Counterproductive Comparison

orange is in... cognito, riiiiiight!

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I’ll admit it.  When Crystal first linked to the blog post How to survive a $70,000 pay cut, I couldn’t get past the title without a silent rant.

A $70,000 pay cut?!  Humph.  It’d be amazing to make that much in the first place!  Why, people who can’t live on $70,000 need a lesson or 5 in money management, priorities, and sacrifice.  Why, if we had $70,000 to work with…  uh-huh.  Good thing it was a silent rant!

I’m glad curiosity got the best of me and I read Jason’s full article.  He and I come from different places in the frugal road, but our philosophies and strategies are much the same!  Dismissing his ideas simply because of my “he has no idea how to live on little” attitude would have been a mistake.  And by the way, he does know how to live on little!

No room for frugal one-upmanship.

I was reminded last week in a comment on one of my own posts, that what I think is living living on little, may be someone’s big.

“Don’t worry about the whole teacher’s salary factor. There are a lot of college educated folks working for lower wages and fewer benefits than teachers, so you are probably doing better than you think!”

Um, yes.  Yes!  She’s so right!  I tend to reiterate that we’re living debt-free mostly on my husband’s teacher salary to cheer everyone on and remind others (and myself when the going gets tough!) that it can be done, but I also need this reminder:  There will always be people who make more money, live in a larger home, and have nicer things.  There will also always be people worse off than you and me, regardless of our income.

I know I’m not the only one who browses the comments of any frugal living blog post and notices the “oh, yeah?  well we…” fill in the blank with how someone somewhere does something somehow with less money and fewer resources than the rest of us.  How someone’s 1,500 square foot home is so big for their family of 10 and another person’s 1,500 square foot home is so small for the 2 of them.

How my car is older than your car, and gosh Amy,  150,000 miles?  That’s worth celebrating?  Good grief, we have 450,000 on our 1957 chevy whatever (Ok, so I totally made that up.  You caught me.)

Compare without Despair

Comparison is inevitable (I just can’t stop myself!), and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We have a lot to learn from the experiences people share.  Reading how someone does something successfully, and I’m not just talking frugal living, may indeed motivate us to try a new money-saving strategy or keep pressing on toward our own goals.  It becomes a slippery slope, though, when we compare without remembering:  There is no way to know someone else’s whole story.

There is no way to put ourselves in their shoes.  No way to know their specific history, experiences, cost of living, and unique needs, all of which make their story theirs.  Not yours.  Not mine. 

Comparison becomes counterproductive when our focus becomes either “look at me” one-upmanship or “woe is me” self-pity.  Neither is helpful to our own unique trials and triumphs.

Each situation is different, but the lessons are the same.

Embrace your life.  Learn from your past.  Strive for your better.

 

 

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Comments

  1. I. Love. Your. Writing. :)
    Thanks so much for this post!

  2. Amy,

    Wow…Tara H said it well. Great writing!

    When I first came over, I was just excited to check out who linked to my blog. I didn’t expect to find such a well-written and thoughtful post. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    The last couple of paragraphs really hit me. As a financial coach it’s difficult to guide some families because we’re all different. We all have different experiences and different lessons we learned (or didn’t learn) as children. We all have different expectations of life and what money represents.

    The difficult thing about writing a blog is that you put yourself (and your family out there). Everybody gets to see where we are today…nobody gets to see where you were and what it took to get to the place you stand today.

    So we judge and compare based on what we see, but you’re right…we don’t know the whole story. The story that lead them to where they are today. The lessons and trials that molded the person/family into what they look like.

    I believe where we go wrong is the lack of perspective; The lack of understanding how to see things from different angles and from different points of view. You couple that with pride and it’s easy to look at somebody else’s story and say ‘you think you have an old car? Well I have a 1997 Honda with 185,000 miles on it…beat that.’

    Thanks for the great post and the mention. I really wish I could learn how to write like you. I need to take more english/writing classes or something. lol

    • Thanks for visiting, Jason!

      “The difficult thing about writing a blog is that you put yourself (and your family out there). Everybody gets to see where we are today…nobody gets to see where you were and what it took to get to the place you stand today. ” Exactly! I struggle between wanting to explain too much and not wanting all of our “gory details” online for anyone and everyone to see.

  3. Such wise words, Amy.
    Thank you! :)

  4. Oh, I’m guilty of this, too. But I’m getting better. I think a real key for me has been realizing that, even with all things being totally equal (and they rarely are), it’s irrelevant. How someone else manages or mismanages their finances truly has no bearing on my life and is no reflection of my own priorities and values. Does this knowledge stop me from occasionally rolling my eyes or having an internal “oh, puh-leeze” moment? Nope. But it does keep me from fixating on it and letting it fester. :)

  5. Thank you once again! So true. Sometimes (maybe often) people make a lot and spend more, getting themselves in pretty bad shape; while others make a little and save a bit, planning ahead. Who are we to know who they really are by superficiality and why should it matter to us unless we have something to give or learn? Good morning reminder thanks!

  6. One of my favorite reminders: If we are looking left and right, then we aren’t looking up.

  7. i gave a talk recently titled Life is Not always as it seems. we never truly know what others have gone through. Patience and and open heart will serve us well!

    We have a 97 buick with 237,000 and a 96 taurus with 237,000! we run them forever! our NEW suburban has 150,000!!!

    • Sounds like an excellent talk! Love your vehicle mileage; I figure it’s good for the environment, too, if we’re not running through a new car every 3 years, right? ;)

  8. I am glad that I am not the only one who struggles with comparing myself to others! I have been in such a comparison rut lately – I am obsessed with people who are debt free. :) I compare and contrast my lives with those folks and just feel downright awful sometimes And while being debt-free is an awesome, Godly goal that I do want to achieve. Even some righteous comparison can send a person into a tailspin! I need to continually bathe myself in the truth that I don’t know the whole story of anyone’s life and I just need to live my own journey. Thanks for reminding me! Here’s to embracing my own life! :)

    • I hear ya! I find myself thinking “I wonder if that is paid for…” when I see people with bigger/faster/newer/prettier than what we have. Blerg. I’m ridiculous sometimes.

    • I have so been there Kelli! When my husband started law school I was convinced we could do it without any debt. We scrimped and saved, but did have to take out a loan. I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t figure out why God hadn’t answered all my prayers for work. Then, my husband gently pointed out that I had made being debt-free into an idol! I wanted it even more than I wanted to just submit to the path God had for us.

      Then our pastor shared a really encouraging story from the Old Testament about one of Elijah’s followers who died *with debt.* He was a Godly man and he had debt. His wife and children were about to be sold into slavery but God miraculously saved them. Even though debt in and of itself isn’t a good thing, God does use it, either for our own good or to showcase His glory!

      Yikes! Sorry Amy. Didn’t meant to leave a tome in your comments, but your comment hit a real cord with me Shelli! Blessings to you!

  9. I’ll admit there have been times I’ve been jealous of “teacher’s salary” families. In our area it can be tough to get a position as a teacher but as long as you got in the last 3-5 years your top is fairly secure and the union contacts guarantee yearly raises and great medical benefits with almost no contribution required. We hope and pray every year that my husband even gets a cost of living increase (though in reality when you account for inflation he is now making less than he was when he was hired 4 years ago) and he’s a computer programmer. My brother-in-law is a business teacher who works shorter hours and has the summer’s off (I realize this is not the case with all teachers), and he makes more money than my husband. It can be frustrating to hear local teachers complain about how much they make when from this side of the fence they same to have a pretty good deal. But you are right, how much is enough is really relative. My sister keeps talking about how they “can’t afford’ for her to quit her job as a physician’s assistant in OBGYN after their baby arrives, which doesn’t make sense to me when I consider that her husband’s salary alone is more than mine makes and there two incomes together is currently almost 3 times what we make. But it’s a matter of priorities. I stay home because my job before my daughter was born paid about a 1/3 of what my sister’s does. We have had to make sacrifices. Our savings account is tiny. They have a large, well-funded emergency fund, new car and new house savings; things I can only dream about. Her student loans are significantly paid off and they continue to make extra payments. We are on an income based payment plan that barely covers the interest. But again, our situations are different and we’ve learned to live with difference expectations. As you said, if we can learn new skills from others to help us to achieve our own goals, great. Otherwise comparison just makes me angry, envious or discouraged. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • I get jealous when I hear about teachers getting medical benefits… that’s never been our situation. $800/month insurance premiums takes a bite out of our budget. Blech. But STILL… perspective and priorities. ;)

      • Yikes! Have you considered Samaritan Ministries? My husband was “covered” under work, but his part was still way more than what it cost for our family to join Samaritan.

        • I know! Insane, right?! We have briefly considered Samaritan, and simply haven’t taken the time to jump in yet. When we get our new insurance premium quotes next month, I’m sure we’ll think about it again. ;) (And yes, we’ve always had the option of “coverage” at school, but the prices were always MORE than what we could do on our own. Sad.)

  10. So true. In almost every situation now I think … Someone wants what you have. Thanks for that post, Amy — the print out copy is still on my bulletin board. It reminds me everyday!

  11. Amen!!

    I’m guilty of those negative thoughts every time I read a post about “7 ways to cut back” and I’m already doing 5 of them automatically! “Give up that morning $5 Latte?” Ha! I can count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve spent that much on a cup of coffee,

    However, if I stop and think about it, I’m sure those same people could say something like ,”You buy that name brand toothpaste? The generic is so much cheaper!” We all have our areas where we spend more because we have different priorities or needs.

    I need to take the hints that are helpful or applicable to me and bypass the self-righteous comparison game.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • I TOTALLY Agree!!! We all decide what is important to us. For me I do spend $4 on starbucks a few times a week and it’s in my budget. It’s a splugre hubby and I enjoy. However, there are some things that we think aren’t worth the money. I think we sometimes forget we are all diffferent and God has different plans for each of our families. :)

    • I don’t understand the coffee thing, either Carla, but I’m sure there’s something I spend money on that my coffee friends would scoff at. ;)

  12. I’ve had to make myself stop comparing my financial goals/accomplishments to those of other bloggers, simply because of the area of the country I live in. I live in one of the highest cost of living areas of the country. And you know what, I won’t be changing that, because that’s where all of my family is. So am I doing well for the costs that I have to face? Absolutely. Will I ever be able to save up 100% or even 50% for a house? Nope! Average houses in my area (even now after the bubble burst) are $250k-300k! And that’s not for a very large house (maybe 1200-1600 square feet). And whenever I read on a blog about “these are my local prices, prices may vary around the country” – yup, that’s me! My Target and Walmart prices are always $0.50-$1 higher than many other areas of the country. But can I still save money by couponing and still get stuff for free sometimes? Absolutely! This was a great article!

    • Oh, how glad I am that my family lives in Kansas. :) I wouldn’t leave them, either, Katie, even if it meant living in a high cost area. Good for you for making the most of it!

    • I know the feeling. When we tell relatives in other parts of the country what we paid for our just over 1,000 square foot twin in a city neighborhood with no garage or driveway I’m pretty sure they all think we got ripped off. I try to explain to them that you don’t find a free standing house around here for less than $200,000 unless it’s 2 bedrooms or less. (expect the price to jump considerable if you want all the amenities of the suburbs). We bought ours 4 years ago with no downpayment and we’re pretty much underwater now because of how much values have dropped. (Though advantage of a starter house is that it never loses as much of it’s value as a larger one). Like Katie said, some of us won’t realistically be able to save enough for a down payment in this lifetime, certainly not when wages are way lower than real estate and cost of living expenses (which is true in many areas these days). Mostly I just try to enjoy my little house and I’m grateful that we have it because now we might not even be approved for a mortgage and the selection is almost as bad as the time we were looking.

  13. Well written post, you made some excellent points.
    Now for some gentle teasing! True story! We drove a 1990 Chevy suburban with 287,000 miles on it before we gave to our high school daughter. She drove it until she could pay cash for her dream car, a 1992 Firebird (interesting note, her college roomates love her car, even though it is old). The ‘burb is patiently waiting for youngest son to start driving it to school next year because his brother is taking his restored 1974 truck to college!

    Take courage my frugal friends! you are not the only ones driving old vehicles!

    Thanks for the encouragement, Amy!

    • Oh my goodness, my husband and I are laughing so hard! He would TOTALLY make our kids drive an old suburban to school. LOVE it! ha! As it stands now, they walk across the street to school, but if we move before they’re in high school, we’ve got his ’94 Nissan in the garage waiting for them. :)

  14. Great article. This is definitely one area I struggle with. Esp comparing homemaking skills! Some people just seem to be able to get so much done in one day. I’m constantly comparing myself to them. I know I shouldn’t. Some days I work from sun up to sun set but didn’t actually tackle anything from the to do list so I feel like I failed that day. But the hard part is how do we retrain our brains to not? Got any ideas? Maybe a catchy saying we can repeat when we find ourselves comparing to others?

    • I don’t even look at/read crafty blogs anymore. That’s not me, and I don’t need the comparison stress. ;)

      I have a hard time getting to my “project” list because I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with the laundry, dishes, sweeping, and diapers. You know, the stuff that is always in my face and needs to be done right now. My best solution (when I use it!) is to block out my time for certain things. “from 9 to 10 I will ONLY work on such and such” type thing. No distractions. No computer. Etc. Not always possible, but it does work when I use it.

  15. Savings Viking says:

    It’s hard to not compare when you’ve cut everything you can cut, you’re living in a 2 bedroom house that’s about 850 square ft and you’ve got 3 kids shoved into one bedroom (oh, and the walls and floors have huge holes in them you’re having trouble repairing), etc. etc.

    I never see posts from people who say things like “Yes, we make $10k/yr and live in a shack in the middle of the woods, but we’re making it.” It’s always much, much more (a $70k paycut? Geez, when my husband and I were both working we didn’t make that much together!!!) – “My 1900 sq ft house is too big! We’ve got too much clutter! Our garage is full of stuff!” “My husband is a lawyer and only makes $200k/yr, how are we going to get by?!” things like that.

    I’d love to see some posts from people who are truly living on pennies, in far less than ideal situations, and are able to keep a good attitude and are able to actually make it. THAT’S inspiring. “We lived on the streets in cardboard boxes, but by doing this and this we were able to get into an apartment.”

    • Yeah I have friends with 4 kids living in a 2 bedroom condo, and I know they’re crowded. I see your points…we get free food that is expiring that the grocery stores donate, I wonder if your city has something similar.

    • There are many bloggers who are struggling to get by, but not everyone wants to admit it. We see the faces that people want to put out there.

      My own family has had a 70% cut in income. It’s a very difficult struggle. Right now our income is pretty close to $0. We’re not making it. We’ve struggled to make it over the last 5 years. We have held on for a long time, but now, I don’t know where it’s going to go. I have learned to make do with what we have.

      I’ve looked at what others have cut, and I’ve learned from it. I read Money Saving Mom for years, and I wondered if I could cut my expenses as much. We live in a higher cost of living area, and our stores don’t double or round-up coupons, nor do we have an Aldi’s. I didn’t let that stop me. I learned what worked for me at the stores that I had. I took the money saving tips and used them. I continuously looked for cheaper ways to do things than the way that I have done them, and pretty soon, I found my family was able to make do on much less than I could have imagined. A lot of things I see are much too expensive for us (granola bars have never been in our budget, for example, while some couponers have a coupon wallet section just for granola bar coupons!). Take the ideas you CAN use, and go from there (and be open to some ideas that seem extreme, because you may need them!)

      When it seems like you can’t cut anymore, read others’ lists for cutting anyway. I still find a couple of ideas that I hadn’t thought of (putting a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water while you wait for the water to heat up, and using that to water plants, is one I read somewhere recently that was a new one for me).

      Keep trying! I used to live in Europe, and most families I know lived in 1 or 2 room apartments. Your 850 sq. ft. would be a luxury to most. You have a great blessing in what you have.

      This morning I got a phone call that reminded me of all that I have. The woman who called was looking for a hat pattern, so that they could make a hat to cover the head of a 2-year-old who died in a car accident, so that her mother (who is in the hospital and can barely move from the accident) can hold her child one last time without seeing the child’s crushed skull.

      And I realized that even if we lose our home, I still get to hold all of my children today, and hear their laughter and see their smiles. Yes, I compared, and I realized how richly blessed I am, even in the middle of our difficulties.

    • You might be interested in :

      http://budgetingwiththebushmans.blogspot.com/
      http://www.pennilessparenting.com/

      They are two examples of really living on very little, and I think they are encouraging.

    • You might also be interested in http://creatingmotherhood.com/

      She is a single mom who blogs about all parts of her life, including the fact that she and her son have been homeless and had virtually no income.

  16. Amen, Amen, Amen! We need to stop comparing and condemning (ourselves and others)! I don’t think men do this nearly as much as women do. We never know the whole story- unless someone has a blog and goes into great detail :) Even then we’re still not seeing the whole picture. I think we can get so caught up in comparing that we end up not living the life we were created to live!
    Thank you so much for posting this!

    • Yes, even on the blogs there are details left out (intentionally for privacy’s sake and unintentionally — I know for me there are things that just don’t seem important enough to tell). And the men… yeah, they don’t have the “superpower” comparison thing, I think. ;)

  17. Comparing ourselves is not wise, » For we dare not to class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (II Corinthians 10:12)

    And like you said, we never know the whole story. You might be jealous that our home is going to be paid off in 4 yrs, but you don’t know about how I used to live on almost nothing and was homeless for awhile. Yeah, not fun. Someone might be jealous that I lost a bunch of weight, but they don’t know about the eating disorder I had to work through first. We don’t know too many people well enough to really compare ourselves, is my point. Good article, thank you for sharing.

  18. Excellent thoughts. I have to admit thinking similar thoughts when I saw that link on Money Saving Mom. A $70k paycut – that’s means I’d actually have to be making at least that much. You’re right, though, we don’t know each person’s story and comparing ourselves isn’t helpful. I think the comparison thing can go the opposite way as well. For instance, feeling guilty for buying some new piece of technology or premium beef when others are living on so little. We have to do what’s best for us while be inspired but not discouraged by others. It’s really a fine line, I think.

  19. Yep. You’re right. I try remind myself to be grateful for what I have. If I start whining or feeling picked on, I make myself think of five things I’m grateful for. I may work my way up to ten someday. ;-) Good post. Thank you.

  20. Just throwing this out there, but I currently drive a 2001 Chevy Malibu with 215,000 miles on it. Best $1500 I ever spent on a car. :)

  21. Thanks for this…I really needed it this week :)

  22. So fun to see my comment inspired your post- and a delightful post at that! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on comparison. It is such a useful reminder in the age of social media :).

  23. Amy, I can’t tell you how much time I have spent thinking about several posts you have written. I read this yesterday, watched the comments, and continued to think about it today. We are in a different place, and yet your thoughts and sentiments are so universally true. My husband and I both have high incomes. We are so, so blessed in so many ways, and yet we are so, so stressed by these jobs. I struggle with envy for those moms who aren’t working an outside the job home. I resent (at times) having a husband who doesn’t want a wife at home – although he knows how unhappy my job makes me and at times tells me to quit, but I know he doesn’t want me to (for many reasons, and they certainly aren’t all selfish ones). But the time I spend in envy, I should spend in thankfulness. Instead of stewing in unhappiness, I should plan for what things could be different. In many ways I feel that I have prepared myself for living on much less, and yet I do know there is a very real difference between choosing to be frugal with a cushion to fall back on and having to be frugal, and honestly, it scares me to think I would fail. But whatever I have done or will do, comparing myself with others in envy is counter-productuve, and allows the enemy a foothold. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    • I wish I could give you a big ‘ol hug, Sheila. I’ve read your comment a dozen times and simply can’t come up with the right words to reply! I suppose when things get tight around here, or when we sadly watch another couple “suffer” under the weight of too much money and not enough time, we remember to look ahead. Someday it will be 20 and 50 years from now. What will matter then? And for me (and my husband) as a Christian, I know this earthly life isn’t “all that.” That helps my perspective.

      Best wishes to you as you strive to make the most of your own situation.

  24. I don’t know if I could ever take a $70k hit in pay, literally … ever. Things would have to get better dark for me to consider it at least.

    As for the car situation, I am lucky — I have a voyager with about 85k on it– she’s not a beauty, but she gets me from A to B.

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