, gifts, etc. What people don’t usually remember is that people naturally only select the GOOD things that happen to them in life to share. No one is going to talk about every detail of their life that isn’t positive (well except those people who use FB to post about every single thing that happens in their life).

    I’ve learned to just ignore it and to not compare myself against them. I know that I am on track with my savings goals, etc. I tell myself that I am sacrificing now in order to live a better life in the future, but I also do not deprive myself. It’s all about balance! It’s about being satisfied with what you have right now, because the moment you start wanting more or trying to “keep up” with others…you’re not living your life for yourself anymore, and that would be a real disappointment if you weren’t living for yourself, because we only have one life to live!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I agree that some balance makes it easier to deal with. You don’t have to completely avoid the kinds of things that people are boasting about, but you need to do it in moderation and in a responsible way. I don’t really ignore all the good stuff that people are posting, but I try to keep a rational viewpoint of it all. I know that I can have most of that stuff some day, but keeping my finances in line are more important to me right now. I also understand that I’m pretty fortunate to have what I do own. So I’d feel pretty foolish dwelling on envy when other people would love to be in my shoes.

      Reply
  11. Jeremiah Brown

    I don’t have a problem with keeping up with the joneses on most things now, but in the past I was a wreck. I’m glad that I have learned to look over what “other” people have and get what I want… because “I” want it. Great post Jeremy, it really gets you thinking.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      It seems that most people face something like this at some point and have to learn to cope with it. It’s why I really believe that people are just naturally envious. Why do you think there is the saying about the grass being greener on the other side? Those competitive juices are just wired into our brains. It takes a change of thinking to realize how unhealthy that mindset is and how much better we off just worrying about our own happiness.

      Reply
  12. Anthony Thompson

    Very interesting observation, Jeremy. The Joneses are the biggest obstacle to our personal finances, but only to the degree that we lack control over our money management goals. Personally, I’m getting so tried of hearing about somebody purchasing a new house, or taking that expensive vacation. It serves no purpose, and only makes others with far less feel financially inferior.

    On the other hand, I agree with you that we should try to make an effort to network with those with more so that we can learn from their example.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      With facebook we are constantly bombarded with that kind of stuff. I’m sure people don’t realize the negative side to posting that stuff though. They are likely just proud and want to share those memories. It’s probably pretty contagious too. When they see other people posting that kind of stuff, they want to fit in and post something similar.

      I don’t go out of my way to network with people that are more successful, but I know there can be a lot of advantages to it. It goes back to the theory that you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. If you surround yourself with successful people, you are more likely to achieve similar success.

      Reply
  13. bogofdebt

    I used to care what the Jones had. I’ve gotten out of that mindset though. Now when I see pictures of people’s new cars on facebook, I tend to think “wow that car payment could bump up my debt repayment/savings goals by a lot!”. Now do we still buy nice things? Yes but it’s generally used or budgeted for and doesn’t set us back at all. I’m working on bettering my life and always am thankful that I’m better than what I once was like.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Thinking of the actual costs of those things is one way to flip the tables on it all. Instead of focusing on how great those things are, you are being rational about it and focusing on the price tag attached. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t take their long term finances into account when their jealousy takes over. If they want it bad enough, they find some way to fit it into their budget even if it means going into debt or limiting their savings.

      Reply
  14. Eddie

    Great post Jeremy, except that I don’t keep up with anyone else within my circle or outside of it for that matter. I do my own thing, whether someone likes it or not. Most of the time, others are left saying “How or Why Eddie?”.
    One thing is for sure, I admire people who are successful and driven. Those people I keep close to me, as they benefit me in ways such as pushing me to strive harder indirectly, while using them and the routes they’ve taken as an example for me.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Good point Eddie. For some people that kind of stuff can actually be great motivation. You might not feel the need to go after the exact same things, but you can use that as an example of what you can achieve. I think for some people though that might lead them to chase the wrong kinds of things. Instead of focusing on long term financial stability, they might go out of their way to try to amass similar possessions or other luxuries. Of course if it does lead to true financial success, you can have your cake and eat it too.

      Reply
  15. Parenting and Money

    I do tend to see people “brag” about their material wealth on my FB feed. However, the only Joneses I try to keep up these days are those with a high net worth and those trying to be financially secure not the ones spending their money on material things.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yes those are the right kind of Joneses to be chasing. You just don’t hear as much about those ones because they tend to keep quiet about their finances and live a more humble life. They are smart enough to know that bragging about that savings could just lead to people trying to use them or trying to convince them to spend more.

      Reply
  16. Katie

    When I first moved out on my own I was definitely all about keeping up the Joneses. Luckily that phased out quickly. I am now actually quite the opposite. I would much rather see money piling up in my bank account, rather than spending it on material possessions.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      That’s good to hear. If that phase lasts too long, it can be disastrous for your finances. It’s not just material possessions that might be chased though. Experiences like vacations, concerts, live sporting events, expensive restaurants, night clubs, etc can all create a sense of envy.

      Reply
  17. American Debt Project

    Lately I have been much more grateful for what I have and it’s made me much calmer. Keeping up the Joneses is a matter of constantly keeping score and I am not into that at all. I have friends who are really Jones-y. Everytime we talk, they complain about how so-and-so friend wanted to show off at her birthday party at a fancy hotel, or how many gifts another person’s child got. Even though they talk about it as if they are not impressed with these things, what they’re really telling me is that they went to a party and instead of having a good time and enjoying the company, all they could do was keep tabs on the cost of the dinner or the value of the presents. It’s pretty funny actually. It keeps me grounded to talk to my crazy friends and remind myself not to think like them :)

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yeah you don’t want to live like that where it’s all a big competition between you and other people you know. They could’ve been having a good time at that party, but the competitiveness just consumes them. They might have talked bitterly about how lavish the party was, but then they would probably turn around and try to impress everyone with their own party. If they’re going to spend so much time worrying about that stuff, they’ll never really enjoy things.

      Reply
  18. mycanuckbuck

    I’ll freely admit I love this expression. I actually know a set of Joneses – and they try to live quite modestly (well, the wife does.. not so much the husband.) :) But yes, when you see so much conspicuous consumption, it’s very hard to not want to join in!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      At least you know one modest Jones :)
      It can be tough to not want to spend like others. Saving for the future just isn’t as glamorous or exciting.

      Reply
  19. Carrie Smith

    Thankfully, I’ve never worried too much about what the Joneses have (or don’t have). I’m pretty easy going, and I don’t need a lot of things to make me happy. In comparison, I feel I have a good sense of what’s reality and what’s fantasy. I grew up with in a rather well-off middle class family, but we still had to do chores (and I’m talking about the 3 hour-a-day ones since I lived on a 20 acre ranch with 86 horses). So while I had all sorts of extravagant toys, my dad made sure we “worked” for every one of them.

    So, when I look at most of the Joneses, I see the hard work that went into obtaining those boats/automobiles/expensive vacations. In a way I feel it’s warranted, and they should feel good about showing it off. But that’s just my take (and I do realize there are those spoiled brats who are completely ungrateful).

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      It sounds like your parents raised you well. A strong work ethic is sure to change how you look at money. In addition to all your chores, you’d also see how hard your parents would have to work.

      I think some showing off is ok, but some take it a bit too far and are always trying too hard to impress people. Then it can come off as just being vain and superficial. Part of it also depends on where you live. Some societies are just more proud and showing off is more socially accepted.

      Reply
  20. Lynda

    I always assume they have more debt than I do…. and enjoy a few minutes of feeling smug. I think those of us living within our means need to take alot of pride in that!!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      In a lot of cases that may be true. Many people who get into debt end up there because they are trying to live beyond their means. Responsible spending habits are something to be proud of. It just won’t get you as many clicks on facebook.

      Reply
  21. jefferson

    Myself.. I am fairly content when it comes to material things.. I am always looking to upgrade my house, but realize that homes are long-term investments and it will take years and years to get them the way that you want them..

    However, I do envy the Jones’s vacations. I see pictures of them on my favorite blogs, and hear my coworkers talking about them. It seems like I have heard everyone and their sister talk about going to Florida this summer, and I just don’t think that we can afford it. :( The more I hear others talk about it, the more bummed I get. I love vacations. When we get our financial house in order, I think we will certainly establish a yearly vacation budget.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Just make sure you are not sacrificing too much financial stability by trying to keep up with their vacations. If it’s something you love, definitely pursue that. At the same time though, find some less expensive vacations that are closer to home which can be just as enjoyable. Or keep budgeting in other areas to allow it to fit into your overall budget easier.

      Reply
  22. AverageJoe

    I’m lucky that my best friends aren’t money conscious (even though most are well off). That makes it easy to forget about the Joneses….they appreciate my old car and the fact that I’m careful with money. Luckily, this allows me to forget about keeping up!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Sounds like good friends to have in your circle. Sometimes it’s other people’s level of understanding that makes the whole situation easier. When they know you’re careful with money, they’re probably a lot less likely to throw it in your face. Instead they recognize your values and are respectful about it. If only more well off people were like that.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy

      lol! I’m sure some are, but only to be replaced by other Joneses. Or they’ve just managed to hide their financial problems while maintaining the illusion of wealth. Then there are the ones who just have so much money that living a flashy lifestyle doesn’t affect their bottom line too much.

      Reply
  23. Missy

    This is an all too real enemy and I see it day in and day with some of my family members. As this can also apply within families, the older ones trying to outdo the younger ones and vice versa.

    The one with the Beamer trying to one up the one with the Land Rover and on it goes. Cars are known to be terrible investments. Lol.

    Silly if you ask me.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Interesting side of the battle with the Joneses. I’ve seen some families that have that internal competition too. It kinda makes me wonder if some of my wasteful spending in my 20s might’ve been changed the way my sister thinks of me.

      Reply
  24. Astro Gremlin

    People who don’t make much money spend more time thinking about money. A lot of the Jones’s don’t really think about how much they spend because money isn’t a serious issue. They don’t think about who envies them, either. How often do you think about the lives of hotel maids and gardeners? To them, you are the Jones’s they are Jonesing to be.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Great point Astro Gremlin. I know I definitely worry less about money when things are going well. Even when things are just going ok though, that lifestyle could very well be envied by others. There are the Joneses that get caught up competing with their friends. They may still worry about money a lot because they are under pressure to maintain their expenses and get even better things than their friends.

      Reply
  25. Anne @ Unique Gifter

    You make a very good point. Where I live, a lot of it is remembering how many things people don’t have to pay for! ie – so many people are sponsored by clothing and gear companies, or have friends who pass things along. I often find myself feeling like I have to keep up with the restaurant/bar spending of people I know make ~ minimum wage and wonder how they do it. Then I realize that if I think it’s expensive, with my ‘real’ job, I’m way, way ahead of them if I don’t spend the money. (Sorry, it’s early morning, I hope that’s somewhat coherent!)

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Yes some people do live lifestyles that seem to far exceed what they are getting paid. Perhaps some of those people get money from other sources such as an inheritance or some kind of side hustle. Or maybe they just don’t pay attention to their finances and are actually living off of credit.

      Reply
  26. Nik

    I am baffled how many people are still trying to get bankrupt by keeping up with it all. The Joneses are very likely the cause of one of the biggest financial crashes in history. Still people are measuring happiness with things rather than feelings and experiences. As long as people don’t reset their priorities the Joneses are likely to be among us for a very long time!

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      I guess greed and jealousy comes far too naturally for many people. While those are natural traits, I don’t think people will ever stop chasing the Joneses. Seeing all of their possessions and extravagant experiences just gives people something to yearn for.

      Reply
  27. Mike

    Personally, I think trying to “keep up with the Joneses” is an indication you have a deeper psychological problem. What is missing from your life that you feel you need to economically (superficially) “compete” with celebrities and your neighbor? Need attention?

    Reply
  28. Derek @ MoneyAhoy.com

    I’m starting to go out of my way to own really cheap and crappy stuff just to piss the Jonses off. I could easily pay cash to buy a new high end BMW or Mercedes, but I’m going to buy a 10 year old Corolla and rock it!!! Screw the Jonses!

    Reply
  29. The Passive Income Earner

    I am very well grounded and the joneses don’t bother me but with FB and Social media, I can see there would be more pressure. I am not an avid user of FB, someone usually needs to tell me to go look in the first place :)

    With two kids growing up, you just can’t afford everything and clear choices have to be made. We started giving money to our kids to decide on what they buy and they find the brands that many wear too expensive. I love it when I see my kids with common financial sense.

    Reply

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