Need Budgeting Help? Watch “The Joneses”

By Manisha Thakor

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: Watch the movie…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.

When I walked out of the theater after watching 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.

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?

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