3 Ways To Forget About The Joneses

Oh, those enviable Joneses. So happy. So...imaginary.

It’s a beautiful, sunny Wednesday here – and we’re about to clean out our epically messy garage. I’m not sure why, but yard work always brings out my inner green-eyed monster – maybe because I never feel like I have the time, talent, budget or skills to create the beautiful kind of yard “everyone else” seems to have. So I thought I’d dig up this post from last May, in case some of you are feeling that way, too. Enjoy!

When, not so very long ago, I was a twenty-year-old new mom living in a small apartment and scrounging for change to put gas in our ancient Volkswagen (which was always shooting steam out of the hood and broke down just as often as it made it home) the very idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” was laughable.

Still, I always figured that even as our incomes increased, we’d have an easy time telling the Joneses to stick it. I have never cared about driving a new car, go out of my way to avoid logo clothing, and we have always kept birthdays and Christmases simple as a matter of principle.

But what I found as I reached 30 and beyond is that “keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t always about reaching for excessive materialism. Those Joneses can tippy-toe into your life in all kinds of sneaky ways. That other mom’s skill in finding adorable designer clothes at thrift stores. That other family’s ability to keep their grass at a perfect, just-mowed height, while you’re wondering how on earth yours grew six inches overnight. The neighbor kids who play every sport from the time they can toddle on both feet.

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring the imaginary Joneses in my head telling me I need to do, have, or buy this or that, but sometimes the pressure becomes great enough that I have to take a few steps back and do some emotional self-coaching. Here’s what I try to remind myself:

1. You get to choose who influences you. Of course, this depends somewhat on where you live and work, as well as who your relatives are. I know there are always areas of more affluence where the pressure to live big is high and everywhere you look. But most ordinary folk live pretty ordinary lives, albeit some with nicer cars and bigger houses than others, and I am confident that none of my friends – including the “have a lots” – would think less of me because I “have not” a country club membership, kids on a prestigious traveling sports team, or yearly two-week family vacation to the shore.

Bottom line: to a large degree, we get to choose the people who influence us. And if we spend time with people who make us feel “less than”, it’s probably wise to look elsewhere for friends. And if we surround ourselves with other like-minded people much of the time, it can help counter any negative, not-good-enough messages we get from people we can’t avoid (co-workers, family, etc.)

2. The Joneses don’t really exist. Nobody has it all. And sometimes we get the idea (probably from TV!) that ‘everybody else’ has X, Y, or Z, and then it turns out it’s just not true.

Here’s an example. A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about what to do with our front yard, which right now is basically just a square of patchy, weedy grass. I’d been feeling sheepish about our yard, convinced it was the ugliest in the neighborhood. I thought I’d go walk down the historic street in town where some of the most beautiful old houses in town reside (the same vintage as mine, but bigger, closer to the beach, and more expensive) to check out other yards for inspiration.

I assumed that since those houses are grander and pricier, that the yards would be nicer, too. And some were beautiful. But guess what? At least half of the yards I passed were every bit as ragged as ours!

Sure, there are really people who seem to have it all, but appearances can be deceiving. Maybe some of the “Joneses” in your life look to you as their personal Joneses.

3. Are you “going without”, or are you choosing what matters to you? I’m pretty secure in my choices, but I’m only human: every now and then, self-doubt creeps in: should my kids be involved in more sports? Should I work more to earn more so we can have more…something? When I find myself wondering whether I’m shortchanging my boys by not signing them up for more activities, or whether we’d be happier with new living-room furniture, it helps to re-frame the question: would I give up this for that?

When I take a close look at my life, I realize I really love our quiet evenings at home, the time we all have to spend together, and the fact that I can blow off work on nice afternoons to hang out at the park with the kids. If I tried to be more like a family with “more”, I might have to give up my time and freedom, which I really value. We can’t have it all, and when it comes down to it, I’d really rather be Us than the Joneses.

And that’s a good thing to keep in mind as I work on being grateful for my garage…messy as it might be.

Have you been surprised by some of the subtle ways those mythical “Joneses” creep into your consciousness? Any other tips for ignoring them?

This is the fourth post in a series about money and finances here at The Happiest Mom. You can find part 1 – my five financial pitfalls – here,  part 2 – all about creating financial goals – here, and part 3 – “how much money is enough?” –  here.

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