Recently, I received a message on Instagram from a woman who told me that she felt badly about herself when she saw my posts about how much I save, or how I spend my money. While my posts are meant for education and inspiration, and are never intended to make anyone feel badly about their own situation or themselves, it really got me thinking about the comparison trap and how often we look online just to see someone else “doing better” than we are at the moment.
My Recent Comparison Trap
Look, I know this isn’t rocket science; Instagram can become a pretty dark place if we use it just to see what everyone else is up to. Not only does it make us feel badly about how much we’re not up to at the moment, it can also make us feel pretty inadequate, like we’re somehow falling behind in life compared to our peers.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know that my biggest financial goal at this point is to save up for a down payment on a home. I’ve spent the last 3 years aggressively saving as much as possible, through streamlining my finances, making sacrifices in my personal life, and starting a side hustle in order to reach my goals. I’ve worked really hard, and sometimes it feels like I’m working towards nothing but I do what I can to stay motivated and keep plowing towards my goal.
Recently, I’ve seen SO MANY of my peers purchasing homes and condos in big metro cities, and I can’t help but compare my situation to theirs. Seriously, I thought it was a pretty big deal to have enough money by age 25 to buy a house or a condo; I thought I’d be like, the only person I knew doing it. Turns out I was wrong and now everyone seems to be scooping up city real estate and posting it on Instagram. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t made me feel like a failure; what are they doing that I’m not? What am I doing wrong? Where did they get all that money?
While I may be pretty damn good at managing my own money, I’m not perfect and I’m not special. I have my own financial worries and struggles, and I definitely compare myself pretty often to other people who seemingly are doing better than me. I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way, either.
Comparison is part of our DNA. When it comes to personal finance, comparison can actually be used as a tool to see how we stack up to our peers. Knowing how we stack up and were we fall can be really helpful in understanding if we’re on the right path with our savings and investments. To a degree, comparison is a good thing. Sometimes it even motivates us to do better, reach higher, and achieve even more because we want to improve our outcomes compared to everyone else.
However, the more frequent outcome is that we end up feeling badly about ourselves when we see someone else online saving more, investing more, buying a house or paying off all of their student loan debt. This negative reflection is terrible for mental health and motivation to do better, because we already feel like a failure. It can also make us feel like something is wrong with us, because shouldn’t we feel happy and excited for someone when they’re reaching their goals? Why does their success make us feel like a failure?
If you find yourself in a negative spiral when you see everyone else’s financial success, here are a few things to keep in mind:
True Sacrifices are Hidden: Few people share the behind-the-scenes sacrifices that go into big success. While you may see their big announcement that they bought a house of paid off all their loans, you don’t see how many extra hours they may have worked, how they spent a year living at home to save up, or how they may have worked 2 jobs just to pay off their debt.
We’re All at Different Stages in Our Lives: While you may be comparing yourself to peers of a similar age, remember that age is just a number and we’re all moving through different stages of our lives at different points in time. We all have different lifestyles, different goals, and are looking for happiness and fulfillment in different places. What someone else may be doing to find their own happiness isn’t always going to be what you need right now, and that is OKAY.
A Lot of People Get Help: A lot of 20-somethings are still getting money from their parents or family members. In facet a lot of the people I compare myself to who are buying houses right now got money from their parents. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this (I am currently living under my parents’ roof), it makes me feel better knowing that I’m ultimately going to reach my financial goals on my own dime, not because someone gave me money to do so.
Your Accomplishments Aren’t Lesser Than: Just because on paper you see someone doing “better,” doesn’t mean that what you’ve achieved with your finances so far is lesser than. Setting goals and reaching milestones is a huge feat, especially during your formative years after college. Always remember, someone else’s success is not your failure.
We’re All Just Doing Our Best: Our 20’s are hard. This is a really hard period of life, and so many facets of our lives are changing rapidly. Everyone is just doing the best they can, and if that means sharing their success on Instagram, then so be it. As long as you are making the most of what you’ve got, then you’re doing something right.
I recently read a quote that said “I’m too busy watering my own grass to notice that yours is greener.” READ THAT AGAIN! This quote seriously changed my perspective on comparing myself to other people. At the end of the day, the only person we have control over is ourselves, and all we can do is focus on creating our own success.
Stay in your own lane. Focus on making your situation the best it can be; save as much as possible, start investing, and start reaching your goals. Let the success of other people motivate you rather than tear you down. And remember, the only person who can water your grass is you!