Top 4 Ways to Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses

Keeping Up with the JonesesThe idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” is less of a financial phenomenon than it is a psychological one. While it certainly involves spending a lot of money to mirror the life of someone you admire (or are jealous of), a lot of it boils down to psychologically-induced spending habits in a misguided race to “have it all.”

How to Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses

Rather than blowing your money on impulse purchases to maintain a similar lifestyle as your family members, friends, or neighbors, here are some helpful strategies to rein in your spending and feel more content with what you currently have in your life:

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Acknowledge Your Financial Limitations

This seems like an easy task – especially if you already have a financial plan with your income and expenses clearly outlined – but it’s not enough to know what your financial situation is. You need to take an extra step by developing a greater understanding of your limitations, such as single-income household (to avoid comparing yourself to your DINK friends), ongoing debts, and long-term investment goals (which restrict your available disposable income).

By acknowledging your financial limitations, you are better able to set up standards for yourself that can lead to fairer comparisons to other people (because, let’s face it: we all compare ourselves to others sometimes, so it’s just inevitable). For instance, if you’re a single-income household with one spouse racking up student loans to finish their degree, then it’s not fair to judge yourself and your life by the same standards as you might for a family of two working parents who reside in an area with a lower cost of living.

Cut Down Social Media Use

Social media is a wonderful way to keep up with friends and family members’ lives, but it can also foster feelings of intense jealousy. It’s not fun dealing with a rough day at work or eating a boring salad at home while your friends post about luxurious vacations in Europe featuring bottomless mimosa brunches. Even if you feel content with what you currently have, browsing through beautiful photos of other people’s lives on social media can put a damper on your moments of personal fulfillment and leave you wanting more.

To resolve feelings of envy sparked by social media, it’s important to cut down the time you spend mindlessly scrolling through other people’s photos and admiring their seemingly perfect lives. It’s also important to remember that people typically don’t post about the bad stuff going on in their lives. Social media is designed to let people construct a public image that isn’t accurately depicting the ups and downs of everyday life (which everyone experiences!).

Whenever you feel down about a friend or family member’s latest foodie excursion or breathtaking views from their hotel, remind yourself that this is just a small snippet of their lives instead of splurging on material possessions and vacations in an attempt to have the same things and experiences as them.

Focus Your Time and Money on What You Want 

The problem with envy is that it distracts us from our personal goals and dreams. You may feel most fulfilled by ultimately owning your own home, but your friend’s cool new convertible or 70” television suddenly grabs your attention and makes you want those comparatively smaller financial investments instead.

Since human beings are social creatures, we’re all too prone to comparing our stuff and lives to other people and making value assessments based on what people in our social circles’ value. This tendency reduces our autonomous decision-making processes and sidetracks our personal goals during frantic attempts to obtain something that our friends value.

To overcome temptations to splurge on things that would elevate your social status (but not necessarily your happiness or self-fulfillment), write down a list of specific goals with brief explanations for why you want those things. For instance, if you want a camping trailer because your friends have one – and not because you’ve always loved camping and want to take your family on more trips to the woods.

Then, that might not be a goal worth pursuing. Research shows that people with intrinsic (self-fulfilling) goals tend to report higher levels of happiness than people with primarily extrinsic goals (derived from other people), so it’s crucial to sincerely ask yourself what you value and pursue goals from there.

Practice Gratitude 

Positive psychology research has shown that practicing gratitude leads to greater levels of happiness. This mentality forces you to focus on what you have and why you’re thankful for what you currently have, rather than longing for meaningless material possessions or promising yourself you’ll finally be happy once you have the car/house/boat/bank account balance that you want someday. It’s fine to have future-oriented goals.

But, don’t let these goals cloud your happiness in the present moment. Practicing gratitude and consistently reminding yourself why you’re grateful for the people and things in your life can help you overcome insecurities you may feel when comparing yourself to other people’s lives. 

Why does it matter that your friends have boats and luxury cars and fancy dinners? These things don’t impact you unless you let them drag you down into a pit of quicksand-like envy, and what you see on the surface in other people’s lives – whether in-person or on social media – does not tell the whole story.

The ultra-rich don’t attain that status by blowing all their money on designer clothes, top-of-the-line Teslas, and cruises around the world: they become rich by focusing on their individual financial goals and ignoring the “noise” of what everyone else wants or has. The key to financial prosperity and personal fulfillment ultimately comes from your ability to adjust your mindset to an inward focus: what you want and contentment with what you have.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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