Five strategies to deal with money envy

Letting go of jealous feelings can help you to focus on meeting your own financial goals

People are more likely to feel envious of those in their own peer group rather than mega-rich celebrities. Getty
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If you have ever scrolled through social media posts only to be gripped with envy when you see a friend posing in front of their beautiful house or enjoying themselves at a luxurious resort, then you understand how easy it is to want what other people have.

Financial envy is real and sometimes, it can be ugly.

“Financial envy is absolutely normal. It’s part of the human condition,” says Yvonne Hampton, who holds a doctorate in personal financial planning and runs a financial therapy practice in Missouri.

And it is not necessarily a bad thing, she says. “It’s an opportunity to dig more deeply internally about why we have that feeling so we can work through it and be happier in our own lives.”

If you are wondering how to turn the so-called green-eyed monster into a positive force in your life, here are five steps to take.

1. Let go of shame

“A lot of progress can be made simply by acknowledging, ‘Yes, I feel envious’,” says Rick Kahler, a certified financial therapist and financial planner in South Dakota. “Be compassionate towards yourself.”

Then you can more easily turn towards the concrete steps that help you meet your financial goals, whether it is paying off debt, saving for a down payment or building up an emergency fund for greater financial security.

2. Get specific about your triggers

People are more likely to feel envious of those in their own peer group versus mega-rich celebrities such as Jeff Bezos or Oprah Winfrey, Ms Hampton says. “Those feelings are a signal: If you are envious of a neighbour getting a new car, what is that feeling?”

Perhaps it is rooted in a desire to earn more money or spend your money differently. Once you figure out the cause of the feeling, then you can address it and make changes in your own life.

“It can give us insight into what we really want,” Ms Hampton says. If it truly is about buying a car, then you can give yourself a savings goal and start setting money aside each month.

3. Use envy as a motivator, not a detractor

Some forms of envy may be helpful, says Robert Leahy, author of The Jealousy Cure and a clinical professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine.

He notes that envy is visible across cultures governed by hierarchies, including with animals such as dogs, and even in human toddlers. In its most positive light, envy can lead us to learn from the success of others and apply lessons to our own lives.

But it also has a dark side, stirring up feelings of inferiority and insecurity.

Envy can lead to self-harm, such as cultivating feelings of hatred towards wealthy people, which can drain energy away from your own life and pursuits, says Rainer Zitelmann, a historian and sociologist and author of The Art of a Successful Life.

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Mr Zitelmann warns that unchecked envy can easily become destructive. “You should acknowledge envy whenever you experience it, because envious people only end up harming themselves,” he says.

4. Recognise what you don't see

While your first reaction to a friend’s social media posts might be envy, the truth of their situation could be far more complex than the picture suggests, Ms Hampton says.

“We don’t know the whole story. You don’t know how long they saved for that house, or how hard they worked for it, or if their parents paid for it. Maybe they’re screaming at 3am about paying the mortgage,” she says.

It is easy to feel jealous of someone’s public posts that showcase the highlights of their life without any of the behind-the-scenes struggle.

“In all the time I’ve been doing [financial therapy], I’ve never met someone who felt like they had it all. We’re all dealing with something. Even if you’re at the higher income spectrum, there are still challenges and these are challenging times with inflationary pressures,” Ms Hampton says.

In all the time I’ve been doing [financial therapy], I’ve never met someone who felt like they had it all
Yvonne Hampton, personal financial planner

5. Reflect on what actually brings you joy

Mr Leahy suggests a thought exercise to counteract materialistic envy.

“Imagine everything has been taken away,” he says, including all of your possessions.

You get one thing back at a time, but only if you can make the case that you appreciate it. That process clarifies your values, he says.

“You can see you have many different sources of satisfaction and purpose.”

And in a final tip from Mr Leahy: Think back to an experience of real contentment in your life.

It might have been as simple as sitting by a lake with a friend — perhaps not an Instagrammable moment, but one that was far more meaningful.

Updated: March 14, 2023, 4:00 AM