Have you ever thought about how phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” has changed in recent years? I’m not referring to the similar named reality TV show Keeping up with the Kardashians. I’m also not suggesting that people have stopped comparing their lifestyle to those around them either. Quite the opposite! I am talking about how the Joneses aren’t just the neighbors and coworkers anymore. They are everywhere. Think about how many friends, family, coworkers, celebrities, bloggers, and, of course, Kardashians share something on social media every day. We have gone from comparing ourselves to people around us to comparing ourselves to people around the world.
I keep seeing these articles pop up on my news feed titled “How much you should have saved at every age” or “Compare your finances to your age group”. It drives me nuts! First, some of these articles give average or median dollar amounts. This is an irrelevant comparison. My retirement plan here in Southwest Missouri should not be compared to my age group living and planning to retire in Southern California. Second, age comparisons only matter if everyone retires at the exact same age. There are plenty of people my age doing the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) who plan on retiring before age 40. Some of them live on $25,000 a year, but they have no use for comparing net worth to others. Last, it should never matter how you measure up to others when it comes to personal finances. You should define the lifestyle that you want to achieve and create a plan around it. It doesn’t matter if you have more or less than someone else. It just matters whether you are on track to meet your goals.
Comparing your situation to others is effortless now that social media has become the go-to distraction in our lives. We are flooded with pictures of people visiting beautiful destinations, driving expensive cars, and going out to amazing restaurants. You start analyzing your life and wonder why you aren’t doing those things. That feeling is hard to fight. My issue is always with the travel pictures. I see all these beautiful places and add them all to my future travel plans. Then I think to myself, how do they pay for these things?
That question will remain a mystery for most of us. However, most people aren’t as financially successful as they appear on the outside. The majority of people live paycheck to paycheck. The image that they portray on social media is going to be the best of the best. Don’t look at others and think that they are doing all aspects of personal finance better than you. They just choose to spend money on those things. It means nothing about their overall financial health.
The point of this is to understand that your life’s success will not be defined by the successes or failures of others. Stop comparing! It is a toxic habit that has become even worse with the availability of social media. Focus on the things that are going to make you happy and that you can afford. Making a budget is the best way to prioritize your goals and spend money the way you want to. Don’t put off your retirement savings either! Your life in 30 years is still important even if it seems far away.
Mike Zeiter, CPA/PFS