Friday, 27 July 2012

Who Cares About the Joneses? Be Yourself!

Frugal people tend to save their money for the things they find the most important. They usually don't give a monkeys whether everyone else has a swanky smartphone or a brand new car. 

That's why I was so surprised to read an infuriating article on the frugal living site Wise Bread called "Passing for Middle Class". Writer Philip Brewer gives people tips on how to keep up with the Joneses on a budget, which sounds fine in principal but ends up listing ways to get things you don't need whilst avoiding paying top whack for the privilege.

One of the options Brewer suggests is to choose the cheapest “lifestyle cluster” (suburban house plus two cars vs. urban apartment closer to work) which will allow you to pass yourself off as middle class whilst avoiding the items you are not “required to have (to count as middle class)”.

The other alternative is to get all the things you are “required to have” at the cheapest possible price. The most ridiculous of these for me was a university degree. In the US, University education leaves a lot of people struggling with huge student debts that can really harm their financial future. If you need a degree for your chosen career then fine, but Brewer states that a Bachelors is a required “middle class marker” and seems to suggest that you should just get any old degree from your local state's school. To me, it sounds like if it's not allowing you to get a better job, you're just paying thousands of dollars for bragging rights and entry into the middle class status!

Why does this matter? Who actually cares??

People can feel criticised for the choices they make. Why do you live in such a small house? Why save for tomorrow when you could get hit by a bus today? Why do you drive an old banger when everyone else is paying off car loans for the next four years? Why do you not follow the crowd?

The thing is, frugal people decided long ago not to bother trying to keep up with pointless class status symbols. As financial guru Dave Ramsey says, the Joneses don't want you to know they're actually broke!

Possibly the most infuriating line in the whole article is the following: “Sometimes, even when your values aren't middle-class values, it's worth making some small adjustments to pass for middle class”. No no NO! Stand up for what you believe in! Live well within your means and spend your money on what's important to you!

Please don't try and “pass for middle class”. Be who you are!


Meab-dot said...

Wow! Eye opening article - thanks!

Lili@creativesavv said...

Here in the US, keeping up with the Jones' is what's gotten us into this huge financial turmoil. People buying too much house for their needs or their budget, getting that spanking new car on loan, spending oodles of money of stuff to show off to their neighbors.

I wouldn't want the stress of living that way. It's just so much nicer to live on my terms than someone else's.

SpanktheMagicMonkey said...

I agree that everyone should live within their means and this whole business about keeping up with the Joneses is frankly a load of phooey. On the flipside though isn’t this “I want, I want, I want” attitude to life what drives the economic market forward and keeps everyone in a job? We’ve now gotten to a stage where people are employed based on a highly inflated marketplace. If this were to disappear then most people would be out of a job. All in all I’m undecided so I’m going to carry on doing what’s best for me, which at the moment is living with a balance (i.e. occasional luxury purchases).

Pamela said...

Bryallen, I totally agree! Also, that's a really skewed view of middle-class he's got there. Living in a small place/apartment in Boston and taking the subway or walking to work (and not owning a car) is actually a pretty middle-class thing to do (Boston's fairly expensive).

Maybe if we didn't try to convince ourselves and everyone else we are something we are not, we wouldn't be in this mess. Just because your neighbors buy new cars every few years doesn't mean you have to.

lizzie said...

You may not fully understand the education system here in the States. My friend daughter went to community college for two years (Associated degree )then to a State University for two years and obtained a Bachelors Degree then on to medical school and is now a plastic surgeon in Las Vegas. This was done to save money and she worked quite a lot jobs on her down time. You dont have to go to ivy league school to achieve here.
The middle class in the U.s. is very different for the u.k. It is much broader and encompasses almost everyone.
It includes people who are educated and people who work "blue collar" jobs. If you slip out of it on the lower end you really are in trouble as there are no really safety nets here.
I think he made some interesting points - it is the difference between frugality and poverty and particularly how you "wear" your poverty.

Philip Brewer said...

Hey, thanks for the mention and the link—and sorry I didn't see this discussion earlier.

My post wasn't written so much as to advocate for passing as middle class, as it was written for people who strongly felt that they needed to be middle class. My goal was to present an alternative: If your frugality (or poverty) makes it tough to be middle class, maybe you can satisfy your need by seeming middle class.

In any case, thanks for giving it some serious consideration.