The urge to "keep up with the Joneses" is universal. We see people with nice cars, new phones and bigger TVs, and we wish we had those things. That "financial envy" is driving many people to debt and bankruptcy. US News Money has a simple solution: Change your perspective on those things and those people.
Photo by Richard Masoner.
There are two major takeaways here: First, being frugal requires you to come to terms with what you have and the things you can reasonably afford, and be happy with that. Second, comparing yourself to others is a trap, so you're better off not doing it at all. If you must, the article suggests you compare yourself to people who are less well off than you are, so you can foster a sense of appreciation for what you have:
"The mistake that most people make is comparing themselves to someone who is very wealthy. There is always someone who has more than you. If you're feeling envious of someone else's financial position, it usually just means you need to change your perspective," says Steven Hirsch, a CPA in Mineola, N.Y.
In other words, remember that compared to some people, you're Mr. or Ms. Jones. Hirsch adds that familiar but accurate truism: "Life isn't just about money. What dollar value would you put on your health? Your relationship with your significant other? Your friends? Your happiness? If you feel jealous of someone else's finances, remember that there are probably things that you have in your life that would make them jealous."
That shouldn't be too new of an idea -- many people were taught as children to think about how well off they are compared to people who have to do without. It's supposed to make you grateful for what you have. Beyond that though, the piece explains that what you may see is probably not the reality anyway -- if you're driving your 15-year-old junker and see someone in a sharp new luxury sedan, you may be envious for a split second, but remember that looks can be deceiving: they're probably in a massive amount of debt to buy that car. The article explains:
But not everyone who is living the good life is actually in a better place than you. "People can seem to be doing well, but appearances can be deceiving," says Sheila May, a forensic accountant and licensed CPA based in Scituate, Mass. "Debt, risky decisions and acquiring material possessions that take time and money or lose value are not good long-term moves."
May says she knows of plenty of people who lived lavishly only to discover in retirement that their money was running out. If you're spending within your means, she says, you should be proud of yourself rather than tear yourself down.
It's hard not to be a little jealous when you see someone with something you'd love to have, but a few old (and new) mental tricks will keep you from making bad financial decisions as a result of that envy.
How to Combat Financial Envy [US News Money]