The Ever Elusive “Joneses”

Posted by in Articles, personal finance | 9 comments

Last year I read The Millionaire Next Door and it opened up my eyes to the reality that as individuals we are in complete control of how wealthy or poor we end up as adults. The research within this book, though slightly outdated, maintained that the truly wealthy were not the people conspicuously consuming material items. Instead, they were the blue-collar business owners and the middle-management husband and educator wife who saved much more of their income than they spent. They may not have been driving the most current vehicle or wearing the flashy Rolex, but most certainly could afford to do so. The bottom line was that the truly wealthy were prodigious accumulators of wealth (PAW), unlike the symbolic “Joneses” who are under accumulators of wealth (UAW).

After reading Millionaire, I researched where the term “Keeping up with the Joneses” came from and found out it derived from a cartoon strip meant as a parody on conspicuous consumption. I guess the ultimate irony was played on the succeeding American generations as more people than ever before can be categorized as UAW’s. But what I gathered from the book and the epiphany I had after reading it, was that anyone can be a millionaire; it just takes some lifestyle changes and understanding of the qualities leading towards a PAW versus a UAW.

PAW Qualities

  • Save more than 20 – 25% of your income. It obviously helps if both spouses within a marriage can contribute a portion of their income towards savings. The earlier an individual or couple can start, the better as compounded interest grows over time.
  • Purchase a home within 3-times your income. Most PAW’s own their own homes. However, most remain within 3-times their income limit. It’s even better if the home purchase is 3-times just one income, not two. Think of all the money that can be saved living off just one income and saving the other.
  • Drive an older model car. Based on research, most PAW’s keep their cars for 10 years or more. Good quality, reliable cars that are taken care of can last quite a while. The benefits include no car payments and lower auto insurance.
  • Marry a frugal spouse. It’s more difficult to become a PAW if one spouse is saving the money and the other is spending it all.

UAW Qualities

  • Spend all or more of your income than you can afford. UAW’s often save very little of their income or none at all often relying on credit to cover emergency expenses.
  • Live off your parents. The interesting thing about PAW’s is that those who fund their children’s lifestyles create UAW’s out of their children. (I know someone in this category.)
  • Keep up with appearances. People of certain professions often feel they must appear successful and purchase the brand new BMW, buy the largest house on the block, and send their kids to Harvard. This behavior leads to an UAW down the road.
  • Marry a spendthrift. Even the most diligent saver can be hoodwinked by a spendthrift spouse. If one spouse is depositing their income in the bank as quickly as the other is depleting it, you end up reverting to zero.

Thankfully, I’ve never categorized myself as a “Jones,” partially because I really don’t like shopping and have never been a slave to fashion. However, I’ve learned that by changing my perspective of what a true millionaire looks like with a definite savings plan in place, I may eventually become one myself.

Do you consider yourself a UAW or PAW?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Sustainable PF

    I consider myself, and us, PAWs.

    We save about 35% of our income. Our house debt is about 1.6x our income. We married frugal people (each other).

    Where we recently “failed” was in our car purchase. We bought a new 2011 Subaru Outback in July of 2010. As a new model it saves a lot more gas than the old model Outback but this car had all the features we needed, included fuel efficiency, great reliability history, well built and a lot of cargo space for our growing family (and 110lb Newf dog). We imported it from the USA and saved over $9000 vs buying here in Canada so in the end I don’t feel as bad about the immediate drive-off-the-lot depreciation.

  2. First Gen American

    I’m a second hand whore. I’m always looking to buy or trade second hand things.

    I’ve also been working on decreasing my fixed expenses, like mortgages. It makes a huge difference. Right now, food/household stuff is my biggest expense, followed by daycare.

    We save a lot of our income but I still feel like we should be saving more. I need to make an automatic savings plan for non-retirement stuff. Right now everything is done on an ad-hoc basis.

  3. krantcents

    I was a PAW before there was that acronym! I place savings as a priority and live on what is left. There is a reward for saving, it is called freedom!

  4. MoneyCone

    Before buying a house, I was happy to see my potential neighbors all had sensible cars!

  5. Jeff @ Sustainable life blog

    Both me and my girlfriend are PAW’s – we are very frugal and enjoy living that way. We both drive sensible cars, live in a small house in a quite neighborhood that allows us to walk for most errands, and spent time with friends nearby.

  6. Financial Samurai

    My theory is that NOBODY will admit they are a UAW! :O)

    Of course I’m a PAW too, but trying to balance it out to save less and spend more money before I die.

  7. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    I agree with Sam. Not a lot of people want to admit their guilt. I am mainly a PAW but some of the UAW does catch up with me from time to time. It’s really about balance.

    We bought a house that only 2x our salaries. We save as much as we can and we make a lot of things we need at home which makes our shopping bills less.

  8. Money Reasons

    I’m a PAW, but not by nearly as much as I would like!

    I recently heard that the original book “The millionaire Next Door” has been updated. Perhaps the newer books has more recent numbers. Personally, I’m afraid to check out the newer updated numbers… :)

  9. youngandthrifty

    I read the newer updated book- the updated numbers aren’t really much different, I don’t think- the ratios are still the same.

    I am a PAW but I think my boyfriend is a UAW on the cusp of a PAW. My goal is to get him to be more PAW like.

    Sometimes I wonder how many PAWs and UAWs are out there. I remember growing up in high school, I was surprised who’s parents were PAW and who’s were UAWs. Most of those who had nice cars had parents who were UAWs. The PAWs were definitely more discrete, as were their PAW parents.


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