Don’t Be Fooled by the Money Mirage
Social media is stoking money envy, but it’s important to remember that a superficial appearance of wealth is often misleading.
"How is that possible?" "How are they pulling that off?" "Am I doing something wrong?" These are just a few of the questions and comments I hear from people when we talk about how their financial lifestyle compares to other people's. Financial envy isn't new, but social media seems to have exacerbated the situation and left many people wondering how others can afford things such as a luxury home, high performance car or boat, vacation home, or exotic family vacation.
As a long-time financial professional, I've had a front-row seat as to how and why this happens and felt it was time to share some of the secrets of what I refer to as the money mirage. As you know, a mirage is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, especially the appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road.
In the financial world, a money mirage is an illusion caused by outside conditions that makes someone's personal finances look better than they really are.
In the financial world, a money mirage is an illusion caused by outside conditions that makes someone's personal finances look better than they really are. Let me give you one of my favorite examples.
How Can That Guy Afford All of This?
For a moment, imagine you're enjoying a nice breakfast at a local restaurant. You're caught up in enjoying the food and conversation when you hear the rumble of a new Corvette as it pulls into the parking spot right in front of your window.
When the driver emerges from the car, you realize it's someone you went to high school with years ago. You're impressed and jump on social media to quickly look him or her up and find a personal profile with photos of a lake house, jet skis, and overseas vacations.
You can't help but wonder how he or she can afford all this — and why you are not experiencing the same fruits of labor since you have a good job, are a regular saver, and have little to no debt.
On the surface, this person looks like a multimillionaire who leads an ideal life of leisure. But here's what you don't know. It's not his house, it's his in-laws. He's driving that car and has a nice boat because his wife is working two jobs to support his hobbies and adolescent reputation.
To top it off, other family members don't come around much because they feel he is taking advantage of their parents.
Behind the Facebook Facade
You can quickly see how he created this money mirage. He has no mortgage payment, which makes owning a high-performance car and boat very affordable. With most of the income going toward toys, he has little to no savings and, as you might expect, he and his wife argue frequently about money and the anchor of debt that weighs them down. It's a fragile life that teeters on the verge of complete collapse.
In another situation, you see a friend on social media post a very expensive kitchen remodel. The materials are high-end and the attention to detail is impressive. You've dreamed of a similar remodel but feel a six-figure kitchen overhaul isn't practical let alone possible.
What you don't know is that their grandmother just passed away and left them an inheritance that was supposed to help support them for years. However, they opted to dump it all into the kitchen, where they spent cherished time with her.
When we have realistic expectations, healthy boundaries and a clear vision about what we want our financial life to look like, we are less likely to be disillusioned by what others do.
This example is important because in this situation they created a narrative that says they are wealthy enough to afford such an overhaul, but it doesn't mean the rest of their life and household are in the same shape. They may have made a very emotional decision to honor grandma with the new kitchen but still have auto loans, credit card debt and no idea how they are going to afford college for their three kids.
A Simple Exercise to Appreciate What You Have
I could go on and on with examples, but you get the point that there is usually more to the story than what someone presents in a series of posts. It's also important to point out that not every financial success or accolade has a dirty or ugly secret behind it, only that when you're hot and thirsty for more in life, it's easy for someone else's online oasis to trick you.
Therefore, it's important to establish your own financial values, goals, and definitions to help guide the many financial decisions you'll need to make throughout your lifetime. When we have realistic expectations, healthy boundaries, and a clear vision about what we want our financial life to look like, we are less likely to be disillusioned by what others do.
To keep your perspective, consider these steps:
- Write down three financial successes you’re proud to have accomplished.
- Write down three financial failures you’ve experienced and don’t want to go through again.
- Now take both lists and write down the reason you ended up in each situation. Be sure to include the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you experienced.
It's a valuable exercise because what you'll find is that you already know how to be a financial success and that you don't need a lake house, boat, fancy car, or six-figure kitchen to feel happy and fulfilled. You just need to focus more on cultivating the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that helped you succeed rather than wasting time comparing yourself to others or wondering how they seem to have it all because it's usually a money mirage.