“Oh hell, did you see the new Porsche John just posted on Facebook? That guy has all the damn luck. My rolling junkyard of a car is 15 years old and needs a new transmission.”
“No, but did you see the Instagram photos of Penny’s family vacation in Old Naples? It makes our weekend away just seem pitiful.” We must be losers.
If you give it some thought, you will notice that our current culture of attention-buying social media has made it dangerously easy for people to compare their lives to the lives of others, particularly when it comes to stuff and time off. We can see the previously private affairs of friends, family, and others on social media and some of us ache with envy. Heck, you might even feel deserving of what they have or did. Some people literally grow miserable and wreck their lives wanting what others appear to have.
Folks, stuff doesn’t make you happy. Satisfaction comes from within YOU. A mentality of gratitude for what you have is more likely to please you over time than to endlessly pursue the acquisition of stuff everyone else seems to have. You can learn to look at “The Joneses” in ways that can help you stop wanting what others have and wasting your precious life trying keep up with them. Appearance is often deceptive. Just because someone appears to all the perfect “stuff” doesn’t mean their life is superior, or that they are better off… or better in any way. In the real world, trying to be a “Jones” can get you in lots of trouble and wind up making you a wretchedly jealous person. Here are some thoughts to consider before you chase the “The Joneses” too enthusiastically:
So much debt they own nothing.
There are plenty of families with so much debt that they don’t actually own anything. They owe so much on their vehicles that the bank owns more of their stuff than they do. They have a mortgage on their home and put so little down that the bank owns 90% of it, too. They buy all the fancy stuff in their house on payment plans and pay more interest than you can even imagine. Their credit cards are loaded up and never paid off; they have grown comfortable living beyond their means and now the bank controls their life. Nothing they have is completely theirs; the credit card companies, the bank, and the furniture store own it all. It is a house of cards built on sand and it can come toppling down anytime there’s a catastrophe such as illness, a devastating car accident, or the loss of a job. A life built on borrowed money is a frightening way to live, because it can quickly crash when tragedy strikes. And tragedy eventually does strike, because none of us is invulnerable. The question is only when it will strike and how severely. Too many of the “Joneses” just aren’t ready for a catastrophe, living on borrowed money in what is basically a borrowed lifestyle.
Top of your budget is not the purchase to make.
Shopping for a house can be great fun. Deciding where to build a life is filled with excitement and the promise of the future. In the process, it can become easy to get roped into purchasing at the top of your budget. Budget range is irrelevant; it’s just human nature. We all want the best of whatever we are trying to buy. In my dad’s time they called it land or “house poor.” “House poor” means you have so much of your monthly income paying your house note that you have no money for anything else that you would otherwise be able to afford (like furniture) had you purchased a less expensive home. If you buy at the low end of your budget, just imagine the options you might have with that money each month that wouldn’t go towards an expensive home, e.g., like saving for your retirement. Creating memories is way more important than having the biggest, fanciest house and car in the neighborhood. Will your last thoughts on this earth be “I am so glad I had the best house in town” or will it be something along the lines of “I am so thankful for the time spent with friends and family, and all the breathtaking memories we made together?” Think about it.
Fake, faux, replica
Think about this too. Is this who you really are? Whatever you call it, wearing or using something that is a knock-off of the original is saving money? Is it really? Being fake? Who cares? Just know that not all of what you see others wearing or using in life is the real thing. Knock-offs are everywhere these days, so don’t compare your handbag to others because you may be assuming they paid $400 when they really bought a cheap Chinese knock-off for $25.
Buy what you like because it’s your style and what you want, not because of a brand or because others own it. Happiness comes from being yourself, not someone who you think others want you to be. Don’t be a fake and don’t buy a fake because you think you will be happier. Neither will successfully make you happy in the long term. Remember, beauty is as beauty does. Be proud of what you have earned. Fake is just that—fake.
Living paycheck to paycheck.
There are lots of people who live this way. They don’t have money in savings and they don’t have an emergency fund. They only seem to have it all because of what they have and all they do, but they are really on the brink of disaster. (Re-read the first paragraph.) If disaster strikes, they will be ruined because of overspending and lack of saving. Living paycheck to paycheck out of necessity is one thing. It’s altogether different when living this way is a lifestyle choice. Living to spend, spend, spend money you don’t have doesn’t bring happiness; it sets you up for disaster, worry, and anxiety. When living paycheck to paycheck is done as a lifestyle, what you have as a result is a “faux-lifestyle,” and we already talked about faux.
Are they just lucky?
Do they have a wealthy partner or perhaps a family inheritance? You never know. They may have a marvelous career, have a great financial advisor, and made prudent saving choices to afford what they have. You just don’t know. Frankly, it’s none of your business. What matters is that you live responsibly with the money provided in your life. Living within your means gives you peace of mind that is priceless. Having anxiety about money destroys lives and marriages. It can give people so much angst that they need to now spend money on coaching or even worse, a divorce.
Living within a budget reflective of your life and the means you have will gain you contentment, as long as you stop comparing yourself to others. Look in your own life and what you do have. Find gratitude daily for the things you may have; a vehicle that works, a roof over your head, clean sheets, a functioning air conditioner, and food on the table. There are lots of people without these basics. Look to the less fortunate for your comparisons if you just have to compare. If gratitude is your response, you will find yourself more content with all that you have been blessed with in this life.
And in the end, isn’t it life, not the Porsche that’s the real blessing?
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.