When Keeping Up With the Joneses Is Good For You

I’m sure you have heard many a financial guru advise that you shouldn’t try to “keep up with the Joneses,” meaning you should avoid comparing yourself to others and trying to buy a nicer house, car, or vacation than your neighbor.

That type of behavior usually just leads to an enormous amount of debt and dissatisfaction with the life that you have. Despite knowing the truth behind this maxim, I often find myself thinking, “man, I want my friend’s new ______ so bad!”

Some of my recent objects of affection include my brother’s amazing wedding at a castle in Germany, my friend’s midnight black 5-series BMW, and a lot of these nice new houses that have come on the market since we bought our place. 

Again, coveting things that other people have and doing whatever it takes to get them will only lead to bad choices. In addition, wanting objects rather than experiences will likely turn out to be fruitless in and of itself.

However, I think there are certain circumstances when “keeping up with the Joneses” can be good for you.

Not keeping up in the sense of trying to outdo them, but keeping up with their finances and their relationship with money.

I’m a firm believer that talking openly and honestly with people about money can lead to better results for all parties involved.

Seeing a full picture of the decisions people make with their money, how much debt they carry, and what sacrifices they have made to get to that point will give you the perspective that you need to make smarter decisions in your life.

For example, you would probably think different about your friend’s new Porsche, if you knew that he had been saving for 15 years and drove a paid-for, compact Corolla the entire time in order to save the money for his dream car.

Similarly, you may find that you shouldn’t envy your sister at all once you know she hates her amazing new place because she bought more house than she could afford and now feels smothered by the debt.

Knowing all of the facts surrounding a money situation, rather than just making assumptions about how people around you live, will give the sobering picture needed to be honest with your financial situation.

I feel very fortunate to have amazing friends and family who share their financial lives with me, which can sometimes make me envious but also allows me to appreciate how they got there. I’m also thankful for the life that I have when I realize people have much harder circumstances than I ever imagined. (Like the massive amount of law school loans that still exist for some people 10 years after we have graduated.)

So feel free to envy your friends and what they have and can do with their money. Then make sure to appreciate how they achieved those goals and push yourself to make better financial decisions to achieve yours.