Chances are, the Joneses are in debt, too.
They may be depending on a higher income to pay it all back, but it doesn't matter, because we’ll never know.
People don’t talk about what they make or what they owe.
But we do care about appearances—at least I do.
In self-employment, I want to give the appearance of busyness to engender confidence in potential clients and reap actual business. Success begets success.
The same thing applies to my personal life. I want to look successful in the eyes of my peers.
“By this time, and this age, this is where I should be, this is what I should have, and this is what I should be able to do.”
Unfortunately, life has not turned out as I expected. Not at all.
Do you need a paradigm shift?
If you truly don’t care what other people think of you on any level (I don’t believe you, but I won’t argue) then this blog post isn’t for you.
But let’s not underestimate the long-term stress of being unable to have or do what other people have or do—and the stress of needing to hide why.
I was always ashamed of what I perceived as a lack of success on my part, and I took pains to hide my situation. I mean, who wants to reveal that they’re neck-deep in debt? It’s a sign of weakness.
“I could do that, and I could fix this, and I could go there, if I didn’t have this damn debt.”
This was the verbal whip I beat myself with daily.
To lessen the stress, I had to develop a different way of thinking and being through my many years of indentured servitude.
A few principles
Practice creativity, not consumerism.
Fancy furniture stores sell items that are often designed to have the appearance of age—which we buy at a premium price.
Here’s your opportunity to flex your creative muscles—or strongarm a creative friend to help you design a home you love, on a shoestring budget.
The social media site Pinterest is the perfect place to find ideas you can riff on. So is the basement. For example:
- When we bought our second home 13 years ago, I found a couple of old wooden storm windows downstairs, which I painted and used as decorations on a large, empty wall I needed to fill. Now they are affixed above my writing desk and I use them as a place to pin inspirational quotes.
- I found large wooden boxes from the 1950s down there, too, with “Crown, Cork and Seal Company” emblazoned on the sides. They are beaten up, having been used as tool storage by the workbench. We cleaned them up, fitted them with wheels, and my father made hinged wooden tops for them. Voilà—instant coffee tables. For free! (Now that my Dad is sick, they have sentimental value for me, too.)
- When my parents home was sold two years ago, I dug up two antique, solid brass lamps in their basement. With new wiring and shades, they were gorgeous once they were shined up, at a fraction of what they would cost new.
People will notice and appreciate your unique sense of style. This goes for clothes and all kinds of consumables. Which leads me to the next point:
Prioritize and plan for the most necessary expenditures.
The two-income childless couple down the street drives a new SUV and just renovated their home, while you drive a ten-year-old minivan and hope that your leaky bathtub doesn’t come crashing into the kitchen below until you save enough money to fix it.
Save and budget for the big, important things, and don’t be a slave to perfection.
Related: 6 Alternatives to Owning a Car
Do some work with those less fortunate.
Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or get involved with a regional, national or international charity.
You’ll soon see that if you have potable running water, heat, electricity, three meals a day and live inside four decent walls, you are already richer than 80% of the world’s population—most folk sleep on a dirt floor under a tin roof.
You have all these things because you have the good fortune to live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
This is not about guilt, it’s about the knowledge that privilege is a relative concept.
My husband and I have been sponsoring children with Compassion International since the 1990s and we have put four children (from the age of five) through the program. I visited Ecuador on a volunteer trip in 2004, and it was a life-changing experience to visit that beautiful—but poverty-stricken—country.
When I came home, I realized how much food we throw out, how much overall waste we generate, and how much comfort we take for granted.
When you do something for others, it takes your focus off your own problems.
Extras and perks are a grateful privilege, not a right.
While your friends are taking their kids to Disney, you’re going camping in the rain at the nearest national park, and simple entertainments like eating out are considered absolute luxuries. You will not get up at three am to stand in line for the newest game console, cell phone, or other electronics—you will wait to buy things second hand, long after the buzz has passed.
My children attended the “rich” high school in our city—the school attended by wealthier children, as compared to the other inner-city schools. It’s a safer, better-equipped school, but my kids’ classmates were regularly going on two trips a year—Florida in the winter and maybe New York or Europe over March Break. This bothered my kids a lot, because the most exotic trip they could report on was driving to Montreal or Toronto to visit relatives.
This is called “a teachable moment.”
Is life about getting exactly what you want all the time?
At least that’s one message my kids never received. My oldest daughter bought her first cell phone when she had a job to pay for it, and she bought her first car that way, too.
And speaking of comparisons…
Same problem, but for grownups. The monologue in my head goes this way:
“Oh geez! They’re in London/Italy/China/the Bahamas now? I’ve always wanted to go there. Wow, gorgeous pictures. And look how skinny she is in her bikini.”
“Oh, I see So-and-So’s business is taking off. Does he have all the contracts in the city. Must be nice.”
“Look at that. Her kids are so smart, they’ve been 100% subsidized with university scholarships. But my kid had to borrow $50,000! Guess I should have taken more pre-natal vitamins and listened to Mozart.”
Two studies in 2015 by the University of Houston found that Facebook usage can be linked to depressive symptoms in some people, because the highlights of our friends’ lives seem so much better than our own.
This form of “social comparison” can lead to a distorted view of other people’s lives—and our own.
I can attest that this has been my experience. Comparison is death. You are running your own race, not anyone else’s.
Keep your eyes focused on what’s ahead, not on the people running beside you.
Related: Addictive Consumerism
Remember that your value isn’t found in extrinsic things.
We look to talent, youth, beauty, money, success, achievement, and power to make us feel equal to or better than other people.
But these things are transitory. Circumstances are not permanent, nor are they guaranteed.
Life can change in an instant, and therefore, control is an illusion.
Your value is nested in your intrinsic worth as a human being, not your possessions or your accomplishments.
Change your paradigm, and the Joneses will wonder what you have that they don’t.
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