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Is Keeping Up With The Joneses Destroying Your Future?
I recently received an email from a reader about something that we an all relate to.
Clare wrote in having self-diagnosed herself as “keeping up with the Joneses“.
Hats off Clare, I love your honesty!
She is afraid that this path will cripple her financially and affect their future life as a family.
She'd like me to share a few words on how she could snip this in the bud early!
An interesting question really ‘cos no one has ever asked me about it quite as directly.
I know all about this subject because I was once fully living this life too.
It's one that is so easy to fall into especially in a world where we are all addicted to the Insta!
So let me be candid and share my experience with this topic.
Table of Contents
Keeping Up With The Joneses
Alright folks, let's take a trip back in time to a not too distant old life of mine.
Forget about telling you what psychologists think about why we do this.
You see around 2006, I started making proper money.
I had a training contract as a Chartered Accountant and had no responsibilities.
Although I wasn't making a ton of money, I looked like it.
I had acquired a few things that made me look like I was becoming a success (whatever that means):
A Rolex Watch – second hand but you'd never guess it.
I just had to have it. Anyone who saw me with it would immediately assume that “I'd arrived”.
A Cartier Bracelet – I remember walking into the Royal Exchange in London and paying for it.
I certainly didn't buy it on my debit card. That should give you a clue.
A Mercedes Coupe – Bought with part cash and mostly finance.
I never forget the price tag – £21,000!!!
This was not too far from my annual income at the time.
In my mind, I’d pay it off in a few years, so it was OK!
I needed to be seen by people. Those I knew and those I didn't know.
You starting to get a picture of what a version of my old life looked like?
Given I'd put the signals up, I started to attract bad relationships.
I'd set the totally wrong expectations and the type of girl I wanted in my life never showed up.
In fact, I attracted the complete opposite and this proved to be costly in every way including emotionally.
Thinking back to the 5 people I spent the most time with back then, 3 of them were people who were also trying to look rich.
In many ways, although I was making some progress in my career, I was also close to pressing the self destruct button.
Why I Was Keeping Up With The Joneses
Below are some thoughts about why I was keeping up with the Joneses:
I've had to really think about this one.
One thing I struggled with a lot (although I couldn't articulate it at the time) was this idea of seeking approval.
Whether directly or indirectly I always had to seek approval from others.
This included friends, family or even work colleagues or bosses.
I just didn't have the confidence to decide that something was for me and then go ahead and do it.
Each time I would speak with people and in a way try to be convinced by them that I had to do something.
Thinking about it, I believe this was because I was afraid.
Unsure of what I was afraid of specifically, but the fear was there.
And because the fear was there, I was easily led by others.
For example, I bought the Cartier bracelet because my friend at the time had one.
Whether I admitted it or not, in some ways, I wanted to be like him.
This “seeking approval” thing really held me back in many ways because I KNEW that I wasn't being my best.
For example, I always wanted to start my own business, but I just didn't have the guts to put my words into action.
Whenever I'd hear someone say, “I'm not fulfilling my purpose”, I could totally relate.
Life felt as though many things I'd done so far had been led by others.
There was nothing I could point to as something I REALLY wanted to do that was driven by my own convictions.
Perhaps the only thing was my decision to train as a Chartered Accountant.
Even that wasn't a strong conviction.
I had my baggage about being a young black man and possibly not “making it”.
Plus you throw in the fact that being an immigrant wasn't cool and you could guess my state of mind.
Basically, I was a minority compounded – Black African Male Immigrant.
All perceived disadvantages in my eyes at the time.
The other reason why I was keeping up with the Joneses was that I had a Scarcity Mindset.
Up to this point in my life, I had lived fairly poor.
I've shared my story a few times on this blog now.
I had a love-hate relationship for those that really had success.
Why them and not me?
What do they have that I don't? Etc.
This scarcity mindset made me think small a lot of the time.
Thinking small meant taking bite-sized risks, if at all.
Funny, thinking about this today, I see the same characteristics in some of the people who write to me via email.
What's important is that one recognises and acknowledges that this is a stage on their personal development journey.
That in itself is a BIG WIN!
Changing My Mindset
My life began to take a turn around in 2008 when I read the book, Rich Dad Poor Dad.
Reading has done more wonders for my life than I can put into words.
That book did something interesting for me – It revealed a different life outcome.
At that point, I hadn't really heard the words “Financial Freedom” or “Financial Independence” used by anyone around me.
The possibilities painted in the book could best be likened (in my mind) to someone lighting a bright candle in a very dark room and literally saying to me:
‘This is the door that you need to open for a totally different life'.
My current fear less approach to life began then.
For the first time in my life, I'd come across something on my own and most of all, I believed in it and didn't need anyone's permission to investigate it.
Anyone who knows me well will know that one attribute that 8 out of 10 people will credit to me today is my ability to focus.
Something I hadn't anticipated back in 2008 was that by following this path to possible Financial Independence one day, I would assume a new identity.
A friend who has known me for about 15 years (and who reads this blog) once said to me:
“Ken, you have changed so much. What EXACTLY caused you to go to the other extreme?”
You see, the thing is, it wasn't necessarily the book but more the fact that there was in existence a true framework that I could follow to financial freedom.
As with all things worth achieving, it required me to ask myself honest questions about money and life over time:
- What is money and why does it exist?
- What is my role in relation to money?
- Am I a net money spender or money maker?
- What is my true motivation for making money?
- I am afraid to do certain things in life. Why?
- My friends appear to be doing well. Why do I want the life they've got?
- Who are my true friends and why?
- What have I learnt from my parents about money?
- Whom am I learning from and who is a bad influence?
- How am I growing personally?
- What do I truly want out of life?
- Do I really like this career journey I'm on?
- Why am I even on this career journey and what does money have to do with it?
- Could I be rich one day? What would that mean for me practically?
- What type of marriage would I like to have? And with what type of person?
- Can I REALLY design a life that works for me?
- What does that ideal life look like? Who is in it? What am I doing?
That list goes on. I've had to answer all those questions and more over the years and I truly understood who I was and why I exist.
This path to Financial Independence is also something that my parents didn’t have laid out for them in their time.
I realised that if I could focus on this one goal for 10 – 15 years, I could have a drastically different life outcome.
This was the fire that I needed in my life.
Something that gave me so much possible hope, but also something no one around me was doing.
9 months later, I would meet Mary at a property investing seminar (for financial freedom) and this new life would become even more of a reality.
Together, we became friends and set off on a marital journey knowing that we wanted a totally different life to what our family members had had so far.
Fast forward 13 years from 2006, and I’m a totally different person to who I was.
No way could I have imagined that I’d be running a money blog with a focus on helping others achieve Financial Independence.
I would have LOL’d if you had told me that!
Signs That You’re Keeping Up With The Joneses
If the examples I gave were not clear, here are signs that you are keeping up with the joneses:
1. You Spend Now and Think or Pay Later
In my old life, I would have booked a trip to somewhere like St Lucia whether I had the money or not.
Today, we plan for a trip like this using travel hacks and at least 2 years in advance with our money.
2. You Drive An Expensive Car
Do you drive an expensive car (and reluctantly paying each month) or currently saving for one?
Yes, you might have convinced yourself that you have a love for cars and “can afford it”.
Ask yourself – What is your real motivation for driving that car?
Does your neighbour, friend or even family member have one or similar?
Is there an indirect pressure for you to drive such a car?
And how it is stopping you from achieving that desirable future that you want?
I faced this particular pressure and a departure from it took quite a mindset shift.
All my friends on the African side drive big expensive cars (of the German variety) and so do family members.
I never forget what my dad said when I showed up with my Nissan Leaf at their home:
“This car does not suit you as a CFO”… hahaha. I smiled.
I totally understood his point given our culture of expectations.
3. You Live In An Expensive Area
Have you bought a house somewhere, borrowed a lot and can just about afford it?
Do you live in a 4 or 5 bedroom house when you know that a 2 or 3 bed might work?
Are you always filling your home with things, because you want it to look a particular way after seeing others’ homes?
Do you follow home-related hashtags on Instagram?
4. You Must Have That Holiday
I’m in St. Lucia at the time of publication of this post. Here to celebrate 10 years together with Mary.
When you hear that, does it make you think – “St. Lucia would be nice”?
If it does, please think again. Nothing ever looks as simple as it sounds!
The journey to this holiday wasn’t as simple as just whooping out my credit card and booking it.
It has taken a lot of planning as I touched on above.
A recommended response should be – “Good for you, Ken”.
5. You Compare Yourself To Others
Do you have kids and compare your kids’ school to that of others?
How about discussing your friend’s so-called “successes” with your partner?
Although this is not a bad thing, it can sow a bad seed.
6. You Worry About Keeping Up With The Joneses
Deep down, you might already know that you are keeping up with the joneses but think it is too late now.
I thought it was highly admirable for Clare to write in and chat about this.
If you’re in this boat, chatting to someone else is a place to start.
Feel free to write me an email if you prefer to talk to a stranger about it. I’ll make sure I write back.
How To Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses
Below is what I have learned from my journey:
1. You Need To Optimise Your Life For Something Worthwhile
Some want fame, others want convenience etc.
What do you REALLY want out of your life?
We chose to optimise for Financial Independence and Freedom because it would become an enabler for many other things, including giving.
With that came a change in our identity over time.
What is the one thing you want to aim for that is bigger than collecting things and keeping up with others?
2. You Need The Right People Around You
It is not a coincidence that I started living a different life.
Meeting my wife and going on this journey together has played a critical role in keeping us focused on what mattered to us.
3. You Need Self-Awareness
A lot of keeping up with the joneses happens because people don’t really know who they’re themselves.
If you have a strong understanding of who you are, you will know EXACTLY what you don’t want.
Knowing what you don’t want leads you to exactly what you want.
4. You Need To Fear Less
Admitting to fear in one shape or another is a big part of self-awareness.
I’ve found that fearing less each day has helped me take more risks and bigger leaps in life.
It has also helped me to not care about what other people think or say and not be led by them.
This confidence will help you do things that other people can’t.
E.g. Move to drive a cheaper car because it makes financial sense;
Plotting an escape plan from a job or career that you despise;
Start a business because you can see how it will help you achieve your future plan.
The way I personally fear less each day is to focus on taking steps that move me forward every single day.
Keeping up with the joneses is something that we all know is intuitively not good for us.
Yet, it hasn’t stopped most of us doing it actively or passively.
I believe this is because most of us really only think of today and not far into the future.
I’d like to end by asking you –
Is keeping up with the joneses quietly destroying your future?
If the honest answer is yes, then it is time to have an honest conversation with someone you love and trust.
You’re one conversation away from taking a different path in your life!
On a related subject, enjoy this TED Talk with Rita Wilkins about choosing to Live With Less to Live More:
- Money & Life Lessons From My 20 Years As An Immigrant
- Growth Mindset: How To Start Your Day With Purpose
- Why Setting Goals Increases Your Bank Balance
- Plot Your Escape. Choose Financial Independence
How is keeping up with the joneses affecting your life? Talk to me.
Do please share this post if you found it useful, and remember, in all things be thankful and Seek Joy.