Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Keeping Up With the Joneses

A couple years ago at my church, our pastor had a woman in our congregation give a talk about her family's struggles to get their finances under control.  At the time, our community had been hard hit by the Great Recession.  Many were out of work.  So many had lost or were going to lose their homes.  Times were rough.  Our congregation offers Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, a course on money management.  The talk was intended to encourage others to take the course to get on better footing financially.

I remember when the woman was giving her talk, she shared that her family had spent more than they needed to on a fancy home, nice cars and nice clothes.  The pastor interrupted and asked her why they had spent more than they should have on such things.  Without any need to reflect, the woman said it was a case of "keeping up with the Joneses."  In other words, they had felt social pressure to spend money on things to appear affluent and comfortable. 

I was stunned by this response.  This woman and her family seemed so self-assured.  They were people of great faith.  I was shocked that such people would care what the Joneses--or anyone else thought about them.

But I've thought about it over the years, and am no longer shocked.  It is human nature for us to care what others think about us.  In our culture, we don't like people to think we are poor, suffering economically or not able to afford whatever we want.  We don't want to be pitied.  And we want to fit in. 

Particularly here in the 'burbs, we often have a distorted sense of others' finances.  We often think that others are doing better than they are.  They have nice things, go nice places.  So we figure they must be doing well financially. 

But if the Great Recession has taught my husband and me anything, it was to not believe the facades we were shown.  To recognize facades are not an accurate representation of reality.  When the economy tanked, we were shocked that people had misrepresented being laid off.  We were shocked at all the people in our social circle who lost their homes.  At one point, it seemed like almost everyone we knew was impacted by the economic collapse. 

I like to think that I am mature and secure enough that I don't care what others think about me and my family.  Maybe I don't obsess about it, but I am not immune to it.  And in the 'burbs where everyone is putting up facades and trying to show they are living the good life, it can be awkward and even embarrassing when you choose to live a different way and not spend like everyone else.  And I think that type of awkwardness and embarrassment is why many keep on spending instead of choosing a different lifestyle that might enable them to live a more fulfilling life.

For this reason, I'm starting a new series called "Keeping Up With the Joneses."  The point of posts in this series will be for me to share concrete examples of situations where my family and I have felt social pressures to spend money, and to describe how we have (or have not) overcome such social pressures.  I hope it will be an encouragement.  In our culture, we don't discuss financial problems openly, so it comes as a shock with others admit financial limitations.  This series will be somewhat unique for that reason.

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