We’re all guilty of trying to keep up with the Joneses in some way or at some point. I’m here to give you a word of advice. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses are broke. And here are the 3 things making them broke and how to avoid them yourself.
Big house. Fancy car. Upscale Lifestyle. You don’t need any of it. The Joneses make their life a show and these things are all a part of that show. But you shouldn’t view your life as a show. They say money can’t buy happiness, so why go broke looking for it in all the wrong places? A big house, fancy car and ritzy lifestyle won’t fill any void for you, but it will empty your pockets or put you in debt. Being wealthy doesn’t mean showing off your wealth with physical things.
Coming from someone who lives in a house that’s less than 1,700 square feet, I understand the big house envy. Sometimes I dream of a 3,500 square foot house with walk-in closets, a Wolf range, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, an office and a playroom. But then I remember why I don’t have any of that. It would be crazy expensive to purchase and upkeep and I like being able to comfortably afford my mortgage, especially now that we are living on one income. The Joneses, on the other hand, are house poor. That big house is taking a big toll on their finances, so how can you avoid that?
Smaller House Than You Can Afford
A big house costs more money. Now that sounds obvious, but I’m not just talking about the purchase price of the house. More square footage means higher heating bills and higher electric bills for cooling. A bigger house has more rooms to furnish which means more money spent to furnish them. A larger house also leads to projects costing more. For example, if you want to stain the wood floors, pricing is done by square footage. Or if you need to replace the roof, the roof may be bigger (unless your house is just taller and not wider or longer). If you want to change the wall colors you need more paint because there is more wall space. You get the point.
Mortgage Smaller Than You Are Preapproved For
Being preapproved for a certain mortgage amount does not mean that is the amount you can COMFORTABLY afford. If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage every month, your house is too expensive for you. If you’re struggling to pay your bills outside of your mortgage every month, your house is too expensive for you. If you’re unable to enjoy your life because you have no money left after paying your mortgage, your house is too expensive for you. If you can’t save any money because your mortgage takes up most of your income, your house is too expensive for you. If you struggle to pay your mortgage EVER, the house is too expensive for you. You catch my drift, right? Make sure your mortgage payment still gives you the freedom to pay your other bills, save money and enjoy your life.
Keep Rent Low
If renting, I’d suggest that you, or you plus a roommate(s), should be making at least 2x the rent. Let me reiterate from above. I know how appealing that waterfront apartment with a balcony is. Having a doorman is super cool. Endless amenities like a gym, swimming pool, tennis courts, game room, lounge, rooftop deck, etc. all sound great. But…
If you’re struggling to pay your rent every month, your apartment is too expensive for you. If you’re struggling to pay your bills outside of your rent every month, your apartment is too expensive for you. If you’re unable to enjoy your life because you have no money left after paying your rent, your apartment is too expensive for you. If you can’t save any money because your rent takes up most of your income, your apartment is too expensive for you. If you struggle to pay your rent EVER, the apartment is too expensive for you. You catch my drift, right? Make sure your rent still gives you the freedom to pay your other bills, save money and enjoy your life.
Further Commute Than You’d Like
Long commutes suck. Believe me, I know. My first year of work my commute was about 50 miles each way, usually taking me about an hour and half each way. I would have to leave my house 2 hours before the time I needed to be at work because if I left later it would take me 2+ hours to get to my job. My husband now commutes to Manhattan and while we are only 45 minutes away without traffic, there is ALWAYS traffic going into and out of Manhattan. So, his commute via train (and driving to and from the station) is about an hour and a half door to door each way.
But, one good thing about where we chose to live is that we can comfortably afford our mortgage and taxes. If we chose to live closer to Manhattan, our property/school taxes would likely be double and we would have paid almost twice the price for the same size house with less property.
Same goes for renting. Rent in Manhattan is astronomical and you do not get much for your money. The closer you choose to live to a city, the more expensive your rent will be, so try to be flexible and willing to live a little further out, but not so far you spend your entire day commuting to and from your job.
Vehicles are a necessity for most people, unless you’re living a city and able to solely rely on public transportation or have a short enough commute to work that you can walk or bike. That being said, you do not need the newest or fanciest vehicle, especially if that is going to put a financial strain on you. The Joneses may be bragging about their Range Rover, but they’re not telling you about their crazy high car payment, their high interest rate on their car loan, how expensive it is to fill up their gas tank or that their car insurance is through the roof. So, what can be done to avoid going broke when you need a car?
I have never had a brand-new vehicle, nor do I think I ever will. Why? Because cars depreciate in value so quickly. According to Carfax, the value of a new vehicle can decline by more than 20% after the first year of ownership. After that, it is estimated the vehicle will lose about 10% per year for the next four years. So, the sweet spot to buy a used car may be when it’s five years old.
Personally, I recommend buying a certified preowned vehicle over a used car. Certified preowned cars are low-mileage used cars that come with an extended warranty from the dealer. They also have an inspection done before they are put up for sale and any damage or repairs are taken care of at the dealership’s cost. Used cars, on the other hand, are a bit riskier. The cost of the inspection and any subsequent repairs falls on the buyer. Additionally, there is no warranty coverage. With a certified preowned you are spending significantly less than you would on a brand-new vehicle, but you also have peace of mind with less uncertainty than buying a used car.
Keep for a Long Time
The best advice I can give you on car ownership is to keep your car for as long as you can. In the approximately 15 years I have been driving, I have had just two cars. The first was a certified preowned Jeep Liberty that my parents gifted me for my 16th birthday. I drove that car for 10 years until the cost of repairs would have exceeded the trade-in value. At that point, I purchased a certified preowned Mercedes Benz ML350, which I have had for 4 years now and is almost 7 years old. My hope is to get at least another 6 years out of this vehicle.
Cars, trucks and SUVs are expensive, even when you are buying a certified preowned or used. So, the less often you have to make the purchase, the better off you are financially. That being said, when repairs on your vehicle become more expensive than the trade-in value, it may be time for a new vehicle.
Leasing tends to sound more attractive than buying a car. When you lease, you get to drive a new car every year or two or three (depending on your lease term), your monthly payments are usually lower, lower maintenance costs, etc. However, leases come with restrictions. Generally, you have to stay under a certain mileage in your lease term or else you will owe money at the end of the lease. There is also fine print in the contract about how the vehicle needs to be maintained during your lease, so little dents and scratches that wouldn’t bother you as the owner of a car, may be a bigger deal to the dealership and cost you in the end. Also, in order to ensure you get the lowest monthly payment on the lease, you may be asked for a down payment- for something you don’t even get to keep.
Don’t Go to a Dealership for Maintenance (Unless you have a warranty)
Warranties on cars are great. They don’t usually cover everything, but they do cover the cost of much of the maintenance and some repairs within the first couple of years of ownership. However, once that warranty runs out, it usually does not make financial sense to continue going to the dealership for maintenance, as the dealerships tend to be more expensive than a local mechanic shop. My suggestion is to get as much as you can out of your warranty, but once it’s over, find a trusty mechanic close to home, give him the business and save yourself money.
Social media is the worst thing to happen to people’s finances. The Joneses are always posting pictures from their incredible vacations at high-end resorts, their meals and drinks at the hottest new restaurants, their takeout meals when they’re home, their new designer clothes and accessories and so on. Sure, their life is totally “Instagram-worthy,” but how are their wallets faring from all this? Probably not well.
Use Reward Points for Trips
Whether you’ve got credit card rewards or hotel and airline points, try to use them to vacation when possible. While I may sound like a hypocrite if you’ve read my post Why I Didn’t Use Travel Hacking for My 3-Week Vacation, I swear I’m not. We could comfortably afford that trip we took because we saved for two years. We also knew there was a chance I wouldn’t return to work after I had baby. So, we thought it made more sense to accumulate more points for future trips when spending on vacation might be a little bit more difficult.
Airbnb or VRBO Instead of Hotel
If you are traveling on a budget, Airbnb or VRBO is a great option. Hotels tend to be more expensive because they offer more amenities and more service. With Airbnb and VRBO you and renting someone’s house, condo or apartment, so it eliminates many fees. The downside to renting someone else’s residence, though, is that you’ll have to do your own cleaning and cooking (unless you’re going out to restaurants).
Gift Cards Are the Best Gift
I know gift cards get a lot of flak because people think they’re “thoughtless gifts,” but gift cards are my favorite gift to receive. If you want to go to nice restaurants or buy brand name clothes, but are on a tight budget, ask for gift cards for your birthday or other occasions.
Look for Less
If you really like the style of a certain pair of shoes, bag, outfit, furniture, piece of art, etc., but it is too expensive and a stretch for you to spend, see if you can find something similar for less money. The internet is an endless resource and you will likely be able to find a cheaper version of whatever you’re looking for as long as you are willing to put in a little effort. Designer symbols don’t determine your status or worth, so try to get that thought out of your head.
Moral of the story?
Stop comparing yourself to others. Keep your eyes on your own path. Know what you can comfortably afford. And when you catch yourself being envious of the Joneses try to remember why you don’t have the things they do. The Joneses have a bigger house than you? It must take forever to clean. The Joneses just got a new car? Too bad it depreciated in value already. Mrs. Jones has a pair of $600 Gucci sneakers? Your sneakers cost you $50 and the remaining $550 went to your retirement and that $550 will be worth $5,959.09 25 years from now (assuming a 10% annualized return from the S&P). So, while the Joneses are in debt, you’re building yourself a better financial future.
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Nice read Courtney.
Keeping up with Joneses is a surefire way to be in debt. It never matters what others’ opinions are of your decisions. I’m all for the smaller house and plan to downsize myself. My current home is 2098 sqft and it’s still too large.
As the kids get older it may be nice to have space, but there is a room in my house, about 300sqft that I’ve only been in a handful of times.
I have a neighbor who has a $75k truck (which I love, even though I’ll never buy one) a $50k Jeep, a $40,000 sports car and a $25k van. The truck moves maybe twice a month, the sports car never moves. That’s over $100k in cars depreciating in the driveway.
We definitely utilize every foot of space in our house. But truthfully before my daughter we rarely used our downstairs, only for our annual ugly sweater party.
$100k in cars is excessive! I sure hope your neighbor has savings and retirement funds lol
I wrote a whole post on car depreciation about a month ago, and up until then I would have agreed with you about keeping your car for as long as you can.
It’s good to buy a used car, but I learned it’s also good to sell a car before it gets too old. Once it get’s too old, the market for buys becomes really slim, so you either have to donate it or sell it for next to nothing.
It depends on the car, but a good spot to get rid of a car is when it get to be around 12-13 years old, and before 200,000 miles.
Of course, if you love the car, keep it until it dies.
I actually should have elaborated a bit more because I totally agree with you there!
I had around 135k miles on my Jeep when I traded it in and it was just about 11 years old at that point. I’m assuming it’ll be a similar situation with my current SUV but now that I’m not commuting everyday hopefully I can keep the mileage low and get more when it comes time to trade it in.
Just found your site—nice work.
Chasing the Joneses is the cardinal sin of personal finance. So much of it comes down to asking the right questions of oneself. Determining what sort of life a person is after in the long run and then working down to the micro level of the behaviours that will help them get there.
The trouble is that with easy credit, it’s all too easy to put the cart before the horse. The prize before the work.
It’s actually insane what a bank will preapprove someone for. Just enough to take them until their mouth is below the water, but they can get some air because they’re not entirely submerged.
You’re exactly right, Ryan! Between easy credit and social media showing only the “good” side of life, people are drawn to these lives they can’t truly afford.
Banks/credit card companies are half the issue for what they allow, but it’s also a matter of learning your own finances and figuring out what kind of life you can actually afford.
I have to disagree with you in the commute. This is for a couple of reasons:
1. Time. Time is money. Those extra hours you spend in a car add up. Let’s say you spend 5 extra hours a week commuting at your far out home. If you value your time at $100/hr that’s $2000 a month in lost earnings sitting in a car.
2. Car depreciation and fuel- if you drive it 3x as much it will depreciate 3x as much. The few hundred dollars you save a month in the mortgage will go right back to buying gas, tires and depreciation.
3. House appreciation- lots of factors affect how a house appreciates and distance for commutes is one of them. Houses out in the middle of nowhere are more difficult to sell as well due to the larger competition.
If you take all of the actual costs into account you might find you are actually financially better off to pay more and live close to work.
Also, when picking home don’t forget to take into account school districts. https://www.dollartrak.com/are-school-districts-worth-it-when-buying-a-home/
There is a lot of practical advice here on how to reduce your expenses and live within your means. Learning to always think of opportunity cost when deciding how to spend or invest money will lead to you making smarter financial decisions. That $50,000 car when you are 25 years old might end up costing your account balance $600k by the time you are 60!