4 Money Lessons You Can Learn From the Joneses

By Emily Guy Birken on 30 January 2018 0 comments

We all know a family like the Joneses. Maybe they have a gorgeous 3,000 square foot house in a posh neighborhood, while you're stuck renting a 750 square foot two-bedroom apartment. Maybe they roll up to work in a brand-new BMW Z4, while you're still puttering along in your 2001 Honda Civic. Or perhaps they go on amazing trips to Tuscany and Machu Picchu, while you've had to make do with staycations for the past few years.

No matter who your personal Joneses are, you may feel green with envy when you see the things they have that you can't afford. It can be enough to make you spend money you don't have just to keep up with them.

But before you purchase something you can't afford, take the time to learn what's really happening behind closed doors with the Joneses or other families like them. They may have the material things that you want, but they are also paying some steep prices for them.

Read on to learn what money lessons the mythical Joneses can teach you, before you start trying to keep up with them:

1. They pay for their lifestyle with debt

You might be wondering how the Joneses are able to afford all of the great stuff they own. Chances are, they're in debt. According to a 2017 CreditCards.com survey, 74 percent of Americans are in some kind of debt. And according to NerdWallet's 2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study, the average U.S. household that is carrying credit card debt owes a whopping $15,654 to credit card companies. For 41 percent of respondents, the reason given for getting into so much credit card debt is "spending more than I can afford on unnecessary purchases."

So before you are tempted to put a luxury vacation or cute $400 shoes on your credit card, remember that other people who are living it up in Bali in their Jimmy Choos may be coming home to a truly stressful credit card bill that will take years to pay off. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

2. Keeping up with them means buying depreciating assets

If you think about it, nearly all of the material items that you wish you owned are things that lose value over time. Cars, clothes, furniture, electronics, and jewelry all depreciate, which means you are spending money on things that simply do not last.

While it is perfectly acceptable to spend your money in ways that make you happy — even if that includes spending money on depreciating assets — it's foolhardy to spend a great deal of money on things you only care about because they impress other people. You are chasing the trappings of wealth while actually reducing your own net worth with depreciating assets. (See also: 4 Purchases With Financing Options That Depreciate Fast)

3. They're not happier than you

We tend to view folks who have more wealth than us as being happier. After all, if you can buy anything your heart desires, you must be more contented in your life.

There are two problems with this assumption. First, the majority of the Joneses aren't actually wealthier than their neighbors, they're just more indebted. This means they are actually more stressed, even though they may not show it to you.

Secondly, studies have shown that money doesn't actually buy happiness above a certain level of income (about $75,000 per year) that guarantees some financial stability and comfort. Above that point, wealth can become more of a burden than a boon. For instance, wealthy individuals may worry about who they can trust and which of their friends love them for them, rather than for their stuff. This leads to a vicious cycle of always wanting to have the latest and greatest possessions to impress one's friends — but never being sure if the friends will be there unless there's a new round of latest and greatest purchases.

4. They have their own Joneses they're trying to keep up with

The world is full of Joneses. You might envy your next door neighbors with the boat, but they're jealous of the family two streets over who have a yacht. And, of course, that family wishes they could afford the 100-foot yacht that their friends own. No matter where you are financially, there will always be someone who has more than you do.

The truth of the matter is that comparing your life to anyone else's is a fool's errand, because we all have things we envy in other people. Even if you were able to magically trade places with your own personal Joneses, you would not suddenly feel content, because there would be a new set of Joneses to envy.

Gratitude is the antidote to Jones envy

The best way to deal with an attack of jealousy toward the Joneses is to take the time to think about all of the abundance in your life. When you list everything you feel grateful to have, including your family, your friends, your warm and safe home, and even your favorite hobby, the things you don't have suddenly become much less important.

The Joneses may seem to have the ideal life, but taking a minute to think through all of your own blessings can help you remember that yours is pretty great, too. (See also: 6 Ways Envy Is Keeping You Poor)

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