“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick
We spend much of our lives in the comparison trap. We see actresses lose the baby weight right after birth, models keep their “perfect” shapes no matter their age and others find success in ways that we never dreamed of. It’s the proverbial rabbit hole that sucks us in and keeps us from achieving what we were meant to do ourselves.
How to Change Your Mindset: Comparison and Your Finances
It’s something that’s big in the area of family finance as well, and while it can be a good thing at times, there are ways we can prevent the act of comparison from destroying our finances if we are careful. It comes first with understanding our differences.
Based on my experiences with others and their finances, the biggest source of comparison in the world of personal finance comes with the idea that there is a one size fits all “fix it” program to make your finances completely better.
Spoiler alert: there’s not.
Can we just say that “one size fits all” clothing items are never the right choice? What about “one size fits all” workout programs or diets? If we are honest with ourselves, we know they just don’t work for everyone.
First and foremost, we all come from different financial backgrounds.
For example, let’s say Janet has $150,000 in debt and has just accomplished putting her first $300 in savings. Janet never learned how to budget growing up, took out all the student loans possible, and maxed out every single credit card the moment it came into her possession. Lately, she’s been working to get her finances into some semblance of order, but progress is slow because her income barely covers her necessities.
Susan, on the other hand, had parents that paid for her college education. She had one credit card that she was able to quickly pay off, and while she doesn’t have much money in her emergency savings, she is knowledgeable in the area of investment and has been working hard to place every extra dollar into her retirement fund. Susan’s problem? She doesn’t know how to plan ahead for her grocery expenses and regularly pays double or triple the amount she should on food.
Even if Janet and Susan choose the same financial program, their outcomes are going to be widely varied. Janet, with her significant debt to income ratio, is going to be spending a lot more time focused on paying off debt.
Susan, on the other hand, might need some training or tactics to help her stick to a meal plan and grocery budget.
They didn’t end up in the same situation, for many reasons, but they are both excited to get their finances in order now, and that’s what matters. They might choose the same program to walk through together, but their results will not be the same, because their goals are not the same.
Another one of the major differences we have involves our families.
I spend a lot of time sharing my grocery budget stories on Instagram and frequently get asked how many people are in my family. Sure, that’s a valid question, because when you are looking at the success (or failure) someone else is dealing with, it’s hard to measure it up to your own when the situations don’t look the same.
I’m not going to lie, I could not make my $100 budget work for a family of eight. It works perfectly for my family of four, but add four more mouths and we’d starve, I’m sure of it.
Not to mention, my kids aren’t picky. They are perfectly fine eating whatever we’ve put on the table for them. That’s not always the case with other children, so those costs can add up with a picky eater.
Many of us have different dietary needs, housing costs, and medical expenses that can change a financial situation drastically, so it’s important to keep those things in mind when we find ourselves contemplating the comparison game.
Finally, and most importantly, we all have different goals.
Even if you and I look at our finances and find that everything is the same across the board, it’s likely that you have different goals related to what you (or your family) want to accomplish with your financial plan.
When we start to compare ourselves to others or criticize them for not following exactly the step-by-step process we believe to be critical to our own success, then we lose the perspective that our goals and dreams do not have to be the same.
Our goal is to pay off our debt by the time Justin turns forty. It’s still a few years off, but our entire family is on board and excited to see that day come. A friend of mine has equal, if not more student loan debt, but her goal doesn’t include paying anything more than the minimum payments on them. She wants to see her family have experiences including vacations overseas and long weeks at Disney World.
Does that make her financial plan wrong? No. It’s just different and helps her achieve her goals for herself and her family.
The Downside of Comparison
“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.” – Zen Shin
Comparison Breeds Jealousy
There’s something so amazing about the fact that we were all created to be unique. I’m not the same as you when it comes to my goals, life, ideals, or finances and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it works for me.
The problem comes when I begin to compare myself to others because suddenly I’m no longer satisfied with all of the good things in my life but wondering why I don’t measure up or whether I should step out of my own goals that make sense and take on the goals of someone else.
If I watch my friend take trips to Disney Land and overseas and compare her life to mine, suddenly I’m wondering whether we should put more focus on vacations and I forget that our goal is to be debt free.
In the short term, it might seem like a good idea to take a vacation, but that act of comparison will quickly lead to jealousy and eventually, I’ll be miserable because I didn’t do what I knew was right for my family.
Do you find yourself in that place of comparison turned jealousy?
Comparison Eliminates Joy
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Beyond jealousy and of the biggest issues with comparison is that it eliminates the joy that we have ourselves and other people when we or they succeed.
The problem is if we are feeling jealous about somebody else’s accomplishments for their ability to go and do things that we can’t do ourselves, then we are more likely not to celebrate with them or to make them feel bad when they find themselves in this situation. In my opinion, we do more damage at that point.
We destroy relationships.
Our jealousy ruins our ability to look outside ourselves.
Ultimately, we lose the opportunity to see someone else is an example of something we could do and rather begin to rationalize their decisions as something that we could never do ourselves.
When is Comparison a Good Thing?
Of course, just because each person’s outcome will be different with a financial plan, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t embrace the help of someone who’s gone ahead of you and knows how to conquer the same challenges you are currently facing.
A few months ago, I begin sharing our financial journey specifics on this blog and on Instagram. It would be easy for folks to take that and believe that I’m asking you to compare yourself to me. That’s exactly the opposite of my intention.
I don’t share my details with the intention that you’ll see me as better than you, or you as better than me, but rather, I do it as a way for you to see how Justin and I make specific situations work within our budget.
I’m aware that sometimes being able to see an example can motivate others toward success. I don’t assume that your goal is the same as my goal. Instead, I’m aware that you do you have a goal that you want to achieve, whether that be debt payoff, adding to your savings account or starting one, or putting extra money into a retirement account or saving for a vacation.
By sharing my journey, I’m just allowing you to see that by sticking to a goal you’ve set for yourself you can achieve what might seem impossible at this moment.
Instead of looking at other’s situations as something to compare ourselves to, we can use the act of comparison to motivate ourselves to greatness in our own goals and to form situations of camaraderie in which we can cheer each other on.
Financial situations are often one of those taboo subjects. Here on the Sarah Brumley Blog, we go out of our way to bring those tough and awkward issues to the forefront so that you don’t feel alone while you are navigating your financial goals.
I’d like to challenge you today to contemplate the ways you compare yourself to others financially or in other goal-related areas of your life. Are you building relationships and encouraging success around you, or are you too busy worrying about how you measure up?
Sure, we all find ourselves in the comparison trap at times, but it’s what we do with that comparison that really matters, not only for the relationships we have but in keeping us on track with what really matters.
Tip: If you need some help figuring out which goals are right for you – check out my FREE 5-Day Achieve Your Goals Course to get you started!