How to Avoid the Comparison Trap with Your Finances

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 we never imagined. But more often than not, comparison hinders our own progress and this extends to family finances as well.

While comparison can sometimes serve as motivation, it can also be destructive, but the good news is that there are ways we can prevent the act of comparison from destroying our finances. And that’s exactly what we’re chatting about in today’s episode. So, buckle up because this one’s going to get real.

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How to Avoid the Comparison Trap with Your Finances

Well hey there and welcome to this episode of the Financial Fix Up Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Brumley, and today we are tackling the topic of comparison.

This is something that we are all familiar with, right? I mean, I can remember back even to my early days and comparing myself to my siblings and their abilities, to friends who were taller or prettier or had that coveted toy, to the girls in high school that, on the outside, seemed to have it all together. And on and on.

And quite honestly, this has never been more pronounced than raising kids. And if you’re a parent, you know what I mean. It starts with the birth story, whether you breastfeed or don’t, how quickly you lose the baby weight, whether your kiddo is meeting the appropriate developmental milestones, and on and on and on. We’re so easily sucked into the comparison trap, aren’t we?

But while we could easily have an entire podcast series dedicated to those acts of comparison, today I want to spend some time talking about how comparison affects our finances – both positively (because there are some positives) and negatively as well.

I don’t know about you but when I think about the correlation between comparison and finances, my mind thinks about keeping up with the Jones’. You know, trying to match perfectly what the people next door are doing, even without knowing anything about them or really desiring what they have. Essentially, keeping up appearances.

But the truth is that the comparison struggle is never more pronounced than it is when you want to make a change to your finances. When you have a goal to achieve or a purpose to accomplish and suddenly you’re looking around and realizing how much different your situation appears than those around you.

Today we’re going to discuss how to avoid that comparison trap and it starts by understanding our differences.

Avoid the Comparison Trap by Understanding the Differences

In the realm of personal finance, one of the biggest sources of comparison stems from the belief in a one-size-fits-all solution to financial woes. But just like “one size fits all” clothing or workout programs, such solutions rarely work for everyone.

Why? Because we’re all unique. Our financial backgrounds, family dynamics, and goals vary widely, influencing the effectiveness of any given financial strategy.

Financial Differences

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 opt for the same financial program, their outcomes will differ significantly. Janet, who’s struggling with that debt to income ratio, will prioritize debt repayment.

Susan, on the other hand, may require assistance with sticking to a meal plan and managing her grocery budget. Despite the fact that they are both on a journey to improve their finances, their unique circumstances ensure that their results won’t be the same.

Family Differences

Family dynamics also play a significant role.

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 current budget work for a family of eight. It works perfectly for my family as it sits, but add a few 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.

Goal Differences

Last and finally, 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 as a family has always been to pay off our debt before we turn 40. Seeing as 40 is less than a year away for me, we might not make it, but we are close and excited to see that day come. A friend of mine has significant student loans 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.

What matters most to one person, might not align with another’s priorities and that’s okay.

What is the Downside of Comparison and Your Finances?

Now that we’ve established that comparing ourselves to others doesn’t put us on equal footing, let’s talk about some of the downsides of comparison.

Downside 1: 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.

Downside 2: Comparison Eliminates Joy

Beyond jealousy one of the biggest issues with comparison is that it robs us of the joy that we should feel for ourselves and others when we achieve success.

When we’re too busy comparing our accomplishments to those of others, we fail to celebrate their victories and may even resent them. This can strain relationships and hinders our ability to genuinely support one another.

Downside 3: Comparison Turned Jealousy Eliminates an Example

The third downside is that when comparison turns into jealousy, we lose the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences. Instead of seeings someone else’s success as an inspiration, we become bitter and resentful, halting our own progress. Dwelling on what could have been prevents us from focusing on our own goals and realizing our full potential.

When is Comparison a Good Thing?

Of course, just because each person’s outcome will be different, doesn’t mean that you should disregard the experiences of others entirely. In fact, learning from others who’ve navigated similar challenges can be invaluable.

Several years ago, I begin sharing our financial journey specifics on the Lemon Blessings’ 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.

Pursue Camaraderie Instead of Comparison

Financial situations are often one of those taboo subjects. Here on the Financial Fix Up Podcast and the Lemon Blessings 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 own financial situation.

Comparison can either hinder or propel us toward our financial goals. It’s crucial to recognize our differences and avoid falling into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Instead, let’s leverage comparison as a tool for motivation and camaraderie, cheering each other on as we strive for financial success.

I challenge you today to reflect on how comparison has influenced your financial journey this far and to prioritize building supportive relationships along the way.

Whatever your goal is – financial or otherwise, I just want you to know that I’m cheering you on! You’ve got this. Have an amazing day and I’ll chat with you again next time!