The High Cost of Comparison

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Catherine Alford. Cat is a freelance personal finance writer who blogs at

Comparison is a natural part of everyday life.

We automatically compare prices on produce at the grocery store, clothes in the mall, and yes, even the way we raise our kids and interact with our families.

Comparison can be healthy in many ways. For example, you might compare yourself to a more established colleague or a writer you admire, trying to find ways to improve yourself or better your surroundings.

Comparison can be used as a personal gauge as well. I like to compare where I am now to where I was a few years ago. The comparison shows me how much I’ve grown, developed, and matured.

Yet, there’s a darker side to comparison, too.

There’s the mom who seems to always have it together who makes you feel like you’re not doing well enough. There’s the husband who constantly takes his wife out on dates, when it seems yours just wants to relax and watch the game. Then, there’s the skinny celebrities, the wealthy next-door neighbor with the new BMW, and your co-worker who got the promotion you’ve always wanted.

The types of comparisons listed above can be a danger not only to your relationships but your finances as well. They can cause undue strain on your life and unrealistic expectations.

Let’s take a look:


Dangers to Relationships

Comparing your relationship to other ones is a natural part of life. However, it’s when the negative thoughts creep in that it can deeply affect the way you go through life: “They always seem so in love.” “He regularly buys her flowers just because.” “I wish my husband did that.” “I wish my wife always had dinner ready like his wife.”

Raise your hand if any of these thoughts have run through your mind before, especially when you’re out to dinner with friends or checking your Facebook newsfeed.

Even though comparison is a pretty natural part of life, the way to get around the negative impact is to remember people are always going to put their best foot forward. I’m hardly going to post a status update that says, “My husband and I just had the worst fight ever!”

The world doesn’t need to know that. Yet, I will post about a great dinner he made or another happy part of my day. It’s just how it goes. I don’t think people purposefully try to portray their lives in a perfect way; they just don’t share private details with the public.


Dangers to Finances

You’ve heard of “The Joneses” and how everyone is trying to keep up with them. The thing is, no one would be worried about The Joneses if they didn’t spend so much time comparing themselves to them.

I was very fortunate growing up, but my dad always taught me to never be boastful or showcase our vacations or belongings. He told me many times that there were people far wealthier than we were out there, and acting like I was better than anyone simply because we were upper middle class was rude.

I didn’t truly understand what he meant until I studied abroad one summer in Europe. I took a side trip to Paris, and I was walking down the street when I saw a limo pull up to a hotel. A bellman rushed out and pulled out Louis Vuitton bag after Louis Vuitton bag from the trunk. There must have been 20 pieces of luggage, all extraordinarily expensive.

Standing there with my little backpack as a college student, my dad’s words jumped into my mind. It was only because of his training and instruction that I didn’t stand there envious of the family in the limo. I just acknowledged via a detached comparison that they were extremely wealthy, and I was not. It was a world I’d never seen before and will never be a part of. It was an excellent reminder that sometimes, you simply can’t measure up to others in some ways so comparison is futile.

Still, there are people who try to attain this level of wealth through gathering possessions that very wealthy people own, whether they can afford it or not. This includes the young 25 year old who buys a $1,000 La Perla swimsuit instead of a $30 Target one. It includes the young couple who are buying a first home but insist on the 3,000 square foot house on the lake that they “deserve.”

Comparisons, especially negative comparisons, lead people to live well beyond their means every single day. Whether it’s something small like buying a designer dress that your friend has or something big like booking an expensive vacation to try to one up your wealthy coworker, comparison can drive your finances into the ground.

I know it’s hard to resist comparing yourself to others, since it’s a natural part about being human. However, next time you find yourself wishing your life resembled someone else’s, take a little bit of time to think logically about the situation and acknowledge what’s great about you just being you.

How about you all? What comparisons do you yourself or you see others making that might be negatively affecting them?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

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