Practical Tips to Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses


If your friends overeat, you’re more likely to overeat. If your friends are active and sporty, you’re more likely to be active. And if your friends like to spend money, you’re more likely to spend too.

In a society that revolves around conspicuous consumption, a big part of our consumer culture is about performing wealth for other people—both our actual and imaginary peers. Advertising and media play on our aspirations, especially as everyone seems to be living large. But you don’t want to keep up with the Joneses anyway, because they’re broke.

In a culture of spending, how can you stop spending for the sake of keeping up appearances? Here are some practical tips to start keeping up with the savers.

Create Your Own Peer Group

When microfinance organizations first started making small loans to the poor, they found loans were more likely to be repaid if borrowers also participated in a regular support group. Not only did the group help each other out as borrowers started or expanded existing businesses, it also kept individual borrowers accountable.

Part of why people fall into debt is because it’s so taboo to talk about money and admit that we might be facing financial difficulties. And even if we want to stick to a budget, it seems so embarrassing to turn down a nice dinner out when everyone else is okay with going to an expensive restaurant.

That’s why it’s important to form a group if you really want to counteract messages around consumption. For one thing, no one in the group will judge you if you say, “I can’t afford that now.” This is one reason we created the ReadyForZero Community and also launched the F3 Challenge. Joining each of these can help you get (and stay) on track with your goals.

Reach out to friends or to online forums and groups. Set up a regular meeting time and place. You can share financial goals and check in with each other at your meetings to talk about where you were successful and where you struggled. There is a lot of power in being part of a group: one woman paid off $50,000 in debt a year after she joined a financial support group in New York City. There’s also this informal savings group that came up with an innovative way to save money.

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Remind Yourself of Your Imaginary Peers

I travel a lot for work, and I frequently come across signs encouraging guests to reuse towels, usually for environmental reasons. Researchers found that by replacing the wording in the signs with a message stating that the majority of guests were participating, more towels were reused. When people become aware that everyone else is doing it and it’s a social norm, they’re more likely to change their behavior.

You can take the same idea and put up little signs around your home and remind yourself of the social norms of saving. For instance, 54% of Americans have over $10,000 saved for retirement. Since most of the statistics around Americans and money are rather scary, you could also put those up too to remind yourself of what is at stake when you succumb to an impulse buy.

Stop Watching TV

Television is an endless source of inspiration for the desire to spend. If you stop watching television, you’ll be rich in more ways than just monetary—you’ll have precious time with your family and friends or the time to pursue a passion. You could even use that time to start a side job to really help you pay off debt.

What tips do you recommend to stop keeping up with the Joneses and join the savers?

Image credit: photoroad

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  • Good point. Choosing your friends is just as important, in not more, than choosing your actions.

  • Liz Johnson

    I agree! My friends understand that I am working to pay off debt not incur more. We all encourage each other to spend less and be mindful of our money. Instead of doing expensive dinners out we do potlucks or split a pizza at someone’s house. Real friends don’t care where you live or what kind of car you drive or what the label on your clothing says or even if you bought said clothing at a thrift store. Real friends will go to the thrift store with you and help pick out the clothing!

    • It’s so nice to have friends who help you accomplish your financial goals and support you in making good decisions. Shopping at a thrift store together is a great example!