The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” was first coined by the cartoonist Arthur R. (“Pop”) Momand in his once highly popular comic strip entitled, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Launched in 1913, the comic strip ran in American newspapers for over 28 years. The inspiration for the comic strip came directly from Pop’s experiences in his former hometown of Cedarhurst, New York where friends and neighbors were living well beyond their means in their eternal quest to keep up with their well-to-do acquaintances.
Fast forward nearly 100 years from the first publication of the comic strip and you will notice the expression Pop created has now become as ubiquitous as American pie. Embedded in daily fabric of American life, from New York to San Francisco and every small town and big city in between, the expression has gone from a parody of human behavior to a full fledged battle of two unequal participants.
On the one side you have the Joneses, and on the other, Joe. Joe is your everyday, hard working, red blooded American, whose quintessential desire and goal is to have and to hold everything that is sacred to the Joneses. Joe is the classic example of an underdog, one dollar short and one step behind his formidable foe, but yielding determination and resolve worthy of a great American underdog. Unfortunately for Joe, and unlike classic rivalries whose outcome is not guaranteed, his outcome is all but assured. Joe dearly wants what the Joneses have and with an eye on the prize in front of him, he runs forward reaching out to grasp a hold. The Joneses, uniquely aware of this, do their utmost to stay just ahead of Joe. If what the Joneses have becomes commonplace, then they simply discard and move on in search of the next big thing, the next small thing, the next in thing. If they were to stop even for a moment they risk losing the very essence of their being. For Joe, it is a never ending race with no clear finish line. The same, however, is true for the Joneses. The big difference between the two race participants, is the size of their wallets. The Joneses are in much better financial condition than Joe, and can easily afford to maintain their lead indefinitely. Joe, on the other hand, unknowingly sacrifices the fate of his future an of his family in his never ending pursuit of the lifestyle he wants today.
Personal finance is not a race against friends, family, or the Joneses, but against time. Joe should not be competing against them but against self-discipline. Time and self-discipline are the basic components of a sound personal financial strategy. There is only a limited amount of time to establish and maintain the chosen financial strategy that will meet the needs of today and provide for the financial needs of tomorrow. Self-discipline is needed to balance the wants and needs of today while preparing for the needs that will undoubtedly arise in the future.
Stephen Geyer is a former senior NASDAQ market maker and equity trader with over 15 years of professional experience in the financial services industry. Contact Stephen Geyer at http://wallstreetandmain.blogspot.com/