Jim Duffy: The Joneses can afford luxury, but we don't have to keep up

You'd have thought a global rececssion would have stopped us from getting into debt to impress, writes Jim Duffy.
So what if Mrs Jones can afford to enjoy a hot tub with rose petals while being served chocolates and Champagne? (Picture: PA)So what if Mrs Jones can afford to enjoy a hot tub with rose petals while being served chocolates and Champagne? (Picture: PA)
So what if Mrs Jones can afford to enjoy a hot tub with rose petals while being served chocolates and Champagne? (Picture: PA)

It seems we are all at it! We cannot help ourselves! Yes, from millennials to silver tops, we cannot stop ourselves from spending. Why?

Well, we have to keep up with the Joneses, even thought that now feels so 1970s or 1980s. Surely now that we are more self-aware, have experienced recession and feel more post-modern, we ought not to feel the need to compete with the neighbours?

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However, despite all the warnings on household debt, personnel debt and living within our means, we still thirst for what we cannot and should not have.

Did you know that the average credit card debt of a millennial in the San Francisco area is a staggering $3,000? These youngsters have to have it all and they are happy to pay for it on plastic. And this is being replicated all over the globe as they chase each other in travel, fashion, tech and whatever else makes them look good on Facebook and Instagram.

The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is fuelling debt. As our millennial generation feels the need to experience life, thrills, culture, cocktails and trainers, they are strapping themselves to debt in order to make it happen. But, even when they know it is going to be a heavy burden financially, they still spend. Keeping up with the Joneses is the new moral panic that is sweeping the globe.

But, let’s not just single out millennials as they are an easy, identifiable target that fits nicely into our social petri dish. Millennials may be newsworthy, but they are not the only ones who need to be seen to spend. The 30 and 40-somethings are also caught up with the idea.

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It seems keeping up with the Joneses is not age specific. The urge to have the right clothing brands traverses all ages.

Driving the right car sends out a signal to the neighbours, work colleagues and our friends. While holidaying in the right place is a must if we are to make ourselves visible and stand out on the “Joneses” map.

Let’s look at cars. Despite car insurance rising year on year and road tax increasing for the more thirsty vehicles, our appetite for luxury has not waned in these times of austerity.

Many of us cannot afford to walk into the Jaguar garage and simply pay cash for the new iPace. Priced at a mere £63,000, this is no doubt a cracking car and would look very good on most driveways.

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But, really who has this kind of available cash to stick down on a lump of metal? And all the car companies know that, so hey presto! PCP. A ‘personal contract purchase’ means you can have that luxury icon sitting on your driveway for a mere 400 quid a month. Pretty awesome and the neighbours will know it. After all, they will also be into expensive leases and PCP contracts to keep up with you. But it doesn’t stop there with our need to look good.

Not only do we buy these expensive cars as part of our Joneses’ journey through life, but pamper them as well. You will all recall armies of people washing their cars in the driveways in the suburbs on a Saturday morning.

But this ritual is being replaced by car valeting or “detailing” vans who park up and give that luxury must-have the once over, while you photograph it from your conservatory. Why waste time setting up the hose and a bucket, when you can have it gleaming for a tenner? But, while this is going on, the gardener arrives to cut the grass. Yes, you can have it all the land of the Joneses, as long as you are prepared to pay. And you are.

Add to all of this fancy watches like Tag, Breitling and Rolex, all on offer with zero per cent finance and we are beginning to complete the picture postcard that is our lives. In the home, we must have washing machines that have triple-A rating, German-sounding names and 10-year guarantees.

We need double or triple ovens in our new designer kitchens with multiple wine coolers and engineered flooring that costs more per square meter than marble. Then top it all off with hot tubs in the back garden that eat so much electricity that they require their own fuse box. Now, you are really keeping up with the Joneses and up to your rear end in debt.

Enjoying life’s experiences and what it has to offer has never been so easy for young people, mid-life earners and, of course, our retirees. It has become even easier to strap oneself to massive debt just to enjoy what life has to offer, while showing that you can afford it.

But what does it all actually mean? And what does it really say about us? There is nothing wrong with a Ford Mondeo, but we chose a Jaguar XF. There is nothing wrong with a Timex, but we chose a Tag.

Our fascination with worldly goods and the compelling nature of showing them off in situ and virtually on social media will eventually grind us down, not just financially – as the costs go up and the new car and watch models come out – but spiritually.

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Within ourselves, we realise that keeping up with the Joneses is all bullshit and built upon ... not a great deal.

The real danger is that we are all complicit in it together, regardless of age and availability of cash. When the youngsters are building up debt just for show, instead of salting cash away for a rainy day, they are sowing the seeds of another big meltdown in the future. And all because we want to live in the now with all it can offer.

Perhaps, it’s time for us all to take stock.