Who are the real Joneses?

By | September 19, 2016

who-are-the-real-joneses-dividends-down-under-blogAuthor: Mr DDU.

One of the most common phrases out there in personal finance is the bad habit called ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. It simply means spending more than you should so that you can look more impressive than your neighbours, friends or family – whoever your ‘Joneses’ are. Or perhaps it can just simply be jealousy of what someone has, and you want it too.


This phenomenon can strike us at any time in more ways than you think:

Someone just got a brand new iPhone? – Maybe you’ll think you want one too.
Someone just renovated their house? –  Maybe you want to do that too.
Someone that’s doing tons of travelling – you want that too.

It’s hard to avoid these thoughts sometimes; the grass always seems greener on the other side.

But often we don’t think about the full picture. The people who are travelling might work really hard at spending less than they earn and put their money towards experiences rather than material goods. The person who just renovated their home may have just remortgaged, taking 10 steps backwards financially for a shiny new kitchen. The people with fancy cars and houses may have tons of debt and not much invested for retirement.

In any case, this mindset is very unhealthy. Wanting what other people have is not necessarily what you want, or what would make you happy. Would people still buy Porsches or Audis if they weren’t trying to keep up with their Joneses? Would people really have an excessive amount of bedrooms in their house if they weren’t trying to show off? I don’t think most would. Showing off how much you don’t need your money is a very expensive habit.

‘Don’t covet thy neighbour’ has been one of the Ten Commandments for thousands of years – covet means to yearn or want something you don’t have. It’s been a problem for people for a very long time. The first step to overcoming a mental ‘problem’ such as jealousy is to acknowledge that it exists.

So that’s what the phrase ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ means. But where did the phrase come from? Why have we decided that it’s the Joneses we want to keep up with, not the Robinsons?


Who were the original Joneses?

‘The Joneses’ phrase started its journey to stardom on the 31st March 1913 in the New York Globe. A guy called ArthurPop’ Momand created a comic about a fictional family called McGinis.

The McGinis family (Aloysius, Clorice, Julie and their maid Bella Donna) are always trying to match their neighbours, the Joneses, in a different way with each comic strip.

Throughout the comic’s 25 year history, we don’t actually see the Joneses. Perhaps that’s the point – it doesn’t actually matter what the neighbours are doing, but nonetheless the Joneses really alters our desires and goals. Even if it’s not actually what will make the McGinis family happy.

If you’d like to read through some of the comics, just Google ‘Keeping up with the Joneses comic strip’, tons of them come up. For the sake of potential copyright we’re not going to reproduce them on our blog.

Although the comic strip was short-lived, the concept is firmly in place. We always want more than we have. The entire premise of Keeping up with the Kardashians (catchy title right?) is to make us want their life and lifestyle (and all the products they sell).

The easiest way for us to avoid the keeping up with the Joneses syndrome is to understand that it’s okay to have the occasional jealousy. But also know that having what someone else has isn’t necessarily going to make us feel any better. As clichéd as this phrase is, ultimate happiness will always come from within, your mindset and how grateful you are for the current things you have in your life already. Exercising your willpower will always make it stronger.


Readers, did you know that’s where the phrase came from? Have you been caught up wanting the Joneses’ lifestyle or items recently?


Thanks for reading this article about our financial journey Down Under.

Onwards and upwards!

46 thoughts on “Who are the real Joneses?

  1. Holly Johnson

    The people with the most material goods don’t always have their financial ducks in a row at all. The fact they have access to credit makes them appear rich, but it isn’t so. I ignore the Joneses types because I would rather have money in the bank.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Exactly Holly. Looks can be very deceiving! The more try try to look rich, the less rich they actually are. If people people would compare how big their investment portfolio is – that is a true measure of wealth. But it wouldn’t be a very exciting one.

      Mr DDU

  2. Income Surfer

    People do so much damage to their finances by falling prey to this syndrome. Fortunately, Mrs IS and I live a different enough lifestyle that there isn’t much external pressure to confirm. If we worked in a sea of cubicles or typical office environment, the pressure would be more noticeable. We’ve also found over time that high consuming couples, or as I call them “Yuppie Super Consumers”, think we are odd and shy away from us. We tend to gravitate away from people who live substantially different lives…. although not consciencely. I think having an independent streak helps…..and we certainly have that. I hope you guys have a great week!

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Haha – Yuppie Super Consumers – they make for good customers for our stocks/businesses though. It’s much easier to live a frugal life when you surround yourself with other frugal people who don’t want to spend all their money.

      I can see that all your efforts have really helped you guys get into great position you are now. People should try to keep up with you 🙂

      Mr DDU

  3. Miss Mazuma

    Spot on! Some people have a tendency to look outward for happiness. The idea of “enough” is a tough one to embrace when you are constantly comparing your life to others. There will always be more more more you want. Look within and you’ll find that most the time you already have what you need which in turn helps to want less. 🙂

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      You’re totally right Miss Mazuma 🙂 It’s funny, and sad, how much time people spend chasing things that other people have. I’m gad you know you know exactly what makes you happy!

      Mr DDU

  4. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    Great post! I learned the origin of the phrase when I was doing some research for a post – really interesting!

    You’re right on here! Happiness doesn’t come from the new shiny things. It comes from within us – we already have it, we just need to cultivate it. I’m really good at not caring what people have or what they think of me anymore (maybe it comes with age!?). I would much rather be financially secure than have a bunch of new “stuff”.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Thanks Amanda – I’m glad you already knew where it came from, good on you for doing that research.

      It’s awesome you’re firmly in the comfortable zone knowing what makes you happy and what’s pointless fluff. The best things in life are free, and these are the things that make us the happiest. We totally agree, freedom over stuff!

      Mr DDU

  5. Stefan - The Millennial Budget

    Awesome stuff! I have always heard about the phrase but never knew where it exactly came from so that was interesting to learn!

    I think your point is one many people need to understand. I have a friend who recently graduated college, she has taken two trips to two different countries, bought tickets to a very expensive concert, bought the new iPhone 7 and is telling everyone that she is saving no money. While she may be living life she will likely be working for a very long time with these habits. While it may just be a phase it will certainly be hard to break out of it. I rather purchase cash flow assets and start off strong than have these spectacular moments early on.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Thanks Stefan, I’m glad we could teach you something.

      There is a big trade off between current ‘living’ and future living, and there’s always the risk that we won’t get to enjoy it. But it’s worth it to know we’re trying to build our own future. Being financially independent will be a far better feeling – those shiny things wouldn’t even make us happy.

      Mr DDU

  6. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    “But often we don’t think about the full picture. The people who are travelling might work really hard at spending less than they earn and put their money towards experiences rather than material goods. The person who just renovated their home may have just remortgaged, taking 10 steps backwards financially for a shiny new kitchen. The people with fancy cars and houses may have tons of debt and not much invested for retirement.”

    The post that I have going up tomorrow touches on this same idea in the context of Keeping up with the Joneses in the age of social media. Cool to see the same idea being spread across the globe.

    And thanks for the background on the phrase! I honestly had not even though to research that, but it is super interesting. Crazy to think that this concept was made explicit over a hundred years ago.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Hey Matt, we really appreciate you coming to our blog and commenting 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the concept of this post a lot, and I’m looking forward to reading about your post. Keeping up with the Joneses is a problem and goes back hundreds, or thousands, of years.

      It’s cool the phrase was as relevant then as it is now.

      Mr DDU

  7. Tawcan

    Happiness is an outward driven state. What we need to thrive for is joy. Joy is something from within. The idea of purchasing things to bring you happiness is laughable in my opinion. Because that’s an instantaneous happiness that only lasts for a brief moment. It will only resulting in buying more items.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      It’s good you’ve pinpointed exactly why being materialistic is so bad Tawcan – it’s helped your finances a huge amount! Thinking short term with buying items will always leave you wanting your next ‘hit’ of buying.

      Mr DDU

  8. The Green Swan

    That was news to me, thanks for sharing that history! I gave up chasing the Joneses long ago and have never looked back. And it’s a bit comical at times watching others try to, including extended family members. That doesn’t mean I don’t like nice things every now and then, but there is no desire to make an outward display of my wealth or appearance of wealth, it’s always seemed silly to me.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I’m glad the article taught you something JW. It is bizarre how much family and friends want to put themselves in a bad financial place just to show off to people who don’t really care! Showing off isn’t a pleasant trait.

      Mr DDU

  9. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds

    My husband struggles with this because some of his closest friends have big houses, flashy cars etc – but they ARE doing well financially. They earn a lot of money but are generally really sensible with it – savings, investments, no debt etc – but they earn so much that they are just able to spend more than he can.

    He is slowly coming round to my way of thinking though 😉

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      It can be a real struggle, Francesca – when people we associate with are bad influences financially (even if they have a good savings rate, their spending is so high) – what you can do? Just do your best, and it’s good you’re having such a good influence on him 🙂

      Mr DDU

  10. Life we learn

    Nice post! I never knew about where the phrase originated from. It’s interesting to learn.
    I have generally never been influenced by how others spend their money, we do like nice things once in a while but that’s for our own happiness and not to impress anyone else. I have seen some family members try and “keep up with the joneses” over the years. It’s sad to see them waste so much money but it’s their life at the end of the day and I don’t see them changing their mindset anytime soon.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I like your attitude LWL. It’s true that it is their money to spend and their life to live how they want to. As long as we stay true to what we what we want to spend our money and what will make us happy, that’s all we can do. 🙂

      Mr DDU

  11. Mustard Seed Money

    I have a friend with the last name Jones so I can actually say I gave up competing with the “Joneses” a long time ago. No matter how I tried to measure up to them through frugality, investing, traveling, buying a house I could never compete with them. Since I’ve given up competing and finally been content with where I am in life, I am much happier and no longer “benchmark” my happiness to them. But I will admit it took MUCH longer than it should have.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      That’s cool that you have someone you knew called Jones, and that you’ve realised competing is not the way. We are all running our own races, we’re only competing with ourselves to do the best that we can. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing 🙂

      Mr DDU

  12. J @ Hey It's Just Money!

    “How can people drive Lexuses and BM’s and live in units?!” – boyfriend as we drove past our neighbours. Our new place is in a street full of units. He was so offended. LOL. I was planning to do all my blogging related stuff after we get our Internet connection tonight (fingers crossed) but I couldn’t resist leaving a comment on this one.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Haha! Your bf is right! But I think we know what the answer (for most of them) is sadly. It is funny the things people are willing to spend a ton of money on.

      I’m glad the move is really all done for you guys 🙂

      Mr DDU

  13. D4s

    I wrote an article about keeping up with the joneses a while ago, but I didn’t know the origin of the term. Thanks for sharing. My advice is – don’t keep up with the Joneses because they are usually broke.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      That’s probably extremely true D4s – they could have the worst net worth out of everyone. I’m glad you learned something from the article 🙂

      Mr DDU

  14. Finance Solver

    I had never known where the phrase came from. That’s why I read personal finance blogs, right? 😉

    The day I stopped caring about what other people thought of me and my possessions, the better I became with my finances. I didn’t care whether they thought the iPhone 5s I have is “too old” and having a 6 (and even a 7 now) is better or whether my Wal-Mart shorts made me look cheap. They care about what they see and not care about what they don’t see (which is money in the bank, yeah!) which works out for me because I value stealth wealth so much (courtesy of Sam from financial samurai).

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Glad you learned something from the article FS.

      It’s good you went through that mental change at a young age – a lifetime of frugality awaits 🙂 As long as our items work as good as expensive ones, then what’s the problem really?

      Mr DDU

  15. Team CF

    Learned something new today, never knew where the Joneses expression came from . Kind of cool it original from a comic book from the 1910’s, and it’s still so valid today. Nice work.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      It’s pretty cool isn’t it Team CF? Some things in life and society never change, and it seems wanting what other people have hasn’t changed a bit. Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

      Mr DDU

  16. Josh @MoneyBuffalo

    What’s ironic is I used to live next to a family with the last name Jones growing up & they were always getting new & shiny motorcyles or cars. Plus they had a pool & hot tub in their backyard. I don’t know what the personal finances of the parents was, but I can say they slowed their buying habits down in ’09 when the market slowed.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      That’s amazing that you had such a real life example of the Joneses. Everyone’s spending habits catch up with them at some point. They certainly contributed a lot to the economy before the crash.

      Mr DDU

  17. Graham @ Reverse The Crush

    I love this post because it’s so true!
    Reading books like (The Millionaire Mind) and working at the bank made me see the truth.
    All the people with the big houses, nice cars, and fancy clothes have NO money saved.
    A lot of people are fooled by it, but it’s just simple math.

    I never knew where that phrase came from so thanks for the history lesson.

    I have found myself wanting the new iPhone/new clothes/and a new camera but have been holding strong. I’d like to earn the extra money before spending it.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      Glad you thought the post rang true with you Graham. You’re right – the more people spend, the less they have, pretty simple really.

      Stay strong 🙂

      Mr DDU

  18. DivHut

    Great post. I never knew where that saying about the Jones’s came from. I love to travel and put my money towards experiences rather than material goods. I’ve always been that way. I live a simple life and would rather buy time and experiences than things. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I love your outlook on life Keith, and we’re trying to live exactly the same way. I’m glad you learned something from the article too.

      Mr DDU

  19. amber tree

    Thx for the historical background on this famous phraze. I did not knew this.

    It is true, the Joneses are everywhere, it can be anything. I like how you say that people might live veyr inentional to travel and others are in deep debt for a fancy car.

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I’m really glad I could teach you something Amber Tree, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is a great phrase that can also be applied to this as not everything is as ‘good’, or fully financed, as it seems.

      Mr DDU

  20. Mrs. ETT

    I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never really understood the need to keep up, however I will own to coveting a new toy recently. A couple of people in my gaming group picked up the new iPad Pro, and they really are things of beauty. To give one of them his due, he was upgrading from the original iPad 1 (which I’ve just realised is only 6 years old, so maybe not such a feat after all). I had to give myself a stern talk about the adequacy of what I already own, which is perfectly functional and will hopefully be so for years to come. *Sigh – so pretty*

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I can understand the tech side – Apple products are beautiful and they offer *better* functions than the older models or most other tech products. You’re doing well to stand strong Mrs ETT – keep it up 🙂

      Mr DDU

  21. Frugal Millennial

    Interesting! I didn’t know that’s where the phrase comes from. As a millennial, I see “Keeping Up With the Joneses” as trying to hit certain life milestones just because those around you are hitting them. There is a lot of pressure for those in their 20s and 30s to get married, buy their first homes, and start having kids. I think it’s important to remember that everyone has their own unique circumstances, and it’s okay if you do these things later than others do (or if you never do them at all).

    1. Dividends Down Under Post author

      I’m really pleased the article taught you where the phrase came from Jen 🙂

      You’re right about everyone’s unique situation. It’s impossible to compare, so that’s why we shouldn’t compare. We are all running our own race, the only people we should be competing is a non-frugal/FIRE version of us.

      Mr DDU

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