You’ve probably heard the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses”, but have you ever stopped to think about what it means? Most of us have a general idea but haven’t paused long enough to consider all the implications.
The Joneses are a fictitious family from a comic strip back in the early 1900s, but this article is more about what they represent rather than who they are. The Joneses represent over-consumption and a strong and persistent desire to out-consume others to impress neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc. You may know a family of Joneses (or many Joneses) as they are easy to identify. They’ll typically be the family with the biggest house and the nicest cars and toys; they might travel all over the world on Instagram-worthy vacations or have the largest wine or art collection; perhaps their closet is full of luxury brand-name clothing and shoes; they might go on extravagant shopping trips often. Sounds like the life, right?
Now—there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the above activities, and not every family who partakes in those activities are considered “The Joneses.” What makes these folks Joneses is when the bank accounts that fund the activities can’t keep up with the spending. While they may portray themselves as rich, the danger is they can’t afford the lifestyle they live. Maybe in the beginning they made it work but over time have let their finances fall behind. They have resigned to living paycheck-to-paycheck (i.e. no savings) or maybe they’ve even gone into debt to finance this glamorous lifestyle. Truth be told, the Joneses could probably change and get themselves back on a track to financial success, but they just don’t want to do so.
The travesty is it’s not just the Joneses who are affected…there’s a ripple effect that spreads through their subdivision, their church, their schools, their workplaces, and their communities. People see their lifestyle and want to live it without realizing the associated negative consequences. But the good news is the Joneses have new, more financially responsible neighbors…
Meet the Jacksons. They represent financial responsibility, reasonable consumption, thoughtful spending, and strategic planning. They have no desire to impress others with a big house, new cars, lavish vacations, fancy clothes or collections. You’ll know them because they live in a modest home, drive used vehicles, don’t have excessive amounts of expensive clothing or other flashy items. It’s not that they don’t have any nice possessions; more so, it’s that they just don’t have excessive amounts of nice possessions. Instead, they focus on monitoring and analyzing spending, necessary but reasonable consumption, intentional purchasing habits, debt aversion, investing for the future, and maintaining adequate savings to cover emergencies and other unforeseen events. You may not even notice them because they will largely blend in with the masses!
Sadly, the Jacksons’ ripple effect reaches far fewer people than the Joneses. Most people don’t envy or try to emulate a seemingly “average” lifestyle—they would much prefer to live the life of the Joneses, at least the aspects that can be seen from the outside. But the Jacksons’ secret weapon is what you don’t see from the outside—six to twelve months of emergency savings, solid retirement account balances, possibly a mortgage but no car loans, other investment accounts or health savings accounts, etc.
The hesitation of people to follow the example of the Jacksons is largely centered around the perception that they don’t have any fun or at least not as much fun as the Joneses. I’m here to tell you this is totally untrue; the Jacksons have plenty of fun, but they value and prioritize different kinds of fun. Their version of fun is not centered around material possessions but having experiences that simultaneously provide them joy and still enable them to make consistent progress toward their goals.
Moral to the Story
It’s not about who’s better or worse—on a human level, the Joneses and the Jacksons probably have very similar moral makeup and values. Where they diverge is their goals and priorities. To borrow a quote from the Bible: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20, NIV. Translated another way: “You are the company you keep.”
So choose wisely! If you want to follow the lead of the Joneses, you can reasonably expect a lifetime of debt, stress, and worry. If you want to follow the lead of the Jacksons, you can reasonably expect a lifetime of savings, prosperity, and fulfillment. The choice is yours to make, but I think I’ll hang out with the Jacksons!