Keeping up with the Joneses? – your personal goals matter more

25th August 2021

Did the way some people tend to crave and display material success all start with yuppies and Harry Enfield’s ‘Loadsamoney’ character in the 1980s? No, it goes back much further, to 1913, when a New York Globe comic strip ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’ first appeared and created an enduring, meaningful expression.

Envy about others’ wealth and possessions existed in biblical times; the Tenth Commandment is proof of that. It translates to ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house… nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’ A TV cartoon about the neighbouring Flintstone and Rubble families is less convincing evidence of materialism in the Stone Age!

A friendly approach

More relevant to the present, is the time two centuries ago when the British class system meant that much of the population led impoverished lives, with poor housing and harsh industrial working conditions, and little opportunity for social mobility. That was when mutual organisations, such as co-operative, friendly and building societies, began improving ordinary families’ lives.

In 1820s Lancashire a group of workers formed a sickness and benefits society that later became Shepherds Friendly Society, today a provider of long-term insurance and investment products. As a mutual, owned by its members, a much-modernised Shepherds Friendly still espouses the principles of its founding members, broadly advocating thrift and a caring, sharing community.

Pre-pandemic, Shepherd’s Friendly ran a survey themed ‘Keeping up with the Joneses: Does it make us happy?’ Among the 2,000 respondents, 52% admitted comparing their finances to those of friends and family; 30% had been tempted to buy something because people they know had done so; whilst 9% had bought something unaffordable just to impress.

More reassuringly, ‘achieving personal goals’ was a top-scoring response to a question about feeling successful, whereas the bottom-scorer was ‘owning expensive items’. So, maybe lavish expenditure beyond your means will bring less happiness than focusing on your own finances and being realistic about what you can really afford without damaging your long-term financial outlook.

The value of investments can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. The past is not a guide to future performance and past performance may not necessarily be repeated.