Your feelings when you learn about other people’s financial decisions

There is a risk when you share specific financial numbers: other people may feel either envy or disdain.

Some people will see a budget of $40 a day for food for two people and say, “Must be nice. That’s how much I spend on food in a week.” While others will look at the same value and say, “Umm, what a waste of time. I spend that much on wine at dinner!

Some people will see $500 for a long weekend and see a miserly, penny-pinching existence, while others will see willful extravagance.

These scripts can be invisible, but I want to point them out explicitly. Because I know you might be doing this with me given my recent disclosure of a weekend vacation budget.

It’s okay if you judge me. But let’s be clear what’s going on: you are applying your own financial “moral code” to someone else.

And while that’s not particularly helpful for me, it can be instructive for you.

Your financial “moral code”

I recently listened to a podcast where someone talked about having a rule where if he’s on a flight that’s longer than 5 hours, he will always fly business class.

I scoffed before I could stop myself. “Must be nice,” I thought.

Wow! Envy much?

Business class, in many cases, costs more than what I would spend for an entire trip. So to me, I could fly somewhere and sit in the street as a beggar, or I could fly in coach and actually have a vacation.

But his reality is not mine. His decisions are not mine. Does that mean that his decisions are wrong?

Of course not. Just because someone would make a different financial decision from you doesn’t mean that the decision is misguided. It’s important to realize that applying your financial “moral code” to others will lead to envy or disdain.

Listen to your own gut responses

But listening to your gut responses can be instructive, because it is in these situations that your feelings and desires become most vocal and visible.

Take something that you’ve scoffed at. Okay, take something I’ve scoffed at. Take that business class quip.

I’ve flown business class exactly once. And I used up a bunch of my frequent flyer miles to do it. It was an amazing experience, and that was on a product that everyone in the flying community scoffed at as being sub-par!

How amazing would it be to fly business class because I wanted to? For comfort reasons?

It would be so damn amazing. I would feel like a superstar.

Duly noted, brain.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and buy a business class ticket the next time I travel (though technically I could if I saved up for it), but it means that that is an important aspiration.

Written out plainly:

I want to be able to buy business class airline tickets whenever I want.

– Me

That’s something I need to put on my wall. And the next time I find another strong money reaction, I need to look into what that means for me too.

You need to do this too. Listening to your reactions can be the easiest way to figure out what is important to you.

It’s about you, not them

Remember that your feelings and reactions to learning about other people’s financial decisions is about you, not them. That doesn’t mean that you want to rush to judgment on yourself either. It just means that there is a learning opportunity here. Take advantage of it.

What are you putting on your wall?

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