Dealing With Money Envy: Keeping The Joneses At Bay

Toyota 4Runner 2013 LimitedAs I was taking in the trash bins this morning, I noticed my neighbor pull out of his garage in a brand new, $48,000 Toyota 4Runner Limited Edition SUV. Before now, all I saw was a crappy 1996 Honda Civic with dings everywhere come and go.

The 4Runner has a special place in my heart because it was the car I most longed for in high school. All the rich kids had the Toyota 4Runner, and I had a bike. Shitake fudge mushroom! With a nice 4Runner, it was easier to get the girls, which was frankly my #1 priority in high school besides getting good grades of course!

So instead of relying on an expensive SUV to impress the ladies, I had to work on developing my personality, humor, charisma, leadership and fitness instead. Seriously, what a drag! Having money is so much easier, but it might leave us delusional and depressed when we realize all that we’ve gotten wasn’t because of who we are.

MY LUCKY NEIGHBOR

My 4Runner-driving neighbor is 33 years old, married, and has a kid. Given I’ve lived in my spot for almost eight years, and they’ve lived there for 30 years, I’ve known him since he was 26 years old. He’d disappear for years on end, but now he finally seems to have settled down.

You see, my neighbor has been living with his parents ever since college. Property is expensive in San Francisco with a similar two-unit building down the street selling for over $2.3 million dollars just the other month. How’s a normal person in his 20′s supposed to afford even one unit for $1.15 million?

I don’t blame him for living rent-free in his parents apartment for 10 years after college. He was jobless for several years and ended up traveling around the world with what I presume is his parent’s allowance money. I remember him throwing the occasional techno party when his parents were away, but he’s all grown up now and works as a restaurant manager.

What I do feel is a tinge of envy now that he’s driving one of my childhood dream vehicles I could never afford. $48,000 is a lot of money for a car, and I doubt he makes $480,000 a year as a restaurant manager based on my 1/10th rule for car buying

MY NEW DESIRES

I now admit to having the desire to purchase a new car because of the following thoughts:

* You only live once! I think #YOLO is a popular term for Gen Y nowadays. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this term seem like it helps screw up your financial life?

* If a restaurant manager who makes less than $100,000 a year and can afford a $48,000 car, why can’t I?

* He lived at home with his parents and I went off on my own to build a career, save like crazy so I could retire early, and buy my own home. I think I deserve it.

These are truly “keeping up with the Joneses” type thoughts I have never experienced since coming to San Francisco! All this time, I felt a little sorry for my neighbor for not being able to launch. As a post college man living at home, it does a lot of damage to one’s confidence. His mother and I would talk at least once a month when we’d bump into each other and ask me for advice how to get her grown son out of the house!

Now all is good because he and his wife and child don’t have to pay rent or a mortgage thanks to his parents. They can spend freely on whatever desires they want.

THOUGHTS ON DEALING WITH MONEY ENVY

* Know there is more wealth out there than you can imagine. The media loves to focus on the suffering of others to make themselves and their readers feel good. Pay no attention! Many of my friends and I have a pact never to let anybody know offline how much we have or fully make. W2 income is just one source of income for people. There’s bank of mom and dad income, passive income, hobby income, wealthy spouse income, government assistance income, etc.

* Ostentation is out, low key is in, especially in an Obama administration. You might encounter someone who loves to show off their wealth by sharing pictures of their big house, shiny new car, and how much they make, but they are the exception. Know they either come from new wealth or are suffering from insecurity. If you spend some time to look behind their show, you’ll find some less than impressive scenarios.

* Focus on what you can control. There will always be somebody with a lot more wealth than you. The only think you can do is focus on building more wealth for yourself. Use the Joneses as motivation!

BACK TO CENTER

Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I’m back to thinking like I normally do. I love Moose, and will never sell him because I don’t sell my children. I’m happy with Moose because he’s reliable, good looking, and gets me where I want to go. Besides, I just got him some new brakes and a nice battery in the past year.

For all I know, my neighbor is a multi-millionaire who invested early in Facebook. Maybe he has a nice inheritance from his grandparents? From his perspective, he must have been scratching his head when I bought a house right next door at the age of 28 when he was still living off his parents after college. He doesn’t know how much I make, and he’ll never know so long as I dress the way I do and drive Moose.

Readers, when was your first keeping up with the Joneses experience? How do you deal?

Best,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. The College Investor says

    I agree, Sam. It’s quite normal to have money envy especially when you live next door to people who have more than you do, but I realized that in order not to dwell so much on what we don’t have, it is always better to see you what you have in a different light in order to be happy. After all, we cannot always have what we want in life.

  2. Melissa says

    I usually curb envy just like you did. Yes, he has a nice asset that will depreciate, but you will be able to retire early and you own property. His parents will probably have to work longer because they are supporting another family, their son’s.

  3. Tony says

    Sam,

    I totally feel you, man! I had an Audi Q7 and a Porsche one short year ago. The Porsche is still the ony material item I still miss (getting pains even typing). Your blog and others made me see the light, so I sold them. However, I will drive one again (paying cash for it) someday.

    All said and done, you do only live once. If the Toyota will bring some closure, buy one at some point in your life (used!), then sell it. Your financial behaviors are embedded; don’t worry about that. Personally, I would raise some side income just for the guilty pleasure!

    See you,

    T

    • Financial Samurai says

      Ah, nice! The sports car + luxury SUV combo. I would have done something similar w/ Moose if I had a two car side by side parking spot.

      The 4Runner won’t easily fit in my garage easily, so I’m not wasting my money!

  4. Lance @ Money Life and More says

    I’m sure my first Jones experience was when I was in school sometime and saw a friend had something that I didn’t. Maybe it was a Playstation or a Nintendo? My parents would get anything we couldn’t afford though so I learned early that you don’t always get something just because you want it or the Joneses have it.

  5. greg says

    @Tony: damn – nice job! That alone shows you have 3x the willpower of most people.

    YOLO drives me damn crazy despite being part of GenY. I liken it to writing the required undergrad thesis. I would dismiss all the seniors using the “stress” of a thesis as an excuse for anything, but of course I had to put up or shut up. So I finished months early instead of joining in on parties and watched with public demure and private gusto as most others went crazy. Same with money and investing. It’ll be hard to avoid the “I told you so” even though I know restraint is, by far, the best thing for maintaining personal relationships >_<.

  6. JayCeezy says

    My first serious “envy” experience was right after college. Classmates getting really nice brand-new cars, some very high-end costing more than a year’s salary. “How did they do it?” “Why do they get to, and I don’t?” Turns out, it is none of my business. It didn’t make me think any better of them, because I already knew them for who they were. Friends that were really friends didn’t care about my car (’68 VW Bug used for $850, drove it for 8 years), and those that did really showed me what they valued.

    Believe me, envy is a very human feeling and there is nothing wrong with having that feeling, Sam! I admire that you recognize going out to buy that $48K car won’t make that feeling; you are completely right, there is always something else to be envious of. Your ‘pact’ is a great thing, too, it amazes me TMI some people reveal and it never makes them look good. Cheers!

    • Financial Samurai says

      I really think the answer is The Bank Of Mom And Dad. Obviously buying a $50,000 car at the age of 22 is not from a grad’s own savings. I think I just have little respect for any 30+ year old man who still lives at home but drives an expensive car. Maybe it goes back to High School where rich kids drove expensive cars and showed off, but it was not b/c of their doing.

  7. Travis says

    “I think #YOLO is a popular term for Gen Y nowadays.”

    Yes, it is. But isn’t it also a popular term for Gen X and Boomers as well?

    Which generation does this describe: Employment history includes jumping between employers a half dozen times or more throughout their lives. Bought/sold their house once every seven years. Bought an SUV. (Or more likely *leased* an SUV.) Felt they DESERVED a vacation, so they racked up credit card debt, then filed bankruptcy. Bought more house than they could afford, then went into foreclosure. Got divorced. (And possibly remarried and divorced again.)

    Is it really any surprise Gen Y is turning out the way they are? How are they any different than the hyper-consuming Gen X and Boomers? Live beyond your means (buy on credit). Saddle other people with your debt obligations (bankruptcy and foreclosures). Have more kids than you can afford (get gov’t assistance). Be unwilling to compromise (divorce). Be perpetually unhappy and always in search of “finding your passion” (switch jobs often). Seems to me that Gen Y is simply following in its parents’ footsteps.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Never heard of YOLO until it started trending this year, so no, I do not think it was a popular term by Gen X.

      I’d like to think Gen X is still too young to have Gen Y kids e.g. those 30-40 years old.

      But, I see your point completely.

      • Travis says

        Sorry, that was unclear on my part. I meant the actual motto of “you only live once” being popular since it’s the way Gen X and Boomers have been making financial decisions, creating and managing their relationships, etc. I’m assuming #YOLO is a twitter thing. I’m one of those strange Millennials that doesn’t use twitter.

        Is Gen X too young to have Gen Y kids? I know there are all sorts of opinions on exactly when one generation ends and another begins. But, in general, Gen X seems to be classified as those born between about 1965-1981 and Gen X is 1982-2000. (I was born in ’82 and that seems to be the most common year used to define the start of Millennials since we graduated high school in 2000.) So, if Gen X started having kids at 20 years old (or at 18 like here in Utah), that would put the oldest ones as having kids in 1985, and those “kids” are now 27 years old. The older part of Gen Y (those of us that are now turning 30!) are kids to Boomers. The younger part of Gen Y would be a mix between being kids to Gen X or Boomers, depending on how early/late they had kids. Kind of strange the way it overlaps like that.

        Anyway, sorry for getting way off topic. It just threw me off a bit when you mentioned Gen X not having Gen Y kids and I wanted to check how the ages play out. Strange to think the older members of Gen X can have kids that already graduated college…

        • rockchick says

          Travis, I agree with most of what you said. I don’t know how old you are or what generation you identify with, but as for the “Jumping between employers a half a dozen times or more throughout their lives,” comment, I truly believe that this is the only way to get through a professional career nowadays. Most companies no longer show the same loyalty to their employees that they used to, and in fact you can be seen as stagnant if you have not changed jobs or received a promotion after 5-7 years. I think this is one of the trends of the future, and not simply a Generation Y flaw.

    • mysticaltyger says

      I think the switching of jobs is and inevitability for a lot of people, but otherwise I completely agree with you, Travis. The Boomers were the ones who got the ball rolling with living beyond your means, getting divorced (which also kills people financially), etc. Subsequent generations have just expanded on these unhealthy trends.

  8. Darwin's Money says

    Our spending opportunities aren’t really in the “keeping up w Joneses” at all but just more like spending too much on groceries and not making choices, but doing everything. We always have enough left over to save/invest some, but I’d love to do more. I am glad we never fell into the trap of trying to keep up with material things, expensive clothes, social outings, etc., but still need to say no now and then. Multiple vacations a year, we entertain a lot (funny how few people reciprocate) and in general, need to pick one of two big expenses each year and defer/delete in my opinion. But on the flipside, it’s always, “the kids are young now, we ARE saving”, etc. Tough argument for us to agree on (myself included).

  9. Untemplater says

    I was affected by the wealth of others much more when I was young and insecure. Some of my friends from school were very well off, and I remember being in total awe when my parents drove me to their neighborhood to drop me off. Their houses were huge with big yards and they all had shiny new cars in the driveway. They also had all the latest trendy shoes, clothes, and toys and I was quite jealous at times.

    But I came to realize that I wasn’t friends with them because of their family’s money, I was friends with them because they were nice and we had common interests. I also figured out that their parents were well educated and had good jobs, and if I wanted to have a nice house and a lifestyle like theirs someday, I had better get good grades, get into a good college, and build a career for myself. My parents certainly weren’t going to provide for me as an adult.

    Jealousy can eat away at one’s happiness if we focus too much on how good other people have it because it makes us forget about all the blessings that we have of our own. We all have more than we think and it helps to focus more on the great things we have in our lives and not worry about everyone else. I’m glad you decided you’re happy with your current car in the end Sam!

    • Financial Samurai says

      That’s a great attitude Sydney! You coul have easily given up and blamed life for giving you less fortunate cards, but you didn’t! That’s the difference between the optimist and the pessimist.

  10. Pauline says

    I don’t remember a Jones moment, more like stuff that my friends could do, like go out, and I couldn’t. I never cared much for things. Having too much is like taking a kid to a candy shop every day and letting him buy everything he wants, it gets old quite quickly.

  11. justin@thefrugalpath says

    Having a Jonses moment can really come back to bite you. I have a friend who drove a 2000 escort. It got her around town fine and her mechanic told her it was a great car. She decided that she needed a new car. So she took out a two year lease on an $30k-$40K car; she makes about $20k-$25k per year. She was able to get the lease because her mother co-signed. At the end of every month I hear her complain about not having money.

    She asked me to loan her money to pay bills because she knows I have a little bit. I told her sorry.

  12. Frugal Portland says

    I definitely feel it every now and then. But then I realize that I live my life in such a way as to never, ever, make others feel that way (not even when I win Powerball!) and my closest friends save like you do, which puts us all in the same boat. It’s better to be low key — let’s be real, if the girls are into your neighbor because of his sweet ride, they’re going to be MIGHTY disappointed when he tries to bring one home. “Shh, my mom is a light sleeper.”

  13. Allison says

    I don’t really remember any “keeping up with the Joneses” moments growing up. Most of my friends were of the same financial class as me, so I don’t think I had many opportunities to be jealous. At this point though, I feel covetousness sometimes–home ownership. It has little to do with keeping up with the Joneses, though. It’s more about stability rather than granite countertops, especially after being unemployed for about a year and living with parents once again.

    My parents are the most well-off people I know, but I also got to see the long hours my dad put into it, and the rather unsexy jobs my mom took to supplement my dad’s income. Me eventually wanting that home keeps a tight lid on the budget, at least. First, the husband’s student debt. Then, the world is our oyster!

    Almost… :)

  14. eemusings says

    Ya know, I can’t think of any specific Joneses moments in my own life. Aside from one guy I know who has gone through so many expensive cars, it’s more like down to earth envy of friends who got given cars (nothing fancy but decent reliable ones) or who can go on holidays overseas because they still live at home for free, for instance.

  15. Traineeinvestor says

    That car looks like a very ugly way to increase your gas consumption. And that’s how I usually deal with the urge to splash out big on consumption items – make a list of the negatives that go along with each item + force my self to wait for at least a few weeks before making a decision. Living in a city where a car is completely unnecessary, I’ve managed to resist the urge to buy one for well over a decade.

  16. Abbie says

    I have so many thoughts on this:
    1. I know people who will live for years with bad roommates just so they can keep X: an apartment they can’t afford on their own, going out 6x a week (because the alternative is to stay at home with their roommate, I guess?), an alcohol habit, this season’s Banana Republic line … I always wonder if living with one’s parents is an extension of that. My friends who still live at home got there one of two ways: moved back when we graduated so they could focus on finding a job, then never left, or set out on their own, found it hard, came back home, and never left. But I really, honestly do not know anyone that just loves living with their parents, or any parents who, after helping their child get back on their feet, wants to keep supporting that child forever. Really.

    2. I still struggle with delineating between what I ACTUALLY want and what my social group tells me is desirable, which is my version of the Joneses. I’m super introverted and honestly would rather be at home with a book and a cup of tea just about every evening, but my friends (and my generation, and the media) are quite certain that what’s fun is to go to bars, or dance at a club until it closes (I guess this is called “closing it down”), or eat at restaurants for more than just extra-special occasions, or show off your new dress or suit every week or so … And I fall for it. It’s so much harder to say no when those things are supposed to be young, fun things to do and you start losing friends when you say no too often. Anyone know where I find friends who spend their time and energy on building friendships, not alcohol? Anyone?

    3. This point about “More wealth out there than you can imagine” truly hits home for me. I’ve probed my friends because I’m curious, and I am literally the only person I know in my age group who is completely financially independent. My friends have credit cards from their parents that they put their gas and clothes on; my friends’ parents signed the car note; my friends are on their parents’ insurance, from health to auto to renters’; my friends expect hundreds of dollars in gifts and cash on their birthdays and at Christmas. Slowly I came to realize that THAT’S why they have such big apartments and weekly housecleaners and the biggest TVs I’ve ever seen and the ability to travel two or three weekends a month and can eat out three times a week without losing sleep. Because though we make the same salary, their monthly obligation to bills is about 20% of mine. They have SO MUCH MONEY to spend on things, because they are being bankrolled by their parents.

    So thank you for pointing this part out — it’s a really important thing to remember. The problem I have with this point is trying not to be jealous or judgmental of bankrolled friends, and if you have any tips or thoughts on that, I would love to hear them!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Abbie, I’m like you. I love spending time at home watching a good DVD, reading a book, or writing. Once a month going out to the bars is sufficient. It’s tiring and expensive and pointless beyond that for me.

      So perhaps the problem starts with our parents? It is only rational to spend within our means, and if our parents provide us bigger means, than we will spend more!

      Parents play a HUGE role in buying million dollar properties for their 28 year old kids here in SF for example.

  17. Rg says

    Sam:

    More likely than not he is leasing or financing this vehicle that he canNOT afford. It’s unlikely he is a secret Facebook millionaire etc. clearly he doesn’t subscribe to the 1/10th rule…

    #YOLO F¥€Ks up finances… or #YOLOFUF… Feel free to use on twitter.

    Stay the course. Know that most people around you will continue make poor financial decisions and its tough to stay the course… But it’s worth it.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Hah! #YOLOFUF! Love it. I guess if I was a secret FB millionaire, I’d definitely get my own place and rent out my parents place to someone else so they could have more income during retirement.

  18. Jeremy says

    This is completely ridiculous to me.
    I grow up in a banker family in Singapore.during the 90s’ the economy boomed and lots of people get overnight rich.my brother, who is sevens years older than me, was a total spoiled kid. Back in high school he throw himself a 40k birthday party. Dad got stucked in the office all day so we practically stayed in the house with maids by ourselves.
    When he turned 18 my dad gave him 100 pounds and a round ticket to london. Dad told him to either come back as a loser or make it like a man. My family hasn’t support him one cent thereafter and five years later my brother came back to Spore and now he managed a 100M private equity fund.he used to work three jobs and live in a 200 sqf basement.he slept four hours a day. But it is far less shameful than the thirty years old living with his parents.

  19. MakintheBacon$ says

    I only go by the YOLO saying when it comes to travelling. And of course, I save for the trip dilligently so that I have enough money for it before I go. :)

    My first Keeping up with the Jones’s experience actually came at a very young age. Growing up, some of my cousins had the latest and greatest toys and gadgets. They were quite spoiled by their parents and this stemmed well into their adult life until recently. Of course, I was very jealous and wondered why my parents couldn’t buy me those things and wished they could. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I dealt with it when I was able to pay for my own things with my own money. I didn’t want any help from my parents because I wanted to be independent. I didn’t like the idea of them paying for almost everything for me when I was at an age where I should be paying for most of my stuff.

    And I like the idea of looking like you’re just average, when in secret, you have oodles of $. :)

  20. BC says

    Big cars and houses don’t impress me like they used to but big retirement accounts do! We just bought a second car after being a one car family (with one child) for the past 7 years. got a 2011 Nissan versa with 5,000 miles on it for 12,900. My husband was drooling for a huge truck but me and my battle for all things practical won out. I’m a gear head too and love cars but there are better places to put our cash right now.

  21. Vanessa says

    Argh! I know that you can’t judge people’s finances from afar but it really irks me when you *know* things like “he lives with his parents and pays no rent” and then he is able to afford all sorts of fancy things. Some people think that the rules of being an adult don’t apply to them and it’s the number 1 thing that makes me lose respect for people.

    I’m sure he’s jonesing you though since you can afford a house and he (probably) can’t ;)

    • Financial Samurai says

      You’re right Vanessa. I admit, I probably wouldn’t have any money envy if I knew he didn’t live at home with his parents for 10+ years after college. Maybe guys have more provide or look down on other guys more who live at home.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Bummer. Someone didn’t know I was in my car and banged it with their door at the grocery parking lot. I didn’t mind as I opened the door and banged their car back w/ my door. All good!

  22. Dominique Brown says

    I feel that there is nothing wrong with being envious of something. When my wife and I first moved on our new home a few years ago, I was also envious of my neighbor’s cars. While they were driving classy SUVs, I was still driving my beat-up Toyota Prius. Back then, I still can’t justify getting a new car as I have other financial goals that actually bring in money and I’m starting a family. So, instead of wasting my time being envious, I strived on becoming more productive. I love the 10% rule and it keeps you and me honest. I just think.. want a new car.. bring in more dough.

  23. RichUncle EL says

    When it all comes down to it we make sacrifices for a better future. A little envy might kick in from time to time, but you can’t let it steer you away from your true path. If you feel you cannot afford a 4runner on your salary now there is always hope for next year. I think the 1/10th car purchase rule should be utilized only when you are in the building wealth stage. But if the money from all sources can easily sustain expenses with room to spare, you then can begin to stash every year for a new car fund. Maybe 15% of your annual income can be allocated to a new car fund and in 2 years you too can have a 4 runner.

  24. Noah says

    Hi Sam, I am fairly new to your blog in reading it regularly and for the most part we are on the same wavelength. I’m 28, married, just bought a house (April 2012)in a nice neighborhood where Id pry be safe to say we are the youngest people in the sub by probably 10 years. I save like a banshee and my mortgage is less than 25% of my net income. Im on a 15 yr mortgage at 3.25 fixed and im currently refinancing to a 15 yr fixed for 2.875 (for an 8 month cost recoupe its silly not to right) Anyways I dont come from the bank of mom and dad, Ive never had an inheritance, and my house is probably bigger and nicer than anyone of my family members. I drive a Chevy Truck with 100k miles and we bought my wife a new buck. I feel like i am jonesing it up but my income and savings habits are in line with what your blog suggests and what other financial professionals suggest is adaquete for budgeting, saving and investing. JONESING it up doesnt make you feel better but im not trying to jones it up I just like nice things. YOLO is good if your habits will support it dont you think? I mean in college i traveled abroad three times, took weekend trips across the country – racked up 80k in student loans ( which ive paid off completely and self funded an MBA program at UofM. What do you think am I living YOLO or am I doing things right?@The College Investor

  25. barbara friedberg says

    No one is spared a bout of envy. It happens to all. I sometimes feel as if I need to hide my tiny old phone. But I don’t want a smart phone & why shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks?

  26. BrothersGrimmm says

    I don’t understand why living with your parents is a bad thing. I often wonder why the American way is to leave the nest only to sink yourself into debt to “live free”. I think more families should target the dwelling sharing oportunity to make positive financial moves. Why not live at home while focusing on savings to buy a starter apartment in cash. I’m a father and preach to my kids to pay for everything without financing with the exception of a mortgage. I’m really beginning to question if even a home should be financed.

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