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Mr. FAF and I live in a townhouse community.
There are a lot of young couples who are close to our age.
We don’t hang out with them on a regular basis.
But we usually say hi and have a quick chat when we see each other.
Our kids are almost the same age, so it helps the conversations flow more easily.
My general impression of our neighbors, at least the ones we’ve talked to, is that they are friendly, hard-working, simple, and helpful people.
During our conversations with them, I have never heard them mention brand-name clothing or luxurious items.
If anything, we like passing down used items, especially those for kids.
In other words, I usually don’t feel like I need to compete with or compare myself to them in any way.
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However, there are certain instances where the desire to keep up has occurred.
I would love to think that we don’t feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, but it’s not entirely true.
And I’d like to explain that below.
1. Home decor
In December last year, Mr. FAF and I got invited to our neighbor’s house for a New Year’s party. We were both excited and nervous.
I usually meet the wife at the metro station on our way home from work. We talk about kids, daycare, jobs, community activities, clothes and a myriad of other topics.
I met the husband once. They seem to be a pretty simple, easygoing, and friendly.
When Mr. FAF and I went to our neighbors’ New Year’s party, we couldn’t help but notice how well organized and nicely decorated their house was.
I would love for our living room to look like this!
Near the windows of the living room stood a beautiful Christmas tree that was about my height. It was decorated with many small yet beautiful ornaments, something we didn’t have at home.
The sofa was nice and comfortable. The walls were painted light cream instead of almost dark yellow like our house. It made their whole house look brighter, cleaner, and more modern.
Overall, I felt like it was a really great space to hang out and, of course, to live. I observed all the nice things about the house but didn’t think much of it. Our neighbors obviously had done a great job furnishing and decorating their home.
The next day, however, Mr. FAF voiced his concern:
Mr.: I think we need to upgrade our house.
Me: What do you mean? I think our house is great. I feel comfortable. I don’t think we need to change anything.
Mr. FAF: No we need better lighting. I want recess lights. We need to make the living room look nicer. Our house is too simple. We don’t have any decorations. I’m going to search for home decor on Amazon and at Home Depot.
Me: Is it because you saw our neighbor’s house?
Mr. FAF: Yes.
Someone was definitely trying to keep up. Mr. FAF started looking online, and we went to Home Depot the next day. The floor lamps within our price range didn’t look good. And those that looked good were too expensive.
We ended up buying higher watt light bulbs at Home Depot which did make the living room look brighter. It cost us a total of $13 to replace the dim light bulbs at home.
I asked Mr. FAF what else he wanted to buy. He said he wanted to buy a small sofa to put in our bedroom which I didn’t see the use of. But I didn’t want to crush his dream, so I let him do his research.
After realizing how expensive everything he wanted to buy was, Mr. FAF suggested waiting until we go to another neighbor’s house for a birthday party to see how their house looks.
I was just relieved that he didn’t want to more anything crazy expensive. In other words, I’m not that passionate about decorations and was perfectly happy with the way things were.
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2. Kids’ clothes
Most of Baby FAF‘s clothes are hand-me-downs from our friends and neighbors. They are still usable but won’t make him look like a movie star or anything.
Sometimes Mr. FAF would see our neighbors’ kids dressed up nicely to go to church or a party. He would then tell me that our son’s clothes are not nice enough, and that we need to upgrade his wardrobe and buy nicer clothes for him.
We did buy a couple of new clothing items for our son such like a new winter jacket, socks, shoes, and bibs. We also went to Macy’s JC Penny, and other stores to find reasonably priced clothes for our son.
But we realized that those clothes are too expensive and don’t look much better than the ones we already have at home.
Mr. FAF said that he feels bad for our son that he doesn’t look as nicely dressed as their neighbor friends. I usually brush it off saying that it’s more important that he do well in school in a couple of years, and that his clothes are just fine.
Related: Our 7 Expectations For Our Son
3. Family time
On the weekends, I would see dads taking their kids out on a walk in our community. When Mr. FAF was still living in another city, that sight usually made be a bit sad. I wished that our family were living together in one place like our neighbors.
Even when our family is reunited, I still implore Mr. FAF to take our son out for a walk at least on the weekends, something he rarely does.
It’s still cold in DC now, so he has an excuse. But when it’s warmer, I want Mr. FAF to be like the dads in our neighborhood: playing with their kids outdoors on the weekends.
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In the personal finance community, many of us publish our income and even net worth. But it’s not something people actually do outside of the blogosphere.
Sometimes both Mr. FAF and I wonder how our income compares to our neighbors. I guess in a way it boosts our confidence knowing that we as immigrants still fare pretty well despite all the disadvantages we’ve faced.
It’s just a thought that crosses our mind every once in a while, not something we’re overly obsessed with. When Mr. FAF was a poor grad student, our neighbors treated us well. And they still do now. Nothing has changed.
I don’t know for sure, but I think our income level won’t affect the way our neighbors treat us. Maybe we’re just a bit self-conscious about our finances.
We have never thought about buying an expensive car or brand-name clothes to impress our neighbors. If I’m correct about them, our neighbors wouldn’t care and may even think we’re just trying to show off and even stop being so friendly to us if we did.
Maybe it’s all in my head. But I truly believe that we’re fine just the way we are as long as we don’t break any HOA rules or bother our neighbors by parking our car in the wrong spot.
If someone doesn’t like us because we live a simple life, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends in the first place. I’m not a big fan of keeping up with shiny objects.
And most importantly, if we continue working hard, we can prove to ourselves, not our neighbors, that we are capable and can move forward with our own plans.
At the end of the day, it is our lives that we live. We don’t live for others.
Related: 5 Embarrassing Money-related Facts About Me
Keeping up with the Joneses gets such a bad rap, especially in the personal finance community.
But I think that keeping up with others isn’t always bad. Mr. FAF and I have some habits that aren’t always good. And we only realize that we can improve our lives after seeing how other people do it.
For example, if we ever want to repaint our house, we will opt for a brighter color. Baby FAF is young now, but when he is older, we will need to be aware of the fact that he might compare himself to other kids and develop an action plan for that.
I still think that Mr. FAF needs to spend more time with our son outdoors instead of staring at his computer the whole day or playing with our son for only 10-15 minutes at home on the weekends.
And regardless of how much we earn compared to our neighbors, we want to make more income so that we can achieve financial freedom faster.
Keeping up can come in the form of learning instead of competing on a superficial level. And I do think it that it can benefit us a great deal if we do it properly and moderately.
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23 thoughts on “How We Are Keeping Up With The Joneses”
Interesting perspective! I don’t really notice what other people do because our neighbors are 15-30 years older than us. Maybe I’m dense. Our immediate neighbors are 2 lesbians with cats and the other side are a young couple who likes big trucks and very very very small (like 2 lb) dogs.
Maybe I’ll notice more when we have kids but nothing right now. It sounds like a more tight knit, HOA community thing where you know who your community is.
I’m with Lily. I couldn’t care less about the neighbors. Our house is nice enough. With an overactive boy, it turns into a big mess very quickly. That’s just not important to me.
Cloth isn’t a big deal for now. Little kids don’t care what they wear. Once they’re a bit older, they’ll be more self conscious and ask for better clothes.
Our house can get so cluttered with toys! I’ve done some spring cleaning and plan to give away or sell a lot of our son’s toys. I’ll try not to accumulate toys or anything we don’t really need from yard sales >_<
I think it depends on the neighborhood. The neighbors next to us are almost the same age as us, and their kids are almost the same age as Baby FAF. But I know there are areas in the community where the neighbors are much older and/or not as friendly. I guess we got lucky in a way 😀
We’re lucky we live in a giant apartment complex where you never visit anyone haha. But when I visit friends they do sometimes have more stuff. I just find it funny. One guy bought a $300 cool air purifying system from dyson. Looked cool, but I would never pay that! Still, his living room is quite nice.
I think we’re comfortable with our furniture. The apartment has nice fixtures due to it being a rental. Decorating my actual house one day seems stressful!
Wow I wouldn’t buy a $300 cool air purifying system either. Sounds like an expensive item!
I would love to be able to have all the decor done for free or at a low price. I don’t think I have the skills to make our place any better, especially with our home decor budget (currently $0). But I’m totally happy with it 😀
The Dyson Air Purifier at $300 is a steal! I would buy a few more at that price. Then again I have “Seasonal” allergies that run from March through November. In our household three of us have allergy issues nine months of the year, the other two have problems three months of the year. Heck, even our dog has environmental allergy issues three months of the year. The Dyson reduces the environmental allergens to a level that makes it so we don’t have to spend $2280 a year on allergy medications anymore. Instead, we spend around $150 a year for filters and $200 a year for medication for the worst days when there are high tree pollen, grass pollen, and outdoor mold spore levels.
I feel no need to keep up with the Jones’ financially. But when it comes to blogging…I am a little jealous of the wonderful content, site design, and freebies others provide!
I feel the same way sometimes! I’m a bit jealous of other new blogs that are bringing in great blog income hehe. One step at a time 😉
omg. I TOTALLY feel the home decor thing.
My wife and I suffer from this hardcore :/
Great post though 🙂
Thank you, Pete! I think we feel that way because home decor is the first thing we see when we visit someone else’s house. The pressure is definitely there! 😉
I can relate to the home decor thing. It seems like even people just out of college spend a lot of time making sure their apartment looks nice and cohesive. Meanwhile, I’ve barely ever had any furniture for the past ten years! Now that my husband and I have been living together for a few years, we’re just now starting to slowly replace his old mismatched furniture, and the cost of doing so is pretty painful.
I think me being poor for years has its own advantages. I’m so used to using cheap/free furniture that I don’t really care how they look anymore. I just care if they serve any purpose in our house. I might change my taste in furniture once I get super uber rich or something. But now it’s just not worth the effort to me. 😀
Make sure you keep up with the values and kindness of those important to you, rather than the items they buy.
Thanks for the great reminder, Will! Learning from others’ kindness is definitely a must 🙂
I totally do what Mr. FAF does! I go to other people’s homes and compare. But you’re right, after thinking about how much things cost, I say, “Nah, never mind!” Sometimes something inexpensive like paint color or better light bulbs really does make a difference. It’s nice that you live in what sounds like a pretty low-key community. I think this is key! If you were to move to a fancier McMansion subdivision, maybe you’d feel more pressure to keep up. We try to pay attention to the “vibe” of the neighborhood as we make a housing choice. We’ve always lived in older, more laid-back neighborhoods and we love it. There’s less pressure that way.
I feel no need to upgrade. Then again most of my neighbors are retired. Our direct neighbor is not far off my age but he makes a pittance so he probably thinks I’m extravagant.
Well, why you still need to be yourself, there is nothing bad if you see something good and affordable to you and then go for it. However, you should not allow another person’s lifestyle dictate the way you live. Just determine to live a fulfilled life.
Thank you for writing this and being honest. This is so interesting. The keeping up with the jones’ dilemma, to me, seems like merely a difference of priorities among different people.
For example: I have another stay at home mom friend whom I hang out with quite often. Both our husbands work for the same company. They recently bought a new house that is slightly bigger than their old one. Every time I visit (every few weeks or so) they’ve finished another DIY project or redecorated something. They’ve turned their home into something quite lovely. She is the one who drives all the home improvement projects, while her husband has to spend every weekend slaving away on them while she comes up with more ideas on what she’d like next. We will talk about this over coffee when I see her and in the very next breath, she’ll admit to me that she only has so much money left for groceries that week…or they don’t have enough money to spend on Christmas gifts.
Now, I don’t judge her for having a grocery budget, and I don’t even think people should have extravagant holidays, but my mentality is, if there is something I’d like to improve or beautify in my home, it’s better to wait until you truly have the funds and time to do them, and not let that get in the way of my normal lifestyle (aka, having money for basics like food, etc).
I completely understand Mr. FAFs response though. I did the same after seeing my friends house the first time, and my husband called me out on it! But after I found out they were struggling in other areas, suddenly a beautifully decorated home didn’t seem like sugh a high priority. Tell Mr. FAF that most likely anyone he sees with a lifestyle he admires (on a superficial level, filled with STUFF) is probably struggling financially. That is usually the case, I find.
Oh! And one more thing–for those who struggle with “keeping up…” there is a movie that pokes fun at that and kind of makes you think more about craving all that stuff. I think it’s called “The Joneses” with Demi Moore and David Duchovny. I think it’s available on Amazon if you have Prime.
Ah yes those pesky Jones people!!! I would rather have cash in the bank than a lifestyle I can’t really afford!! And who wants to clean a big house every week or mow a huge lawn??
I want my home to look uncluttered and beautiful like that picture too! Thanks for sharing your experience. We have a friend who has a home that they spent $10,000 on an interior decorator to design. It looks really nice but kind of sterile… but I wouldn’t want to pay $10,000 anyway.
Isn’t one of the biggest problems with keeping up with the Jones’ trying to figure out how to spell it? Is it Joneses, or Jones’, or Jones’s? I give up, I think the people I need to keep up with are the ones who can spell and know their grammar😜