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25 Reasons Keeping Up With the Joneses’ is a Terrible Pursuit

A keeping up with the Joneses signage.

Competition has undoubtedly become a major part of our world, irrevocably shaping many of us and how we interact with each other. Competition is ingrained in the way we watch and play sports, how we approach politics, and, perhaps most obviously, how fundamental competition capitalist economics is to the global economy. But while there certainly is nothing wrong with working hard and enjoying the fruits of one’s wins and gains, there are places where competition can be bad and one of the best (or worst?) examples of that is when it comes to keeping up with Jones.

No one’s quite sure the exact origin of this phrase — some cite an early 20th-century comic strip called Keeping up with the Joneses while others cite the Wilmington family of Pembroke and Sarah Jones who were renown for throwing extravagant parties — but people do agree on the general meaning behind the phrases.

To “keep up with the Joneses” is to look at the accumulated wealth, property, and experience one’s neighbor has and try and buy or do the same in order to “keep up” with their perceived class or wealth. For example, if your neighbor or close friend buys the latest luxury vehicle, then to keep up with Joneses means buying an equally expensive luxury-branded vehicle. The following is a look at 25 key reasons why that is a terrible idea:

Related: Signs You’re Obsessed with your Home | Be Careful What You Wish for Moving to the Country | Reverse Mortgages | Household Budget Software Options | Types of Mortgage Fraud | If You’re Single, Should it Stop You From Buying a House 

1. True friends don’t stay true because of a facade

A group of friends watching a game on TV together.

Pretty houses, fancy cars, and long bar tabs are certainly fun things, but they also are things that are too often used as a facade, a fake front to who we are. Friends that are worth keeping aren’t interested in that facade, they’re interested in who you are behind it. Meanwhile, people who are only friends with you because of what you have or what you can give them, well, they aren’t friends at all.

2. Keeping up often means investing in depreciating assets

A visual representation of the depreciating value of a car.

Most of the best personal finance tips you’ll get involve investing in things that aren’t physical objects, such as putting money into your 401K or investing in promising stock portfolios. These are things that go up in value and even though you can’t hold them, you will be able to enjoy financial payouts if you wait.

In contrast, when you try to keep up with the Joneses, you’re investing in things that are new, shiny things that you can physically hold — cars, clothes, furniture  The problem is that the vast majority of these shiny new objects is that they will start losing money or depreciating the moment you sign the receipt. A new car, for example, can lose 20% of its value the moment you drive off the lot, and so you’ll never get that money back.

3. The multitasking and multi-spending can lead to insomnia

A man having sleeping problems.

Maybe it won’t be tonight or tomorrow night, but there will come a time when the amount of money and effort it takes to put on that facade of wealth will make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Maybe you’ve already experienced such a night, tossing and turning, calculating how many hours you had to work to afford a certain item? Well, when you try to keep up with Joneses, you’re likely to experience that every week. In contrast, living within your means will equate to less stress which will thereby help you enjoy a more restful night’s sleep.

4. Excess clutter can hamper your creativity

A messy and cluttered child's playroom.

A very interesting study out of the UK found that the fewer toys children have, the more creatively they play and the better they communicate with others. It’s not hard to see how the same is true for adults. Get rid of the cluttered excess you bought to keep up with the Joneses, and the more you’ll become creative and collaborative with what you have. When you stop putting an emphasis on how certain objects (ie a new motorbike) or experiences (ie a five-star brunch experience) can entertain you, you may find yourself creating new ways to entertain yourself and your friend, such as hosting a potluck game night.

5. Chasing high stimulation activities takes a toll

A woman tired on the couch after shopping.

Keep up with your neighbor’s proclivities towards expensive dining and entertainment activities can get downright exhausting and can lead to chronic stress. Nix that excess stimulation and instead enjoy what you have and what you can afford to do.

6. Trying to be someone else is exhausting

A woman taking off her mask.

In keeping up with what someone else is doing or buying means that you are emulating their wants and needs — not your own. Trying to be someone else is a terrible pursuit because that’s exhausting. Work to be a better you, not someone else, by investing in things and activities you love.

7. You’ll have to deal with free riders

A visual representation of a woman using a man for his money.

When you become known as the person with a fancy car and who likes to pay the bar tabs, you get what’s called free riders. These are people who aren’t friends with you because of who you are but because of what you can give them. Being surrounded by such free riders can obviously quickly get expensive, but it can also have a very negative effect on your emotional and mental health. Instead, kick these people to the curb and keep good people close by being honest about your means.

8. You’re likely to go into credit card debt

A man worrying about his credit card debt problems.

Credit card debt is already something most Americans are crippled with, with some estimates stating the average American having $7,104 in credit card debt.

9. The more you have, the more you have to maintain

A man doing detailing and maintenance on a red car.

To keep up with the Joneses often means acquiring a large number of possessions that then need to be cared for and maintained. This is more time and money spend on things instead of yourself or your relationships.

10. Dissatisfaction in one’s self

A young woman upset with her own reflection.

As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. Spending all of your time wishing for greener grass will only make you more dissatisfied with yourself and what you do cherish.

11. Consumerism requires a big environmental footprint

A visual representation of an airplane releasing CO2.

Climate change and global warming are serious things and while one shouldn’t have to panic over every plastic bag used, it is a good thing to be mindful of one’s environmental impact. Chasing others and going heavy into consumerism with new clothes every week, new cars every year, and jet travel every season has a big and very negative environmental footprint that contributes to the growing pollution and climate change problems.

12. To keep up means you have to constantly change up with the trends

A visual representation of the correlation between the flow of time and trends.

Trends are constantly changing. They change every year, every season, and sometimes every month. Those who are obsessed with keeping up with their colleagues or neighbors will also have to constantly spend time and money keeping up with changing trends, throwing out what’s old, and buying what’s new.

13. The heavy pressure to impress

A woman showing her friend what she bought.

It seems that the more one gets, the more one feels like they have to use it to impress others — and yet, you probably already know how annoying it can be to have someone constantly showing off their newest and greatest possession. Do you really want to become that person?

14. Having more things can actually make you more selfish

A visual representation of someone's selfishness and its effects on others.

There are ongoing studies on why this tends to be true, but it does seem that the less you have, the more likely you are to empathize and be generous with what you have.

15. The more you buy, the less content you’re likely to be

A young woman sad about her recent purchases.

You ever get really excited about researching and then buying a new object, only to feel in a sort of slump after you’ve brought it home? Psychologists call this phenomenon post-purchase dissonance as what happens is the more you buy, the worse you feel, and then the more you’ll want to buy again in order to get that rush of excitement again. Such consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses thus becomes a very expensive addiction and one that can be very hard to overcome.

16. An obsession with the material world

A young woman who opened her delivered package.

To keep up with the Joneses means you have to keep up with material things. In doing so, your life becomes about material things or about capturing the perfect images of things. This creates an obsession and all obsessions are unhealthy. Better to step back and enjoy the intangible things in life.

17. Petty gossip becomes necessary

Three young women gossiping.

To keep up with others means you have to constantly talk about others, about what they have about what you have and about what you’re getting to out-do them. This traps you in an unhealthy trend of petty gossip.

18. In pursuing this, you may fail to pursue your true dreams

Two women helping each other create a clay pot.

Maybe your dream is to take a month-long trip to Japan or you want to open your own restaurant. Whatever the case, the more you time and money you spend chasing consumerism and meeting other peoples’ dreams, the less time and money you have to chase after the things you’re truly passionate about.

19. It might require borrowing from friends, family members, or others

Money being exchanged between two individuals.

Last year, this German influencer couple caught a lot of heat when it turned out that one of their mothers was working two jobs to help fund the couple’s global travels. They relied on her because the couple did not afford their extravagant lifestyle on their own, but in doing so they put an unfair burden on the mother who worked to provide what she saw as the best for her child.

20. You may see home and utility bills piling up

A mail stack of bills and final notices.

The more money you spend on the objects and experiences required to keep up with someone else’s spending, the less money you can set aside for the fundamentals. A lot of people who get into this type of rat race quickly find themselves overspending and thus losing track of their most important bills like housing and utility bills.

21. Spending above your means can make you financially trapped

A visual representation of money or savings being trapped.

When you start spending more than you have, you put yourself in a trap and the more you outspend what you earn, the less wiggle room you’ll have in the future. In contrast, if you live beneath your means, you’ll enjoy a special type of stress-free freedom.

22. You’ll start feeling like everything and everyone is trying to sell you something

A salesman offering his hand for a handshake.

And that’ll be true because they are! When you spend money freely on things like material possessions and services you are likely to attract not only the aforementioned free riders, but also salesmen, grifters, and cons. People like this can smell a spender like a bear smells honey and constantly swatting them away is frustrating, to say the least.

23. You’re likely to lose your savings

A visual representation of money or savings being wasted.

When you run out of cash, when you hit your credit card limits, and when you get denied a loan, you may find yourself digging into your savings and taking away from your rainy day funds. This is never a good idea. If you don’t already have a rainy day fund, then it’s an even worse day. A healthy savings account and a regularly updated retirement fund are two of the most important things you can do to protect your future.

24. You could lose everything

A petition for bankruptcy file under a judge's gavel.

Unless you have a very wealthy trust fund or enjoy an equally large salary without minimal expenses (ie no kids), excessively chasing after the Joneses will eventually catch up to you. The data shows that even high-income professionals who think themselves financially safe are subject to dangerous overspending. At some point, there won’t be any cash, credit, or savings to rely on and you may find yourself having to file for bankruptcy.

25. You’ll never actually keep up with the Joneses

A man running on an unending road.

The truth is that only a very small, less than 1%-type of the percentage of the population will ever be the Joneses. This is a type of situation in which the bar is constantly being raised and so trying to keep up with the Joneses will always be a race in which you never win.