Comparison Culture: How It Affects Your Brain and Finances

Comparison Culture: How It Affects Your Brain and Finances

Glancing over your neighbor’s shoulder does not stop after grade school. With scrolling social media apps replacing our morning newspapers, it comes as no surprise that we are constantly comparing our lives to those we follow. As you “Like” another colleague’s stunning vacation photo or send a “Congrats!” to a former high school friend on their lucrative promotion, it may leave you with feelings of guilt, dread, and hopelessness. Many studies have shown the potential negative side effects social media can bring, but have you considered how it is affecting your own bank account? 

 One aspect we tend to forget is the reality behind the image. What you see on the surface is rarely the full picture. In fact, research conducted earlier this year by OnePoll and Questis revealed that three out of five participants admitted to “faking” their financial status for social media. 

 In our attempt to keep up with the comparison culture, we need to remember that flashy posts could be a sign of poor decision making. That new luxury vehicle sitting in your neighbor’s driveway may be costing them their retirement fund. As revealed in The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secret’s of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, many high-income professionals prioritize their spending on luxury items, all while neglecting their savings and other investments. 

 Ultimately, comparison creates competition. And who wants to come in last place? Spoiler alert: No one. While comparison never fully goes away, here are six guidelines to promote better wellness for your brain AND your finances: 

 1. Focus on YOU. Like keeping your eyes on your own paper, paying attention to your own money provides the opportunity to invest in yourself. Not sure where to start? Pay Attention is our first Habit to Build Wealth, and you can learn more about it here.

 2. Set Goals. That instant gratification feeling is just that—a feeling, and it will not last. Instead, look at the goals you want to achieve. By implementing a plan to reach your goals, you focus on a long-term vision, rather than a short-term want. After all, goals we set are goals we get. 

 3. Create milestones. Once you start achieving your goals, be sure to build progress milestones. As you reassess your goals, these helpful milestones allow you to reflect on your progress and celebrate your journey. 

 4. Don’t just focus on the gap, pay attention to the gain, too. Dan Sullivan’s book The Gap and the Gain warns against comparing ourselves to an ideal, whether it is ours or others’. This results in a “gap” and a realization of what we don’t have. Instead, when we reflect on how far we’ve personally come, we are able to recognize all the “gains” we’ve made along the way. 

 5. Give anonymously. Helping those in need is a great investment. When done anonymously, giving funds or our time to charitable and nonprofit organizations minimizes the compulsion to worry about if we’re doing enough. By choosing not to share about our giving to others, it also helps alleviate the dangerous reliance on instant gratification. 

 6. Limit Use of Social Media. Now, this isn’t to say you should immediately delete your social accounts and disconnect from your communities. However, if you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others as you scroll through social media feeds, it may be time for a break. You also will be less tempted to splurge on impulsive purchases through targeted ads in your feed. Even decreasing your social media usage by 15 minutes per day provides a chance for you to pause, reflect, and refresh without the influence of others. 


Any opinions are those of Traci Meakem Richmond, JD, CDFA™, RICP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.  The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.  Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors.