Years ago, as a young mom, I noticed my new neighbors in their custom-built home made improvements right away. Envy ate at me as I saw wood being delivered to their home for their new deck. A huge playset was built for their son. And a shiny new car showed up in their driveway.
As we had talked with them a few times and with the help of Google, we knew the neighbor’s income and that his wife was a stay-at-home mom. The math wasn’t mathing. It didn’t make sense that they could afford all that.
My husband trotted out the age-old response, “They work hard and they don’t get in debt.”
“BS” I replied. “They must have help from their parents. Or it’s credit cards.”
About five years later, I found out that they filed for bankruptcy. This was back in the crash of 2008. All the pretty things they had been able to afford finally had an explanation.
According to the NY Times, this is a common phenomenon:
The feeling is envy, but it’s mixed with curiosity. And it often comes with a large dollop of self-criticism. They somehow must be better at managing their money than my husband and me. What are we doing wrong?
Just look at a forum on the popular financial blog Mr. Money Mustache. The question asking whether “the ‘everybody seems wealthy’ illusion — is it really just fueled by debt?” attracted a wide variety of opinions, but more than a few expressed the sentiment of the commenter GeorgeC.
“I often have this struggle where it seems as if everybody around me is wealthy,” he wrote, adding that he often wondered how people he knew earned as much or less than he did could afford things he could not.
The two ways that people can afford more than you are:
There is no other way around it. They are not working harder at you or better at saving money.
No doubt, most people could improve how they handle their finances. But better money management isn’t usually the culprit: When people seem to be able to afford much more than their income…