There are folks so rich that they have never had to repack two suitcases while checking into a flight to avoid paying $50 for an overweight bag. They have their own plane, and they can buy a new wardrobe whenever they vacation.
Some people are so wealthy they can change houses like others change shoes.
We don’t live in the age of keeping up with the Joneses, whom we only envied because they could go to Jamaica on holiday. We live in the age of Instagram, in which we can see the kind of wealth that makes the Joneses look like paupers in comparison. We have the Kardashians and their constant drumbeat of postings showing a posh life we’ll never have.
Overexposure to the rich and famous can make you feel bad about what you have.
Recently, I received an email from a reader who wanted help to stop trying to keep up with a rich relative.
"My husband and I are in good financial shape," she wrote. "We struggled a lot when we were first married 31 years ago, but we saved as much as we could and we worked hard at paying off debt when it accumulated. Now we have a decent nest egg, both our kids are self-supporting, and our mortgage is almost paid off. Yay!"
Still there's a problem: money envy.
"About 12 years ago, my sister married a very wealthy man, and she lives a life of luxury," she wrote. "My sister and brother-in-law have been very generous to us, inviting us on vacations and treating us to dinner at expensive restaurants. We sometimes get to attend upscale parties as their guests. This is all really wonderful, and I am grateful. My problem is that exposure to these places and events is making me crave a higher standard of living that I can't afford."
A recent survey by Credit Karma found nearly 40 percent of young adults said they've spent money they didn't have to keep up with their friends.
Old, young or in between, there's a strong pull to try to keep up. But comparing yourself to others, striving to have what they have, can lead to poor financial decisions. Think about your credit-card debt.
"The last time we were invited to a party, I knew it would be fancy and I bought what I thought was an elegant dress at Lord & Taylor," the reader wrote. "But when I showed up, I was way underdressed. I don't even know where these women buy these clothes!"
Upon coming into some money from an inheritance, the reader said she splurged by hiring a decorator to redo two rooms in her home. "But having a decorator in my home made me feel like our house was unbelievably shabby and out of date. The house I used to be proud of became second-rate in my eyes as I looked at it through the decorator's."
I appreciated the transparency from this reader about her feelings of not having enough.
"Every time I spend time with my sister, I still struggle with money envy," she wrote. "It has made me want nicer clothes, better furnishings, and better restaurants. Do you have any suggestions on how to cope?"
Here's how to stop trying to keep up with people with more money than you: Be grateful.
In telling the story about the dress, the reader wrote, "I had fun anyway, because there was a great band and I love to dance, so I got that dress good and sweaty."
I'm privileged to see behind the curtain. And I say that because seeing the truth keeps my covetousness in check.
When I sit down with people to go over their budgets or help couples address their financial differences, I see what their money can't buy.
Out front you see their big homes, expensive clothes, fancy cars or cruise trips — things they can easily afford. But behind the mask of material wealth are often personal deficits — unhappiness, infidelity, depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or troubled children.
Look for the luxuries in your life. Live your financial truth. I know it sounds simple, but when your eyes are big with wonder at another’s wealth, you might gloss over your own good fortune.