Biggest Money Saving Tip: Move Far Away from the Joneses

by Linsey Knerl on 5 July 2008 30 comments
Photo: S Jones

I have to admit that while many people in the U.S. talk about “Keeping up with the Joneses”, I spent the first 20 years of my life never knowing what that meant. My rural lifestyle kept me somewhat content with the things I had. I quickly learned, however, that being “well-off” has a lot to do with “location, location, location.”

My first abrupt introduction into material desire came when I moved to the city. Living there the first 2 years, I never really felt I needed more. My friends and I all had clean apartments, enough food to eat, and extra cash for the occasional concert or party. I bought CD’s when I wanted to, kept a pager, and wouldn’t hesitate to buy a sweater on clearance at the outlet mall. I felt like I was really living the life, and my friends in the restaurant business felt the same.

After landing a very nice job at an insurance-related company, I was slowly seeing the world in a new way. Sweaters became suits, my pager was traded-up for a cellphone, and $2 taco dinners at the dive down the street gave way to $9 wings at the upscale brewery. Even my car (which I adored) was feeling the pressure of this faster, more expensive social circle. (I remember telling my new co-workers about my Dodge Charger. They ran outside to see it, envisioning some souped-up Dukes of Hazzard look-alike to be waiting there. Their disappointed faces told me that 1982 was NOT the year for that particular model. We took my friend’s pre-owned, 2-year-old Lexus to lunch after that.)

My new coworkers were not shallow. They just had grown up differently than I had. I grew up wearing the same pair of jeans for as many years as it took to wear out the knees. When they became too worn or outdated to wear in public, I threw them on to work in the garden or do farm chores (which consumed much of our time.) Nothing was done away with simply because there was a newer, slicker alternative on the market. My new coworkers, on the other hand, had always lived or worked in the city, came from homes with double incomes, and spent more time traveling than at home. While neither way was better, I was reeling from the new pressures.

I managed to appear on the outside that I was keeping up. I parked my car far away from the office building, made friends with the mailroom employees (who were younger and more easy-going), and planned my road back to a simpler lifestyle. 7 years after I moved away from my tiny rural town, I’m moved back again.

Right away, I noticed that nothing much had changed. I recognized my neighbors right away, because they were still driving the car they drove when I was in Junior High. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Since it was largely still a farming community, no one gave me a second look when I popped into town with muddy tennis shoes and a tore-up baseball cap. I wondered what my old friends from work would have said.

And while I still keep in touch with my dearest pals from the city, the gap gets wider every year. They talk Mommy-and-Me classes and shoes, while I talk 0-point turning mowers and how much my kids enjoy pulling weeds. Do I see farmers in my community go overboard, being consumed by materialism and competing with their neighbors for a faster boat, bigger truck, and greener yard? Sure. But it is far easier to avoid the rat race when there’s 8 acres between me and the next rat.

For some, it may be easy to keep your focus on just what you need, and moving away from temptation and pressure could seem like a cop-out. For me, it just made sense. There’s a freedom in finding your geographical place in the world. Whether you’re a city mouse, a country mouse, or an everywhere mouse (like some of our own bloggers), finding a place to settle in and be content for the moment is still the very best way to save money.

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Guest's picture
Guest

After losing a wellpaid city job to now scratching and schucking/jiving (networking) endlessly for a place(job) in the office jungles of bureaucratic administration, I've lost all careless spending urges for the next wow thing. I save for good things that will last and wear them out like I was taught when I grew up on welfare. Or cycle less expensive things into less public activities like grub yard work or jammiesr house cleaning rags.

I've been saying that frugal kitsch is a somewhat patronizing way for those who grew up well off to say 'they're slumming it' but now with justification and pure survival reasons than snob self righteousness.

See many cultures and ethnic groups forced to be poor due to social bigotry/inequality or group in power preferences in divvying up good jobs and wealth have HAD to choose these frugal things and are rightfully incensed when they are told to make do with less for the good of all, things are getting bad/scarce when they NEVER got their turn at the wellfed excess wasteful banquet table.

That's why some developing nations are slow with embracing the Kyoto climate treaty when they are FINALLY on a verge of 'making it' and live the good life' the US and the Western world has flaunted and promoted for decades until the roof and glass house crashed. So while the US is jumping on bicycles to work and regular transportation to cut petroleum use and carbon, China of billions is trashing traditional bikes in streets and promoting driving and cars as show of new wealth, regardless of the small size.

That's a mighty carbon setback.

Guest's picture
A

Great post. I think we can keep away from the Joneses without ACTUALLY moving away, though (unless that is your choice). It's easier when there are like minds around. College/university towns sometimes have people who are more creative thought-oriented and a bit less concerned with the material. The most important thing is to be comfortable with yourself. There will always be people who value the material and superficial--but when we feel secure in what our own values are, those other people matter less and less.

Guest's picture

You know Imoved to a town milesfrom my office and the rat race pressure was a lot less. I still feel the pressure to have the newest and best but amproud of what I have.

Linsey Knerl's picture

While I had reasons to move other than just leaving the rat race, I find that my materialism isn't an issue much anymore.  And if you don't want to move "physically", you can still remove yourself from situations where there is pressure to spend.  Friends that can't respect your frugality aren't worth your time and concern, in my opinion.

 

Guest's picture
Guest

that makes a lot of sense, very insightful post.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've seen a number of anti-city posts on frugal living resources recently and I think they're a little one-sided. For one thing, big cities offer a lot more job opportunities, so your choices are greater and salaries usually higher. Secondly, you can often skip out on driving, which saves not only on gas, but on a car, insurance, repair, etc. It's hard to beat an "all you can eat" public transportation system for $96/month (I live in NYC). And most cities offer an amazing array of free entertainment, with plays in the park, free movie screenings, amply stocked libraries and so on. You can also take advantage of all sorts of cheap ethnic restaurants, street vendors, fairs, and the like. In the end, there are always Jones to keep up with. It's up to you to decide how to handle that, and while some people may enjoy a rural lifestyle, others will find themselves eminently more successful and financially well-off in an urban environment.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I couldn't agree more.  For some, living in the city is the best way to save.  (Especially if you're a sucker for some of the "trappings" that rural life holds.)  I know people that move to the country to save money, but spend more on things that they think they have to have, but don't.  (Which is why I tried to say in my last paragraph that you have to do what works for you, city or country.)

I hope you don't think I was "slamming" city-life.  It just wasn't for me (although I LOVE to vacation there.)  I know others that will find the reverse to be true.  The "Joneses" could live anywhere, I think.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

Linsey 

Guest's picture

Hmmm, I don't know... I myself feel the experience of going to the rural life quite tempting, but after a while I feel kinda bored... I guess I'm used to the hectic city life...

Linsey Knerl's picture

I would be VERY bored out here without my kids and husband.  I also need to have connectivity with the rest of the world.  I love farm living for its simplicity in some ways, but I could never leave technology behind.  Plus I love having big BBQ's and get-togethers with my friends.  And I still get into the city for dining, shopping, and theatre.  I can't leave EVERYTHING behind..   :)

 

Guest's picture
David

We just moved from SoCal to New Mexico and cut our expenses in half. Sure, there was a one time jump in expenses for the move, but now that we are here, I can see how much lower our expenses are than they were last week. We are in our new house and we love the change of pace!

Guest's picture
L

Am I the only one who has no problem with "the Joneses"? Some of my friends make more/spend more than me, but I've never felt the need to "keep up". One of my best friends is the epitome of "the Jones" he has a 2 bed condo (to himself) downtown, drives a new Audi and buys his suits when on holiday in Italy.
I on the other hand ride the bus to work, and share a small one bed apartment with my partner.
I really am not concerned with how he spends his money and he certainly doesn't seem bothered by the fact that I try not to spend mine.
I'd hate to feel we couldn't be friends or that I'd need to move away from him. I guess I really don't get this peer pressure to spend- it's not like we're 14 and the cool kids are offering us a cigarette.

Guest's picture
Guest

I grew up in a small rural town with not a lot of everything. I have worked pretty hard for what I have now.

I tend to be frugal with my money. My husband and I both have good incomes, and most people we know simply spend a LOT more than we do. They grew up more middle class - eat out more, drive nicer cars, buy expensive furniture. While I don't feel bad about my small, old house...it can be hard. Especially when the "social" thing seems to be eating out. That gets expensive, but also being the "host" to dinners in can be too.

Anyway, I know where the author is coming from. People think I'm weird for going to garage sales or getting clothing from thrift stores. At home, it's a way of life.

Linsey Knerl's picture

L-

I agree that as a confident adult, I should be able to look past the "Joneses".  That being said, it's one thing to have a few friends who have more than you.  I found myself in trouble, when ALL of my daily contacts (co-workers, neighbors, friends, etc.) were living a lifestyle way beyond the one I grew up with.  I considered this a different culture altogether, and one that I wasn't particularly comfortable with. 

Since it usually is just a matter of perspective, people can grow and adapt to find balance in whatever situation they are in.  On the flip side, I see cases of peer pressure forcing those with modest intentions into buying more than they can afford.  An example of this was a housing community I lived in once.  The houses were all very nice.  The residents were professionals making much more than me.  I could easily afford the rent, utilities, etc, but I felt pressure to "keep up" with various community "codes" that were enforced.  (Mailboxes had to be made from certain materials, lawns needed to be manicured a particular way, signage had to conform to the suggested decor, etc.)  All of this was very costly and unnecessary in my opinion.  But when you live on a block full of "Joneses" you're pretty much going to be outvoted on some issues.

This, of course, is the exception and not the rule, and my "Jones" may not be someone else's.  Thanks again for such great comments!

Linsey 

Guest's picture
Guest

I like your post Linsey. It's or life is really about happiness. In the US I live in a gated community, with the $50 mailbox, no fences, the right color, etc on the house. But I work overseas in Indonesia, with lots of poverty, malnutrition, etc and a society that really is based on haves and have nots. I tend to look at the children, playing, living in squalor, but smiling, laughing, and appearing to be happy. But the minute they can work or contribute, life for them changes. It really hurts to see these children become part of the workforce at 6 years old. So this dose of reality to me. ie where i was born, prepares me when I fly home, I do not worry about the Jones, Indonesia keeps me and my perspective on what I really need in line with reality of the world for billions of people. I am very thankful that I was not born in Africa, Sri Lanka, or other poverty stricken countries.Everyone should witness this different life style once, on the ground and up close. That view could change the view of keeping up with the Jones to being happy whether its rural or urban.

Guest's picture
etavitom

wise post. thanks for all the profound advice!

Paul Michael's picture

but it's something I never forgot - "we measure our happiness (or our misery) by our surroundings.

If you're living in a nice 2 bedroom apartment and everyone else around you has a studio apartment, you feel like you're doing well. Put that same 2 bedroom apartment next to 5 bedroom mansions, and you don't feel so good.

Great post Linsey. Perspective is everything. 

Guest's picture
Chris

Linsey,

Great post, I can totally relate. Look forward to returning back to my rural roots.

I posted a link to the article on my site (www.cheaperversion.com)

Chris

Guest's picture
Benjamin

You've pretty much summarized my life as well!

I grew up in a rural Maine town. I never full understood the meaining of the term "keeping up with the Jonses" until my wife and I moved to Boston and started hanging out with "more sophisticated" friends. It was a hoot watching these people trying to out do one another with their cars.

Even more amazing was that my wife and I made as much if not more than most of these people and just the thought of financing or leasing a brand new Lexus.

Guest's picture
Guest

Leaving the corporate job and choosing to live in an "ending" community lets me ignore the "keep up with the Joneses" pressure.

My neighbors are mostly retirees who don't care about conspicuous consumption - they've left their big houses for easy townhouse living - if there are "starter" houses, these are "ending" houses - they all LOVE my young kids.

The peers I have left know I had to leave my Fortune 500 job to care for an ill parent, and that there was some significant under/unemployment involved with that decision.

What they don't know is my current income isn't really any less than in the corporate job, but I'm not having to wear a different $500 suit every day of the week (or have the new car)

Or commute any appreciable distance in my $2000 beater - that's a big negative of rural living - driving and more driving to get anywhere.

Here in the city I'm never more than 10 miles away from work or home - even if my dirt cheap car self-destructs, a cab will get me anywhere I need to be.

Guest's picture
Lucille

Work can be a real pain in this aspect depending on where you work. Some places I worked were full of people who were very into obvious displays of consumption. I grew tired of people judging others cars, clothing, everything down to where you lived or where you went on your time off. Where you live or where you went to have a drink on your time off has no relevance to your ability to do your job but many found ways to try to.

You can avoid this nonsense and live in the city. I think you just need to find the right group of people or place in the city. More people are becoming interested in sustainable living, reusing things and generally being more responsible with how they live.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

The way I see it, its all about your own commitment to your own values..

I have friends and family that run the spectrum of financial income and lifestyle- some of them have way more than I'd ever consider wanting or dreaming of. However, some of their choices are ones I would never make for myself or my family.

Just last week, my closest friends and I were out to lunch and talking about summer plans that they had. One was building a summer home on a plot of land in the middle of nowhere, yet upset about costs it would take to get electricity, water, etc out to the house. The other, just married, is planning on building a house by the lake with her new husband. Meanwhile, me & my family live in the city- living as frugally as possible to support our big family. We wanted our 4 kids- we want to parent and share our love and experience with them. Our choice is to scrap by and save as much as possible- but provide for them having a good, fun summer. Our summer plans in my family? Walking to the city pool everyday for swimming lessons, stopping at my mom's house for popsicles on the way home; having neighbor kids over to play whenever possible. We will have a few trips to the lake for picnics and swimming- a few car trips to the amusement park for rides and bad fried up foods with sticky sweet treats.

Its not a matter of which is better or worse- just which choices work best for the individual. Frugality, in my opinion, leaves choices open.

Guest's picture
Kelja

'Keeping up with the Joneses' is a mental disorder. Don't get me wrong, I know it's easy to become infected. But no one has to feel pressured to keep up with anyone unless they allow themselves to be.

I have a good friend who's quite wealthy but, by his standards, lives frugally. By that I mean, he doesn't live in a big house or dress in the latest fashion. He's worth millions and doesn't even own a flat-screen TV. An old TV perched precariously on a tray table suffices. He does own some nice cars, however: a Chrysler 300 and a Ferrari. He also has an order in for a new Ferrari, the 599, which will set him back over $350K. He'll take delivery sometime in the Fall.

My point is that his wealth doesn't do anything to me or for me. Maybe I'm not genetically programmed the same way many are but I have no envy or desire for what he has. When we go out to dinner or drinks, we still split the bill down the middle.

It's in your mind. If you covet or are resentful of someone's wealth, it's your problem.

Linsey Knerl's picture

"keeping up with the Joneses" in the traditional sense very well could be self-imposed.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it was a "mental disorder."  Perspective, as Paul points out, is the key to being content.

There are however, situations and places that perspective will only go so far.  Reminds me of a co-worker who was once fired from job because he couldn't afford the $400 shoes that the rest of the guys on his salesteam wore.  It wasn't "mandatory" that he purchase them.  But management saw his prioritizing that $400 for feeding his family instead of "going with the flow" as a lack of dedication to his job.  In this case, "keeping up with the Joneses" was forced upon him by the place he chose to live and work.  Relocation, then, was not only desireable, but mandatory.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
gtWise

While I greatly disliked some of your other postings this one was a refreshing read! I have no intentions of giving up my current lifestyle or pack up and move, but the basic premise of the article is something I have been trying to adapt myself. I am not moving away from the Jonses but I am certainly trying to enjoy what I have and consume less.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You have my most humble appreciation.  I'm glad we can see eye-to-eye on some of the finer points.  :)

Linsey 

Guest's picture
Allison

Keeping up with the Joneses happens because people allow it to infect their mentality. I think it also has to do with insecurity.

We are frugal people, but pride ourselves on being smart with our money. Savings and debt are first priorities, then material goods. I have not always been like this; in my 20s I worked in the entertainment industry in LA and succumbed to the pressure to dress to impress. I went broke doing it and it took a long time to catch up. But fortunately, I've gotten over this. Being an entrepreneur and having a family will do that sometimes.

In 2 weeks, we are moving from Los Angeles to 20 miles outside Philadelphia in order to scale back our lives. Not quite rural, but for us, it's a huge step towards a simpler life. I can't wait!

Guest's picture
Pam munro

It's good to remember that when you choose a job you are often also choosing a lifestyle that goes along with it - And the people you are hanging out it a good deal of your time. These can all be taken into consideration when thinking about lifestyle vs. work.

Guest's picture
Charles

Good for you! I am a 70 year old active guy with grandkids. I take great pleasure in totally wearing out something before replacing it - and wearing it out includes repairing it as many times as I can before discarding it.

I have always been amused at the spit-and-polish preparation that many folks have lavished on their cars (polish, clean, custom wheels, etc.) to impress the other drivers on the street. Watching this parade carefully, it is obvious that they (the spit-and-polish group) have little use for the other drivers on the street - so why do they make such a pretty sight for the other drivers to enjoy? They must be doing it for the other drivers - they can't see the whole of it while driving it. One of the perplexities of human nature, I guess. Being in touch with ones self is one of the great joys of being alive. I believe you have risen to that level and you enjoy life a great deal more than the "must keep up" crowd. I know I do.

Just for a laugh, let me tell you of my greatest accomplishment of getting the max use out of a car. I once called an auto dealer about a van he had advertised. He described it to me and I told him I was coming to see it, and that if it was as he described it I would buy it. I jumped in my thoroughly worn out Ford hard-top and started the 20 mile journey to the dealership. Halfway there, my Ford started to vibrate. I continued on, wiggling and shaking. When I arrived at the dealership, and pulled in, the Ford literally BROKE IN HALF just behind the drivers seat. It had rusted in half. They had to tow it to the back lot. I had literally gotten the very last mile out of it. Great fun!!!

Keep on enjoying life - it is a wonderful trip!

Guest's picture
laura

I love your fabulous attitude!!!1

Guest's picture
sodaker

i had the same experience: i grew up in a small, poor town in sodak. the few *lucky* kids who had new clothes every year didn't wear them often because they would be made fun of for having new.

my years in college were enough for me to figure out that i wanted to live in rural america my whole life. the girls in my freshman dorm had excess everything - cars, clothing, money - while i was just about the only one who worked and went to school. i can't imagine the kind of pressure they had felt their entire lives to "keep up with the jones" while i was fortunate to had never experienced that until i was 18.

sure there are "jones" here - but they are few and far between - i like to think that makes it easier to not keep up with them :)

cheers -