Family

A Family’s Scariest Money Habit: Comparison

And how a new book, 'Love Your Life, Not Theirs,' puts parents on right path

Here’s an important and intriguing question parents should ask themselves: Does social media impact your spending habits — robbing your family of a decent quality of life?

Rachel Cruze, a personal finance expert and #1 New York Times best-selling author, talked with LifeZette about her just-released book “Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want,” and the ways that constant comparison can put a family’s financial future at risk.

You may think you’re able to afford certain things, but is the cost a reasonable percentage of what you have coming in every month?

As Cruze explains, trying to “keep up with the Joneses” can be disastrous for a family.

Question: How did you come up with this aspect of money habits — spending due to competition with others?

Answer: From my own personal experience. I came home from a vacation with my husband — we were about two years into our marriage – and I walked in from the airport, sat down and began scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. I saw all these other vacation pictures others had posted and I thought, “Gosh, our vacation was not what these vacations were. They did more than we did.” I started comparing trips.

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Related: Smartest Money Moves for Boomers

My next thought was, “What am I doing? I’m comparing trips, and it’s stealing my joy. I’m about to spend more money planning yet another vacation, when I just got back from one.” I realized comparisons not only steal your happiness — but your paycheck as well. And I figured if I was struggling with this, others probably were as well. Today with social media, it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves to others and to come up short.

Q: Why do you think social media makes us feel this way?

A: It’s become everyone’s highlight reel — it presents only the best parts of everyone’s lives. We see that and think, “Wow, I need to hurry up and attain this lifestyle that everyone else seems to be living.” It’s not true, but you spend money to do just that.

Q: How does the book help with these unwanted comparisons?

A: The book essentially says, “You can stop doing that — not everyone’s life is perfect. Don’t fall into that trap.” The tough thing is figuring out your family values, and how to express them financially.

Related: Why We Lie to Our Spouses

You can do the things you and your family value, but you truly have to have the money to be able to do them comfortably. Buying a new house, vacations, private schools — you may think you’re able to afford these things, but is the cost a reasonable percentage of what you have coming in every month? This book reveals seven money habits for living the life you want to live. Once you live a life where gratitude is part of your daily life, contentment is there. That’s a strong foundation for building other money habits.

Q: How does a family or a couple get on the right track?

A: Make a plan for your money. Make sure you have the cash to do what you want to do. Planning and budgeting is key to relieving most money stress. It’s tough! Maybe people you know are re-doing their kitchen. You look at your own kitchen and say, “Wow, our kitchen needs some help, too.”’ It’s almost like the more something is within reach, the more difficult it gets. Sit with the fact that you can’t do it now — but you can do it eventually.

Q: How important is money to a marriage?

A: So important — money fights and money problems are one of the main causes of divorce today. Couples are out spending what they’re making because of their poor spending decisions and debt choices. Many couples just don’t talk about money.

Maybe the wife goes to Target, and doesn’t tell the husband what she has been spending on those trips. It can be very difficult to be on separate pages financially. One of the things I say in the book is talk about money, even when it’s hard. The unity and health of any marriage increases when a couple does this.

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Q: How, specifically, do couples start examining their budget?

A: Answer this question: Why do we want to do this? The “why” of something can get a spouse on board much faster if your motivation is explained. If it is important to you, discuss it openly. This conversation reveals what you value: “Here are our goals in life, and here are our fears, too.” Money is never just about money. Underlying fears come up when discussion begins.

The stress of lack of money is what a lot of people live under every day. Seventy percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Just that tension — as the money goes in and out, without a feeling of control, is harmful. Telling that couple to budget every single dollar and be intentional with their money will help them get out of debt. When you free up debt, you suddenly have money.

Q: What else can couples do, after they understand why they want certain things?

A: Do a budget together. Get on the same page. Have “fun money” for each person. Have line items and also freedom within the budget. Give yourself permission to spend a bit, when you have a budget in place.

Q: Why is a family budget important to kids?

A: Telling your children “no” is one of the healthiest things you can do. In every area of your life, you aren’t going to get everything you want. A budget helps you say no. You are setting kids up to fail by showering them with everything they could ever want or need. We want to bless our kids, but we don’t want to harm them with our generosity.

Related: Be a Good Parent — Say ‘No’

It’s been said many times before, but it’s true — kids want your time as parents, much more than they want your money.

Q: Has technology been a blessing or a curse when it comes to money?

A: Convenience is a blessing, and having your bank accounts and an app on your phone are great tools. But at times it can harm us — you can see what everyone is buying as they are buying it via social media, for example. People sell so many items online, and it’s easy to buy with just with the push of a button. It takes discipline, and again, having that budget in place.

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