T. Rowe Price, in their 12th annual Parents, Kids & Money Survey, surveyed parents who felt the need to “keep up with the Joneses”. Most of us know this pressure. We keep up with the latest fashion trends, buy the newest phone, or the biggest home. The kitchen gets remodeled and the kids are in the most prestigious private school (or we wish they were). These choices are not motivated by Biblical wisdom or generosity, but instead an envy to be like people—real or imagined— who are the most successful or likeable. We long to be “the Joneses”.
But Scripture has a better way. The people of God are “ever lending generously,” the Psalmist says, “and [their] children become a blessing.” (Ps. 37:26). The wisdom here is that the generous—who seek to give rather than obtain—will have children who become a blessing to the world. Yet, when we look to “the Joneses” rather than God’s Word, envy takes the place of generosity. Not only do we fail to be Christlike givers, but we also forfeit the benefits, one of which is our children’s influence in the world.
The results of this survey confirm the Biblical witness. Of those surveyed, 35% of parents said they are consistently trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Such a goal has affected those parents, their future, and their family in the following ways.
· 53% of want-to-be-Joneses said they hide spending from their spouses.
· Parents who aim to keep up with the Joneses experience more financial anxiety than others when considering educational costs (54%), health care (47%), the political environment (44%), natural disasters (42%), and a lack of financial knowledge (40%).
· 60% of these parents have a budget but do not put it into practice.
· These parents are twice as likely than their counterparts to consider (16% vs. 8%) or declare (22% vs 11%) bankruptcy.
· Those who “keep up with the Joneses” are three times as likely to withdraw from retirement and five times as likely to withdraw from college savings more than once per year.
· These parents are more likely than others (19% vs. 9%) to spend retirement savings on holiday purchases.
· While those who do not chase the Joneses are likely to talk with their children about finances (62%), those expressing a keep-up-with-the-Joneses attitude are less likely to do so (30%).
· Of these parents, 71% of their children spend most of their allowance right away.
· Parents who keep up with the Joneses are more likely (27%) to give their children credit cards than those who do not (9%).
Chasing after with the Joneses directly affects financial practices today, monetary security later, and children going forward. More seriously, this envy gets in the way of our obedience to God and the blessings he provides. A wiser and happier way is to and budget with generosity in mind, without being swayed by what “the Joneses” are saying, doing, or buying.
Justin is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. He lives with his lovely wife Kasey and their joyful son Emmett in Wake Forest.