Do you feel the pressure of “Keeping up with the Joneses?” Have you ever wondered where the saying comes from? It’s no secret that the cultural phenomenon continues to influence our society today (e.g., Keeping Up with the Kardashians), but few people stop to consider where the movement of competitive consumerism originated.
Socialites Mary and Rebecca Jones coined the phrase in New York City in the mid-1800s when, to the shock and awe of their neighbors, they built an opulent mansion amongst the modest homes north of 57th Street. The Jones family became notorious for their extravagant lifestyle, sparking a cultural need to “keep up” that would become a national trend. Their niece, Edith Jones Wharton, would go on to become the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence.
Here’s some irony for you: Despite her lifelong wealth, Mrs. Wharton embodied none of the climber characteristics inspired by her family’s name. She maintained successful writing career, lived within her means, and even criticized the classist society in which she lived. If Edith Wharton could transcend the pressure of keeping up with her own family’s expectations, why are we still so keen to buy into the Jones mentality?
The answer, of course, is peer pressure. It’s not a myth perpetrated by elementary school teachers. We feel pressure to achieve the same level of success, happiness, and “stuff” gained by our friends, colleagues, and even celebrity counterparts. We also strive for the status and admiration attached to certain items. For example, the American Express Black Card gained notoriety as an exclusive credit account for the super-rich, boasting cardholder perks and a sky-high limit. It may sound elite, but let’s be real: it’s just a credit card. Stop craving the shiny objects and manufactured happiness that comes with them. To avoid the Jones effect, here’s what you need to focus on:
This is credit repair woe #1. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. “But my friends all have it!” Your friends and other influencers may live differently, carry less debt, or have another source of income. It’s likely that they too are struggling to keep up with the Joneses and are overspending to satisfy the illusion. When it comes to buying, stick with only what you can afford. Don’t worry about anyone else.
You may want the thing, but do you like it? It’s astounding how often people forget to pose this simple question of personal taste. Status objects are expensive because their brand is recognizable, but do you really need a BMW if your favorite activity is camping? On the other hand, if your taste matches the expensive label, I refer you back to point A. In either case, the bottom line is this: Don’t allow status to sway your opinions or empty your bank account.
When your possessions affect your blood pressure, it’s time for a reality check. In a perfect world, common sense looks like this:
- Work secures income.
- Income secures financial stability and necessary possessions.
- Stability and necessary possessions provide a sense of calm and happiness.
Thanks to the Jones phenomenon, here’s a more realistic picture:
- Media and personal preference instill the need for excessive possessions.
- Work secures income.
- Income secures a portion of the money needed to provide possessions.
- Credit secures the rest of the money needed to provide possessions.
- Financial stability is never achieved.
- Stress replaces the feelings of calm and happiness.
In simplified terms, it’s clear that sacrificing happiness for the sake of unnecessary things is ridiculous. The obvious cause of happiness is not possessions in this equation; it’s the presence of financial stability. You might get a temporary thrill from maxing out your credit card, but the stress that soon follows will overshadow any conflicting emotion. You may feel pressured to act, think, and buy into a certain way of life, but the financial stresses of credit repair are far worse than the glare of your peers. While Mrs. Wharton probably never dealt with credit repair, take a lesson from her anyway by ignoring outside influence. Go your own way.