Most of us focus on the numbers when we look at our money. Makes sense, right?
We add and subtract to balance our budgets and determine what we need to do to achieve our financial goals. We break things down into percents to help us allocate money to this need or that account. We constantly crunch numbers to determine where we’re at and where we want to go with our wealth.
But personal finances is as much about our psychology and our behavior as it is about the mathematical realities of what happens to the amount in our bank accounts when we save or spend.
How we think and feel about money matters. It’s easy to learn about what we should and shouldn’t do with money to reach financial success. But it’s very difficult to consistently align our behavior with the principles of good money management -- even when we know exactly what those principles are.
Sometimes, our emotions get the best of us. We act on impulse or make decisions based on how we feel in the moment, rather than choosing the most reasonable or logical way to behave. We do this even when our actions go against our best financial interests.
There’s one negative emotion in particular that can drive us to spend money, even when we don’t have it, in order to make ourselves feel better.
How Envy Can Lead You to Bad Financial Decisions
We experience this emotion when we want something we don’t have...but someone else does: envy. When we compare ourselves to others and find we lack something that they have, we feel badly about ourselves, ungrateful for what we do have, and convinced we need to spend more to acquire more to makes ourselves feel better.
Allowing envy to take over costs us a lot of money if we can't learn to manage and eliminate this negative emotion. This loops back to the idea that even when we rationally know better, our irrational, emotional side usually gets the best of us.
How often have you heard that “money doesn’t buy happiness?” And yet, how often have you felt that someone must be happier than you because they have so much that you don’t? How often have you tried to make yourself feel less envious by trying to purchase a little happiness for yourself?
Are You Allowing Your Emotions To Wreck Your Wealth?
Our resentment over the fact that we lack what someone else owns can goad us into spending in an attempt to sooth the feeling of envy. It’s not fun to feel as if you’re somehow being left out, that a situation is unfair, or that not having what someone else does means you’re in some way inadequate.
These feelings lead to trouble when we start spending money that we should have saved -- or when we spend money that we don’t even have -- in order to comfort ourselves.
Your emotions can wreck your wealth if you feel like you need to keep up with what someone else is doing rather than focusing on what you truly want in your life and what you value. Envy can make you poor if you let it drive you to see goals or milestones as races or competitions.
Not to mention, it’s completely exhausting to constantly want what you don’t have. Instead of wearing yourself and your wallet out, it’s time to learn how to manage and eliminate envy from your life.
4 Steps to Overcoming Envy
1. Accept that you feel envious from time to time.
To overcome envious feelings, acknowledge that you do feel envy when you think about what your friend has or does that you don’t have the resources to do yourself. Or when a family member shows up for the holidays in a new car every year. Or when you see people you don’t even know walking down the street in designer duds you wish you could afford.
Whatever it is that causes you to feel envy -- admit that you’re experiencing the emotion at that time. Realize what triggers it and learn to recognize it. And know that it’s okay to feel this way on occasion, but envy shouldn’t rule your life or the action you take with your money.
2. Quit the comparison game.
Here’s the thing about comparisons: you only know what you can observe. Would you still be envious of someone who had more than you did if you knew they also had a massive amount of debt hanging over their head? Would you feel envious of another person who put their possessions before the people in their lives and ruined relationships because of it?
Unless you’re checking out the financial statements from all your friends, family members, and those that inspire envy in you, there’s not much point in comparing yourself to others. Remember, looking rich and being wealthy are two different things. You may not feel so much envy if you knew all the details of what people aren’t showing off instead of seeing only what they choose to display.
3. Stop valuing stuff.
It’s hard to stop comparing what you have to what someone else has if you’re focusing on things. If you feel envious over someone else’s material possessions, it’s time to sort your priorities. You should be putting your experiences and your relationships above feeling like you need to acquire more stuff. Chances are, if you’re honest with yourself, you already have all you need right now.
4. Appreciate all the good in your life.
Having trouble believing that last statement? Maybe it’s time to practice a little more gratitude. Don’t focus on what you lack. Instead, look at all you already have, what you’ve accomplished, or what you love about your life as it is.
One of the best ways to eliminate envy, be happy with what you do have, and stop letting negative emotions drive you to make bad financial decisions is to enjoy every step of the progress you make toward your goals. Don’t let the end of a journey be the only part worth celebrating!
About the author: Kali Hawlk is the founder of Common Sense Millennial, a resource for members of Gen Y who want to do more with their money. She works as a writer and content manager, and is passionate about personal finance and business. You can connect with her on Twitter @KaliHawlk.