Law School
Personal Finance

Who Are The Joneses and Why Are We Keeping Up With Them?

To “keep up with the Joneses” is a common phrase used in America to convey the idea of being as well off (or at least appearing to be as well off) financially as one’s neighbors.

Who are these Joneses and where did this phrase come from?

Come to find out, the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originated from an early 20th century comic strip of the same title by Arthur R. “Pop” Momand. The comic started in 1913 and ran for another 28 years. It was eventually adapted into musicals, movies, and eventually a catch phrase.


The funny thing about the comic strip “Keeping up With the Joneses” is that the strip isn’t even about the Joneses. In fact the Joneses never made an appearance in the 28 years the strip ran. The main characters in the strip was the McGinises family consisting of Aloysius, the husband; Clarice, the wife; Julie, the daughter; and Belladonna, the housemaid. The Joneses were referred to now and then and the McGinises family tried to keep up with them

Why Are We Keeping Up With The Jonses?

We’ve all experienced keeping up with the Joneses moments at some time in our life. We see the next door neighbor buy a new car or hear from a co-worker who takes his family on trips to Europe every year and immediately we feel the burning desire to do the same. Why? First, we want to appear that we’re in the same socio-economic range as our peers. Second, we feel we deserve it. If a neighbor who sends his kids to same school that I send mine, shops at the same stores as me, and lives in the same are as me can afford to buy new things, then I should be able to as well.

People automatically assume that because their neighbors buy new stuff on a regular basis, their neighbors must be better off financially. In order to keep up appearances with the neighbors, many families take on loads of consumer debt. The reality, though, is that your neighbors are probably buying their stuff on credit trying to keep up with some other Joneses-maybe the Joneses at their church. Quickly, keeping up with the Joneses becomes a vicious cycle of one-up-manship.

But guess what? You don’t have to play the game anymore.

As soon as we realize that the Joneses are buying their stuff off of credit, the ridiculousness of the keeping up with them appears: We go into debt so we can keep up with our neighbors’ debt. If having more debt means my neighbors are better off than me, I’ll let them be better off than me.

Not all of our friends who are living lavish lifestyles are taking on debt to do it. Some people actually make enough money to support their lifestyle without taking on debt. However, we shouldn’t try to keep up with them by going into debt. It’s not worth it. It doesn’t mean we’re less of a person because we can’t have the things they have. It just means we don’t have as much money. The reality is that many of your friends who are well off don’t care if you still drive the car you drove in college or if you don’t wear the latest fashions. If these types of things really are important to your friends, then maybe you should get new friends.

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[tags]Personal finance, frugality, Frugal Law Student, money[/tags]