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Rich-wood-itis: the Epidemic of Keeping up with the Joneses by Jennifer Faherty

The good news:

Stocks continue to rise and more and more jobs are being filled.

The bad news:

That doesn't necessarily translate into greater wealth, savings and confidence that we have "enough." In fact, it can lead to less wealth, more spending and comparison to others.

Believe me, I am thrilled as the next person that the S&P has seen record highs. Yet I sometimes worry that we may forget many of the lessons of the 2008 recession and return to some of the thinking that got us in the trouble in the first place: a mentality of get rich fast schemes, resting our laurels on money we haven't actually cashed in yet (in the form of rising stock that we haven't yet sold, for example, and therefore the gains are not yet guaranteed), little personal savings and importantly, keeping up with the Joneses.

Of course our little enclave of Ridgewood is by no means the only community susceptible to this epidemic. But we are far from immune either.

We all know someone who can't seem to stop talking about all the trips they have planned or being in the midst of yet another home renovation, or who casually shows up at baseball practice with another designer handbag or another new car. In our heads we do a quick calculation of their salaries and wonder how they possibly afford it. Can they? Or perhaps we wonder what we are doing wrong because we can't seem to afford the same things. Or perhaps we look at that person and think that's how WE should be spending, in order to keep up...with what, we're not sure.

But the spending continues. As does the comparisons, the one-up-man-ship, the judgments, the gossip.

Oh, the gossip.

I mention that because the gossip only makes the epidemic more contagious. It fuels a culture of embarrassment, shame and judgment that makes it that much more difficult for people to be real, open and honest about their money realities.

So what can we do to ensure we don't fall back into pre-2008 financial chaos and catch a bad case of "Rich-wood-itis." Here's a place to start:

- If you are spending beyond your means, relying too much on money that has yet been realized, or constantly trying to keep up with everyone, I invite you to stop.

- If you are finding yourself passing judgment or gossiping about someone who looks like they are spending beyond their means, or are just spending differently than you, I invite you to stop.

- If you are pretty confident about the money you can spend on discretionary expenses, I invite you to spend it --shamelessly -- on whatever YOU want, no matter what you imagine others might think. That might mean a new designer bag, or it might mean a blouse from TJ Maxx. That might mean a weekend in Turks & Caicos at a 5-star resort, or it might mean camping in upstate NY. That might mean a reservation at the hottest restaurant in NYC or having a potluck dinner with friends. That might be NOT spending it, and instead saving it for something in the future.

The choice, and money, is yours to enjoy free of judgment and gossip. But do it because YOU want to spend it that way, not because that's how everyone else seems to be doing it.

So, when it comes to "Rich-wood-itis," there's good news, there's bad news, and then there's even better news: we have the capacity to find a cure and it begins with each of us leaving mindless spending, comparison and judgment to the Joneses-- and having the peace of mind, knowing we are keeping up with ourselves.

~Jennifer Faherty is a Certified Life Coach, specializing in helping women find their passion and develop a healthy relationship with money. She can be found at or on Twitter @jenniferfaherty.


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