Many doctors suffer from imposter syndrome. Particularly during residency and after becoming a new attending physician. For this reason (and many others), we often compare ourselves to those around us. I’ve found that this comparison often extends to money. Today, I am going to share with you why these comparisons can be deadly for your success with personal finance.
And, if you haven’t checked out the money lessons that can be learned from sports – check it out. Many of the same lessons can be learned there, and it is something you cannot hear “enough”.
The Best Investors view Money Like Solitaire
The best financial plan involves three key steps:
- Making sure you have figured out the “why.” Why are you saving your money? What’s the purpose behind sacrificing today? Hopefully, you’ve spent some time going through the Three Kinder Questions to help you figure this out. This will help you stay financially disciplined.
- Running the numbers to figure out how much you need to save to get to your goals by your desired age.
- Sticking to the plan. Don’t sell when the market is low. Do not deviate unless your investing plan says that you can.
You’ll notice that one key thing that isn’t involved in the three steps above – comparing your success to others.
All you need to be successful in personal finance is to name your goal, make a plan to get there, and to stick to it. Say your plan involves getting planned 6-8% returns. If you are doing this, it doesn’t matter if someone else is getting 10%.
This is how personal finance is like solitaire. It doesn’t matter if the person next to you is winning or losing their game. Your success depends on the cards placed in front of you and how you play them.
Money is a single player game. If you don’t believe me, here are some ways that comparing your success to others can hurt you.
1. Changing the Plan
Your entire goal, as mentioned above, is to get to YOUR goals. Not the goals that other people have. You need the necessary returns to get to financial independence by the stated age you have chosen. That (likely) doesn’t involve following someone else’s latest hot stock tip.
If you do care about the higher returns that other people are supposedly getting, then there is a higher likelihood that you’ll change things up. This often involves selling your current investments to buy something else.
We know that past performance is not an indication for future performance. You should also know that people who change their portfolio tend to do worse in the market than those who simply stick with the plan.
What is an indication of your future success is your ability to keep things simple and avoiding the monumental mistake of “buying high and selling low”.
2. Bias towards Success
Very few people like to share their failures. In today’s culture, pretending to be perfect is the new fad. Social media doesn’t help this problem, and it is the reason I don’t use any of my personal social media accounts.
When life is self-curated to only include our “big wins,” what can we really learn?
The same thing happens with people who flaunt their big spending or their recent successful stock pick.
The truth is they likely aren’t telling you the other 15 stocks that they picked that tanked and produced negative returns.
This success bias proves to be unhelpful to people, because it is often difficult (to impossible) to replicate. Just stick to your plan.
3. Stealth Wealth Isn’t Flashy
Speaking of success bias, there isn’t one bigger in personal finance than flashy spending. It is counter intuitive in our culture, but big spenders usually lack wealth.
One of my favorite lessons to teach medical students and residents is about who owns their cars and homes. I ask people in the audience to “raise your hand if you own your house or your car“. Then, I ask those that have no more payments to keep their hands up.
Most of the hands fall at this point.
Then I say something like “For those of you that put your hands down – if you ever have any question about who owns your house/car, stop making payments. The bank will be happy to remind you.”
The point is that people who “have” stuff often don’t own it.
People that are spending the money they make likely aren’t saving much. And, unless they have a big inheritance, small savings = small wealth.
So, stop comparing yourself to the big spenders. Dr. Jones loses.
If you are going to compare yourself to anyone, find the frugal friend around you that exemplifies good financial sense. Then, ask them how they find contentment despite their frugal spending.
You will realize rather quickly that those around you that are building wealth have made intentional decisions to pay down debt and avoid the lifestyle inflation that prevents many high-income earners from building wealth.
These wealthy people aren’t usually flashy. That’s why it is called “Stealth Wealth.”
Focus on Your Plan
We’ve all heard it said before that “personal finance is personal.” If we really believe this, then we need to stop comparing ourselves to other people.
Honestly, I don’t even compare myself to myself. I look at my portfolio once every three months so that I can write a net worth update. As I consider the possibility of stopping those updates on this blog, I might only look every six months.
This might sound crazy, but I know that my asset allocation is going to get us to our goals. I don’t sweat corrections (10% drops) in the market, because I usually don’t know that they’ve happened.
If you are reading this blog, then you probably have designs on achieving early financial independence.
Don’t spend your time comparing yourself to the success of other people. It is unhelpful, and often unhealthy for your finances.
Know your goals, create a plan to get you their, and then stick to it. That’s all you need.
Have you ever compared your success to others? Was it helpful? Did you implement changes because of the comparison? Leave a comment.