One of the biggest downfalls of our consumerism-focused society is that it creates unnecessary competition between neighbors, friends, colleagues and even strangers.
For example, people often purchase cars based on the status symbol level of that car. So even though budget-wise a small car might suit a particular family, depending on where they live and how pressured they feel they may choose to purchase a car too large for their purposes and beyond their budget – just because of the image it presents.
Let’s say the Jones family lives in a well-paved suburb with no rough terrain, yet they choose to purchase a high-end, rough terrain vehicle like an SUV. They do so because the car company marketers create ads that position this vehicle as the choice of successful families. Add to the fact that those buying into that ideal are filling up school parking lots where other parents can take a visual sample of what their peers are driving, and you have post-elementary school peer pressure at its best.
This kind of pressure permeates so many aspects of our lives and can lead us further away from our financial goals and closer to damaging debt. Here’s how to take steps to get rid of the “keeping up with the Jones’” mindset:
1. Envision the activities and lifestyle that will honestly bring your family happiness. Then think about how your life would be without major debt. It’s likely a far better lifestyle than life with debt. Make a plan with a start and end date to clear off your debt. Take it in manageable chunks, clearing off a bit of your debt every month or bi-weekly.
2. Before you make any major or minor purchases, think about how that purchase will impact your finances. To do this you need to first create a family budget (one that includes your debt reduction plan) and follow that budget. Then before you go shopping, determine what is necessary and what you can purchase using cash – and stick to that strategy.
3. Start to appreciate what you have in your life, instead of what you don’t have. You may think you want a BMW or a larger house, but would it really make you any happier – especially if the bank owned most of it?
4. To help you appreciate what you have, take a deeper look at your home, your career and their impact on your family life. Instead of incurring greater debt by moving to a home you “think” you need, perhaps there are affordable improvements that you can make to your home that will increase their value to you and your family. Maybe you can start a business or change jobs to improve your satisfaction with your career or earning potential.
5. Be selective with respect to the people you bring into your family’s life. If there are neighbors or friends who have a materialistic approach to life that causes you to want to spend, spend, spend, limit your interaction. Don’t feel obliged to surround yourself with people who don’t share your values just because they’re neighbors or old friends. It may take time to build up your resistance to old habits, and you’ll need to keep negative influences at a minimum.
Appreciating the real assets in your life – family, your health and a home you can afford, are good things to value now and always.