The Joneses Strike Again (Here’s How I Handled Them!)

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I’m sitting at Starbucks, facing a window that overlooks the parking lot.

I see an attractive girl who seems to be about my age, late twenties. Her outfit is awesome. She’s wearing my winter style: skinny jeans, boots, puffy vest, ponytail. We have the same taste. I wear that exact outfit every day from November through February.

The Joneses Strike Again

But her outfit blows mine out of the water. My clothes are generic and well-worn. Hers are designer and crisp. She’s accessorized with a Louis Vuitton handbag, which adds panache and polish to her casual-chic appearance.

I watch her climb into her car. It’s a Lexus, of course. And it’s not just any Lexus: it’s high-gloss white, like an iPad on wheels. It looks new, it’s spotless, and it features a sunroof.

The Joneses strike again.

For a brief moment, I wonder what she does for a living. “How does she afford this?,” I think.

Then I consider how much money I’ve poured into investments throughout my early-to-mid- twenties. And I consider how much I’ve spent on world travel, my Achilles’ heel.

No wonder I still drive a beater car. I’m spending every dime fattening my 401k. Whatever money is leftover buys my plane ticket to Malaysia.

Then I realize I’m leaping to conclusions. I can’t make any assumptions about this girl. I don’t know jack squat about her. Her retirement account might be in the seven figures. Or it might be zero.

Her outfit might represent one week’s pay, one day’s pay, or one hour’s pay. She might have paid cash for her car, or she might have a six-year loan. I have no clue.

Is she spending every dime she earns? Or is she a budding female Warren Buffet whose discretionary spending represents only 1 percent of her income? Anything is possible.

Unless I see an audited financial statement of her personal accounts, I’ll never know. I can’t make any assumptions by looking at her.

Which is why it’s silly to compare myself to her – regardless of whether I’m lamenting my beater car or postulating that I’m more prepared for retirement.

She drove away an hour ago. A jet-black VW Jetta rolls into her empty spot. The car’s chrome rims momentarily blind me as the driver pulls in.

He also seems to be in his late twenties. Sandy blonde hair. Aviator sunglasses. He’s wearing a sharp, well-tailored suit. Polished shoes. The perfect tie. I wonder what he does for a living.

And the Joneses strike again.


  1. says

    I love your take on this, Paula. It’s so easy to make assumptions and I see it all the time, especially online, among frugal and personal finance bloggers. The assumption is that someone with a large house, new car, or expensive clothes must have a lot of debt. That may be true, or it may not. Best not to assume, or compare, as you pointed out.

  2. says

    I have a strong feeling a lot of people have A LOT more money than we all know.

    Just think about bloggers for example, I bet people don’t realize how many bloggers make 5 figures a month b/c most don’t say!

    Bull market!

  3. says

    Oh the Joneses! I hear ya! I am surrounded by this completely bi-modal income split, where half my friends rake it in and half of them work for slightly more than minimum wage. Also, whenever I go to Calgary I am struck by the Joneses; there are So Many <35s with tonnes of money.
    One of my coaches once told me she was able to keep things in check because her husband was a financial planner and saw the disgusting amount of debt people carried.

  4. says

    Why let that stuff bother you. Your payoff is coming, but not now. I was always self motivated, so that stuff never bothered me. In fact, I used it to motivate me more.

  5. says

    I think it’s easy to jump to conclusions when so many people carry debt in order to finance their lifestyles. I wouldn’t let it bother you. I for one, get stereotyped all the time, but in the opposite way. Since I have a small home, older cars, used phone with a prepaid plan, then I must have no money. Well technically I don’t HAVE the money, but my school gets it and I continue on without debt and without a care in the world. 😀

  6. says

    “And the Joneses strike again” That is so funny! And so true! Being aware of being caught up in the moment is the first step to defusing that dreadful emotional state of being known as “keeping up”! and the faster you cant do that, the funnnier it is! Great post!

  7. says

    I know exactly how you feel because I do the same thing myself from time to time. As I get older, though, I care less and less about others and am simply focusing on what I need to get done to accomplish my goals.

    • says

      That’s where I am JT. It’s about being the best “me” I can be. I am not going to knock those who have more/or less than I have, and whatever they chose to spend their money on. I am no one to judge them; all I can do is take care myself and as you stated, “accomplish my goals.”

  8. says

    Great post. I had a very similar experience at the nail salon last week. This girl walks in and I noice her right away. She’s… me. Same hair, nails, clothes, style. Except she’s a notch or two “cuter” than I am. More expensive jeans. Whiter teeth. I had the same conversation with myself that you have here in this post. I don’t know anything about her. I don’t know that she is any happier in life than I am. Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I do in life to be happy.

  9. says

    It gets hard to look at those who seam to have it all together. But like you said when you know the entire picture life really looks good on our side of the fence.

    We used to call them the 30k a year millionaires, they look good, smell good, they have good credit, no money in the bank cause they are really broke.

    Keep Rockin

    Rocker Life Coach

    • says

      @Tim — I read an article on “$30,000 Millionaires.” I spent half the story assuming these people earned $30K/year passively through their million-dollar investments. Then I figured out what the story was really about. :-) Geez, do I ever give people the benefit of the doubt!

  10. says


    Let me know when you’re coming to Malaysia. My wife and I would enjoy taking you out for dinner. Stopping in Singapore too?

    Oh, we have great Malaysian recommedations. Pulau Tioman is my favorite place on earth.

    • says

      @Andrew — I love Pulau Tioman! Will and I spent about a week there. I was referencing a past trip to Malaysia when I commented that it’s how I spend my excess cash. (I spent one month between Kuala Lumper, Pulau Tioman and Malaysian Borneo.) I’ll be back someday, though. :-)

      • says

        The east side is amazing Paula. There’s the cutest, cleanest tiniest little village there called Juara. It has two amazing Malaysian restaurants with incredibly cheap food. Virtually NO TOURISTS!! And one of the best (perhaps the best!) beach in Asia, and nobody is ever on it. We stay in a shack on the beach for about $12 a night, and we keep the door and front windows open to hear the ocean in the morning (it’s about 80 feet away) Open doors and windows let the most incredible sunrise come in during the morning. There’s no hot water (not that you need it) and no TP! But it’s awesome. We go two or three times a year. Did I mention no tourists?! We love it. Did you go to Juara?

  11. says

    Exact thing I’ve been grappling with this week! The new mommy in play group drives a faaaaancy import SUV and wore about 3 carats with her lululemon. I don’t actually want diamonds– lol– but it’s hard to work to save when it seems like others have such an effortless life. Especially when we work so, so hard….

  12. says

    I don’t think we would be human if we didn’t go through what you just explained above. I do believe that there are many people who have money and simply just don’t care to splash it about. I never underestimate what someone potentially has in the bank but most often, I worry more about what I have in the bank. Great post! I just found your site today. Cheers Mr.CBB

    • says

      @CBB — Welcome to the site! You’re right on: worrying about your OWN bank account is more important than thinking about anyone else’s … though that’s easier said than done! Cheers. :-)

  13. says

    I love this, it is so true. It’s human nature we all have those moments. I tend to step one level deeper and think “what does her daddy do for a living.” But then I remember it is worth it to be self-made and independent.

  14. says

    We all have our Joneses. Like you, I wonder what people make. But am more impressed by the humble ones not showing off. My Joneses seem to never work, travel all the time, with a good standard of living, not just the $10 a day backpackers.
    This lady can be deep in debt, have a rich daddy, a sugar daddy, or just be a smart hard working woman. I talked to a guy who invested most of his small savings into looking good to marry rich. Yes, a guy.

  15. says

    It’s hard to tell who really has money and who doesn’t. But often the ones with money are the people you’d never think do – so you may be right in your assumptions. However, I just try not to think about it and work towards my own goals. That green eyed monster pops its ugly head out every now and then, but I do quite well keeping it in check. 😉

  16. says

    I think to say in today’s terms keeping up with the Facebookers. I have noticed over several years that people don’t hesitate to post a pic of their brand new car or their nice big house they just built. While I try not to make assumptions, it’s still hard to understand how they pay for it especially when you know what they do for a living.

  17. says

    I was thinking the same types of thoughts cruising around Atlanta in 2007/2008 looking at all of these people that are my age and driving brand new cars and living in trendy $500,000 houses/condos. I make decent money as a construction manager, how come I cannot even dream to afford this type of lifestyle…as it turns out they couldn’t either.

    • says

      Confirmation is in the book ‘Stop acting rich — and start living like a real millionaire’ by Thomas J. Stanley. Basic thesis is that far too many of those who appear prosperous are faking it. The truly wealthy rarely waste their money showing off. And those that can afford to are so statistically rare you aren’t likely to just bump into them.

  18. says

    Living in a big city, I constantly see people who are better dressed, have lovelier hair, a nicer car, blah blah blah. It is hard to ignore it – other people noticing them is kind of the point! But I’m doing what I’m doing, and a $2,500 handbag just isn’t in the cards, even if I could pass them out like Liz Lemon’s hotdogs.

  19. says

    This happens to me too! And then I realize I don’t like designer brands because it is promoting a social image that I don’t agree with. But the allure still gets to me sometimes!

  20. says

    This is exactly how I feel every day… I think I’m getting better at it though! I keep telling myself that behind that facade of their nice outfit, makeup, hair, car, jewelry, etc, that I can’t see their balance sheet, and at least mine is in order!

    • says

      @Carol — Do you remember that TV show, “My Super Sweet 16,” when parents would throw their kids a lavish Sweet 16 party in order to ostentatiously display their wealth? I read a commentary in which someone said, “If they really want to display their wealth, why don’t they just publish an third-party-audited statement of their net worth?” That comment always stuck with me. You really can’t tell how much money a person has by their clothes, cars and jewelry.

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