Authored by Tina Kapp
My brother Jeremy wrote a fascinating article on his blog, titled “Lifestyle Inflation.”1 In it, he talks about how people are pressured to spend more money to keep improving their lifestyle. As you make more money, you may begin to feel you have to get a better car or a fancier house, all of which traps you in a never-ending cycle of just managing to make ends meet, or in many cases, going into debt due to spending more money than you actually have. It’s a very interesting subject and one that catches most of us, if we’re not careful. “Keeping up with the Joneses” can be hazardous, not only to our finances, but more importantly, to our happiness.
“Keeping up with the Joneses” is an idiom coined for the feeling of needing to keep up with your neighbors through the accumulation of material possessions. If they get a new car, you need one too. If their kids have a new computer game or the latest phone, you feel bad if your kids don’t.
They made a movie using this concept where a seemingly perfect family called the “Joneses” moved into a neighborhood showing off the latest of everything one could buy, and getting everyone who got to know them to want to buy things they had. Behind this “perfect” façade, the “Joneses” were actually salesmen with objectives to sell to their target age group and financial quotas to reach. The husband got the other men to buy the same golf gear, car, and TV that he had acquired, while the wife got the women to buy her beauty treatments and fashion. Even the teenage daughter was selling makeup and gadgets to other teenagers, and the teenage son was pushing computer games, sound systems, etc. It worked well until the neighbors got into serious debt because they couldn’t afford all the new things they suddenly felt they just “had to have”—while never stopping to think that they were doing just fine without them before. That’s not to say that saving up and getting something you really wanted or what could be considered a gadget or luxury is always wrong, or you should never have nice things, but it’s wise to step back every now and then and check why you feel you need it.
Sadly, many people just get things simply to impress or outdo their friends (and even their frenemies), and they, in turn, will inevitably feel that they need to outdo them and get even more expensive luxury items that aren’t necessary. It can become a vicious cycle, and neither friend ends up truly happy with their purchases, as they are only doing it in order to own something better than the “next guy.” The only ones who win in this situation are the sellers, who laugh all the way to the bank.
There’s a lot to be said for getting quality products over the cheapest and sometimes less reliable options. Good business sense is something that’s wise to learn at a young age, being able to save when necessary and spend when a good deal comes along. A wise man once gave some excellent advice for any financial situation: “When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep causes your downfall.”
Jesus knew that getting shiny new things is a temptation to all of us, so He warned His disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourself treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”2
I was chatting with some friends the other day who are what most people call “well off.” They admitted to me that having a lot of money to spend and being able to pretty much afford the best of everything often results in a lack of appreciation of these things. Rather than enjoying a lovely meal at a restaurant, it’s tempting to be demanding, feeling that since you pay top dollar, you should get immaculate service, or to start nitpicking at anything that’s not perfect, rather than enjoying it.
Only after they went through a financial dip, where they had to suddenly tighten their purse strings, did they start to appreciate things again. They realized that what they’d taken for granted for so long was thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed by other people; others treasured and relished the experiences that they grumbled through.
Of course, the pursuit of money never ends. I don’t know where the original idea came from, but I think it’s an old horse-trainer’s trick. The rider dangles a carrot off a string tied to a stick in front of their horse’s nose. The faster the horse runs after it, the faster the carrot moves as well, always staying just out of reach. Unlike the poor horse, we can stop and figure out what’s happening. We can learn to discipline ourselves to live within our means.
Hard work certainly pays off, and God designed us to work so we can be productive and take good care of ourselves and our loved ones. Psalm 128:2 says, “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”3 It’s just good to stop and ask ourselves if we are getting too busy chasing a lifestyle that we or others think we should have, to the neglect of what’s really important.
Jesus wisely said, “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”4 It’s not that God wants you to stop making money and live like a flower child in the forest. You do need things to survive and thrive in society today. However, He follows this point with very important counsel: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”5 If you’re hoping for true quality of life, you’ll want friends who don’t care if you have the latest of everything. You’ll enjoy and appreciate the simple as well as the special. You’ll enjoy giving and receiving things that are valued because they’re meaningful and thoughtful, not just expensive.
If you want to know whether you’re living a balanced life in this arena, think about what you’d have that’s important to you if you lost all your material possessions tomorrow.
As Henry Ward Beecher said, “A man’s bank account doesn’t indicate whether he is rich or poor. It is the heart that makes a man rich. A man is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.”
2 Matthew 6:19–21 NIV
3 New International Version
4 Matthew 6:25,32 NIV
5 Matthew 6:33 NIV
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2015 by The Family International