The Cost of “Keeping Up With the Joneses”

“Keeping up with the Joneses” — a seemingly innocent, yet satirical catchphrase derived from the title of an American comic strip in 1913 reflected our need to impress others through material goods or superficial success. Yet even though over 100 years have passed, the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” is still very prevalent with the rise of social media.

Given the pressures of achieving “success” (whatever that may be), the desire to impress others can lead cause some serious harm to one’s financial and emotional well-being.

We’ve all experienced comparing ourselves to others—whether it be how much more someone seems to make, the clothes they wear, or the type of lifestyle they live, the effects of our insecurity can quickly add up.

But how much does our insecurity actually cost us? That is, this whole mantra of “keeping up with the Joneses”.

For starters, “42 per cent of Canadians rank ‘money’ as their greatest stress…[and] 33% of [Canadian] Millennials admit they’ve been dishonest with friends” (FPSC, 2014) when it came to their personal finances. Moreover, it has been reported that the average Canadian consumer owed more than $22,000 in consumer debt, not including mortgage debt (CBC News, 2017).

While not all consumer debt is caused by one’s insecurity of “keeping up with the Joneses”, social media has given marketers an extraordinary advantage in influencing consumer behaviours. However, with financial insecurity being one of the many causes of anxiety, it has been found that “63 per cent of Canadian millennials are at “high risk” for mental health issues” (Global News, 2017), costing over $51 billion per year to treat mental illness.

When we break down the individual costs of our insecurity, it is important to recognize what kind of emotions are triggered when making a purchase. Was your recent purchase made out of the “fear of missing out”, pressure, or anxiety?

Start slow by understanding your regular expenses, then evaluate what sort of purchases were triggered by negative emotions. If you’re saving up for any specific financial goals or hoping to pay off some debt, it’s important to prioritize what’s important versus worrying about what others may think.

A great tip from The Financial Diet is to write down the purchase, the cost, and how you felt when you made that purchase. At the end of the month, calculate the costs of the purchases you’ve made out of the pressure to “keep up” or any feelings of insecurity.

It’s absolutely okay to treat yourself once in awhile, but when you start to evaluate what exactly you are buying and whether it’s actually useful in your current situation, you’ll begin to see that those emotional purchases may not have been worth it after all.