I don’t know why I read fashion magazines. They are created and designed to make you feel bad. I remember reading a blog post about a magazine that airbrushed Heidi Klum’s face. The bloggers were incredulous, questioning who could possibly think that one could improve on Heidi Klum’s face. It just goes to show that no one can ever match the ideal because what’s portrayed is impossible, unreal.
It reminds me a little of reading personal finance blogs. Sometimes I need a break from them because I just feel poor by comparison. And it’s mind-boggling because I’m not reading stories from the rich and famous. Also, I’m not low- or even mid-income. Someone like me should probably feel “rich enough” because 1) I have made six figures for the past five years; 2) I have no debt; 3) I have no dependents and live a simple lifestyle; and 4) I don’t live in NYC or SF.
But every other personal finance article seems to be about someone younger than me, making a quarter of my salary going to fancy travel and dining destinations with their designer purses and saving, what seems like, 100% of their salary. How do they do it? Why won’t they tell me their secrets?
I’m sure it’s good marketing if they don’t tell me. It’ll make it seem like they have some secret money tree that I’ll get the seeds to if I keep reading their blog. But it always turns out that there’s some “airbrushing” involved. There’s something true in their lives that isn’t true for me. It could be a hidden advantage or just different priorities. I just have to tell myself this mantra to make myself feel better: personal finance always makes mathematical sense.
There are no secrets. Everyone follows the same path. Here are some airbrushing secrets I’ve found to watch out for when reading personal finance blogs to save my sanity and tell myself I’m not doing it wrong:
1. There is someone else in the picture.
It seems a little disingenuous when bloggers leave this part out about their budgets, but then again they may be operating on the assumption that everyone is sharing rent with a significant other or getting help from their parents. On the other hand, I’m operating under the assumption that everyone is single and on their own.
Even if you don’t share finances with a significant other, living with someone else is going to cut down on costs, like rent, home furnishing and utility bills. That’s an easy way to cut one’s biggest costs in half (or more if it’s prorated). There are also economies of scale that may make it easier to cut down on food. Also, its not clear to me that each blogger knows what their significant other or their parents or patrons are contributing to the cost of their lives. Maybe it’s an extra grocery run or date night dinners. These costs add up.
Yes, I could get a roommate to cut down on costs but I don’t want to. Also, getting a roommate isn’t the same as sharing all costs with your significant other. I just have to tell myself that we are on different paths and that’s ok. I have plenty of privilege but I pay 100% of my own rent.
2. They have a miraculous rent.
I’ve never been lucky with rent. I always pay the median rent for an average apartment in an average neighborhood. I spent a lot of time looking around for a bargain too but I’ve never struck rental apartment gold for the cost of pewter.
I have known some of my friends to have pretty decent rents and nice apartments for their expensive cities. And for some reason, there are people online with even more miraculous rents than my friends, and of course these people all become personal finance bloggers to shame us all for having high rents. I mean, if you nab a good rent, personal finance would probably be a walk in the park, so good on you. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.
3. They give less to charity.
Sometimes I’ll look at a PF blogger’s budget and compare my own, and we seem to line up, except for their amazing rent. Oh, and the chunk of change I give to charity.
I have to remind myself of this fact all the time when I don’t understand why my budget seems to have holes that others don’t have. Charity is my second biggest line item, after rent. If I gave less to charity, I could buy a designer purse or decent vacation every single month. But I don’t want so many designer purses, don’t need that much travel and I think charity is hugely important. It’s a choice I consciously make. I just have to remind myself of that because in aggregate, I know I could have a lot more money if I kept the money to myself. And if giving up charity spending is the cost of a luxe life, then I don’t really need or want the luxury.
4. They understand the mystical credit card or frequent flyer points game.
Ok so this might actually be a magical money tree that I probably could have grow but have never figured out. I’ve never been able to cash in any of my points or miles for travel. It always seems like everyone is flying around the world for free. I have added up the numbers and, even though I generally fly one carrier, I only have enough miles to do a short domestic flight to NowhereCoolsville. I’m sure other people are milking the credit cards for, I dunno, billions of dollars or first class tickets but me, I don’t fly that much and the points situation never looked promising.
5. They’re not saving as much as I am.
I’ve created faux scarcity in my life by moving most of my money out of checking into my brokerage account. I tell myself it’s safer there in case someone steals my ATM card, but I also just want the money out of sight. Of course, out of sight, can make me feel like THERE’S NO MONEY even when there’s clearly a bunch. I could live the life of fancy fashion and lattes for days, but like in #4, that’s not the life I CHOOSE to live. It’s all a choice.
6. Their salary is extraordinarily high.
Another thing I’ve learned from the personal finance blogosphere is that people’s definitions of “middle-class” income is not in line with other people’s definitions. In fact, it’s a bit odd that people who talk about finance all the time use commonly understood words in very odd ways. I remember once when someone thought being in the 1% meant being in the bottom 1% of income instead of the top. And this person is apparently a person a personal finance blogger.
And so is hat bloggers an make half a million and still all themselves middle claas. So when some personal finance bloggers call themselves “extremely frugal” and live what appears to be a normal lifestyle while saving an extraordinary amount of money, it could be the obvious – they make a TON of money, even while calling themselves middle class and relatable. Middle class sells. It’s just that no one is really policing the internet to ensure that bloggers are really making between the 25th and 75th income percentiles. And when you are really making an income that puts you in the top 1% of incomes, well of course it’s going to be easier for you.
You are not alone in feeling like you’re failing financially
The voyeur in me loves seeing what other people are doing with their budgets but this is the equivalent for me of looking at Instagram and feeling bad about my body. I look at other people’s budgets and just scold myself for overspending even when I’m trying to do the best with what I was given.
I hope this article is encouraging, if only for the fact that even wealthy people like me think we’re missing out or doing it wrong. We get the twinge of jealousy when we read about the luxe lives of others and wonder how they do it. Everyone feels like they’re missing out on some super personal finance secrets privy to everyone else. Everyone feels inadequate in their finances from time to time.
How to Stay Sane When you Feel Poor
I guess if there’s a message to be taken out from this it’s that, we need to focus on ourselves, our own situations and our own values. If we’re meeting our own goals in our own situations, then that’s the best we can do. We can’t look to the sides and think what if because we don’t get to have the benefactor parents, the well-paid significant other or the amazing apartment with below-market rent. We can only play the hands we are dealt.
The other key action we can perform is gratitude. Sure we don’t have as much as others do or seem to. There’s always someone who will have more. On the flip side, there’s always someone who will have less. So we can focus on that. We may have our health. Or friends. Or a job we like with good hours. We may like our attitude. Whatever our advantages, we can focus on those instead of focusing on our disadvantages. We can focus on how far we’ve come instead of how far we still have to go.
We can’t control many things in life but we have total control over our thoughts. Make your thoughts ones that remind you of what’s great and beautiful in your life. Because money can’t (always) buy that.
But if those people with awesome rents can let us know if they’re thinking about leaving the area, that information would be greatly appreciated.
When you read personal finance blogs, do you get jealous too?