Chapter 2: Keeping Up With The Joneses

Society in part defines success by what we look like and own. It’s not surprising that people are tempted to buy things that will make them appear well-off, especially when others around them seem to have more. A common argument from teenagers who want their parents to buy them something is that “everyone else has one.” As adults we do not completely outgrow this line of reasoning. You see your neighbors, coworkers or friends having nice cars and clothing and feel that to avoid being an outcast, you need them, too.

Wanting to have nice things is understandable, but you can’t win if you try to “keep up with the Joneses.” There will always be people that have more than you. Remember, you are not what you buy, and you do not need expensive material things to have a good life. Of course, there are very few people in life who spend their money solely on necessities. There is nothing inherently wrong with spending some money on such things as vacations, dining out, and designer clothing – the key is to be conscious of your financial situation. Don’t spend $500 on shoes if you need the money to pay the rent. If you cannot afford to purchase something now with cash, instead of putting it on your credit card, start saving. You may have to wait a few months, but you won’t have to worry about paying off your credit card debt, unlike many of the Joneses who appear to have it all.

Spending Habits
Every day we are faced with hundreds of choices, and it is impossible to consciously think about all of them. That is why we tend to stick to the decisions we make. Most people don’t contemplate if they should quit their jobs or move to another city every second of the day. This applies to consumer behavior too. You choose the expanded cable package with the premium movie channels and dutifully send in your bill every month. You buy a $3 cup of coffee every day before work and eat out for lunch, and don’t give it a second thought. You get a manicure every week as a part of your routine.

Spending habits are easy to get into, but they are not always beneficial. Financial situations often change and what once was affordable may no longer be affordable. Or perhaps it never was in the first place. Periodically examining your finances can help you break out of habits you can’t afford to keep. Make an effort to keep track of your daily spending, and when the end of the month comes, total it all up. If you see that you are spending more than you are earning, not able to put anything aside in savings, or relying on credit to pay for expenses, evaluate what you can cut or reduce. Can you get a more basic cable package? Does your work offer free coffee? Can you pack your lunch? Can you cut back your manicures to once a month? Be honest about what is truly a need and what can be eliminated.

Weekly Expense Tracking Worksheet

Budget Worksheet