Consumption Envy

One of the things that are easy to see in our everyday lives is consumption. Walking out of my house I can see the type of car my neighbor drives, the clothes they wear, and the choices they make in the upkeep of their home. In speaking to my neighbor I might get more details of a stores he recently shopped at, or a great restaurant he just ate at, or possible an upcoming home project he’ll be starting soon. Social media brings a whole new level to consumption, friends sharing all kinds of details of their lives from great meals, social outings, new purchases, and vacations. How does this in your face consumption make you feel? I have to admit I used to have a bit of consumption envy when I’d scroll my personal Facebook, twitter or instagram feeds, but then I learned better.

What we Don’t See

It took a little while into my debt repayment journey to realize that all these outside influences really didn’t matter to me, just because the neighbor up the block was taking his family to Disney World, their trip had no bearing on my financial plans and goals. Sure I knew they were taking the trip, I saw the consumption part, but what I didn’t see what how where they paying for it. Did they pay cash, did they borrow the money from a family member, or did they just max out a credit card sinking another $2-3k into debt. I have no idea and that’s really the key to not getting sucked into the envious feelings when you see others doing fun things, or making new purchases or going on trips. You see the end result, but have no idea how they got there, and since you don’t have the complete details you can’t make a judgment on it either way. Sure you could ask, but most consider the inappropriate or rude. I guess it depends on how well you know that person. My approach is just be happy for that person either way and continues to work on your own goals.


Good for You, I can Have that Too

Good for my neighbor that they just took the trip to Disney, because the simple fact is if that is a goal of mine all I need to do is work it into my overall plan and save for it and I can have it too. That’s the thing to keep in mind when scrolling social media or seeing a new car in a driveway when you start to have that feeling in the pit of your stomach, any of the purchases, outings, meals, vacations, etc. can be yours if you choose them. I’m sure you can afford these items, it’s just a matter whether they are part of you plan, your financial goals. Now when I look at friends feeds on social media I think the same thing. Are those the choices I want to make with my money? If I plan and save I can afford any vacation, any meal, any concert, but do I choose them, sometimes, yes and sometime no.

My consumption has certainly changed in the last four or five years, but when I think of other people’s consumption in these terms I never have an envious feeling. If and when anyone asked about how we can afford the things we do I tell them the truth, the incredible failure we had with money early on, the change we made in our spending habits and now the plan we use for our money. The hope is that story will give the confidence in themselves to ask for help or maybe just say that’s how we did it too, or even better yet that they have always had a plan for their money.

What’s your take on consumption on social media? Do you ever feel envious when viewing others consumption?

35 thoughts on “Consumption Envy”

  1. “Good for You, I can Have that Too” –> Love this. It’s exactly what I try to remember when I see people driving in nicer cars when I’m still in my 2006 Honda Civic. I could buy a new car if I really wanted to. Remembering that is helpful because it’s hard not to compare yourself to other people.

  2. This is a bit of a recurrent conversation in my house. Hubs will tell me what so-and-so has and will wonder why we can’t afford the same thing. In my mind, the root cause is usually are huge student loan debt, which few people (aside from doctors and lawyers) share. But I keep pointing out that they could have creditors constantly calling them. You can’t see behind the scenes. Might as well just worry about yourself!!

  3. I think it’s pretty natural to feel a twinge of envy when you see the consumption of others, but I think your way of looking at it is very helpful. It also helps me to remind myself that I don’t know what sacrifices they made to get what they wanted. Are they working round the clock and scrimping and saving? Are they dealing with the stress and insecurity of falling deeper into debt without a safety net? Are they putting off other goals? As long as the twinge of envy is a quickly passing thing and doesn’t encourage me to spend on things that aren’t important to me or aren’t in my budget, I don’t worry too much about it.

  4. The only time I have consumption envy is when I drive to downtown and forced to valet (bc there is no parking anywhere) and I am surrounded by expensive vehicles and I become embarrassed of my old screeching Toyota Corolla. Luckily this rarely happens probably only 1-2x per year. The majority of the time I don’t care what other people are driving because I remind myself that I probably have more money then them in our investments. I just choose not spend it on a luxury vehicle. Maybe one day when I’ve reached financial independence.

    1. When I see cars I just remind myself its one assets that goes down in value over time, so unless I’m paying cash I’m not getting hung up on something with 4 wheels.

  5. I’m a little like you where I see something on FB and get that pang of envy, but if I sit with it for a second I come to the same conclusion as you. You just don’t know what got that person there, and if they did it the right or hardworking way, then give them the virtual thumbs up. But understand that you are on your own path. I constantly get hazed after coaching my volleyball class about why I don’t go out with them after. At first I used to be sheepish and coy and try to avoid telling them like it is, but now I just flat out say “it’s not in my budget” and if they don’t like it I don’t care. Some still give me a hard time but I think to myself that those are not the type of people I want to be hanging out with anyway. It’s tough to stay disciplined, so that’s why it’s so important to really know your “why.”

    1. If you’ve been honest and they are still encouraging you to not work towards your goals I wouldn’t want to be around those type of people either!

  6. Interesting topic! There are many benefits to social media. But there are also many downfalls. It perpetuates the instant gratification that is already so prevalent. A picture tells us 1% of the true story.

    There is a popular psychology term called Framing. Many different angles to this bias but one of them is the fact that you are more likely to impulsivley buy something “bc you deserve it” when you see others who have just bought something – even if it’s completed unrelated

  7. Though we never consciously looked at neighbors and thought, “Wow, we want what they have,” we certainly wanted to feel like we were able to have nice things and feel rewarded for all the time we put in at work. Somewhere along the line we got over that and refocused our efforts on early retirement. And now we have the ultimate reminder: our next door neighbors frequently complain to us about money — how they can’t get raises at work, how they struggle with debt, how they find it impossible to save — and yet we keep seeing new purchases pop up, including the Nissan Leaf that appeared in their driveway a few weeks ago. We *know* what these purchases must mean for them, and it gives us more resolve than ever to stay focused on our goals, and not try to keep up with anyone else!

  8. I think we all have a little consumption envy from time to time. The thing I try to remember when dealing with it on social media is most people only show you the positive side of their lives. You may see them posting about their new toys, trips, etc but you don’t know about the potential stress and problems that these items are causing them.

  9. I have definitely done a 180 in the consumption envy department. When I was a teenager I wanted money, cars, a boat, a nice house, etc. Now I still want money :), but I want freedom of time more than anything. I don’t get jealous anymore of watching people consume because I know how bad their retirement, savings, and freedom of time are suffering.

  10. It’s easy to get sucked in. My husband still occasionally lobbies for a smartphone — even though neither of us works outside the house.

    I think your attitude is the healthiest. It’s kind of like the diet I’m on right now. I remind myself that it’s not an absolute. When I long for candy or ice cream, I remind myself that I can have it any time — but it’ll break the regimen. Then it suddenly doesn’t feel worth it.

    Similarly, you know that you could go spend a bunch of money allocated for other things. But you realize that you don’t want it badly enough to break the budget.

    1. Lot’s of parallels between diet and money. I often remind myself or the food does after eating something sweet I just don’t feel good after.

  11. Unfortunately social media seems basically like a brag-fest. I do get consumption envy but recently I’ve been much more focused internally on my own situation so that helps. When you don’t have room for consumption envy (or time) it makes it a lot easier to avoid it.

  12. Yep, I think we’re all guilty of envy at some point. For some of us it’s more of a problem than others. But what is envy, really? It’s me saying, “I deserve that.” Remembering to keep our long term goals in focus and adding it to the “after I pay off…” list is super helpful. I think the heart of the matter isn’t solved though until we find our contentment elsewhere.

  13. Yes good message Brian, envy is not a good thing. I don’t get consumption envy at all and I like the way I consume in my life so no regrets. The only thing that I see a lot of lately is people becoming Financially Free, Mortgage Free, and Investing a ton of dollars, those are the success I want for myself. It makes me a bit jealous, and then I feel a bit more motivated to get it done. Everyday I am striving for those same goals and I applaud them for reaching those milestones.

  14. I’m not sure of the exact moment that it happened, more likely it was a gradual change, but I honestly don’t feel this type of envy anymore. For a long time, I obsessed over possessing everything that others purchased. These days, my husband and I tend to mock the spending of friends and family (just between the two of us). We have a shared attitude of incredulity at the unnecessary and irresponsible purchases of others. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, but it allows me to focus on more important things.

  15. I have learned to have an almost reverse snobbery about our old stuff. My friend gets a new car? No envy. I’m feeling proud of our 16-year-old van! But when it comes to family vacations . . . I do feel that envy sometimes. Sigh.

  16. I’d be lying if I said I never experienced consumption envy, but when I do, I remind myself of two things: (1) As you pointed out, I have no idea how the other person is paying for whatever they’ve purchased, and (2) I have quite a bit in my life that I’m very grateful for. I don’t need – even if I want! – more things.

  17. Debt is the dirty little secret that no one likes to talk about but our personal finances affect every single area of our lives. The fact that society finds it offensive to discuss is beyond me. You are so right, its easy to get envious at people that take more or better vacations or have nicer toys. But at the end the all I did to worry about is about my families finances and if I can sleep at night knowing that our financial situation is in good shape. If not, then its time to roll up the sleeves and change that. Good post.

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