The American Dream has evolved past the humble “white picket fence.” Way past. We all strive for the “nice” home (as defined by HGTV and Pinterest) as opposed to the cozy one, keep a perpetual car payment instead of driving an older model, and chauffeur kids to an endless array of pricey activities rather than sending them outside. Call it creeping consumerism, entitlement, or plain old peer pressure. The point is, we see our hectic and expensive lifestyles as normal—and it’s time we realized that keeping up with the proverbial Joneses is actually extravagant and irresponsible.
The Joneses you’re trying to keep up with aren’t the doctors and lawyers two streets over, says Donna Skeels Cygan. They’re the middle managers, teachers, and laundromat owners next door, and—guess what?—they’re as anxious and unhappy as you are. That’s why she wants us to reframe our perspective on what’s “normal” and adopt a simpler lifestyle with less debt and stress.
“Fulfilling lives are lives based on your core values, not the ones society dictates,” says Cygan, author of The Joy of Financial Security: The art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future (Sage Future Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-989-77844-2, $24.95, www.joyoffinancialsecurity.com). “It’s amazing how many of us feel we have to live in the right neighborhood or drive a new car just because our peers do.
“Often, happiness means making a deliberate choice to stop keeping up with the Joneses,” she adds. “You have to pay attention and get mindful about where your money goes. It’s worth the effort. The consequences of living beyond our means outweigh the short-term satisfaction we feel when we pull out a credit card to make another upgrade. Lavish spending just does not make us happy at all (at least not for long). Sane, smart money management does.”