Keeping up with the Joneses

Episode: The Turtle and the Hare, Season 1, Episode 9

“In the city of perfect people, no one was more perfect than Brooke. She was an interior designer who only dated A-list guys. For Brooke, every Saturday night was like a senior prom. So, she got married.. we were all dying to see which one had made the cut. Was I the only one who remembered that Brooke had described the guy as more boring than exposed brick?”

But what does this perfection really cost? It’s obvious that people who come off as being effortlessly perfect, have spent countless hours, loads of energy and effort to get to that point. But is it all worth it? Keeping up with the proverbial Joneses, may just be an endless competition with credit cards as weapons.

Ms. Smith is trying her best to portray this fabulous lifestyle on a meager salary by wearing the most expensive designer clothing while going out on her fabulously expensive dinners with Ms. Jones, (whom she envys and is trying to emulate), and all the while, Ms. Jones is looking worriedly behind her back (as much as her Botoxed forehead will allow her) at the upcoming Ms. Smith who will one day (in Ms. Jones’ mind), surpass her fabulousness, and leave her behind..!

But much like price wars (when companies do price cuts on one another to try and drive out rivals from markets, a good example would be Wal-mart and their supercheap electronics sale in this holiday season 2006..), it’s exhausting and difficult to stop and break the cycle, without coming clean to one another. So until someone goes bankrupt, you would have no idea that they were in that kind of financial trouble, considering what they were spending and doing with their lives.

I admit, I am a bit guilty of that, but I’m not trying to really show off to anyone, in fact I’m a bit embarassed, but I just happen to love beautiful purses and necklaces, rings, etc. I don’t try to come off as being perfect (heaven knows I’m not!), and I try my best to show my flaws and the real downsides to my life to my friends so they don’t think I have it all, when I really don’t.

Businessweek had a great article on this, (aptly) entitled “Is keeping up with the Joneses killing us?” by Juliet B. Schor (who writes in third person). And here are a couple of excerpts from that article..

“A while back, I interviewed a woman in western Massachusetts who was, inarguably, strapped. She had lost her $18,000-a-year job several months earlier, and her live-in boyfriend didn’t earn much. Health insurance for her and her daughters was out of reach: ”I just punt and hope we’re healthy,” she said. And yet, in her apartment, I beheld the trappings of upper-middle-class comfort. The big-screen TV and VCR. The crush of name-brand toys. And outside, the fairly new Lincoln Town Car–for which she was several months behind on payments.

The tableau was at once absurd and sad–but not altogether surprising. We are, after all, a nation of accomplished spenders, slaves to advertising and status symbolism. The conspicuous fruits of our consumption shout out our aspirations and insecurities.”

Why are we killing ourselves this way? In large part, Schor argues now, we work so that we might spend. Americans are engaged in an intensifying ”national shopping spree” rooted in competitive emulation–keeping up with the Joneses on a manic scale. ”We are impoverishing ourselves,” she writes, ”in pursuit of a consumption goal that is inherently unachievable.”

I don’t want to get to the point where I work so I might spend, but I’m afraid I am heading that way, and it scares me. I think the root of it may be because I’m travelling all the time, and I never get to spend time in my own apartment, looking at my clothes and stuff that I already own. So when I travel all the time, I think that I don’t have very much, and begin the cycle of accumulation again (buying more blouses, dresses etc).. Just the other day, I couldn’t even remember if I already owned a chocolate brown silk long-sleeved tailored shirt or not, and was just about to buy another one!! Good thing I didn’t. Yet.

I think I need to take up a hobby that doesn’t cost much, like knitting blankets (I get cold a lot), or making jewellery (which I loved), or editting my accessories and updating them with new details, or even sewing my own clothes (would be super fulfilling..) It’s just the idea of travelling around with all of this stuff that gets me. Although, I may start on that blanket soon.. but I don’t know how knitting needles would ‘go down’ when I’m going through an airport sigh

Just think about it. I could make wonderfully knit blankets to use on the road, or give away as gifts. All it’d really be though, is a way for me to keep my hands busy, and to have something produced at the end of it that shows my efforts, and that is practical.

But I digress. We should really take stock of our lives and look at the larger goal and what is really hindering our chances of getting to that goal in life. For me, it’s a house. I’d like to get all my debt paid off, and buy a beautiful home where if I make payments, I won’t be crying because I’ll be paying into my own home equity.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.