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Feeling “money envy?” Here’s how to get past it

I recently lost out on a bid for a house. While I was grateful to be in a position to even buy a home (who says an English degree is a waste?) and went in with a solid offer, watching another bidder swoop in with an absurdly high offer for a house I loved was heartbreaking.

The thing is, if I had made the offer they made, I would’ve been house poor. But I couldn't shake the shame that came from not having the kind of money that could buy my dream home. Coupled with the fear of missing out on a huge life milestone, despite all my rational thinking, led to one unmistakable feeling: money envy.

Whether it’s a milestone you think you should’ve hit and haven’t or having to turn down a fun night out or vacation with friends, money envy can take several forms and happen to anyone. But you can cope with it and come out the other side with a renewed financial strength.

The rise of FOMO-induced debt

Holding a financial ideal in mind and trying to meet that standard has been happening from generation to generation. First the financial ideal was the Joneses, then the Kardashians and basically every real housewife, and now, it’s our very own peers.

Social media has made it easier than ever to peek into each other’s lives — at least at what people want you to see. From fun weekend brunches with bottomless mimosas to the latest iPhone, constantly seeing what peers are doing or buying is taking its toll on younger generations. Especially Millennials.

48% of Millennials said in 2019 that they had gone into debt while trying to keep up with their friends’ lifestyles in some way. That was up from 39% the previous year. They were more likely to keep quiet about it too, with 80% of respondents saying they kept their debt a secret from their friends, up from 73% in 2018. Many survey respondents cited feelings of shame and guilt as the reason.

What’s more, over a third reported going over $500 in debt to keep up with their friends. That’s no chump change. Here are the stats around what they were spending money on:

Image courtesy of Credit Karma

People said the reasons behind their spending were fear of missing out, fear of not being invited again, as well as the fears of being judged, feeling like an outsider, or losing friends.

How to kick money envy to the curb

Getting over financial jealousy is not easy. The fears above, whether real or perceived, could mess with anyone’s psyche and lead to some poor decisions. The next time you’re trying to keep up with your peers, try applying one or more of these tips to your situation:

1. Show off things you’ve made, not bought.

Feel like you have nothing to talk about when you’re with friends? That feeling can lead to excessive spending just to be able to say, “Hey guys, check out the new Peloton stationary bike I just got!”

There is another way to connect with the people in your life. Tell them about the things you’re making — and the stories that got you there. A scarf, a song, a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich. Make something fun and use that thing as a conversation starter.

2. Go “closet shopping.”

If your money envy manifests itself as wardrobe woes and you’re itching to drop cash on new clothes, first head to your own closet. You probably have a lot more than you think you do, and when you look it with a fresh eye and start putting new outfits together, you’d be surprised how satisfying it can feel.

Bonus idea: Try a clothing swap with friends!

3. Find a low-cost hobby.

If you find yourself spending more money than you’d like on a hobby, replace it with a low-cost alternative. For example, if you love to travel to exotic places, try visiting a restaurant that offers cuisine you’ve never had before (preferably on the cheap).

4. Volunteer.

Nothing puts things in perspective like seeing the hardships others are going through. It’s a good way to start feeling grateful for all the things you do have. And helping make the world a little bit better through an activity like helping at an animal shelter or building low-income houses is a good way to lose those feelings of envy. Not to mention give you some new stories to share with your friends.

5. Get off social media.

Okay, this one might be a tough sell. If deleting your accounts would feel like social suicide, at least try being more mindful about how you use them. Studies show unhappiness from social media use sets in when people use it passively (like to quietly pine over pictures of your friend’s vacation).

However, it’s been tied to higher levels of happiness when people use it to make genuine connections. To do that, try joining a group for a specific hobby you’re interested in and actively sharing your photos and stories around that hobby.

6. Share in your friends’ excitement.

As the feelings of envy rise when your friend gets a new car, a new house, or meets your favorite musician because they had the money to go see that concert and you didn’t, try celebrating with them instead of cursing them. You like your friend. You want them to be happy. Focus on that to get you through those jealousy pangs. This won’t be easy at first but over time it could become second nature.

7. Use a mindful spending technique when tempted to spend.

We’ve written about kakeibo, the art of mindful spending through intensive journaling, before. The beauty of this method is that it forces you to analyze the “why” behind your spending, helping you determine the reason behind your purchase and if it will make you truly happy.

8. Take stock of your life’s little luxuries.

You’ve probably got some great things going on in your life. Try listing at least three things a day you’re grateful for. Catching a sunset, spending time with a loved one, reading a good book. After a while, you’ll start noticing everything you have instead of things you’re missing.

9. Set a solid plan for your financial future.

If you’re feeling aimless about where you’re going in life, it’s a lot easier for money envy to set in. Mine happened when I missed out on what I thought was my future. Until I realized that I didn’t need to find my forever home now. I could get something smaller, turn it into a rental property a few years down the road, and then find the perfect home when I have more for a down payment.

Bottom line: Your financial journey isn’t anyone else’s — which means you don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules. Focusing on your own path and the plan you’ve created for yourself is the best way to navigate those feelings of jealousy and, eventually, overcome them.

Tags: Budgeting, My finances, Banking

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