How to Stop Spending Money to ‘Keep Up With the Joneses’

[Financial Literacy Month] Dealing with the pressure to 'keep up'

(Image: iStock by Getty Images)
(Image: iStock by Getty Images)

In 1954, social psychologist, Leon Festinger introduced his ‘Social Comparison Theory.’  It says human beings actually have a drive to judge themselves and their abilities based on what they see in other people.

We do this in order to learn how to define ourselves. This is not something that happens consciously.

Case in point, I once met a single mother of four who made about $20,000 a year at a charity event. She was receiving a $1,000 cash gift to help support her children. When asked what she would do with the money, she said she was going to buy her children an X-box. You could feel the judgmental energy coming out of the people around us. In reality, everywhere this woman looked; television, online, the kids around her, she was bombarded with messages that ‘normal kids have X-boxes.’ This was simply a case of a mother wanting her children to be normal.  This comes from a place of instinct, not intellect. In fact, many of the people around her struggled with mortgage payments or payments for private schools for their children that they could not afford. We do what we are conditioned to believe is normal.

In addition to the financial burden our instinct to fit in with those around us can cause, it makes us lose sight of our priorities and who we really are.

Here are some tips that can help you to stand-up to this deep conditioning:

  • Get tuned into your goals and priorities. This will give you the motivation to stick to a spending plan that reflects your values.
  • Write down the following three questions and put them in your wallet, hang them on your wall, keep them in your head, etc. They can give you that moment of pause you need in order to make a better decision:

o   Can I afford this?

o   Is it in line with my goals?

o   If not, why am I doing it? Take a pause and see what comes up.

It also helps to figure out how much money you make a day. Having that number in your head will often give you the moment of pause you need to rethink a purchase. In addition, share your goals with a friend or trusted loved one and ask them to help you stay on course. Make a plan to have a heart-to-heart at least once a month and make it fun.



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