Keeping Up With Joneses: How to Deal With Money Envy

Fry holding money

Don’t get mad over money | Futurama / 20th Century Fox

Do you see others doing better than you and then begin to feel a twinge of envy rising within your chest? Are you tempted to go out and spend just so you can keep up appearances? Whether you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Wangs, or the Schneidermans, the end result is usually the same — you end up broke. Sam Dogen, founder of personal finance site Financial Samurai, said it’s helpful to remember that what your friends and acquaintances have is out of your control. So don’t become overly concerned about what everyone else has; focus on your own financial affairs and make decisions that will move you toward wealth, not further away from it.

“Focus on what you can control. There will always be somebody with a lot more wealth than you. The only thing you can do is focus on building more wealth for yourself. Use the Joneses as motivation!” said Dogen on his blog.

Why do we try to keep up?

Deep down you may feel that money can buy you acceptance and even love. You may reason that if you look the part, act the part, and have enough money to purchase the same experiences as your well-to-do associates, you can be included in that exclusive group. The truth is, making these purchases may provide temporary satisfaction, but in the end it only leads to empty experiences and sometimes even depression. Once the fun is over and the money runs out, what’s left? Do the friends remain? Sometimes, but usually not.

On the other hand, one silver lining to trying to keep up with your peers is that when the financial well runs dry, and all you can afford is a night at home with a bowl of microwave popcorn, your true friends will ultimately emerge. Money, or rather the lack thereof, can often be the real truth serum.

Controlling financial envy

It’s not easy to control your spending when you see others living the life you desire. However, with some self-control and a financial plan, you can manage these feelings and develop better money habits.

Practice gratitude

Happy man

Happy man | iStock.com

One of the first steps to managing feelings of jealousy is to think about all of the things in your life that are good. Don’t take what you have for granted. Be thankful for what you already have. It’s easy to lose your perspective when you’re focusing so intently on what others possess. There’s likely someone else who wished they had just half of what you have.

Pay attention to your thoughts

Young woman thinking about paying bills

Woman thinking | iStock.com

When you see a friend or neighbor with something you want (a car, a new tech tool), you might automatically start thinking about how lucky they are and how you wish you could afford what they have. Instead of focusing on how unlucky you are and how terrible your life is, think about your financial goals and how being responsible with your money will get you where you want to be in a couple of years. Just continue to envision your end goal. Eventually your good financial habits will pay off.

Limit social media

man sits at a computer while he works

Man working on a computer | iStock.com

Another important step is to limit your time on social media. Most people who post on Facebook or Instagram are only presenting their best selves. The ugly truth about their lives is hidden behind a curtain that only their closest friends and relatives will ever peek behind (and even they might not be aware of their real lives). Your co-worker might post a picture of his brand-new home, but what he may not tell you is that he took out a mortgage he can’t handle and is now in way over his head. Or your neighbor may post a picture with her husband at a fancy restaurant, but what she may not admit is that she’s been arguing with her partner every day about an expensive gambling habit that’s bankrupting them.

Your friends and neighbors could simply be pretending to have it all. Or they might be attempting to make up for what they lack in other areas of their lives through status symbols. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that those who felt they were lacking social power were willing to pay more for high-status items.

Surround yourself with the right people

friends hanging out around the grill at a cookout

Friends gathered around a grill at a backyard cookout | iStock.com

If you regularly spend time with people who spend money like they don’t have a care in the world, and pressure you to spend recklessly, it’s time to find a new group of friends. Surround yourself with people who value money and understand what it means to have some self-control. The wrong crowd could cause you to develop some pretty bad financial habits. So be careful about who you spend your time with.

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