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Conspicuous Consumption

Published on October 19, 2015 10:41 am, by

More commonly referred as “keeping up with the Jones’s” what evidence do we see of conspicuous consumption in our home, our social sphere and our children’s schools?

This article came about through us chatting in the office about “keeping up with the Jones’s”.  We’ve spotted a few things in the media recently that spurred on the conversation.  But as we started to talk there were more questions than answers.  Like where do our purchasing decisions come from?   What is conscious and what is not?  What is swayed by the norm in our area or amongst our friends?

How often do we just get our mates around?  Have you been afflicted with the “they can’t come over until we……”  Get a new dishwasher?  Get nicer chairs?  Repaint the house?  Fix up the yard?  Does your comfort level change depending on your perception of the condition of their house?

Conspicuous consumption is defined as the spending of money and acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power.  For some this may be a demonstration of their income level for others their wealth.  Or so we assume.

Assumptions can get us in to strife.  You’d think when your neighbour drives up in the new model Jeep that you know costs close to $70,000 that they’re doing just fine.  However they could be mortgaged to the hilt.  They could have a high level of personal finance.  They may be struggling to make payments and be under a high level of debt stress, even living in a lovely house and driving a new car.  What do we know?

All the questions

So what’s this about?  And do we buy in to it consciously or sub consciously or not at all?  Does this affect our decisions on where we live and the way we live?  Are we ashamed or embarrassed to invite people into our homes because theirs are “better”?

Do we think less of ourselves if 2 of our children share a bedroom?  Does the need to give our children the same as our neighbour see us adding an extra room to our house?  Buying a new car so we can ferry more people around or just fit in to the norm in our street or suburb?

What are we teaching our children?  Or what they are being taught at school?  When your child comes home and only Nike shoes or Ralph Loren shirts will do what is this telling us?  As a parent sending your child to school in an area where a certain standard is the norm, do we cave in to the pressure to send them off on playdates wearing a $500 outfit?

And most importantly how do we recognise what’s going on?  And how do we put an end to it?  How do we stop spending to keep up?  How do we make sure that we are basing our decisions on what we need and what we can afford?  How do we teach our children to do the same?  How do we make them understand that clothing, cars and houses do not make the person?  All this when evidence at school and around the neighbourhood suggests differently.

Some musings about answers

I suggest open communication.  Talking, talking, talking and lots of talking.  Whether it’s with friends, your partner or your family.   Being open about money and clear about what we are spending and why is important for us.  A very simple example was being out with my 3 kids who all wanted an ice cream.  We were visiting my sister and her 4 children.  We worked out that the cost of 3 ice-creams at Baskin Robbins was more than a packet of cones, a tub of ice-cream and some ice magic from Coles.  So they got a little bit of understanding of how less can be more.

I’m sure that can be translated.  Let’s talk about why we decide to have a 3 bedroom house rather than 4.  Why did we buy the 5 seater car rather than the 7?  Why do we have 1 car and not 2?  Sitting down and talking about our money and our money decisions and what it means in the short and the long term is an awareness tool for us as adults and a learning tool for our children.

Related Articles –
Be MoneyBrilliant – Money Coaching
Step 1 – just think about it
Step 2 – be honest about what you do
Step 3 – where does your money really go? 

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Jen is an experienced banking professional who loves wine, coffee, finding a bargain and of course her three beautiful children. Since Jen's first budget led her to buy a home at 20, Jen has passionately helped others to make better decisions with their money.

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