Designer Living

“And the craziest part: They all thought it was normal.”

As we shared our Who Are the Joneses Anyway? story with others, it became more and more apparent that we were not alone in experiencing some of the things we went through in our old “Keeping up with the Joneses” lifestyle. Not even close! So we began interviewing some of these folks and taking notes along the way.

Leann and Charles were one of the couples we interviewed and they allowed us to share their story. The following is an excerpt from our book Who Are the Joneses Anyway? (names have been changed).


Leann and her husband, Charles, had just moved their family into a new, nicer neighborhood. She and Charles decided on this particular neighborhood because they were looking for some of the same things a lot of young parents want: better schools, sports opportunities for the kids, and a newer home. However, after one particular day, Leann wasn’t so sure this new neighborhood was as nice as she thought.

One afternoon at her kid’s school, Leann had just loaded the kids into the family car when one of her newer “friends” literally yelled to her from across the parking lot: “Hey, Leann! Are you wearing Lee jeans right now? Get those off, and don’t ever wear those again! That’s embarrassing!”

“I wanted to crawl into a hole…I just cried when I got home,” Leann told us. She went on to admit, “Until that moment, I didn’t know there was a difference between Lee jeans and designer brand names. I just bought what I could afford and what fit me. But, I’ll tell you what, it made me become more mindful of what I wore. From then on, I was really careful about what I bought because I was so worried that I would receive more negative comments, especially in front of my kids.”

This wasn’t the only time their family felt the sting of social comparison. Leann also told us about a time they were left feeling unwelcome in their new neighborhood and school—all because they brought a case of sports drinks that wasn’t the leading name brand to a local soccer league game their kids were playing in. They dared bring an off-branded sports drink!

They wrestled with feelings of inferiority over that incident too. Leann recounted, “I thought they were saying, ‘Oh, there’s that family who couldn’t afford to bring Gatorade.’ In fact, we couldn’t. We had to live within our means. But slowly we started living beyond our means, just to keep up.”

These were the beginnings of a new life that Charles and Leann had never experienced before. And with this new reality came something else: pressure. As they put it, “We felt compelled to keep up with the lifestyle we now found ourselves surrounded by. It added a whole new layer of stress to our lives that made it difficult financially and emotionally, and, at times, it affected our confidence.”

“I don’t think we even knew what was happening right away,” Leann explained. “But before you knew it, we felt like we needed to drive a newer, larger, ‘better’ car. Everyone around us seemed to drive a Suburban or Escalade.” And that was just the beginning.

The pressure mounted. Leann recalls, “All the good people and the friends we met were living the same life—the rat race—and nobody could breathe. Everyone was exhausted trying to make it all work. And the craziest part: They all thought it was normal.”


Can you relate to Leann and Charles’ experiences? If so, reply to this note and let us know. We would love to hear from you and we may even share your story in a future article like this (with your permission of course).

Want to know what happened with Leann and Charles? Be sure to read our next blog post and we will share the rest of their story and how they worked through their predicament.

Blessings on your continuing journey,

Bob and Susan Karcher

Authors | Speakers | Coaches

Climbing Ladders

Our level of ‘I’ve gotta have it’ will never match our level of ‘I can’t afford it.'” – Bob and Susan Karcher

How is it that here in America, easily one of the most prosperous nations of all time, so many of us end up significantly in debt or even bankrupt? A big part of the answer is that we have made chasing the American Dream our primary focus. We have moved beyond simply providing for our families, conditioning ourselves to measure success in terms of how well our neighbors are doing by comparison. We have stopped focusing on the true standard—one between us and God—that tells us what we are called to be and do. Instead, we judge success by how high we’ve climbed on our own proverbial ladder.

We have all heard of the corporate ladder, and many of us have worked very hard to move up that ladder in our careers. I certainly did. As I made my way through the publishing industry for 25 years, I fervently sought each new promotion and the added pay and bigger title that came with each.

A closely related cousin to the corporate ladder is what we call the “Joneses Ladder.” It represents our ambition and drive to continuously reach for that one more thing that we believe will finally bring total satisfaction and financial peace.

While on the Joneses Ladder, we start to believe that fulfillment and success lies just one rung up from our current position. We rationalize reaching for the next level by telling ourselves we’re not asking for too much. “We are not trying to compete with Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey,” we say, “that would be impossible. If we could get just one level higher on the ladder, we’d have what we need. And then, we would surely be happy!”

But once we have firmly arrived on the rung of the ladder we were reaching for, suddenly the next rung up on the ladder looks closer than ever. And then something triggers our desire to go higher—the neighbor who got a new car, the friend who got a higher-paying job, or the relative whose kids seem more successful than ours. Or it may be the next job, the next promotion, the next sale, the next accomplishment. The list can be endless.

We come from different levels of education, income, and status. But no matter what level we are on when we start, our level of “I’ve gotta have it” will never match our level of “I can’t afford it.” Instead of being content with our own comfort level, we want more than we can afford—and we keep reaching higher and higher for the next rungs on the Joneses Ladder.

Climbing the Joneses Ladder will never lead to lasting contentment, as there’s always some new level we’ll strive for if we allow ourselves to. As a result, the happiness we seek as we climb becomes impossible to attain because the Joneses Ladder rests on a shaky foundation and is leaning against a crumbling wall that assumes our achievements and acquisitions define who we are. They do not! All of our achievements can’t hold a candle to the joy we can discover when we start with a solid rock foundation.

If you find yourself precariously hanging onto a failing ladder, it’s never too late to refocus your life on the prizes that really matter – like faith, family, impact, and generosity. Strive for these and you’ll discover greater joy than any ladder-climbing could ever bring.

Enjoy this video. It will help bring this message to life.

Blessings on your continuing journey,
Bob Karcher

Author | Speaker | Coach

“I’m fine, thank you.”

Person one: “Hi, how are you?”

Person two: “I’m fine, how are you?”

Person one: “I’m fine, thank you.”

Person one and two: Depart and go about their days

How often have you had this exact conversation with someone? Like the rest of us, it’s likely been so many times that you couldn’t count them if you wanted to.

How it is that being “fine” has become our standard greeting with each other? This greeting has become so customary that we simply state it without thinking about it. And it means so little anymore. Often we even move so quickly through this small talk that someone could say they are fine, yet have tears in their eyes, and we wouldn’t notice.

All of us seem to be fine all of the time. But we are not. Sometimes we are broken, offended, depressed, hurt, sick, and sometimes so completely shattered that we are barely hanging on. Urban dictionary say’s “I’m fine” is “one of the biggest white lies anyone could say.”

Another way of saying “I’m fine” might be “I’m doing great.” Have you been doing great the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times you’ve answered with “fine?” In this drive-thru, microwave, ATM, Twitter world, we often move so fast that we fail to stop and really pay attention to the person right in front of us … or even to ourselves.

I totally understand there are times when it may not be the right time or even appropriate to dump all of our problems on someone. We could be in a professional setting where it wouldn’t be prudent to break down in tears. Or we think that if we share our issues it will look like we are weak simply seeking sympathy. Maybe we don’t want to admit to others that something is wrong. And surely a complete stranger on an elevator would feel totally out of place if we started crying out of the blue.

Yes, there are times when we really are doing great. Yet, when we aren’t, when would it be appropriate to share what’s going on with someone else and seek advice, counsel, prayer, or even just a listening ear?

I don’t mean to be pointing the finger because I am as guilty of this as anyone. There have been times I was really struggling, even holding back tears, when friends, even family, have asked how I am and guess how I responded. You got it. I said “I’m fine” … although I was nowhere close to doing great.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned through my Joneses Journey is the more deeply, authentically, and intimately I communicate with someone, the more that person feels safer to reciprocate in the same way with me. And the resulting conversations mean so much more than simply talking about the weather, sports, or shopping.

So now I take more risks in getting to truly know the people in my life. As each day passes, I have less and less time in this one life I’ve been given. I don’t know how much time I have but I sure don’t want to spend any of it in superficial conversations with family, friends, clients, or others that I know well.

What about you? Are you ready to take some risks (small ones at first) and actually get to know that person at church that you’ve been sitting in the same row with for a year or that co-worker just three cubicles away? I can promise that you will not regret stepping out if you do so in an appropriate, loving, and sincere way.

Blessings on your continuing journey,

Bob Karcher

Author | Speaker | Coach

It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.

Ephesians 1:11