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.
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 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.
Related: How To Save On Furniture
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.
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.
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.