When Will People Learn The Joneses Are Poor?

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the joneses

A few weeks ago, I told you a story about an acquaintance of mine whose husband gifted her a Lexus for their anniversary. In true keeping up with the Joneses style, she posted a picture of it on Facebook for all to see. While this couple does make a nice living (likely higher than the US national average) they are also very intent on ensuring people know that they have very expensive things.

Essentially, they are trying to be The Joneses…


As many people in the PF community know, the real Joneses are quiet about their wealth. They are often the type of people described in the book The Millionaire Next Door. They have money because they don’t really spend their money. They are not afflicted with materialism, and they don’t feel a need to keep up with anyone or show off because well, they have everything they need right there with them.

It’s been a sad, slow, downward spiral for the American public in the past few decades. With the invention of new technologies, we are exposed to luxury lifestyles on a constant basis, whether through TV shows or commercials. What’s worse is that much of the population seems to equate success with money or even worse, money with happiness.

While I think we can all agree that we feel happier and more secure when we have money, the rat race of keeping up with The Joneses will only make you miserable. As my dad says, you can’t keep up with them, so don’t even try. As soon as you get one new thing or one brand of car or go on one nice vacation, The Joneses are at it again at a much nicer resort in their much nicer airline seat. You can’t beat them, and you shouldn’t join them.

The funny thing about all of this is that the Joneses aren’t rich at all. In fact, they’re poor. Here’s how you can identify someone who is just playing the part:

1. They Talk About Money a Lot


I’m not talking about people who speak or write about money in an intelligent way. I’m talking about the people who talk about “Spending 10 G’s” on x, y, or z. (A “G” is apparently a “grand” or $1,000 for those of you who aren’t down with the lingo. 😉 )

These are the people who have nothing else to say and not much else to offer, so they run around making sure everyone thinks they have money so that they feel important.

2. They Get Lots of Calls from Unknown Numbers


I once went on vacation with a friend who got about 5-10 calls a day from unknown numbers. Now, it’s normal to get a wrong number every now and then, but the only “unknown” people who call that much are collections agencies.

3. They Always Have the Newest of Everything


Unless they are legitimately independently wealthy and their grandparents gave them a trust fund to do with as they please, most average people with average jobs cannot afford to have new designer sunglasses, clothes, cars, and electronics all the time.

In sum, it might seem like they have it all, but they don’t. The Joneses usually have debt up to their eyeballs and casually forget their wallets when you eat lunch with them. The real millionaires are typically those who don’t flaunt it, the type of people who drive their old trucks because there’s nothing wrong with them. Sure there are the super-rich and celebrities, but that’s another post for another day.


Do you know someone who’s trying to keep up with the Joneses? Do you feel the pressure to join them?


Photo Courtesy of: Kim Alaniz

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • Sandra says:

    Friends of ours are picture perfect Jonses. Constantly talking about the trips they take and the stuff they buy. And basically living YOLO when it comes to buying stuff.
    At first you are impressed and want to go that route too, but then taking a few steps back and looking at it again you realize that it’s a lot of show and tell.

  • Travis @debtchronicles says:

    I used to be a big time Jones watcher……not I just concentrate on what makes me and my family comfortable and happy in life. I’ll let the Joneses worry about themselves. πŸ™‚

  • Income Surfer says:

    Aren’t people like this funny……and let’s be honest…..ANNOYING. I have a few people in my life that go on endlessly about expensive junk they want…..while at the same time bragging about the new stuff they have, but seem less than thrilled with. Where’s the balance? Why all the stuff? My life needed more balance and less stuff….so my wife and I went in that direction a few years back. The people in your post makes no sense to me, but I know we’re different.

  • Pauline says:

    I don’t pay too much attention to those people but can’t stand when they start saying they’re broke and they can’t understand why with two good wages they don’t make ends meet. They will never listen if you suggest cutting on bling and downgrading a little bit so it is a lost case anyway. They secretly want your lifestyle but would rather you join their group so they don’t feel that bad at managing money.

    • Cat says:

      Yeahhh when people say they are broke but are driving new cars and holding iphones, I can’t really deal with them too well lol.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I think everyone knows at least one other person who tries to keep up with the Joneses. There is definitely some pressure among 20-somethings to get a nice new car, to have a beautiful house/apartment, etc. regardless of what your actual income is or the fact that it’s much better to save and invest in your 20s than to spend it on frivolous things.

    • Thomas @ i need money ASAP! says:

      There is so much pressure on 20-something’s today. When we graduated not so long ago my wife and I kept our furniture from college for a few years as we saved for nicer things. We were definitely the odd man out. Many friends brought new stuff immediately on credit or by foregoing savings. They looked like they were “doing well” but you know what they say, all you really know is how much they spend.

      • Cat says:

        So true yall. I’m always torn. I want at least my house to look nice bc. I’m very affected by environment but also always want to save money too!

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Oh, don’t get me started =)

    I know people (in their mid 30’s!) who will wait until payday to buy a $300 pair of designer shoes or a purse, etc. but then not have money for their electric bill.

  • Adam @ Money Bulldog says:

    I like point one here. If a person can’t think of anything better to talk about than how much they earn then I’d say you have to feel pretty sorry for them really. Firstly it’s not very sensitive to others who don’t have much and secondly, there are much more important things to talk about in life and if they can’t think of any then again we have to feel pretty sad about that.

  • Michael Solari says:

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that. Maybe it’s an insecurity thing but who knows because it is definitely annoying!

  • Karen says:

    A lot of my extended family is into hig end everything: cars, clothes, electronics. They don’t really talk about their salaries or budgeting, so I’m not sure if they can afford it or are in deep debt. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and all, but sometimes I feel they like to show off their big houses and fancy cars. I can’t really relate to them.

  • Kathy says:

    I think it would be nice to be the Joneses. πŸ™‚ Seriously though, I always wonder about the long lines of people who stand outside the Apple stores to get the latest I-pad or phone. I keep thinking why aren’t they at work, and if they don’t work, why are they standing in line for a phone that costs upward of $300. I think one of the worst things I saw was on TV when they showed a picture of the Dallas Cowboy principle partner Jerry Jones (get it…..Jones?) was talking on a flip phone and he was ridiculed for not having a smart phone. Maybe if people didn’t always buy the latest phone, they would have more money like he does.

    • Cat says:

      Yeah when financially responsible people get made fun of, that is very not cool. I feel like I on occasion am given a hard time for the frugal tendencies.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I have a lot of very well off friends (there is a big aerospace industry where I live so a lot of my friends are engineers), but none really flaunt their money at all. If anything I see pics on FB of their travels, but it’s not 5 star hotels or bragging about it. I don’t think the Jonese are necessarily broke. I just think certain Joneses are arrogant. lol!

  • Grayson Bell says:

    I used to try to keep up with the Jonses. I wanted to be them, then I found out they are just in debt and I was with them. Now, I have no desire to do that. They can keep their lifestyle.

  • lIZ says:

    My best freind really struggles as she is always trying to keep up with the Joneses. She spends money like it’s going out of style. For the most part never had an issue with this. I do have an occasional moment here and there but most of my wants are related to travel.

  • Sharon says:

    Great article. The title totally drew me in (found you from Club Thrifty, I believe). I feel bad for my parents, sometimes. They grew up d.i.r.t. poor. As in, my mom, who grew up in Korea, used to have shoes she made out of cardboard she found. My dad grew up almost as poor. He joined the military and made a good living out of that, and when my mom moved here she was able to make a solid income at a factory for almost 30 years. Coming from their childhood to solid income made it easy for them to want to spend money on material things more than they should have. I think it’s hard for some people who do not grow up with any kind of financial education to spend their money wisely once they have some.

    • Cat says:

      Aw glad you found us! And YES upbringing really, really maters in terms of how people handle their finances. That would be a good blog post.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    I’m a big fan of the Millionaire Next Door. It seems that many people like to keep up with the Joneses and getting into debt to keep up. I’ve never really wanted to keep up, and had no ability to do so anyway. There are of course moments when I feel pressure since EVERYONE is doing it!

    • Cat says:

      I know – I need to re-read it! And yes I totally understand about the pressure! It’s not easy to resist it.

  • Raquel@Practical Cents says:

    There’s always someone like this especially on Facebook and sometimes you may get pulled into it but after a while I get bored with it. Like you mentioned, I need more to a conversation than bragging about money.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    We were the Joneses for a while, we were broke, so don’t ever try to be like that! The Parr’s however, are much smarter. We may drive older cars and have a lumpy couch, but I’d much rather people try to be like that than the Joneses!

  • Michael@Save-Invest-Grow says:

    Some great points here. I think we all know people that are exactly as you describe. I swear they buy these new things not even for their own personal enjoyment, but just to post them on social media and show their friends that they have “arrived.” Its nice to have nice things, but its important to adjust what we value so we don’t spend it all just on things we want vs. things we need. In my opinion, if we define our version of success based on acquiring things and the approval of others, we’ll never have enough.

    • Cat says:

      Exactly I like nice, quality things just as much as the next person but don’t feel the need to have the latest and greatest of everything. That’s a disease in my humble opinion.

  • Chris Peplinski says:

    Unfortunately, what you wrote about is a tough habit to break. I’m a fee-only financial planner and I see this spending pattern often.

    The thing is, this spending habit can’t be broken until rock-bottom is hit.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    We do put those Joneses on a pedestal that they don’t deserve. They may have lots of everything, including debt but I’m not sure how much happiness they have. I often find people who buy, buy, buy are generally quite unhappy and using things to try to fill up their emptiness. While truly happy people buy thoughtfully on the things they truly want whether they are simple things or extravagant. They buy with purpose and without adding debt.

  • Matt Becker says:

    I think the lesson here, in both directions, is that appearances can be deceiving. Or don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Whichever one you prefer. Just as an outward appearance of wealth doesn’t often equate to real wealth, an outward appearance of modesty often disguises real wealth. In the end, the way other people act is irrelevant. It’s what YOU are doing to better YOUR OWN situation that really matters.

  • Savvy Working gal says:

    This is so true. I remember leaving a work party with my boyfriend years ago and he made the comment one of the couples must really make a lot of money. No they don’t. He was still in school and she spent her entire paycheck on her wardrobe; hence she looked like she had money.

    Compare that to the owner of my company who still lives in the home he purchased in 1969. He is worth millions.

  • E.M. says:

    Thankfully I don’t know too many people who attempt to keep up with the Joneses. I did have an ex who enjoyed getting the newest technology, and not surprisingly he lived pay check to pay check. I think it’s too overwhelming to try and keep up with things honestly. I’ve learned that buying things doesn’t really bring me happiness.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    Agreed! I called the Financial Dorian Grays in my blog last week. I had a friend who literally couldn’t even get approved for a credit card because her credit was so bad, but drove around in a Mercedes. What I dislike most about them, is they make other people think they are living a “bad” life because they are not keeping up.

    • Cat says:

      Oh lord. That is ridiculous. And yes, they propagate myths and make other people feel badly about their situations.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance says:

    Oh, the joneses. THOSE people. Anytime my wife and I see them, we calmly remind each other that they are up to their eyeballs in debt… or more realistically, something snide like “do your monthly payments make you feel as cool as your new car/boat/needless expense?” Now, they could have paid for it in cash, but what person that is smart with money is going to drop $35k cash on a car? Of course, like Matt said, looks can be deceiving because I’m sure a bunch of people think I’m some poor hipster musician playing my gee-tar (guitar) on the corner for nickels.

  • says:

    I know someone that is obsessed with always having the newest stuff. Funny thing is, I think he’s less happy than most folks that do without. Also, he’s always talking about money and how he’s one or two steps away from paying off all of his ridiculous consumer debt.

  • Anneli @thefrugalweds says:

    O-M-F-G! So funny πŸ˜‰
    My husband, Carlos and I were just talking about this! We know of a few folks who seem to ALWAYS be in the clubs in Vegas, livin it up at their penthouse suites, buying the A6 Audi in the commercials, and buying all them expensive purses. I’ve considered deleting them from my Instagram, honestly! One, that sure as hell can’t be a sustainable lifestyle and Two, those are not the kinds of people I wanna be around. I want people around us who are going to help us increase our investment portfolio – ya feel me!??!?!
    Thanks for the post! I needed a good laugh this afternoon πŸ™‚

    • Cat says:

      Oh yeah we are right there with ya! First of all, you couldn’t pay me to go to a club let alone a VIP section because I’m just too uncool for that. Second of all, while I’m sure the hubs would really enjoy a nice Audi, I’m totally happy with my 12 year old car haha.

  • kathryn says:

    What is the opposite of the Joneses? That is what I am..or becoming. My sandals, that are only 2 years old, started falling apart. I couldn’t find another pair I liked, so I knew we were going back eventually to the area (2000 kms away) where I bought these. I just need to make some repairs. For $3.00 I bought some velcro, blue duct tape, and staples…they held together. (the strap part was the problem)
    So we finally arrive to the town, and I bought another pair, exact same. I planned on throwing out the old pair, but they were working perfectly now. Three months later, the soles are slowly disintegrating, and it is more of a challenge to see when they completely fall apart.
    I did the same with towels. I didn’t buy any for 20 years, because I always received enough as gifts. When they got holes, I cut them into wash cloths…then they became cleaning rags.
    I get more enjoyment seeing how long something will last.

  • The First Million is the Hardest says:

    Even for those of us who know better than to try and keep up with our neighbors, it’s still really hard to resist the temptation. Pulling a new car into the drive way sure would be more fun than buying a few more shares on a fund in my IRA. Sometimes it takes an extra reminder to focus on actually building wealth, and not just trying to represent it.

    • Cat says:

      Oh yes. It’s definitely tough!! I get down from time to time when it seems like everyone else is so far ahead of us!

  • Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life says:

    Especially with tax refunds! It’s like payday times three! They want to make you feel like they are doing all the right things and that you aren’t doing as well! Oh well! There are more important things to brag about!

    • Cat says:

      Yes lots of people like to post about their tax refund and say what they are doing with it. I just wonder why they have a tax refund? Seems like they might need to re-calculate something!

  • Jason B says:

    Unfortunately I know a few people that are trying to keep up with the Joneses. I try to stay clear away from them.

  • Prudence Debtfree says:

    I’m still fooled by The Jonses. Although I stopped trying to keep up with them quite a while ago, I still take them at face value and think they’re rich. Your point, “They talk about money a lot” hit home though. I can think of a couple of people like that, and I see them in a new light now. I’m feeling – not annoyed, but – (gulp) sorry for them.

  • Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I have a relative who has paid for vacations over making property tax payments. Recently being hit with a larger than expected income tax due payment, I am happy that I have the money saved and don’t spend it frivolously!

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    There is definitely a handful of people that I know like this. It’s sad, because they aren’t fooling most people; there is a reason people dig themselves into holes like this, underneath it all. Stuff doesn’t actually make anybody happy.

  • Done by Forty says:

    I hear you, Cat. I am noodling over a post centered on a similar idea: showing we’re about something, vs. just being about something. I get the feeling that the persona we put out there is, often, a bit of a lie…financial or otherwise. Anyway, I completely agree that the Jones are not as wealthy as they show. Which is a sad kind of irony. If they didn’t flaunt their fake wealth, they probably would have it.

  • Lyle @ The Joy of Simple says:

    When I was younger, I was friends with a good many wealthy families who seemed to have it all on the outside. What used to make an impression on me though was how empty their homes were. I mean literally, they had a big house and all, but they couldn’t afford to furnish it!

    I also remember that they would always eat supper really late…like around 9pm because that was the only time their whole family was together as the mom and dad worked long hours to pay things off.

    Of course, I was just a kid then and so I didn’t know the “why” of how they lived. Now I do and it’s kinda sad!

    Thanks Cat for an enjoyable post πŸ™‚

    Take care and all the best.


  • Little deer says:

    A lot of my girl friends are the Joneses. I did try to keep up with them, but I stopped. I was pondering and debating against myself sorta like to be or not to be. And then I realized life isn’t only about designer bags and shoes that you show off to your friends when you go out to dinner on a saturday night and then go dancing until the wee hours of the morning. I would always having a LOL moment every time we go out because they admit they love going to the bar but they would order a glass of OJ or a diet Coke. I mean why are we here anyway? then it dawned on me that they just wanted to show me their latest Coach, Michael Kors, LV purses and shoes they are wearing while I am only wearing my work clothes (jeans and a shirt) and my back pack with my lunch in it. These are my Joneses. I can buy the 10 of them dinner, but the thing is I am stuck with their cooking when it’s their turn to celebrate their birthdays. They insist on going dutch when we go out because they are broke. How’s that?

  • DaBizWhiz says:

    Great post! It is hard because these people many times also complain to why the rich are rich and why they are not retired or have to go to work every day.

    Do you know what I normally answer: You know why the rich get rich and you continue getting poorer? Because you are a utility of the rich. Every time you earn your paycheck, you use it to buy crap you don’t need. You basically work for them and help them grow their business, then you return the money they gave you back to them when you spend the money on crap.

    This normally hits them hard because they feel like they are being used like a tool. Which in the end is the truth but not with a bad intention.

    Companies are not bad, they just want all your money.

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