When it comes to personal finance, it feels like everything is about the numbers. And us personal finance bloggers are obsessed with them. Looking at the dirty details of someone’s budget or net worth is like personal finance porn — we get hot for it. It’s sexy to see how much someone saved, or get a peek at their budget. We congratulate people on paying off debt.
While I love consuming the numbers as much as the next person, I’ve come to realize that all the numbers are a lie.
The numbers are simply one-dimensional representations of what someone has done. These numbers work hard at making us feel either incredibly good about our situation or incredibly bad.
Usually, it’s the latter. Maybe you thought you killed it this month, but then someone made twice as much as you. You thought you put a lot toward debt, then realize someone put your entire salary to debt. In these moments, it’s easy to get sucked into feeling like you’re not good enough.
But here’s the thing: the numbers don’t tell a whole story. There is absolutely no context to compare ourselves to others. After all, personal finance is not apples to apples. Yet we get sucked into these numbers thinking that if they can do it, so should we.
I implore you — look at the bigger picture. There are so many things that affect what you can ultimately do with your money. Things like:
I remember when I was paying off debt, I used to get jealous of what others were putting toward their debt. I’ve had people say the same thing about me. But our situations, inevitably, are always wildly different. I cannot compare myself to someone who is married and lives in a low-cost of living area, as that is not my reality. Someone struggling to find work and take care of a baby should under no circumstances compare themselves to me and what I’ve done.
You see, in personal finance context is everything. The numbers mean absolutely nothing without any context. We all have our privileges and setbacks that are uniquely ours. They can either help or hurt us on our financial journeys. Some we can change, others we cannot.
But it’s important to acknowledge they are there. It’s important to look at the big picture and avoid comparing your financial situation to others at all costs. Doing so will be the fastest route to misery and if I can make a guess, could sabotage your own financial well-being.
In your own quest toward financial freedom, it’s important to find inspiration from others who have gone before you and have done what you want to do. But don’t get paralyzed by empty comparisons — focus on what you can do with your own particular situation.