Keeping up with the Joneses is a phrase we are all familiar with but can’t seem to avoid. We tend to look at what others have to determine whether or not they are successful. The problem is, those external signs have nothing to do with actual measure of wealth and they can be incredibly misleading. We used to look at our neighbors for comparison — it was easy to tell what they had and what kind of lifestyle they were living. (Cue audio of your grandfather talking about Bob’s new lawnmower and color TV.)
Now we get these cues from television, the internet and social media. We are inundated with messages of what we should be trying to achieve, how we should be living and what we should be buying. Credit cards, lines of credit and loose borrowing terms make it easy for consumers to spend money they don’t have and display wealth that doesn’t exist.
Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t about a lack of financial literacy or the result of our consumer culture — it’s actually deeply rooted in human psychology. Conspicuous consumption is the term used for buying luxury goods and services as a display of economic power and social status. Human beings are all susceptible to conspicuous consumption. Just as a peacock parades its tail or a lion flaunts its mane, humans show off their stuff. Our brains tell us to look for signs others are thriving and to strive for those traits — or risk falling behind the pack.
Most of the time our brains tell the truth, but when they tell lies, they are whoppers. These lies come from the subconscious part of the brain that lacks awareness. This part of the brain has a will and a way and is a force to be reckoned with. It’s so powerful you are probably engaging in conspicuous consumption without even realizing it.
3 Signs You Care Too Much About Others’ Money Situations
1. You Pay Attention to What Your Favorite Stars Are Wearing or Using
Did you see the tweet Kim Kardashian sent out about Eos lip balm? It rescued her from pregnancy lips. What are pregnancy lips? That’s a bad thing, right? OMG. I think I have pregnancy lips and I’m not even pregnant. Good thing they sell it at the drugstore and not some exclusive celebrity lip balm boutique. We can all be saved from pregnancy lips — phew!
Did you know it’s likely Kim Kardashian was paid more than $20,000 to send out that tweet? Glowing recommendations from celebrities are all over social media: Justin Bieber loves to get his mom flowers from 1800 Flowers and Hilary Duff drinks Fiji Water when she’s thirsty. Are these organic and genuine endorsements? Maybe, but question everything.
2. You Hate on Your Facebook “Friends”
I don’ t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with this. It’s the voice we hear in our heads when Amy from junior high posts a picture of her in Hawaii wearing a string bikini, flanked by her four kids while you are sitting on the couch in a beanie and scarf because you’re too cheap to turn the heat on. “Whatever Amy. Don’t make me start posting pictures from 6th grade camp. Spandex wasn’t always a good look on you.”
Hey, it’s cool that Amy is on vacation and good for her for looking so great after having four kids. But maybe Amy maxed out her credit card to take her family on that trip and her anxiety over money is making her so stressed she can’t eat. Or maybe Amy’s grandmother just died and she used a small inheritance to fulfill her lifelong dream of going on a tropical vacation. Or maybe Amy has a great job and saved all year to take this vacation.
Comparing ourselves to others robs us of our own happiness and judging others diminishes our accomplishments and successes. Let’s just be happy for Amy, remain grateful for what we have and move on to watching videos of cats attacking printer paper.
3. You Look for Stores With Low Prices Instead of Merchandise With Low Prices
Our consumer culture teaches us that buying something marked down is actually saving money, but the truth is buying things on sale is an awful way to save. So-called “bargain hunting” isn’t actually the act of seeking out a particular item you need — it’s about acquiring stuff in the name of saving money. Have you ever bought a pair of designer jeans because they were on sale? What did you end up doing with all that money you saved? Buying an item on sale that you didn’t need or really want is still a waste of money.
Bargain hunting makes sense when you do it with purpose — you have a specific item in mind before you even start looking for a sale. If you’ve decided with your own free will that you need something, then go seek out the lowest price with the best value.
Resisting the urge to keep up with the Joneses and compare yourself with others is a tough habit to break. I know some of this is hard to hear and I’m not trying to hate on you — I’m too busy still hating on Amy. Let’s all take a page from the grade school playbook and stop worrying about what other people are doing and just worry about ourselves.
Keep reading: Think You’re Saving Money With Groupon? Think Again
Photo credit: Classic Film