Updated: Feb 7
Keeping up with the Jones’ isn't what it used to be
Nobody likes to think that they are “keeping up with the Jones’”. It’s such an old-fashioned saying – who actually thinks like that? Traditionally we would think of this kind of “keeping up” would involve buying a nice car, sporting a Louis Vuitton handbag, and pushing baby in the Bugaboo stroller.
But "keeping up" shows up in many ways that are much more subtle, so subtle that we don’t even see it. Societal norms and messages can mean we spend more than we need to. Let me give you some examples that I have noticed in my own life, which might prompt you to see how it shows up for you.
I’ve never been a buyer of designer clothes, but I’ve always felt that I couldn’t wear the same thing too often, especially at work. So I needed a pretty big wardrobe, which would allow me to wear a different shirt every day for a couple of weeks before having to repeat it. (Suits could be re-worn every three days.) Casual clothes had to be updated too, for fear of looking too worn and boring. Now that I’m pushing 50 and work from home 100% of the time, I worry about the “slippery slope” of wearing out-of-date clothes that make me look frumpy. All of this thinking has meant I’ve bought a LOT of clothing in my life, including many things that I barely or never wore. My clothing shopping has dropped off a cliff since I left my corporate job, partly to save money and partly because I care a whole lot less these days. Now when I try something on, I ask myself “Do I love this?” I have to love it – no compromise. If I don’t, I walk out and promptly forget about it. Yes, I still want to look nice but nice is different from following some unwritten, made-up rules about what I wear.
This is a touchy one. Someone might be offended by the question, “Is it just me or is there a kid competition going on?” Keeping up can show up in our children, and how many activities and opportunities we give them. Of course we want the “best” for our kids but it’s costing us a bomb. We don’t want our kids to be left out! We want them to have skills! So we fork out for skiing lessons, music lessons, competitive sports, summer camps, Mac laptops, paintball birthday parties, and art supplies. It’s a modern parenting curse, that your kid needs to be “well-rounded”, socialized, and given every opportunity in life. Trust me – I feel it and I want it all for my kids too. But will they be better people for it? Do I really have to fill their lives with meaningful activities so they can get ahead in some way? I don’t think so. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on activities for my kids that probably didn’t add much to their lives. When they got old enough, they spoke up (instead of having a tantrum on the way to soccer) and now have a very pared down list of things they want to do. This is good in many ways – they have more control over what they do, we spent less time rushing around, and I save money. And I think they are going to turn out just fine.
The impressive rise in home decorating magazines and TV shows has been great for the renovation industry and furniture stores…and terrible for our finances. The magazines tell us that our house needs to be updated and kept “fresh” and HGTV gives us a ton of ideas for improving our space. Nice furniture, new hardwood floors, upgraded kitchen, luxurious bathrooms and adorable baby nurseries are on many a wish-list. We want our home to look great for when we have a party once every five years.
I’ve lived in many places in my lifetime and loved shopping for each new place. It’s not just the new couch or dining room table that was (is) clogging up my credit card statement, but it’s all kinds of things like nice-smelling candles, area rugs, gardening supplies, artwork, and throw pillows that creep up on me. I still fall for house-related stuff and in fact was surprised by how much money I spent over the past year on this category (something I Iearned when I recently updated my spending tracker). This year, I vow to be more aware. Not everything needs to be updated or improved. It's ok that my walkway is cracked. The shifty leg of my couch will probably hold up for a while longer. The hardwood on my second floor can remain as it is in all of its 1920’s creaky glory. Sometimes “good enough” is great.
Here is a list of some of the things that I think pressure us to spend more money than we need to. This is not meant to be preachy – I have bought into and still buy into many of these things myself – and it’s not to say these things are bad. (And for sure I’m going to offend someone but that’s the freedom of writing an independent, corporate-free blog.) It’s simply an observation of the influence of marketing, media, and who knows-what-else has had on how we spend.
· Updating your wardrobe just because you “should”
· New furniture instead of used
· Organized classes for 1-year-olds
· lululemon leggings
· Back-to-school shopping (a Walmart favourite!)
· Wellness spending (I love my essential oils)
· “Shop local”
· Organic everything
· Handmade wooden baby toys (yup, I bought ‘em)
· Branded clothing for kids
· Latte/frappucino/cold brew
· Craft beer (I can’t drink Canadian anymore)
Life is expensive. Pressure to upgrade our spending is making it worse. I have full control over how I spend my money – doing it mindfully and with full awareness makes spending more rewarding. I wish I’d done it a lot sooner.
Note: The cover photo is one of my favourite products: the Moncler puffer jacket for dogs (retail price $549). No pressure, dog owners!