Appearances are very deceiving. We don't see what's going on behind closed doors, but what I've learned, and surveys show, is that there's very widespread anxiety and stress over our personal finances, pretty much regardless of how much money we're making. When we find out we're in the same boat, we can start to calm down, be more rational about our money choices, and conquer our tendency to envy.
You talk about controlling reactions to situations that could provoke envy. For example, telling yourself that it doesn't matter if your neighbors are going on a fancy vacation that you can't afford. Does that really work?
It works! I learned this trick from a marathon training program designed by a psychologist: Whenever you feel discomfort, remind yourself, "But it doesn't matter." Sometimes simple things seem too simple to work, but I encourage you to give it a try. I've heard from readers who have been amazed that this makes a difference in their level of comfort. Another technique is to note that we usually compare ourselves with those who are above us, but not below. While you strive to get to the next level, also frequently stop and realize how far you've come and how good you have it, and be thankful.
Obviously, a lot of us are tempted to buy more than we can afford. Do you have any advice for controlling those temptations and sticking with a budget?
There's nothing wrong with indulging ourselves, even materialistically. What's important is that we go back to an old-fashioned technique that works wonders: Save money first, then spend. We've gotten used to getting what we want now, without being able to afford it. Then we end up paying a lot extra in interest, plus anxiety about our debts. Squirrel a little cash aside from every paycheck to buy the things you want. Then realize how much more fun it is to buy something when you can truly afford it.