Keeping up with the Joneses

Mansion

(“Excuse me – Is this where the Joneses live?”)

Who the hell are these Joneses and why are we trying to keep up with them? I think that maybe someone needs to find these people and have a word. Are they even aware of the damage that they are doing? I think they might be the most dangerous family in the world, and it’s possible that they don’t even have a clue.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is the idea that you need/want to spend your money on lifestyle items and luxuries in order to try and match the lifestyle that you think your neighbour/friend/colleague has. Regardless of whether or not you can afford it.

It’s such a damaging idea. And yet so easy to fall prey to.

Once upon a time, in a past life, I worked at an investment bank. Don’t get excited – I was an admin assistant, not the recipient of any million dollar bonuses.

The woman I worked next to (also an admin assistant) was dating one of the bankers and had access to far more money (his) than I did (don’t get me started on the feminist issues this raises). For example – for Valentine’s Day he took her to Jimmy Choo to choose some shoes. But she couldn’t decide which pair she liked so he bought her three! The next year it was a brand new customised car…

  • Working at that bank was really my first experience of high end lifestyles. I was straight out of university and a designer handbag had never even crossed my mind, let alone been something I thought I’d ever own. But this woman, along with many others, was coming into the office every day in her Jimmy Choos and chucking her Chloe handbag under the desk like it was No. Big. Deal.
  • Being in that environment, where everyone spent so much money, got inside my head way quicker than I ever thought possible. Suddenly, standard ‘anything’ wasn’t enough. There was apparently a gold-plated ‘better’ standard that I was previously unaware of and I wasn’t meeting it.

    This applied to everything. For example, hand cream. Yeah, I know. Where can you go wrong with hand cream? Well, let me tell you. That ordinary hand cream you buy from Boots that costs £3.99 is nothing, I tell you NOTHING, compared to a Shea-butter handcream in an embellished metal tube that costs £25 from L’Occitane. That shit is goooooood.

    Before I knew it, I was scrutinising every element of my life to see if it needed to be upgraded, in order for me to feel like I was ‘keeping up’ and fitting in.

  • The crystallising moment for me came when I was wandering through a department store on my lunch break and I picked up a pair of plain black Louboutin heels. When I clocked the price tag of £400, instead of falling over in shock like a normal person would, my instant reaction was, “Hey, that’s pretty reasonable.”
  • I mean, wtf?! To be fair, even I recognised that this was not a normal reaction and that something had gone a bit wrong in my brain on this one.
  • Fortunately for my personal sanity, the bank I was working at then went spectacularly bust in the financial crash and we all got made redundant (moral lesson: hire people who have lost sight of the value of money and this is what happens). I was back to having no money and far more perspective on everything. Much safer.
  • I don’t want to turn this into a lecture, but actually if people didn’t have this constant need to upgrade their lifestyles to match everyone around them, then the financial crash wouldn’t have happened in the first place. It happened because people borrowed more than they could pay back, to buy houses they couldn’t afford. Don’t get me wrong – the bankers and brokers were the scum who should never have lent them that money and profited off that desire, but nevertheless it just couldn’t have happened if the desire for more more more had not existed. If so many people weren’t trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  • So sod the Joneses, I say. The Joneses are probably trying to keep up with the Smiths anyway. It’s all just a dangerous circle which only leads to unhappiness.
  • Yes, a bigger, shinier car maybe feels good and makes you happy to drive. But the monthly payment for the car finance makes you feel bad, coz that’s money you could have spent on shoes. So then you buy the shoes on a credit card. But then you can’t afford the exotic holiday your friends are taking this year because of the repayments – so you get out a loan. Just a small one… etc., etc.
  • So how about you don’t buy the shiny car? Your old one will still get you there. And forget the designer shoes. They’re no comfier to wear than normal shoes and you’ll cry less when the dog chews them. And then maybe you could afford an amazing holiday, if that’s what you want, but now you can take it guilt free because it’s affordable.
  • Surely that’s worth more anyway?
  • As I said – sod the Joneses.
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    Attitude is half the battle

    Saving money

    (“Maybe if I stare into the distance for long enough, my savings will magically grow…”)

    Saving money can feel like a thankless task sometimes. Especially if you have a goal in mind that is so large as to feel nearly unachievable.

    I remember when my partner and I started saving towards a house deposit. We were living with my mum at the time to save cash and it didn’t look as if we were going to be moving out anytime soon.

    I remember at one point we were sat in our local pub having a rare (cheap) meal out, desperately trying to work out when or how we might be in a position to move out into our own place. At our current saving rate it looked pretty bleak. It felt like we were never going to get there.

    But we kept at it – saving, little by little. Everything got cut to the bone in order to squirrel away just a little bit more. And before we knew it we had over £10,000 in the bank. I couldn’t believe it.

    We did everything we could to get there. We sold everything we could think of (including downgrading a car) and we barely ever went out. We had setbacks along the way, with unexpected costs that really hit the savings. That was always tough. We took no holidays abroad. Ever. Instead we would take long weekends occasionally somewhere in the UK that we’d save up for. We’d set a budget of £150 or so, and I’d make it a challenge to plan a fun weekend somewhere within that budget. We had some of the best times this way (Cheddar Gorge in October being a total winner, by the way. No really – we got lucky with the weather).

    But, as you probably know £10,000 is not a house deposit these days. Nowhere near. At least, not in the South East of England!

    So at some point we got creative and ended up using our money to go in with my mum and her partner on a house renovation project. But that’s a story for another time. The point is that, even if we hadn’t done that, we’d have kept plugging away until we got to where we needed to be. And that’s the point really.

    I was speaking to someone the other day who is basically in the same place that my partner and I were when we started saving. He has a small amount in the bank (a few thousand pounds from inheritance) but nowhere near enough. But instead of sacrificing and saving, he lives a very spendy lifestyle – expensive food; going out drinking in pubs; pricey fitness activities; lots of travel. Even a weekend shopping trip to Paris! WTF?!

    When I asked whether he was saving at all, given that he wants to buy a house in the near future, he said that the amount he would need to save was so big that there was, “no point”. Saving the small amounts I was talking about would make, “no difference”!

    Well duh! Not with that attitude it won’t. I mean, really – I don’t think he could be more wrong. Yes, the amount he needs to save seems huge – beyond reach. But, to steal an advertising slogan here, ‘Every little helps.’ It really really does. It starts to add up in ways you couldn’t imagine.

    At some point the money magic seems to kick in and as the savings pot grows, it seems to attract more and more money and grow faster and faster as you get nearer your target. Don’t ask me how, but suddenly you seem to find money almost anywhere – e.g you get an unexpected tax rebate, or more than you were expecting from an aunt for your birthday. And these little extra amounts really boost that savings stash.

    I don’t know. I probably sound a bit gaga on that one, but it’s always been my experience so I can’t disregard it!

    Anyway, the point is, if your attitude is that there is no point and you make no effort, then of course your savings aren’t going to grow and it will continue to feel impossible. But if you really try and are prepared to make some sacrifices to meet that goal, it is AMAZING what you can achieve.

    Im having to remind myself of this again at the moment as I now stare at my seemingly impossible debt, which feels like it will never be paid off, and tell myself that, little by little, we’ll get there. And probably sooner than I think.

    Can’t wait for the money magic to kick in on this one. The sooner the bMetter I say!

    Confessions of an avocado addict

    Avocado millennials

    (Curse you avocado. The downfall of millennials everywhere.)

    So a while ago I read an article about a millionaire who had said that the reason that millennials were struggling to buy houses was because they insisted on going to brunch every weekend to eat their ‘smashed avocado on toast.’

    ‘Rubbish’, I thought, as I had another bite of my mashed (which is totally different to ‘smashed’) avocado on Waitrose olive bread.

    No seriously – that’s actually what I was eating.

    There were a number of things about this statement which irritated me. Firstly the assumption that the reason this generation is struggling to buy houses is not because the housing market has rocketed to such insane levels that wages simply can’t keep up with. Nor perhaps that previous generations had significantly less tuition costs than this generation, whilst at the same time facing an increasing expectation from employers that you will have a degree. No, clearly it’s because the millennial generation are feckless spenders who like to waste their money enjoying life instead of socking away all their pennies under the mattress. THAT’S the problem.

    ‘Grrr,’ I thought. As did many others.

    Now apparently I am a millennial. I don’t really know what that means, but I’m reliably informed that I am one. And this millennial decided many moons ago that she would like a house. So my partner and I made that our goal. We had no idea if or when we would reach it. But we worked really really f-ing hard, and saved everything, and sacrificed a ton of things with that goal in mind.

    We definitely had some luck and help along the way (although I do believe you make your own luck to an extent) and we did eventually manage to buy our first house, in the South-East of England, when we were both still on tiny wages (him an apprentice and me in training for my current role). We were in our mid-twenties. This was way sooner than we’d ever dreamed of.

    So now skip forward to a point several months after that article was published. I’d now decided to tackle our ever growing pile of house renovation debt, in an attempt to meet our new goal of debt-freeness. And you can imagine my irritation when I finally added up the cost of all those avocado breakfasts and realised that maybe – maybe – that bloody millionaire had actually had a point after all! Goddammit!

    Turns out that the little things really do add up. While the amounts in question may seem so small as to be insignificant, actually it is those little costs, those treats, the ‘one-offs-which-are-actually-pretty-regular’ costs, that eat up all your spare cash. And that is extra cash that you could be adding to your savings or paying towards your debt.

    So if you are truly committed to your financial goal, then yes – I’m afraid for now those lovely things may have to go. Sacrifice. It’s a necessary part of success.

    So here we are. I still think that the ‘avocado issue’ trivialises the real uphill struggle faced by this generation in affording what the previous generation have managed fairly easily. But now at least I am saying that while eating my daily bowl of shreddies instead of avocado on toast. That is sacrifice, my friends.

    Having said that – oh avocado, how I miss you! Shreddies are just not the same… Fear not, we will meet again. Just as soon as this millennial has cleared her debt.