Need Budgeting Help? Watch 'The Joneses'

Are you looking for creative ways to reign in your spending?  If so, here’s a tip I never thought I’d be giving you:  Buy a movie ticket… to see The Joneses.

What I love about this movie is that it hammers home a point that noted positive psychology (that’s fancy speak for “happiness”) researchers such as Daniel Gilbert, Martin Seligman, and Tal Ben-Shahar, have long highlighted:

Comparing yourself to others is tantamount to mental torture.

In this film, the Joneses are a “familial cell,” placed in a neighborhood by their corporate employers to sell, well, a lifestyle.  They are provided with all the latest clothes, electronics, culinary delights, and athletic toys. Their instructions are to use these items publicly and with joyful abandon.  Their end goal… to entice their neighbors to quite literally strive to keep up with the Joneses – by buying these items.  And sooner than you can say pass the popcorn, you see in front of your own eyes how very effective this strategy is.

Walking out of this movie I heard a person ask, “Do you think this kind of thing happens in real life?”

My gut response: Yep.  Daily.  For every time we look at an advertisement, watch a TV show with a product placement, or see a movie star walk down the red carpet “dressed by designer X”… we are being subjected to a version of The Joneses.  So if you are trying to save money (and these days that’s pretty much everyone I know, myself included!), here’s my three-step action plan:

  1. Watch The Joneses
  2. Make a mental note of which scene(s) resonate most strongly with you
  3. Ask yourself when was the last time you had an attack of The Joneses & if recalling this scene could have helped stem your spending.

(And if you live in NYC, please be sure to check out “PriceCheck:  How We Became a Culture of Consumption” – the latest show by Poetic People Power on May 19th.  For more on how Tara Bracco developed this innovative spoken work production, click here.)

In the spirit of full disclosure I’ll kick it off.  The scene that resonated most strongly with me was the one in which the kind-hearted neighbor, Larry, learns how fleeting that feeling of having the latest and greatest (in his case, a shiny red new sports car) can wear off when someone rounds the corner in an even shinier and newer coupe.  It reminded me of my last “Joneses” moment.  My husband and I were out to dinner with a very well dressed woman carrying a killer handbag that I was magnetically drawn to.  I promptly went out and bought it, only to find out when I got home that all my stuff didn’t fit into it.  Blinded by my desire to look like her, I neglected to employ common sense to make sure the darn bag was actually functional for me.

What about you – any keeping up with the Joneses stories you’d be willing to share?

17 Replies to “Need Budgeting Help? Watch 'The Joneses'”

  1. I think it is impossible not to compare yourself to others since we humans are social beings. But it is possible to establish a healthy relationship with others that does not lead to destructive behavior. According to research, our happiness is a matter of our relative position in our social environment to some extent.I guess that means you got to compare yourself to others if you want to feel happy…

  2. So helpful, Manisha! Thank you. I had not heard of that film and now want to take a look to see what resonates most. I regularly catch myself with thoughts like, if only I had X, Y or Z thing then I'll be happy. I think we need regular reminders that this is not the case.

  3. I was surprised to find the movie “moving me” as much as it did. What really got me in the gut about this movie was how clearly you could see what intuitively we all know – that thinking “Just one more thing and THEN I'll be happy….” is like riding a marry-go-round with a broken off button. It just never stops. No matter what you have someone else will have something else that is “newer, faster, shinier, cheaper, more stylish, etc.” And the movie portrays this hedonistic treadmill without preaching – which is the best part. So hope you enjoy. As a Super-Frugal-Gal, you know I don't recommend spending money without good cause!

  4. As usual Manisha, you hit the nail on the head. It is so easy to get caught up in “I gotta have it.”
    It is all just “stuff” after all. We need to remember what's important in life … like a motorcycle!

  5. Yep, I so hear you. It really is human nature to compare – so it would seem to me the ideal antidote is to be very careful about who you choose to compare yourself to. One of my all time favorite books is THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR. The lesson that resonated most strongly with me was how many truly wealthy people (as measured by net worth) are very happy living fairly “modest” lifestyles. In other words, they picked reference groups to compare themselves to that both made them happy and protected their pocketbooks. Smart. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. I watched this movie with my sister this past weekend and have been recommending it to all my friends and coworkers. I’m actually taking my boyfriend to watch it again this weekend.

    There wasn’t a particular scene that spoke to me personally, but the ‘stealth marketing’ aspect really stood out. At first, I thought the ‘techniques’ each family unit member used to push certain products were far fetched- just because some lady is power walking down your street in a tracksuit doesn’t really mean everyone is going to immediately covet it; but then I realized that those things really do happen in real life! Juicy Couture tracksuits and Fit Flops, anyone?

    After watching this movie, I really thought hard about what most triggers me to go out and purchase a particular product. I came to the conclusion that the usual instigators are all virtual. In the age of the internet- blogs, twitter and facebook, you’re more connected to people that ever before. We all influence each other in some way or form. I find myself gravitating towards getting things my friends or celebrities tweet about, or bloggers rave about to their followers, not conscientiously thinking that it’s just another medium for advertising companies. Ever since my ‘Joneses’ revelation- I’ve implemented a new rule for myself. If I really want something I see a ‘recommendation’ for online, I make myself wait two weeks. If I still really covet that item and it’s on sale or within a reasonable price range, I’ll get it. But, I think by that time, I’ll probably just forget all about it. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to impulse buy numerous things, and it’s not the end of the world. Thanks for instigating this discussion, Manisha!

  7. Mel – Love your game plan! Thanks for sharing, your thoughtful response will no doubt inspire many others to think twice about their own Juicy Couture & Fit Flop moments. God knows I've had them!

  8. Not me personally, I've never had that kind of bug… Must be my small scottish heritage…

    But I do feel the urge to buy stuff for my kids so they at least keep up with the joneses kids… LOL, I guess they do affect me indirectly, at least to some degree.

  9. First, glad to hear you've not been “bit by the bug” yourself. That's a great first step, got to love that Scottish heritage. As for wanting your kids to have the best – that's such a tough one, isn't it. It's a natural and healthy desire for a parent to want to help their kids blossom. The “answer” is so personal… my sense is that awareness is your greatest asset in that battle & I'd also say “The Joneses” does a good job of showing the parent / child dynamic around that fine line of loving & supporting your children versus teaching them how to fish for themselves. Thanks so much for writing in and sharing your thoughts!

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