If you find yourself asking ‘How can Brad and Heather afford that new truck when they just went to Cabo last month?’ The answer may actually be simple: “They can’t.”

The old cliché of keeping up with the Joneses has taken on a whole new meaning in the digital age. With EVERYONE on social media these days, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others.

We literally get status updates all day long letting us know what our friends are up to at any given moment.

We also tend to favor posting images of our ‘best’ selves doing all of the noteworthy things in our lives more often than the more boring or routine aspects.

I mean, how many ‘likes’ is a picture of cleaning up after the fantastic meal I just posted to Instagram really going to get?

This habit can give our followers the false impression that our lives are more glamorous than may actually be the case.

It’s easy to fall victim to comparing your actual life to an incomplete or glamorized version of the lives of those whom you follow.

Beneath the shiny images in our news feeds are real peoples’ lives. People with the same daily struggles as the rest of us.

In a 2014 Huffington Post blog article, Lisa Earle McLeod defines Facebook Envy as:

a condition that causes you to see one single fabulous out of context moment of someone else’s life and compare their one great moment against the totality of your own life.”[ii]

She goes on to note that:

Humans are called the ‘comparing creatures.’ Comparing ourselves to others is how we make sense of life. Comparisons can inspire us to grow and change. Comparisons can also provide helpful examples of what we don’t want to be.

#FOMO is real, y’all. The fear of missing out on life experiences that we see others enjoying can lead to all sorts of not-so-good things.

In extreme cases it can even lead to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and depression.[i]

Facebook Envy and the comparisons it causes can have a negative influence on not just your mental health but on your financial health as well.


Your friends are not as rich you think

The Joneses are no longer just the new couple who moved in down the street with their 2.5 kids, golden retriever and perfectly manicured lawn.

They can be anyone with whom we might be connected online.

We only see the carefully selected images that they choose to show us. The completed DIY home improvement project worthy of an HGTV Dream Home, the Caribbean vacation, or the new car in the driveway with the big bow on top.

It can feel sometimes like we’re constantly reminded of the things that we just can’t seem to afford ourselves.

But do you want to know a secret? In many cases, neither can they.

Think about it. You know your own social circle better than anyone. Whether it’s the friends that you grew up with, your co‐workers, or the neighbors in your local community, we tend to gravitate towards people who are like us.

Sure, you may have  friends who have higher paying jobs than you do or are further along in their careers. Generally speaking, though, your immediate circle of friends is probably in a similar place in life as you are, financially speaking.

Take your co‐workers, for example. You know how much you earn and the pay scale for your job role. In all likelihood they earn a similar amount as you, adjusted for experience and tenure.

Whether you own or rent your home, you have a good idea of what it costs to live in your neighborhood or building.

And what it costs your neighbors to live there as well. But if you start to compare your situation to theirs in terms of material possessions or experiences it may appear that they can afford a lot more than you can.

If you find yourself asking “How can Brad and Heather afford that new truck when they just went to Cabo last month?”  The answer may actually be simple: “They can’t.”


How to avoid falling victim to Facebook Envy

You know that following basic financial principles, like spending less than you earn, leads to long‐term financial success.

But, don’t assume that your peers are as motivated by accomplishing their goals as you are.

It is quite possible that they haven’t adopted good spending habits like you have. Instead they may be spending all of their money on “stuff” while you are saving for your long‐term goals.

Or worse, they habitually use high‐interest credit cards or personal loans to finance a lifestyle that’s beyond their current means.

While the pictures of the shiny new purchases or exotic trips may show up in your news feed, pictures of the stress and anxiety that come when the bills start to pile up probably won’t.

It’s not about being judgy – it’s their money. But if you truly want to make progress towards your financial goals, stop comparing yourself to others. Counting other peoples’ money doesn’t make you wealthier.

You can avoid the trap of trying to keep up with the Joneses by follow these basic guidelines:


Know what is important to you

Let your core beliefs drive your spending behavior. Then you will be less likely to spend in a way that conflicts with those beliefs.

Your spending is a reflection of who you are. If you have a good understanding of the things that are important to you, what others are doing becomes a whole lot less interesting.


Set goals to accomplish the things that are important you

Regardless of how small some of your desires may be, writing them down makes it more likely that you will actually accomplish them.

There will always be times when you’re tempted to spend money. But having clear goals makes it easier to hold yourself accountable.

The fear of regret can a powerful motivational tool. Use it to your advantage.


Track your spending

Making a budget can be good idea but an even better idea is tracking your actual expenses.

A budget is just a guess about how you’ll spend money. Tracking expenses forces you to reconcile how you actually spent it so that you can identify trends and adjust accordingly.

If you commit to saving for your goals before spending on lifestyle, you will be less likely to be impacted by your peers.

How you do this is up to you; there are online programs or phone apps to help with this  such  as Mint or YNAB.

Even a simple Excel spreadsheet can help. Many online banking applications today allow you to automatically categorize spending as well.


Dare to be different

You have the ability to make good decisions today regarding how you choose to save and spend.

Even if you have a history of trying to keep up with your peers, it’s never too late to get on track.

It can be difficult to swim upstream and live a lifestyle that may appear less abundant than those around you.

But doing so allows you the ability to build the wealth needed to accomplish your goals.

The fear of missing out on the latest and greatest can be distracting. But over time your dedication to improving your financial situation will pay off as you start to reach your goals.

It can help keep you motivated and make it easier to pay less attention to what other people are doing.

And it will create positive reinforcement that will give you the necessary boost to stay on track for good.


Material discussed is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual solutions can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice. 

[i] https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-facebook-depression-avoid-social-comparisons-envy/

[ii] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-earle-mcleod/social-media-envy_b_4598284.html