Are You Comparing Your Financial Situation to Others? / by Jennifer Chan

 

As the saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy. As someone who considers herself fairly set in her financial values, I am still guilty of this. In this digital age, it’s so hard to avoid looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives and think, “…damn.” We see someone on Instagram who always seems to go on kickass vacations while we’re at home muttering to ourselves, “I hope I don't go over my grocery budget this month.” Or, at the other end of the spectrum, we read a post from a blogger who manages to save 70% of their income and you feel like a failure for only saving 30%. If you’re comparing yourselves to others, here are a few reality checks, as well as easy solutions to help you with the envy.

That Person May Be Terrible with Money

If you find yourself asking, “How can they afford that?” it’s because chances are, they can’t. Remember, people spend money for many reasons. That friend who just bought a BMW on a starting salary may have just hopped on the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” treadmill. They may have leased that car for 7 years, are up to their ears in debt, have no emergency fund, or all of the above. Alternatively, that friend may have parents who generously gives them money to fund their lifestyle.  It’s impossible to know their situation behind the scenes. But if you see someone living it up while you’re living on instant noodles, remind yourself that their access to credit does not mean sh**. I would bet you're probably in a better financial position than them.

Their Saving Methods May Not Work for You

On the other side of the coin, you may feel insecure when you see someone who seems to have their financial sh** together. You see them post their extremely detailed Excel spreadsheet of their mortgage payments, and you don't even have Microsoft Office on your computer.  Yes, they may appear to have it all figured out, but that doesn't mean you don't. Whether you track your money on a fancy spreadsheet or in a $2 notebook, it doesn't matter. 

That person may also be saving money in places that you wouldn't. They may bring a can of tuna to work for lunch every day, and that just isn’t something you’re willing to do.  Not to mention there may be other, more important, factors that differentiate their financial position from yours, such as whether they: graduated debt-free, live in a two-income household, have dependents/pets, have a high salary and various work perks, or live in a more affordable city. If you graduated with $100,000 of student loans and you’re comparing yourself to someone who graduated debt-free, you’re playing a losing game.

Just remember, like you, that person once started from the bottom – a.k.a. with zero personal finance knowledge. Financial literacy isn’t genetic. It’s not like you come out of the womb knowing what mutual funds are. Instead of being hard on yourself for what you do or don’t know, applaud yourself for starting this embarking journey to begin with.

Now, what are some solutions to eliminate your envy?

Solution #1: Unfollow Them on Social Media

If you don’t like having your News Feed bombarded with updates about your friend buying the latest material item, unfollow them. It’s not like you’re going to feel left out by not knowing what new car your friend bought. Instead, follow people who post things that coincide with your values. I personally follow Instagram accounts that inspire me to hustle, live frugally and work towards my financial goals. These accounts really keep me focused during the day-to-day grind.

Solution #2: Follow a Personal Finance Blogger with a Similar Financial Situation or Mindset as You

Similar to my previous suggestion, follow a personal finance blogger who is in a similar financial situation or has a similar mindset as you. Right now, I read more blogs that focuses on frugal living, debt repayment and investing in both ETFs & index funds, rather than say, blogs on family finances. I don’t have kids (yet), so I don’t find reading these bloggers’ net worth and expense tracking too helpful for me.

I also enjoy following personal finance bloggers who, like me, are millennials, live in expensive cities, and review more modern financial products like roboadvisors and online banks.

Solution #3: Remind Yourself of Your Financial Goals

Your financial goals are unique. Someone’s financial goal could be to retire at 50 with a $2,000,000 nest egg and travel the world, but you may have always pictured yourself retiring at 65 years old with $1,000,000 in a mortgage-free house. You can't compare apples to oranges.

Forget what other people’s goals are, just focus on your own. You’ll realize that it most likely requires a different financial strategy than what that other person is doing. We’re all on our own path, which is both exciting and terrifying. It’s very difficult to find someone who has identical goals, income, and situation that we can emulate. Instead, realize that you’re on your own adventure, which involves making sacrifices that others won't, and visa-versa. Once you reach your financial goals you’ll discover that you no longer care what other people are doing. Happy adventuring!