It is not a coincidence that this post immediately follows my Debt Snowball post. ;-)
For years we have heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.” When our neighbors get a new car suddenly our car is outdated and falling apart and the need for a new car arrises. When the neighbors get a new elephant sized plasma television our normal sized television becomes smaller and smaller. It is almost innate to want something better when you see someone else who has nicer and newer things.
I live in an area where I sometimes feel like I do not belong. I grew up poor. Every year my family of four was only a thousand’ish dollars or more above the poverty line. We barely didn’t qualify for free lunches at school. I didn’t have any kind of health or dental insurance. We filled the gas tank in my parent’s car up with $5 or $10 at a time. In high school I rarely knew what it was like to drive around with a full tank of gas (and to think, gas was $1/gallon back then). My Christmas and birthday gifts were often comforters and other practical things that I needed rather than wanted. My first car was a Honda Accord that we purchased for $500 that my dad (a mechanic) fixed for me. My husband grew up in circumstances that were a little better.
Fast forward to today. Our town was incorporated a few years ago and has a population of about 57,000 people. The median income is $99,941. The neighboring town has only 1.2% of its population living under the poverty line (census data for my town was not available in 2000 since it didn’t exist). The town where I grew up has a 16.2% poverty rate and a median income of $37,021.
Looking around at my friends I see so many nice “things.” Quite a few of my friends live in beautiful houses with granite/marble countertops, wood floors, great furniture, and amazing accessories. Purses are from stores like Coach and Kate Spade (as are shoes).
While I would love to live in my friend’s houses and have their purses I have realized that I am incredibly happy where we are. Our house could use better counters, new carpet, different sinks, and the list goes on and on. But really, whose house doesn’t need updating? When we get a case of the “I want it now’s” we step back and tell ourselves that we are not even 30-years-old and that we have only two areas of debt: student loans and our home mortgage. While it would be nice to update out counter tops and have the latest purse our focus is debt, debt, debt.
We really do have friends with the last name Jones. Their house is one that inspires and amazes me. When I first met Mrs. Jones I doubted that I could really be friends with someone who lived in a much larger life than I did. Boy, was I wrong! In the past few years I have found that Mrs. Jones is just as almost as frugal as I am. When my other friends talk about their new things they always speak about the good deal they got on it. I have realized that everyone wants nice things and wants to save gobs of money on them.
My husband and I were married in 2003. We have had the same furniture since then and added two pets and two daughters to the mix. Of course I wanted to update our house to make it less college feeling, but I didn’t want to spend large amounts of money doing so. For some reason I was trapped in the mindset that our new furniture had to come from Pottery Barn or a name brand furniture store. Finally enough was enough and we bought some fabulous furniture at Ikea a week ago. While it may look “Ikea-riffic” it is so much better than what we had before. Our television was resting on a broken unit from Target that we found on clearance. The coffee table leg was broken for the four years that we have lived in our house. It didn’t take much to step up from where we were.
I finally decided that it didn’t matter what other people thought about my furniture, just like it doesn’t’ matter that I don’t have a name brand purse. I need to be happy with what I have. And you know what? I am! While it may be nice to keep up with the Joneses I am now perfectly content doing what makes me happy.
How do you feel about keeping up with the Joneses?
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