Confronting the Joneses

This past weekend we had a get together and met some of the better half’s old friends that he had not met in years, and some I was meeting for the first time. I was a bit skeptical about the trip at first, but as it turned out, it was a really nice trip. I had a great time hanging out with all of them and enjoyed the packed weekend to the hilt. I also had a chance to confront my internal Joneses.

I think each one of us has our own different projection of who the Joneses are. For me, the Joneses are any of our friends and relatives who are roughly our age or younger but seem to be doing so much better. For instance, the couple that hosted the get together has a lovely home in the suburbs with tall trees in the back yard and upgrades all over the interior. The home costs almost twice as much as our own. Another set of friends drive a Lexus SUV, while I drive a 14+ year old car with 150K+ miles on it. Another set of friends has been investing heavily in real estate back in the home country, something that we have only recently dipped our toes in. I could go on, but that is not the point. The point is that, for the first time in my life, instead of feeling envious and resentful and wanting to catch up, I could calmly look inside me to confront my internal Joneses. I could weed out my disappointments and replace them with more positive feelings.

This train of thought started because of something someone said during a conversation made me realize that there are some things that *we* do or own, that makes us their Joneses. I know that we have had to make a lot of sacrifices and cut the corners and juggle our priorities to afford what we do. So I am assuming that the rest of them have had to make their sacrifices too to afford what I envy. When you think of it that way, it all boils down to simple choices – we picked apples and they picked oranges. We cannot afford oranges right now, since we have already bought our apples. There really is no point in drooling over the oranges, since we have our apples. If we really do want oranges AND the apples, we just have to work towards it slowly and start saving for it!

When I started looking at things from this angle, I could really appreciate the value of what I have instead of all the things that I don’t have. For instance, let us take the example of our home. Yes, our home costs half of what their home does, and does not have as many upgrades. But I really love our home. So it doesn’t really matter that I don’t have some of the things they do. I could possibly have all the things they do but at what cost? Am I willing to trade my choices and sacrifices with theirs? And the answer comes back as a vehement “Of course, not”. I don’t even know what their choices or sacrifices are! Even if I did, I have found that in general the choices that other people make with their lives just don’t fit with mine. So, thank you very much, I will keep what I have and what is mine already and not want to trade places with anyone for any reason.

Now all this is assuming that we all make similar amounts of money and so have to make similar sacrifices. What about those who make more money than us? Or those that seem to have to make fewer sacrifices? Well, if we start thinking along those lines, we can never be happy. No matter how successful or rich we are, there will always be someone who is more successful and more rich. It’s like trying to shoot a moving target that is way more agile than we are. Instead, focus on a bunch of goals. Maybe these are motivated by the Joneses, maybe not. But, instead of chasing the Joneses who are constantly changing, if we chase these fixed goals, then we stand a much better chance of succeeding. Of staying happy.

And we need to constantly re-evaluate what sacrifices we are willing to make. What worked for the Joneses may not work for us. Then again, it just might. Yes, there are a few Joneses out there who just got lucky and do not seem to have to make any sacrifices. Well, good for them. The rest have to work hard for their luxuries just as you and I have to. They had to make choices and sacrifices, just as you and I. Maybe they traded their time for the additional money they make – are you willing to do that? Maybe they made different ethical choices than you did that led them to where they are today – would you change your choices? Maybe they just worked harder, gave up TV, etc. – is that an option for you?

“Keeping with the Joneses” doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. While the general usage of the term usually means blindly buying stuff just because someone else has it, we could redefine the meaning. We could make the Joneses our motivators. Let the Joneses with the good houses inspire us to take on DIY projects that fit within our budget to beautify our house and increase our property value. Let the Joneses with the fancy degrees and the 100K+ jobs inspire us to take classes in the local community college or other vocational training to help get a better job or a promotion. Let the Joneses with good investments inspire us to learn about investing instead of filling us up with envy and resentment. Confront your internal Joneses and you will find that they are not a bad lot after all! Turns out they are a friendly bunch eager to give you a boost with the way your life is going!

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Strange Bird said...

Good points, all. I sometimes feel envious of some of my friends, who have apartments of their own (while I still need to have roommates) and lots of cool toys and gadgets that they can buy, even without credit cards. But recently I realized they were envious of my ability to save. ;) I'd rather have more money in the future than more toys now, so I guess it all comes out even in the end.

ladydoughgirl said...

I enjoyed this post. I always thought that the Jones were some sort of suburban idyll but like you I now see that we all have Jones even if we don't know it. Also, it's all about perspective. And it's good to realize that we may be the Jones for others. Very good lessons in there. Thanks for sharing.

MoneyChangesThings said...

We lived in Manhattan when we were yuppies. Our crowd of friends was mostly academic, with a few business people and lawyer types thrown in. The first challenge was buying apartments; those who couldn't swing it wound up in the 'burbs. We did manage that, but then people started buying second homes and that became a big part of the conversation. My husband and I looked at each other one day, and said, "Shit, we have no interest in having a house in the country, whether or not we can afford it. This is a stupid yardstick for us, for sure." A year or two later we moved to Philadelphia and have not looked back. Moral of the story: sometimes you need to find new Joneses!

ispf said...

Strange bird: "But recently I realized they were envious of my ability to save. ;)" You go girl... show them! :)

ladydoughgirl: Thanks! "We see others not as they are, but as we are". Like everything else in life,we see in the people around us what we "want" and conveniently ignore the sacrifices they had to make or what they don't have! Once we realize this we can use it to our advantage.

MoneyChangesThings: "Moral of the story: sometimes you need to find new Joneses!" Very well said - I couldn't have said it better myself! It is human nature to compare, and to want. Sometimes, we just have to change the reference points, and the rest will fall in place! Congratulations on making the smart decision!