If your friends overeat, you're more likely to overeat. If your friends are active and sporty, you're more likely to be active. And if your friends like to spend money, you're more likely to spend too.
This post originally appeared on ReadyForZero.
In a society that revolves around conspicuous consumption, a big part of our consumer culture is about performing wealth for other people — both our actual and imaginary peers. Advertising and media play on our aspirations, especially as everyone seems to be living large. But you don't want to keep up with the Joneses anyway, because they're broke.
In a culture of spending, how can you stop spending for the sake of keeping up appearances? Here are some practical tips to start keeping up with the savers.
Create Your Own Peer Group
When microfinance organisations first started making small loans to the poor, they found loans were more likely to be repaid if borrowers also participated in a regular support group. Not only did the group help each other out as borrowers started or expanded existing businesses, it also kept individual borrowers accountable.
Part of why people fall into debt is because it's so taboo to talk about money and admit that we might be facing financial difficulties. And even if we want to stick to a budget, it seems so embarrassing to turn down a nice dinner out when everyone else is OK with going to an expensive restaurant. That's why it's important to form a group if you really want to counteract messages around consumption. For one thing, no one in the group will judge you if you say, "I can't afford that now."
Reach out to friends or to online forums and groups. Set up a regular meeting time and place. You can share financial goals and check in with each other at your meetings to talk about where you were successful and where you struggled. There is a lot of power in being part of a group: one woman paid off $50,000 in debt a year after she joined a financial support group in New York City. There's also this informal savings group that came up with an innovative way to save money.
Remind Yourself of Your Imaginary Peers
I travel a lot for work, and I frequently come across signs encouraging guests to reuse towels, usually for environmental reasons. Researchers found that by replacing the wording in the signs with a message stating that the majority of guests were participating, more towels were reused. When people become aware that everyone else is doing it and it's a social norm, they're more likely to change their behaviour.
You can take the same idea and put up little signs around your home and remind yourself of the social norms of saving. For instance, 54 per cent of Americans have over $10,000 saved for retirement. Since most of the statistics around Americans and money are rather scary, you could also put those up too to remind yourself of what is at stake when you succumb to an impulse buy.
Stop Watching TV
Television is an endless source of inspiration for the desire to spend. If you stop watching television, you'll be rich in more ways than just monetary — you'll have precious time with your family and friends or the time to pursue a passion. You could even use that time to start a side job to really help you pay off debt.
Practical Tips to Stop Keeping Up with the Joneses [ReadyForZero]
Fiona Lee is a guest blogger for ReadyForZero. She's a freelance writer and a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can see more of her work at her website.