BOSTON (MainStreet) -- For many folks, they don't want to keep up with the Joneses -- they want to be the Joneses.
There are a lot of forces that drive us deeper and deeper into debt. The need to flaunt affluence (whether or not you have it) is among them. There is also that green-eyed monster of envy -- warned about in both the 10 Commandments and Seven Deadly Sins -- driving us to up the ante for our homes, clothes and cars to look just that much better than the neighbors.
Impulse buying hurts us when we hit the grocery store hungry or hit the "one-click" purchase button on Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN). But premeditated spending can add up to a whole lot more a whole lot faster. We may set out with good intentions. Dumping thousands into a kitchen remodeling project may be inspired by HGTV and justified in our own minds -- we cook dinner almost every night, so why shouldn't we have the best of everything?
But the "best" comes with a price tag, and one that often doesn't "pay for itself." All too often we load up on purchases big and small to meet a goal we'll never even try to reach. Even the greatest gizmo, hottest piece of electronics, gorgeous antique or extravagant remodeling is useless if they go unused, underutilized or blend quickly into the background.
"Since the days of Cain and Abel we have been bickering and jostling over who has the better lot," writes Shira Boss in Green With Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt (Warner Business Books, 2006). "Wealth and well-being are largely a mindset, and how we're doing in relation to the company we keep is key to our contentment."
It is not the super-rich or celebrities whose lives we covet, Boss says, referring to the work of psychologist Herbert Hyman who, in 1942, wrote of what he called "the psychology of status."
"He said we compare ourselves within 'reference groups' of those around us and who are similar to us," she writes. "We look to our classmates, our co-workers, our siblings and our neighbors to see how we measure up and, secretly, who we must catch up with."
When looking to impress our peers combines with impulses driving us to rationalize major purchases, the end result can piddle away potential savings on things we never really needed after all.
Here are five ways some of us spend on things we rarely use and will seldom fully appreciate. Whether we have good intentions of getting our money's worth or the more selfish rationale of bragging rights, they are costs that might have been better left unspent: