So much of the reason Rick and I are in the debt mess we’re in today is because we spent too many years caring about what other people thought of us. We cared what they thought about the clothes we wore, the house we lived in, the cars we drove, the activities our kids were in, etc., etc., etc. Caring too much about what other people thought lured us into making spending decisions that weren’t in line with our real values, and the result was a ridiculous amount of debt. I believe that this mindset is a dangerous and destructive mindset in America that no one like to admit to or talk about.
When we lived in the suburbs, it felt like a constant world of competition. It felt like everyone was caught up in the web of keeping up with the Joneses, and we were too. It was “normal” in our community. We wanted, like everyone else, to be the best, have the best, look the best.
When we moved out into the country, there was a major league paradigm shift. No one really gave a rat’s arse about what we had, what we looked like, what we wore or what we drove. The first two neighbors that came over to introduce themselves came over in generic brand jeans and t-shirts. One was on a lawn tractor, looking not at all “proper” for a first introduction. The other was driving a expensive Mercedes SUV.
As we continued to get involved in the neighborhood and meet more and more people, we found they were all different. Some were labor workers, some were professionals. Some dressed up, most dressed down. Some had huge houses, most had modest houses. But there was one thing they all had in common:
No one gave a hoot about what everyone else was wearing, driving, owning or buying. Oh, don’t misunderstand: When Mercedes guy (who lives in a very simple, unadorned older rambler with his family) got a new big tractor, all the guys wandered over to check it out. They’d ooh and ahh about its bells, whistles, and shiny new paint. But it wasn’t in an envious way – it was more a form of entertainment, like the bonfires and other casual parties the people here sometimes hold. The guys get together on a weekly basis to hang out, but it’s not for a trip to a professional sports game – instead, they meet in one guy’s garage, have a few brewskis and try the latest culinary creation, such as deer jerky or a new homemade pizza recipe.
The goal is not to live life in a way to impress others; instead, the goal is to enjoy living life!
Recommended reading – only 99 cents!: The Real Costs of Keeping up With the Joneses
It took awhile for our mindset to change from “keeping up with the Joneses” to “Relax. Just enjoy life!”. But eventually, as we spent more time observing our new neighbors, we had to inevitably ask ourselves one question:
Why do you care about what other people think of you?
The primary answer was that we were afraid of being rejected. What if they didn’t like us or want to be friends with us? While living in the suburbs and trying half-heartedly to assess our financial fails, we’d ask ourselves this question, but we’d never wait for the answer, as the thought of being rejected by our community or being seen as “failures” terrified us that much. Instead, we’d just go out and buy the latest/greatest to help “solidify” our relationship with the Joneses. It’s not that we didn’t have some real friends in the suburbs, but most everyone seemed to care very much about fitting in with the Joneses. Too much. So much that it clouded their decision-making and led to them doing things and buying things that they could not afford. I know this because of the many conversations most all of us had about struggling with money.
Once in the country, we felt safe enough to explore the answer to that question. What if they DID reject us and end our friendship? What if they DID see us as failures? Then we went on to determine the answer to that question:
“Well, so what?” came the answer. If we lost our “friendship” with them, the world wouldn’t end. There would be other friends.
Then we pursued the answer further as we did more assessing.
Hmm, if we lost them as friends, that’d be one less family we have to worry about impressing. Hmm! This wasn’t sounding so bad!
As we continued to explore the answers to the “Why Do You Care” question, we began to explore our values. We learned that one of our “values” was to have trustworthy, real and honest friends. We realized that we’d rather have one true friend than two dozen fake friends. Living in the country does that to you. It makes you be okay with your alone time, and it gives you plenty of space to explore the real you – to think about and determine what is truly important to you without outside “interference” from the Joneses.
Be proud of who you are, and not ashamed of how someone else sees you. -Unknown
What we finally determined in our months of self-identification is that we didn’t need to care about what others thought. We didn’t need to “fit in”.
What we did need was to be able to sleep at night, knowing that we are living a life every day that is in line with our morals, values and goals.
As we walk out our journey to debt freedom, it might look to some that we are “going downhill”. Our clothing is no longer “popular”. Our vehicles are old. My hair is no longer highlighted. My makeup is no longer “perfect”. There are days when we head into town covered in mud – or worse – in our work boots and crappy jeans. Gasp! In the old days, yes: Gasp indeed! But in this new life we’ve created of having to account to only our God and ourselves, woohoo!