Personal Finance

Turning Financial Envy into Inspiration


I think all of us have been guilty of financial envy at one time or another. “I wish I could afford a car like that” or “I wish we could live in a house like theirs.” It’s not as much of “Keeping up the Joneses” as it is simply envying the Joneses. If I see someone driving down the road in a new BMW I don’t run out and buy one to keep up with them, but sometimes I secretly wish I had one of my own.

Growing up and being poor or middle class can often lead to envy for those who are “rich,” “well off,” or “wealthy.” (I put those terms in quotes because they are relative.) And envy isn’t a positive thing. In fact envy often leads to a sour attitude. It can lead to distrust and dislike of a person, and in worse cases it can lead to hopes that that person fails at something. After all, if something goes wrong in their life, then you won’t have as much reason to envy them. Sounds rotten, I know, but some people actually think this way and I can bet most people have thought this way at least once in their lives (I know I have).

So how do you know if you have financial envy? Watch your attitude when you think people around you have more money or when they have nicer things. I used to be an administrative assistant at a real estate office and during the summer it always seemed like people were taking off early to go to their lake houses or go on their boats. They would come in with their “vacation” clothes on to take care of some last minute items and then drive off to their lake house in their convertibles. Meanwhile, I was stuck at work because I had no lake house or boat, I couldn’t afford to rent one, and didn’t even have vacation time to take off if I wanted to. When those people would say goodbye, I would mumble a goodbye and think to myself “must be nice!” My underlying attitude was envy and jealousy, which kept me from being happy for them and made my attitude sour.

Or I’d see a lady at Starbucks who was getting into her huge, incredible nice and decked out SUV with her latte in her well manicured hand, wearing the latest fashionable clothes. I’d drive by on my way home from work thinking about how it would be nice if I had unlimited money and no budget. I honestly have no idea if these people were wealthy or over their heads in debt. Frankly it’s none of my business. They choose to enjoy the finer things in life and I simply wasn’t able to at that time.

So what’s so wrong with financial envy? There is a proverb that says “Envy is rottenness to the bones.” Literally, envy can destroy you from the inside out. First of all, it keeps your focus on what you don’t have instead of being able to celebrate what you do have. That can make some people depressed, causing them to spend money they don’t have on things to make them feel better. Secondly, it can cause rifts in your relationships if you are secretly wanting your financially accelerated friend to fail. Beyond that, it simply doesn’t help you get any further financially.

The fact is that financial envy comes from the thinking and mindset that rich people are not nice people and they don’t deserve what they have. It may not be what you think consciously, but it’s a subconscious thought. Many times if you feel that you can’t ever have what that person has or become the kind of person they are, you will begin to dislike them so you subconsciously feel better about being different from them. And if you don’t like wealthy people, then you will do things that will prevent yourself from being wealthy because, after all, you don’t want to become one of “those people” that you don’t like. What we think influences our subconscious, which in turn very powerfully influences our daily decisions, which influence our life’s direction. It’s an interesting process and can be very positive or very negative.

While I do occasionally find myself envying people who have more money than I do (or at least appear to), I used to have a lot bigger problem with this. I always wished I could be rich and have all the money I wanted. I knew that wouldn’t make all my problems go away, but I thought it would certainly help. That envy wasn’t changing anything though. So I decided to get smart about my finances and get things in order. I read books and researched and found that if I make wise decisions and take care of my finances today, I can have tons of money later in life. If I work hard and invest and don’t waste my money, I’ll be able to afford a lake house and/or a boat someday. Not today, but someday. This revelation caused me to start looking at wealthy people differently. I’m no longer envious of people who have more than me; I’m actually inspired because I can be like them someday. It really helps me stick with my financial goals. Being able to buy those things isn’t the only reason I want to be wealthy someday, but they will definitely be an added benefit.

So now when I see someone leaving work to go to their lake house, I tell them to enjoy themselves and I find joy in the fact that some day I will be able to enjoy myself at mine, but it’s their turn right now. And when I pass a BMW or Mercedes or Lexus on the freeway, I don’t scowl at the person driving the luxury car; I look forward to the day when I will be able to drive one. But I hope when that day comes that people won’t be scowling at me!

Image courtsey of Corvair owner

8 thoughts on “Turning Financial Envy into Inspiration

  1. We are all entitled to envy others, so long as we do not wish that they did not deserve whatever is it that we envy.

    I think we need not try to figure out how they got the thingies.

    Just smile and follow your formula.


  2. “We don’t need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” ~Donald Horban

  3. I guess that I never get jealous of other people and their stuff is because I know that all things have a price. Everthing has some kind of trade-off. A friend of mine has a really nice luxury car, but she works two jobs to pay for it. Another friend has a really big house, but she pays more than $10,000 per year in taxes on it. She has to work a very stressful job in order to just pay the taxes on it. Another friend wears $300 shoes, but she has no retirement savings.

    All of them made choices about how they wanted to use their life’s energy and it is a choice. But a price is always paid for it.

  4. Envy is so corrosive. You really can’t be just a little envious – you’re either not envious or very envious. Worse, envy means that you are thinking about others in situations where you should be thinking about yourself. Its great that you are inspired as long as you stay that way, even during tough times.

    Schaudenfreude, on the other hand, is a pleasure we can all enjoy, 😀

  5. I think the comment about everything coming at a price is a little naive and just a way of rationalizing envy. I mean, some jobs are just better than others. There is no more stress being a dermatologist than being that dermatologist’s assistant nurse, yet the dermatologist goes home earlier, makes 10 times as much, and can afford more things. (Sure, there was extra school, but the opportunity cost is not enough to offset the huge difference in pay later.) I guess I’m trying to say that some people just get lucky or make better choices, and there is no “price” paid for that. People that are smarter or invest their money better than others are not paying an extra price. If you teach your kids to value education, rather than squandering it, and to think critically about the choices they make, then their success will come at no additional cost.

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