Are you always trying to keep up with the Joneses? When your neighbor gets a new car, a new grill or a new couch, do you find yourself wanting one, too? According to Jean, studies have shown that once you get past a certain level of comfort, money actually doesn't buy happiness. "What people are looking for instead tends to be relativity—it tends to be this sense that you are doing as well, if not better than, your neighbors," she says.
In today's society, we are constantly confronted with people—from our neighbors next door to the movie stars, musicians and heiresses we see on TV—who have things that we want, Jean says. To look at the social side of your finances, Jean talks to Shira Boss, author of Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt. Shira shares her advice on how you can be happy with what you have:
When jealousy sets in, Shira says to remember that you don't have all the facts. You don't know how your neighbor paid for that new car—he or she may be in a boatload of debt over it. Don't fall into the trap of using debt to keep up yourself, she says.
Choose where you are going to live wisely, Shira says, and take all expenses into account. If you put yourself in a close-knit town where everyone joins the local country club, goes out to expensive dinners and wears designer clothes, you're going to put too much pressure on yourself—and your wallet.
Save up for the things you really want. Shira says that if you put in the effort rather than swipe a credit card, you'll really appreciate your purchase, whether it's a vacation or a new handbag.
Widen your pool of comparison. "It's very natural in this country to compare upward only," Shira says. Don't just look at the people you envy, but look at those who likely envy you. If you're living above the poverty level, you are extremely fortunate, she says.
Be honest with those around you, Shira says. If you can't afford to go out to dinner with your friends, say so. You may inspire changes in how you socialize—for instance, potlucks instead of fancy dinners out.
Put yourself in situations where money is discussed openly, Shira says, such as one of Jean's Money Groups.