Keeping up with the Joneses is at the front of my mind again. One reason is a recent comment that many FIRE practitioners find that having less stuff is better. Another reason is because of a visit to my neighbour.
I've also come to believe that less is frequently better than more. I've enjoyed our accommodation downsizing journey and, these days, I appreciate having the right stuff rather than lots of stuff.
Unsurprisingly, having less tends to cost less too - useful if you aspire to financial independence, and perhaps retiring early. On the other hand, keeping up with the Joneses are steps in the opposite direction. I'm also a fan of the added benefit that having less is friendlier to the environment.
Despite these benefits, I suspect most people still follow the Joneses. Even if it's subconscious, they covet the big house, new furniture, premium car, dream holiday and probably that huge TV, latest phone and branded clothes... you get the picture.
I've not been perfect. Looking back, why did I pay extra for a BMW and Audi? Neither got me to my destination any better than my current Nissan. And why did I spend more to live in a far bigger house than we needed? Darn those Joneses!
How come I fell for it and got suckered for the extra costs? Most likely, it was status related. I wanted to show that I was at least moderately successful, and imagined that having bigger or more expensive things told that story.
It's an easy trap to fall into. We live in a socierty that encourages consumption and seems to measure success by possessions. The Joneses appear as neighbours, friends, in magazines and on TV. Sometimes they're obvious, but often they're subtle creations of businesses trying to lure us into buying their product.
Even though I know that spending to keep up with the Joneses doesn't makes financial sense, it still catches me out sometimes. Maybe it's because those Joneses can be sneaky, creeping up on you when you're not expecting it. That happened to me this week when we visited our neighbour's apartment.
We love our two bedroom, 61 sqm (650 sq ft) apartment. It's significantly smaller than our recent homes, but surprisingly more than big enough for what we need. Then I saw our neighbour's apartment. Wow! Yep, it's bigger, by far, five bedrooms in fact, and they have some beautiful furniture. I found myself wondering why we didn't have an apartment like that.
It's strange - I've already said that we're very happy with our apartment, so why did I start to covet my neighbour's? I suspect the answer is that I worried what they'd think of our small apartment and, by extension, what would they think of me? Would I appear less successful, and would they look down at me because of that? Maybe I even felt a bit embarrassed.
It's weird to write these things, because they sounds stupid. But it's the kind of thinking that businesses wanting our money rely on. They want us feel we should keep up the Joneses. Fortunately for me, apartments aren't available on Amazon so a knee jerk apartment purchase didn't take place - my money is still safely in my pocket. But it reminded me how easily we can fall into the trap of playing keep up with the Joneses.
So, is there a point to this rambling? Yes. It's a reminder to think about what's important. To remember that the choices are in our hands. What is it that we want to spend our money on? Something that makes us truly happy , or something simply to impress someone else, who we may not even know. I know which I would choose.
This week reminded me to be careful, and not let the Joneses sneak up on us. Reaching financial independence has changed my life, and it's not worth risking that prize by trying to keep up with the Joneses.