Avoiding the Personal Finance Underbelly

Let me start by saying that I love the personal finance community. Blogs and twitter have been an amazing way for a numbers nerd like me to find my people. You are my people and I love you.

A side effect of being surrounded by fellow money minders is that some of us had an incredible head start. You may know some of these people.

  •  Someone on a modest income has been saving steadily for years. With a little help from the internet, they found a way to harness their savings and are sharing their financial freedom story with all of us.
  •  Someone was an alright saver but had an incredible income. They cut their spending down the bone for a short period of time and like whoa! They have enough to retire.
  •  Someone worked for a great company at the right time and got an incredible head start investing through 2008-2009 with a 1:1 100% company match. They knew how incredible of an opportunity that was and they took full advantage of it. They may have been scared at the time, but hindsight is amazing and they are leap years ahead of their peers today.
  •  Someone was super frugal and worked their way into an incredible income. They timed the housing market right in a hot market.
  •  Someone was great with computers. They were lucky enough to grow up in a time when the nerd wins. Right time, right place, right interest.

All of these stories or some combination of them may be coming through your feed. They are all great stories and we can learn from all of them. That’s why we follow the stories and the people.

I love these stories because they are inspirational. They inspired me to pay off my debt faster than I ever imagined was possible. They pushed me to max out my 401k before I felt ready even though I was. They solidified my belief that I should turn away from the rat race and make sure what I’m doing and what I’m buying is right for me, my interests, my family and my life.

I couldn’t be more grateful for the community. It truly is the best.

Unfortunately, this amazing community comes with a less than talked about underbelly. The jealousy underbelly. That left behind feeling.

Here I am at 30. Hooray, I paid off my student loans but I’m just starting to get going with my investing. My account balances are still small. I just took on a reasonable mortgage and have yet to make a single extra payment.

If I wanted to, I could look around and find 25 year olds who are already out of debt and saving aggressively. I could find people who retired at an age just a few years older than me. If I cling to the underbelly, it would be so easy to feel less than because of how far I still have to go and how many people are ahead of me.

But let’s not focus on that. There will always be someone ahead of you. Always.

Always.

Let’s focus on how far we’ve all come. Look behind you. Look around you.

The fact that you are reading this post on a blog about money probably means you are aware of your own financial situation or trying to gain that awareness. Finding awareness is the key to starting your journey. That in itself is an incredible accomplishment and you are on your way.

If you only look ahead of yourself, and don’t reflect on your own journey and your own starting point, you’ll miss the point of progress.

So please.

Find inspiration in those that came before you. But don’t fall to the underbelly. That’s where people get squished.

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22 comments

  1. I feel exactly the same way. I just turned 30 as well, and while I’ve paid off my debt, I always feel so far behind some of the folks who’ve been working since 22 with no debt and have a million bucks in the bank already.

    The great thing is that with so many people out there, the stuff you and I write is going to help someone. We might not be like the 25-year-old with no debt, but someone out there is going to be like us! If we can help them out, that’s pretty sweet.

  2. Agreed. I just start singing Hamilton: “Look at where you are. Look at where you started.” or “Look around, look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now!”

      1. YES! The soundtrack is the entire play since there’s not really any dialogue outside of songs. Take a day, listen to it straight, keep a wikipedia page open that explains the songs as you hear them… you’ll love it. I don’t know a single person that doesn’t.

  3. Yes, so much yes to this! Like you I’m an attorney with the accompanying law school debt. I found your blogs and others years ago because paying off the loans stressed me out.I’m making good progress on my debts now, but I work at a salaried position where I’m only paid once a month. Which means I make loan payments once a month. There’s only so much I can work with! So I have ventured out to other finance blogs and I get this sinking feeling seeing how far behind I am from others my age or younger….But then I look at my colleagues and know that I’m making better money decisions than them. Just gotta keep reminding myself that I am doing my best, then forget the rest!

    1. You are doing your best! I feel like there should be a money support group for lawyers. So many people assume Lawyer = HUGE salary when that isn’t the case for most grads. That makes it harder to talk about money. Something for me to ponder.

      Good luck with everything!!

  4. I totally feel you! 30 is around the corner and I feel like I’m just getting myself onto my financial big-girl feet (and I’m still paying down that heap of student loans ugh). Thank you, I needed this post today!

  5. My whole financial life has felt like one step forward, four steps back, so it’s only recently that things have felt like they were together and “enviable” (I use that jokingly of course). And it looks like we’re having a doozy of a fourth step back this year with needing to move, so I guess it’s easy to feel a bit of envy that the road seems so smooth for others. But you know what? We’re all on our own journeys, and the good part of pick your own adventure is that we can pick our attitudes. Learn and prosper, or swelter in jealousy. The former works well if you choose your reading companions carefully.

  6. :::Clap clap clap clap clap clap::: Though I feel slightly guilty that I might be one of those case studies you’ve mentioned, I TOTALLY agree with this, and have been pushing this message lately. Comparison is the thief of joy, and all that. And truly, if you’re comparing yourself to some freakish outlier on the internet, that’s like comparing your neighborhood jog to an Olympian’s time and then feeling like crap and deciding that your jog was worthless. It wasn’t! And it’s not supposed to be! It’s supposed to be about making your life better. I also think it’s worth it whenever you feel bad about your own progress to consider that those you wish you could emulate are off emulating someone else and possibly feeling bad for not achieving what that person has achieved. I know for a while, we felt like we were “late” to the early retirement idea, and we felt behind even though we were making fast progress. But then we finally realized that that was ridiculous, and that what we’re doing is awesome, regardless of what anyone else is doing, and that has been the best mindset shift, and has also made it so much easier to feel grateful because we now recognize how lucky we are instead of wishing we had someone else’s life.

  7. Great read! I especially loved the first paragraph – my thoughts exactly! I too just started my blog to keep chronicling my journey. Hope to stay engaged in this vibrant community!

  8. Thanks for a) taking time to succinctly capture the “archetypes” of savers, which was both accurate and fun to read and b) being so positive!
    I am 30 and doing OK. I was a History Major and became a teacher at 22, which ended up putting me in a far better financial position than if I had chased what I thought was my dream of getting a PhD in History.
    That said, I really believe us “Millenials” need more genuine voices sharing stories of the struggles and the successes but with a POSITIVE and solutions-oriented approach.
    I think it may sometimes feel a bit like the “facebook effect” where all you see are people on great vacations with happy partners and amazing meals (and adorable babies); it is so easy to feel bad/insecure about your own financial positioning such that we lose focus of our unique situation and what we can do to control it.
    Thanks for sharing this and looking forward to reading more!

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