Keeping Up with the Jones

As a young adult, I definitely fell victim to the phenomenon up trying to keep up with the Jones.  I have had all the cliched mental conversations where I would justify frivolous or ill-conceived purchases.  I remember when cell phones first became a thing that some people had.  A family member wanted one but did not have the credit to get approved.  They asked me to help them purchase a cell phone.  This was the sexiest little

flip phone.  I left work one day and went to the store to pick this item up for my family member.  On the drive home, I couldn’t resist the urge to open the box and check out this item that was so foreign to me.  I immediately became envious.  I was a 23-year-old, in my first real job.  I was in management for a video game company and I made the immediate leap to the “I deserve this” type of mental chat.  The very next day, I had my own phone and thought I was king of the world.  This euphoria lasted about 3 days.  I would like to say that the lesson was learned at that point and the rest of my adult years were led without succumbing to this type of thinking.  Of course, it did not.  While I was probably better with finances than most of my peers, I still traded cars, clothes and other toys based on what my friends and neighbors were doing.  This all wound up leading to the day I have written about in the past where I woke up and despite a strong salary and having invested in equities and real estate and being very money conscious, I was BROKE.  

Since that time, I have rebounded strongly and become much more deliberate with my spending.  However, I have noticed the next wave of keeping up with the Jones.  Now that I have children—one who is a teen and one a pre-teen—that pull to keep up with others is even stronger than it was for myself.  As a parent, the one strong goal has always been to give my children as good or better than I had growing up.  Now that they are at an age where their “toys” are no longer toys, but cell phones, bicycles, and (very) soon…. Cars.  I have had to strongly fight the urge to make sure my kids have the latest and greatest technology, clothes, equipment, etc.  I don’t want them to suffer the ridicule that we are hear about from those mean, nasty Jones kids.  The truth is though, that those kids do not exist; at least not in my children’s lives.  

My kids ask for things and may even pout if/when I say no but there is nobody ridiculing them if they don’t have what others have.  My kids are quite privileged, don’t get me wrong.  They each have a cell phone and iPad and my daughter has her own computer, but they seem genuinely appreciative of what they do have and requests for newer, shinier toys have presented strong opportunities for lessons about the power of saving.  My daughter babysits and accumulates good amounts of money for someone her age.  When this started, I would talk with her about putting that money in the bank, at least 50% each time she earned it.  She would resist this and want to keep the small horde of money in her room to have in case she wanted to purchase something.  I didn’t push her but did consistently remind her that I would recommend putting at least 50% away in the bank.  This led to conversations about banking and that the money was still hers and accessible, just not within arm’s reach so she would have to be more deliberate.  I am happy to report that almost every week, when she has money from a babysitting gig, she now immediately writes out her own deposit ticket and hands this off to us to put that money in the bank.  This is done with us prodding any longer and most times, I wasn’t even aware that she had money accumulated.

My son is a different story.  He is younger and not yet seeing many opportunities for earning.  Additionally, he and his friends tend to go all-in on their activities and those activities change about as quickly as the Midwest weather (which is often).  One week they are into skateboarding and the requests come flying in for a board and accessories and toys related to this hobby.  The next week, it is comic books and they want to start a collection and go to the comic bookstore almost every day.  Then he moved on to computer gaming.  This was a tough one.  Most of the other hobbies had costs that were not astronomical and could be dealt with by asking for certain items as gifts for birthdays or other holidays.  But once he got into gaming, he wanted to build his own gaming computer.  He mapped out everything he wanted, and it amounted to almost $1000.  To his credit, he never asked his parents to buy this for him, recognizing how expensive this was.  However, since that time, he has been on the hunt for money making opportunities.  He has asked about starting a pet sitting business.  He has asked about learning to mow lawns so that he can go door-to-door and ask neighbors if he could do that for them.  I have given him some other yardwork duties that he could do to earn money as well.  I am enjoying these conversations because it gives me the opportunity to flex my creative muscle in thinking of money-making ideas.  My son is the more impulsive of my children and has not done as well with saving as my daughter has but the fact that he is hoping to work and earn money and save for something he wants is a strong beginning.