Is the financial grass always greener on the other side?
Every day, Americans are bombarded by messages stating we all should have more, spend more, be able to buy more for our loved ones, and make and have more money. These ads promise satisfaction and total fulfillment once we have more of this or do more of that.
In reality, most of us only get a small amount of or fleeting satisfaction from the purchases we make. The new car smell fades, the coveted, trendy outfit quickly goes out of style, and even the new house can become a reminder of redundancy in our lives as we rush in and out during our work and life routines. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to start looking around and feeling like others have it so much better, which probably isn’t always the case.
So what do you need to do if you’re feeling blue about your finances? It’s all about appreciating what you have, and being grateful for what you don’t. Mentally, you may have more money than you realize.
More isn’t always more
First, recognize that having more things and more money won’t lead directly to happiness. More things require more storage space, and more storage space often means things become harder to find. More things require more time to use, and often, more money to maintain. What is the point of having more than you can comfortably use or store?
Just because your neighbor has a nicer fishing rig or a boat own doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing or boating. If there are activities you’d like to do but it isn’t in your budget to purchase all of what is needed to make it happen, look for rental options or join a club focused on those activities. If you say you don’t have the time to do that, then get over coveting the items: you don’t have the time to enjoy them, anyway.
Change your perspective
Over the years, studies have shown that humans tend to want to have more than their neighbors. A New York Times article recently reminded its readers about a study conducted in 1995. Participants were asked if they would rather earn $50,000 per year while everyone else earned $25,000, or to earn $100,000 while everyone else earned $200,000. Fifty percent of respondents said they would rather earn $50,000 — they would rather make less money so long as they made more than everyone else. Twenty years later, other studies have yielded similar results, in which people make financial decisions — sometimes risky choices — based on gaining more than someone else, but not necessarily on gaining more, overall.
So what kind of mindset is behind this? Are half of us so competitive that we’re willing to lose out on gains simply to beat out someone else? Or are some of us so caught up in comparing ourselves to others that we make bad choices without thinking them through?
Approached another way, have you ever been to several expensive stores, and spent $50 on one expensive but necessary item, then gone to a less expensive store, and spent $75 or $100 or more on cheap, unnecessary items, simply because everything seemed so cheap? Did you ever do something like this and feel guilty about the expensive purchase, but proud of the cheaper items, even though you spent more? Or, have you ever planned to save for an important but expensive item, only to end up blowing money on little purchases here and there which added up to as much or more than the important item? Be honest — most of us have done it, and at least on occasion, continue to do just that.
In other words, we reach a level of adaptation to one norm in certain circumstances, then we apply the same thinking in other circumstances.
It’s the same with the way we compare our financial success to what we perceive others as having. If we constantly stay in comparison mode, we can never be satisfied with what we have. Next time you covet your neighbor, turn your eyes back home and be grateful for what you have and the time you can make to enjoy it. If you can’t have more money, with some good financial gratitude and a positive attitude, you can certainly feel like you have more money and find more satisfaction out of life and your personal finances.