Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Kimberly Palmer, the author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back, and personal finance columnist at US News & World Report. Take it away, Kimberly!
We’ve all been there. Maybe it happened when your girlfriend casually mentioned her last-minute getaway to the Caribbean, or when you noticed that she was wearing yet another new pair of designer jeans. Or maybe she even flashed her Platinum American Express card or casually mentioned how much her apartment costs each month. Or maybe she just keeps suggesting that you check out the latest five-star restaurant together.
Financial jealousy can pop up when you least expect it, after you’ve finally convinced yourself that you’re happy with the fact that you chose a creative-yet-low-paying career, or that you realize it will take a few years before you can fully pay off your debts. It can be an ugly, over-powering, depressing feeling, and it can even ruin friendships. But it doesn’t have to, and in fact, this particular brand of jealousy can be incredibly useful, if used correctly.
First, there’s a very good chance that there’s no reason to be jealous at all. It’s entirely possible that your friend’s credit card balance equals the GDP of a small nation, or that she’s secretly subsisting off SpaghettiOs when in the privacy of her own home. And she might willingly trade in all her money in exchange for your job, hair, or boyfriend. The point is, we all have our strengths, and hers might happen to come in the finance department.
To find out why you shouldn't be jealous, read on.
Second, harnessing the power of jealousy instead of letting it drag you down can be the secret to unveiling your own suppressed ambitions. Jealousy, it turns out, can be a great gift. It can show us what we really want for ourselves, but perhaps haven’t yet admitted or realized, even if achieving that goal is many steps away. If you find yourself constantly envious of a friend who regularly meets celebrities for her job, then perhaps it’s time for a career change into a field that would let you rub shoulders with the rich and famous, too. If you can identify a specific goal at the heart of the jealousy, then you can come up with a step-by-step plan for slowly getting there.
Similarly, envy over a friend who always seems to have plenty of cash in her wallet could provide the impetus for finally coming up with your own get-out-of-debt plan, or motivation to ask for the raise that you deserve. Because if it is truly money that you want, there are plenty of ways of enhancing your own cash flow. Learn more about investing and put $500 into an index fund. Create your own emergency savings account for rainy days by slowly dropping $25 into the account every week. Take on a second, side job to supplement your main income source.
Third, consider whether whatever sacrifices you are making in terms of material pleasures are worth it for the satisfaction of some other goal, such as living below your means. Gregory Go, co-founder of the personal finance site Wise Bread, has been committed to living debt-free ever since he paid off $10,000 of credit card debt after college. That means he drives an old Honda Civic and still lives with a roommate, even in his 30s.
Sure, sometimes he gets hints of jealousy when hanging out with friends who drive nice cars and live in upscale homes, but those pangs don’t last long because he knows he’d rather live debt-free than a life of indebted luxury. When many of his friends who bought homes at the peak of the market found themselves under water, they were probably jealous of his relative frugality.
And lastly, count your blessings, because it can make you feel richer than Beyoncé. Perhaps you have a loving family, a warm bed, or a sunny disposition – all priceless. Making a list of whatever you are grateful for in your life can instantly turn your mood around. So can giving back in some way, by donating your time or money to a community cause. Consider giving blood or dropping off gently used clothes or books at a shelter this weekend. Somehow, practicing random acts of kindness, especially to those in need, can help put financial jealousy in perspective.