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My Money, My Choices

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a personal finance writer, television host and radio broadcaster. Every Wednesday, she arms Metro readers with tips to keep spending in check.

We can’t judge our lives by what other people do with their money: Vaz-Oxlade

Don't measure your financial wealth by how your friends and neighbours spend their money.

If your next-door neighbours just redid their kitchen and you're salivating, just remember: they may be hiding a lot of credit card debt. Don't compare your wealth to others, says Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

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If your next-door neighbours just redid their kitchen and you're salivating, just remember: they may be hiding a lot of credit card debt. Don't compare your wealth to others, says Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

I once met a woman who was a little frustrated with her own good sense. “It’s so hard to see my friends and co-workers going on trips, buying new cars and eating out all the time — and not want that stuff too,” she said.

This woman was completely honest about how much she struggled with the idea of keeping up with the Joneses.

“My next-door neighbour just redid her kitchen,” she went on. “I walked into her house, and immediately started salivating over her new granite counters and her fabulous appliances.”

She was becoming a little agitated as she spoke. “I don’t want to be an envious person, but why can they have all that stuff while I just make ends meet.”

“Life is hard enough without beating yourself up because you’re measuring yourself against someone else’s stick,” I told her. Then I asked her if she had any debt.

“Just my mortgage, and I’m about 10 years to the end of that.” I looked at her and guessed her age to be about 37.

“So you’ll be mortgage free before you’re 50?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said grinning. “My husband and I agreed that was really important. So we put all our extra money into the mortgage.”

“Do you have any savings?” I asked.

“Yes, we’ve both got pensions at work, and we’ve got that emergency fund you told us to get all set up.”

I smiled. A lot of people think I’m talking directly to them. It’s very flattering. “Why don’t you just spend some of the money in your emergency fund on a new kitchen?” I asked.

She looked at me aghast. Was I suggesting she blow her emergency fund to keep up with the Joneses?

“Well, would you?” I asked. She responded very adamantly that she would not.

“So you have what you want: an emergency fund? And your neighbour has what she wants: a kitchen?” She nodded slowly.

This woman was “hiding” a huge amount of financial stability. If you looked at her older kitchen, her five-year-old car or her clothes, you couldn’t tell that she was asset rich and consumer debt-free.

There are heaps of folks who don’t have a penny saved for the future. Their lack of savings is hidden from the rest of us. And since retirement is quite a way down the road, they can choose to ignore the consequences of not saving until there’s little time to catch up, hiding even from their own reality.

People hide all sorts of things. They hide their credit card debt. They hide their overdraft protection. They hide their lack of an emergency fund. You can’t see what they don’t have. All you can see is what they’re spending their money on.

We can’t judge our lives by what other people do with their money. We can only know what we’re hiding, not what they’re hiding. I live in a regular sized house, drive a six-year-old van and dress like a slob.

I’m hiding a big, fat, rainy day account because I’ve lived long enough to know things happen.

What are you hiding?

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