Keeping up with the Joneses: How peer pressure to spend is impacting on our minds and our wallets

Written by Money Empire

August 1, 2017

Keeping up with what’s going on in the lives of friends and family is much easier with the advent of social media. But how often have you seen or heard friends post or boast about their new house, their car, their promotion? Even their new, super expensive, designer watch? It’s human nature to laud success, and it also invites the human, understandable reaction of “Why not me? Why can’t I be like my friends and have those things?”

The problem with income inequality

The problem is that not everyone can, or will ever have those things – and that’s having a big impact on people’s happiness. As part of our Money and Mental Health series, we thought it was important to look at not just how your own financial situation affects your mental health, but also how other people’s money woes or wins can impact on your own mental wellbeing.

Income inequality can have a major effect on mental health and well-being, as illustrated in this British Journal of Psychiatry article. Not being able to afford the same lifestyle as those around us can result in “conspicuous consumption” – that compulsion to buy what others can see and recognise as having value, rather than on what we ourselves need. The latest computer or newest iPhone is great to have, but if buying it means not having petrol for the car, rent for the landlord, or even food for the table, the cost of the purchase far outweighs its value.

Both sides of the rich-poor divide can feel under pressure. If you’re the wealthy one, how do you enjoy a night out with your friends? Do you offer to pay for them all, or stand two drinks for every one that they pay for? Do you find yourself picking up the tab? Maybe you don’t mind doing so, and that’s great. But at some point, isn’t it likely that you could start to resent the feeling that you’re always doing this? Do you stop talking about your successes, not because you are ashamed of them, but because you feel guilty that you’re doing well and your friend isn’t?

Income inequality is especially tricky within a marriage or relationship. Money is cited as the cause of divorce in 22% of cases, according to this report conducted in 2013. Decisions on how money should be spent are often influenced by the person who brings the greater amount to the table, and this can be a tricky path to navigate. The dilemmas couples face include resentment, jealousy, “my” versus “our” money, and the feeling that the parties aren’t sharing equal responsibilities.

The pressure from trying to keep up

What happens when we can’t keep up with our more affluent friends and family? We might:

  • Hide money issues from spouses
  • Make excuses, or lie about why we can’t go out or pay our share
  • Feel envious, inadequate, guilty, or angry
  • Take on more debt to try to finance an unaffordable lifestyle
  • Suffer from stress-related mental and physical illnesses
  • In extreme cases, commit fraud or steal

What can we do about it?

Firstly, stay in control, and resist the pressure. Whether it’s advertisers assuring you that yes, you really do need this expensive, one-of-a-kind item, or friends who suggest that it’s time you splurged “just once”, remember that you are in charge of your life, not them.

Keep the lines of communication clear. If the friends are worth keeping, then it’s worth being honest with them. If they say they want you to come along on an expensive trip, remember that they are probably asking because they think you will enjoy it. However if you can’t afford it, say no, courteously, and without resentment. “Thanks, but I’m trying to save for (insert target of your choice here)” gives a clear, but friendly, response. Ask them to share photos with you, and remind them to enjoy themselves.

If you’re the sort of person who prefers to repay favours, remember that it doesn’t have to cost you money. Offer to babysit the kids. When they’re away on their great overseas trip, be the person they can count on to look after their house, or walk the dog. If you’re a good enough cook, have them round for one of your gourmet meals.

Know that just because you’re not making as much right now, doesn’t mean you can’t do better financially in the future. Talk to us if you’re keen to get building your empire and find yourself in a better financial position in the future.

Don’t let FOMO f*** your finances. Have a listen to our podcast on a hopefully more light hearted approach to keeping up with the neighbours.

Most importantly, if you’re feeling stressed about money matters and their effect on your mental health, call or text one of the fantastic mental health helplines available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for advice, or if you just need to talk.

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