How to Handle Money Envy
Green With Envy
A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.
The first version of the iPhone came out in 2007, but I didn’t buy one until 2012.
For five long years I put up with endless jokes as friends gawked at my old-school flip phone.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a smartphone—I felt left out when I couldn’t participate in conversations about the pros and cons of iPhone covers, and silly because my phone couldn’t take pictures or play songs. I wanted what they all had, but I just couldn’t afford it.
And I was envious.
We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, but sometimes it’s hard to contain our green monster when we struggle to buy, achieve or do things that other people seem to afford effortlessly: Why do they have it when we don’t?
The trickiest part about overcoming this toxic emotion is that it’s entirely up to us. If we can’t afford to quiet our envy through spending, we have to do it by changing our thoughts.
That’s why we turned to Scott Krakower, DO, an assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., and Ella Lasky, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City, to help shed light on how we can beat money envy of all sorts.
Career Envy: “I Wish I Had Her Job”
What it might look like: Last time you saw your college roommate, she had just been sent to London and Paris for a work project, and flew business class. Her assistant fielded her phone calls while she took a few days to see the sights afterward, but she had to get back to attend a benefit dinner hosted by Bono on behalf of her boss. How do you get that job?
What to remind yourself: Basically, that you’re only looking at the exterior of said friend’s life. “You don’t know everything about a person’s career,” Lasky reminds us. “Maybe she has a difficult boss, works 12-hour days or hates her job and can’t wait to get out of it.” After all, no one is going to flaunt their five-month stretch working every weekend.
And even if things are as good as they seem, your envy isn’t about her—it’s about you. “Instead of focusing on another person’s job, reflect on your own career and take a moment to appreciate the things that you like about your job,” says Krakower.
Try to figure out what, exactly, underlies your envy, because jealousy can help you pinpoint opportunities: Is it that you really want to travel more? Work in a profession with more cachet? Or just progress in your chosen career? Once you identify your triggers, rather than eat your heart out, use them as motivation to set new goals.
House Envy: “Real People Live Here?”
What it might look like: Between Pinterest, HGTV and the thriving world of lifestyle blogs, we’re all too familiar with the house(s) of our dreams: gleaming expanses of marble countertops, charmingly weathered tables and a bathroom per person. If only real life and dream real estate always collided!
What to remind yourself: There’s a reason we say, “Home is where the heart is.” And we daresay a happy heart isn’t dependent on walk-in closets.
“More space and material goods won’t necessarily make your home more comfortable. Warmth and compassion are what make a home,” says Krakower. Instead of looking at an object (house), focus on the concept (home), he adds. Ask yourself what it is that makes your house a home: What do you love to do there? When does it feel the coziest? What great memories have you created? “How you act and behave and what you do and say in a home is part of what makes it great,” Krakower reminds us.
One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make, in a financial sense, is buying more house than they can afford. And trust us, what’s worse than drooling over your dream house is overextending yourself so much that making rent, or your mortgage, is a stretch. How do you know if you can afford the property you really want? One easy rule of thumb LearnVest recommends is not spending more than 30% of your take-home pay on your monthly housing bill.
Gadget Envy: “Ooh, Shiny…”
What it might look like: Just like the iPhones I saw everywhere when my phone still flipped, it’s easy to be envious of the coworker who’s constantly whipping out the latest and greatest gadget. Or your friend or neighbor with the bigger-screen TV.
What to remind yourself: A new and expensive gadget provides all sort of opportunities: the opportunity to break it, lose it or have it stolen at a bar, which means the additional cost of having to insure it.
Is your need to have the latest and greatest gizmos really about the technology itself, or is there something bigger at play? “You don’t want to assign feelings to a material object—if you form an attachment, there’s a problem,” cautions Krakower. If you want that tablet because you’re psyched about the technology and it will be the perfect thing to bring on your travels—fine. If you want it because everyone else wants it, you may need to take a step back.
Plus, thanks to phone upgrades and promotions, you could soon be the one with the shiniest gadget. “In two years, when it’s time to trade up,” says Lasky, “you’ll have the newest gizmo for six months … until a newer one comes out.”
Vacation Envy: “Those Plane Tickets Cost as Much as My Rent”
What it might look like: Your neighbors just got back from a jealousy-inducing trek to Tulum, and you really want to go island-hopping with your friends next month, but you just can’t afford it … and stay on track with that thing called your budget. When the only getaway your family can seem to afford is an hour-long drive to visit your in-laws, endless Instagrams of white-sand beaches just aren’t a welcome sight.
What to remind yourself: Vacationing isn’t about having the best photographs. “The point is to get away,” says Krakower. “It doesn’t really matter where you go. Instead of Aruba, for instance, go to Florida.” If that’s still a stretch, take a three-day weekend at home where chores are forbidden and alarms are turned off, or play tourist in your hometown without running a single errand.
Plus, you know that deep down, you won’t truly be able to relax on vacation if you can’t afford it. So the best way to get excited for your next getaway is to start a “vacation fund” now and sock away as much as you can afford—whether it’s $5 or $50—per month. Once that fund is fully fleshed out, you and your unencumbered conscience can go in search of white sand.
Clothing Envy: “Does She Ever Wear the Same Thing Twice?”
What it might look like: That über-chic neighbor of yours only sports designer labels. Your colleague’s bespoke suits leave you feeling a little less than dressed for “the job you want.” And all that fun with fashion can leave you thinking, how on earth can they afford it?
What to remind yourself: You never know the reality behind the facade. Maybe your favorite fashion plate can’t actually afford what she’s buying. “I had a client once who would always come in with new outfits,” remembers Lasky. “And then I discovered she had $15,000 of debt.”
Your best friend when it comes to looking good is a budget. After all, money is about choices, not deprivation. The calculation you need to make is figuring out how much you do have to spend on stuff that will make you look and feel good. That way you can feel confident in your money and your image.
Cash Envy: “She Can Always Say Yes”
What it might look like: One of the hardest parts of being on a strict budget is having to say no when too-expensive opportunities present themselves. That dinner, that weekend ski trip, that taxi. But wait … how come “that” friend can always afford to say yes?
What to remind yourself: Unfortunately, nobody posts Facebook status updates crowing, “I was a good money manager this weekend.” The truth is, you’re also saying yes—just to different things. You’re saying yes to being without debt, yes to a worry-free retirement, yes to buying a home someday … or whatever you consider your biggest financial goals.
And if you can’t quash your envy, channel it into something productive. “Having a little cash envy is actually a good thing,” explains Krakower, “because it can drive you to work hard and succeed.” If you want to say yes to everything, too, how will you increase your disposable income?
“Family Money” Envy: “Their Parents Give Them Everything”
What it might look like: Whether or not you know a trust fund baby, it’s no secret that there are a lot of people out there who didn’t earn their jobs, income or opportunities beyond having the right genetics. Kind of makes you wonder: Why do they get such good luck?
What to remind yourself: On some level, you’ve accomplished even more than they have. Everything you have, you’ve earned—and that’s something to be proud of.
Simply getting an opportunity doesn’t guarantee success, but the skills and independence learned through hard work may very well set you up for life. “A parent might help a child get a job,” says Lasky, “but that child might not be able to keep the job if he doesn’t learn how to pull his own weight.” The opportunities you haven’t had just might be a blessing in disguise.
—Written by Jane Bianchi
Related links from LearnVest:
- Why You Should Be Living Paycheck to Paycheck
- 12 Smart (and Easy!) Tricks for Cutting Cost in 2014
- Sign Up for LearnVest’s Debt-Diminishing Financial Bootcamp