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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    What kills your money saving?

    Snooze button

    (Ah snooze button. My nemesis! We meet again…)

    What is your number one enemy in the ‘you vs. money’ fight?

    For me – it’s organisation. Now I don’t just mean keeping track of my finances and control of my cash. That’s super important too but I’m actually not too bad at that. I keep a spreadsheet and I quite enjoy plugging in all the amounts I’ve spent – makes me feel in control and I can see where I’m at.

    No, I’m talking day to day organisation and life planning. For me, this is the number one thing that leads me to spend unnecessary money.

    If I’m honest I think it’s probably going to be something I always struggle with. I’m that irritating person who is always 10 minutes late to every personal appointment or engagement. I just can’t seem to leave myself enough time to actually get to where I’m going. I’m always squeezing in one more thing to do before setting off.

    Interestingly I don’t do this at work. Different priorities maybe? I don’t know. Either way, it’s not good.

    I also procrastinate. A lot. Something that could be done now, almost always gets put off until later, and then probably squeezed in at a point when I’m actually supposed to be going to do something else! Vicious circle right there.

    Vicious circle(Grrrr – a vicious circle. Sorry, sorry. Couldn’t help myself)

    And boy do I pay the price!! I’ll give you an example:

    On a good day I’ll get up at the planned time, get dressed etc. and grab my pre-made lunch from the fridge before going to catch the early train. I’ll park in the free spaces and walk to the station. Then, once in London, I’ll walk to work. No spend. If I walk back from work as well, I can easily have a no spend day without even thinking about it.

    On a bad (read, normal) day I’ll hit the snooze button too many times. I won’t grab my lunch, either because I’m in a rush and I forget it or because I couldn’t be bothered to make one the night before and thought I’d have time in the morning (see: procrastination). I’ll have to park at the station because I don’t have time to walk from the free spaces (£), and once in London I’ll have to get the bus because I caught the slightly later train and don’t have time to walk (£). Later I’ll have to buy lunch (£) because I didn’t bring my own.

    And there. In a few easy, barely even registered steps, I’ve actually spent quite a lot of money. Parking is about £8, bus £1.50, lunch about £5. Total cost for not getting up 15 mins earlier: £14.50. Ouch.

    If this was every day I’m down nearly £300 over the month. £300 just for hitting the snooze button! Jeez. That’s an expensive habit.

    And sadly this is often too normal for me. It’s improved a lot though since I started tracking my spending and realised just where my money was trickling away to. I genuinely couldn’t work out why I was always sinking into my overdraft – I wasn’t buying anything! There were no lines of lovely Jimmy Choos in my closet as evidence of where my money was going.

    It was both enlightening and depressing to see just actually it was just being whittered away on mundane, normal life. Nothing special. Nothing to show for it. Just hundreds being burned each month on stuff that could easily be addressed.

    So yeah. I now do make an effort to make lunches. And to try and catch the earlier train. It’s a rare day when I don’t walk to work, either there or back – if not both. But I’ll be honest, life is pretty crazy right now what with house renovations and a less than ideal living situation, and the moment things get stressful I do find myself falling back into bad habits. And that costs.

    So here’s to a new month, a new pay cheque and trying to hit the snooze button just one time less… See you bright and early in the morning!

    Working your money muscle

    Money muscle

    (Oooh – check out those money muscles!)

    Ugh. Money muscle. Sounds really gross – sorry ’bout that. It’s the best analogy I can think of.

    At the beginning of this year life was proving majorly stressful. We had to move out of where we were staying really suddenly with no notice, and relocate to somewhere that was absolutely tiny (we’re talking two rooms and a bathroom basically) with all of our stuff and no parking. With a toddler. And a dog.

    It was chaos.

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely stressed out in my life. I generally resist change and love a settled routine. It felt like there was nothing I could cling to that grounded me – like I was in a free fall spiral. Weirdest feeling. Not pleasant. Like if one more thing went wrong, I would crack. So I joined a gym.

    I am generally a gym’s dream member. I regularly sign up, pay my monthly fee on time every month, and then never ever go. And sadly it has proved thus this time as well. But for a few weeks/months I did use it and I really really needed it. Mostly I’d just go and do 30 minutes of yoga on a mat in the corner. It was the only place I felt I could escape and regain some control.

    So yeah. Now I’m focused on my money goal (eliminate my debt), that monthly fee really hurts me. It’s like a kick in the teeth each time. But it’s hard to regret my decision to sign up – it was a complete lifeline at the time and allowed me to cope.

    Anyway – that was a whole rambling intro to what I actually wanted to say and that is, that dealing with your personal finances takes commitment. A bit like the gym. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. It becomes a habit and then you can think about it less.

    The other side to this is that it can also be really easy to fall off the wagon. To become complacent.

    I’m thinking about this today because it’s nearly payday 💰💰💰 (tomorrow – yay!) and I find that my steely resolve to control my money really weakens towards the end of the month.

    I start off at the beginning of the month with a brand new monthly spreadsheet, and I begin by tracking my spending meticulously. But by this point of the month I’m slipping a bit. It’s like I think that this bit doesn’t count – like I’ve done so well up until now and, hey, if I’m only a little into my overdraft then that’s pretty good and it’ll all be wiped away shortly anyway when my pay cheque comes in. Cha-ching!

    Bad, bad money brain. It’s the same bit of me that flakes in the face of committing to exercise. If you allow yourself to start saying it doesn’t matter – that you’ll have today off but get back on it tomorrow – then before you know it, it’s all fallen apart.

    So I guess I’m saying – don’t be like me. Commit to keeping track of your progress and know that if you do start making excuses, you’re only hurting yourself. But it’s easy to get back on the wagon.

    Oh – and don’t sign up for a gym membership unless you will use it. Or you really really need it.

    The dumbest thing you’ll ever do

    Expensive car

    (Vroooom. I am expensive and shiny.)

    I want to be clear and upfront about something right now: I am not here to judge. If it was easy to make our money work for us and be sensible with it then we might all be bloody millionaires by now. I don’t know about you, but that definitely hasn’t happened for me yet.

    So chances are we’ve all made financial errors along the way and some silly money mistakes too. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

    So – no judgement here.

    But there is one financial decision that thousands of people make every day that I just don’t get it.

    Why, tell me WHY, do people ever buy brand new cars?

    I mean, really? I can’t think of any other situation where you would happily hand over anywhere between £10,000 to £50,000 (or more) of your hard earned money (after tax!) and gain an asset that is IMMEDIATELY worth approx 10-20% less the moment you get it, 40% less after the first year and 60% less after three years! Seriously – WTF?!

    You have just overpaid by thousands of pounds and you will never ever see that money again. You have gained nothing for the benefit of those lost thousands. The moment you sign the papers and are handed the keys, that brand new car is no longer brand new. It’s worth a whole ton less and will continue to lose value far quicker than a second hand car would.

    I just don’t get it. It seems to me to be the most baffling thing that anyone could choose to do with their cash, regardless of how much money they have.

    But even more mind-boggling is the fact that people are buying new cars on finance because they don’t actually have the money to afford the full amount. This is even more strange to me – why, oh why, are you buying an asset you can’t afford, and losing thousands of pounds in the process?

    On what planet does that make sense?

    So yes, as I said, no judgement here. We’ve all done silly things. But this financial decision seems to me easily one of the worst you can make. If you want to throw away thousands of pounds for the sheer hell of it, just send it to me instead. I promise to do better things with it than the car salesman you were going to give it to.

    On the other hand, I’m nothing if not open minded, so please – if you can explain this one to me in any way that makes sense, I’m all ears.