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A Monday Moment

Keeping up with the Joneses

I’m always amazed at how far people will go to keep up appearances – or keep up with the Joneses. Truth be told, these days, the Joneses themselves are usually living paycheck to paycheck like everyone else – albeit a bigger paycheck.

The vast majority of Americans carry too much consumer debt. Our average credit score leaves something to be desired. Big mortgages are possible thanks to interest-only loans. I see 21-year-olds with student loan balances rivaling the profit margins of healthy small businesses.

Wow, thanks, Mark. Just what I needed on a Monday. Now, now, before you get too irritated, stick with me. This isn’t to depress you – let’s take a moment to put things in perspective so we can all have a healthy, productive week.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re busting your back just to make ends meet. Everybody is. Even the Joneses (especially them). In fact, give yourself a big break – the Joneses are sweating bigger bullets than anyone.

There are plenty of great blogs out there for financial advice on getting out debt, finding the career of your dreams, staying positive, and so on. The purpose of this post is simply to help you get your head in the right place – a positive, realistic place (they’re not mutually exclusive). The less pressure you feel just to keep up with life, the happier you will be. Happy = healthy.

With years of hard work, intense focus and plenty of practice, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some nice successes (setbacks, too). I’m grateful for that. One thing I can tell you is that the worst thing you can do is to put pressure on yourself to appear like those you’re impressed by – often, they’re actually worse off than you are. So many times, it’s nothing but a false face.

Much of our stress, resentment and striving could be eliminated by simply accepting that how we live – not how the friends or the neighbors live – is truly good enough. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious or seek rewards, of course. But do ask yourself who you’re putting pressure on yourself for.

Are you driving the car with the hefty payment because you get so much joy from that car, it outweighs the burden of the cost? Or is it because you’ve always felt like you’d be more respected if you could sport around town in a nicer car? Do you live a nice lifestyle but run your bank account down to nothing by the end of the month, anxiously waiting for the next check? And is that feeling worth the hour spent in a nice restaurant eating food you’ll forget about a few days from now?

Only you know what truly can satisfy you and bring you happiness. We all have different stress thresholds and we all view the trade-offs of nice things differently. The key is not getting caught in the fear-greed-fear-greed cycle, because it’s a form of slavery – talk about something devastating to your health.

Financial freedom isn’t easy – it requires major effort and sacrifice. It can take years to crawl out from difficult circumstances. At the end of the day, you may never earn that fat paycheck, and you might not get everything you want – in fact, guaranteed, you won’t. This is true for everyone. That’s the big illusion. Even the Joneses aspire to be someone else. For all you know, they want to be you. So why not aspire to be the one person you can be: you.

Seek to get what you, and only you, really need. At the end of our lives, does anyone say “Man, I wish I’d had the bigger power tools,” or, “If I just had gotten that plasma T.V., my life would have been complete!”? I doubt it (and frankly, good riddance to those poor souls).

The things that really make us happy are intangible: love, friendship, companionship, fulfillment, acceptance, peace, health, trust, confidence. None of those things cost a cent, yet many of the trivial, material things we seek to acquire can create a debit on those priceless gifts. It’s not just interest we pay back.